Daily Archives: June 11, 2007

Base! How low can you go?

I’ve been tinkering around with bases in City of Heroes this weekend. Bases are supergroup (CoH guild) “houses”; if you’re of sufficient rank within a supergroup, you can wander up to an NPC and say “I’d like a base, please!”, then Base Portals, placed in all the main city zones, will teleport you into a little 4×4 entrance lobby with an exit teleporter and not much else. From there, with the Edit Base option, you get to play architect and/or makeover show host, adding new rooms to your base and furnishing them.

Bases have been in City of Heroes since the release of City of Villains in 2005, but never really worked out quite as the designers intended. The basic problem was that bases were incredibly expensive. You needed a large amount of Prestige to build even a basic functional base (Prestige is a supergroup currency; when playing, you have to choose between earning Influence, personal currency for improving your character, or Presitge, supergroup currency for improving the group base), then you have to pay monthly rent on it, which means you really needed to be in a big supergroup. Being in a big supergroup, though, meant either base layout anarchy, or a few people as base architects with the appropriate permissions to edit a base.

That didn’t bother me too much; I had a play around on the test server (where new supergroups were automatically given a vast stack of Prestige to test bases), built a functional base to see how the base editor worked, and left it at that. The base editor is as flexible as my beloved costume editor, you can place all sorts of furniture, gadgets and gizmos (both functional and purely decorative), tweak the lighting, raise and lower floors and ceilings, generally make everything from a gleaming-walled hi-tech lab to an office with conference table, whiteboards and desks to a dank stone-walled crypt with arcane symbols everywhere. The test server being the test server, though, I didn’t put too much effort into personalising the place as I wouldn’t be spending any time there, the most striking feature I added being what I called “the room of photocopiers”, a room filled with (you’ll never guess…) photocopiers. I like to think of it as an art installation. Actually, with a spare empty gallery, a sackful of cash from the Arts Council and an office supplies store, I reckon I could do it in First Life and have a decent shot at the Turner Prize. But I digress…

Over on the live servers, our Supergroup built up nice hero and villain bases, with teleporters to various parts of the city, storage areas and similar, and prepared for the Item of Power trial. The Item of Power trial was to be the first supergroup raid in CoH; up to 24 members of the group would head off to an epic battle with Rularuu, and if you win, your group receives an Item of Power in the base, granting a small supergroup-wide buff. The Item of Power was also intended to introduce more PvP; owning one would open your base up to being raided by other groups, who’d steal the Item of Power if they overcame your defences. Unfortunately, Items of Power have never gone live. They’ve tried the system a few times on the test server, we’ve had a few practise base invasions over there (which are pretty fun), but for some reason it’s never quite worked out, which is a shame. Maybe next issue, for the 2 year anniversary of City of Villains…

As Jack “Statesman” Emmert said in a Serious Games Summit Keynote: “We spent more time developing [bases] than any other feature in City of Heroes or City of Villains,” he says. Although bases are built by a team, Emmert and his team viewed them as being “incredibly, incredibly individual” because each piece of the base is designed and added by individuals.

“What happened was players hated it. It’s the most underused facet of the game. It received almost no coverage in the press. And there’s nothing like it in any other MMP.” Emmert’s hypothesis is that “people don’t like contributing money to a group to express individuality. … At its heart, these MMPs are individual game experiences in front of a computer terminal.”

I think “hated” is a bit of a strong term, it was more ambivalence, really. The base was just… there, a handy shortcut sometimes, a bit of storage space, and not very much else.

Coming back to CoH in the last couple of weeks, there’ve been considerable improvements in bases for small groups while I was away. Where originally you needed a (very expensive) power room and control room, and expensive generators and computers to put in those rooms to power and control the rest of the base, and that was before you could even think about adding workshops or teleport chambers or other useful bits, they’ve introduced smaller, and much more affordable rooms such that a two-person supergroup can actually get a functional base up and running, so that’s what I’ve done. That’s given me much more of an incentive to actually tinker with design; with a large, temporary base and virtually infinite prestige on the test server, decoration was a case of rapidly scanning through the myriad available options, and slapping the largest and strangest looking items around the place at random (plus, of course, filling a room with photocopiers). Having a few rooms and a limited amount of prestige focuses my attention, in a good way. We’ll still need a photocopier, though…