[Exclusive] Ship of Heroes: Could This Be the Next City of Heroes?
I just had the opportunity to sit down with Casey McGeever, CEO of Heroic Games, and Matthew Wilson, lead developer, for an extended Q&A about the upcoming superheroic MMO, Ship of Heroes. They gave me a live tour of the first level of the game, Apotheosis City, and our discussion spanned a gamut of topics, ranging from raids to crafting, day jobs and the importance of community. I'd already been looking forward to Ship of Heroes, but I left our conversation downright excited. This is the game that I've been waiting for since the loss of City of Heroes.
The very first thing that struck me when we loaded into the game was the NPCs. They are currently robot standins for what will eventually be people, but as Casey was giving me the quick introduction to the game, I watched it became clear that the little robots were more than simply static backdrops. They had different moods, and this was clearly visible in their body language. I saw angry robots, happy robots, casual robots, super amazingly ecstatically happy robots, and what's more - they stopped when they encountered one another, interacted, and their moods would change based upon their interactions. As we spoke, I watched one angry robot stalk across the street, bump into another robot, have a little chat, and over the course of their conversation he calmed down until he was able to casually stroll to the park.
A little while later, a super happy robot came dancing his way up into view. He danced across the street, through a bit of lawn, up a set of stairs and out of sight, and his joyous abandon seemed to have an effect on some of those he passed as a few of the robots in his path began dancing as well. I couldn't help but feel that if one of them had been carrying music, an impromptu party might have broken out in the park, and I loved it so much I asked them to make me a little video clip. So without further ado I am able to share the Happy Dancing Robot Dude making his way through Apotheosis City:
I've seen this level of interaction promised in many a game, but this was the first time I've ever actually seen it happen before my very eyes. The product of Matthew's superb coding skills made the city already seem alive despite its unfinished state. They were all blank robots, clearly copy/paste standins, but thanks to their AI packages they were all easily identifiable individuals. I have to wonder, if they have this in their game already and hadn't mentioned it - what other marvels are waiting to be revealed? I asked if combat AI was receiving as much love, and was told absolutely:
For the enemy AI, we are scripting our own decision trees, and setting a lot of interesting capability in motion. For example, each type of enemy will be using different weapons and tactics in combat, so players will have the challenge of responding to different combat settings, tactics, weapons, and powers from the enemies. In addition, NPC enemies can randomly select different attack decision trees even if they are identically armed, which will change up combat quite a bit, making it less predictable. The enemies can be very smart. In addition, enemies are aware of one another and interact with one another. The player has allies and so do the enemies. We have currently scripted a line of sight AI system, so a player can sneak up on enemies. This is not a standard plug and play MMO AI – UE4 allows some very interesting features, and we are picking and choosing what we want to enable, and to change."
One of the things that rapidly became clear as we spoke was how much Heroic Games values community. They are building their game from the ground up with the community in mind. And yes - there is sidekicking! Casey stressed how important it was to him that level 1 characters be able to group and have fun with higher level characters right off the bat. They won't have as many tools in their toolkit, but even so, they can be sidekicked up to join in on whatever adventures are happening around them. It was clear that the community comes first even with things like raiding. As we were walking, I kept seeing little signs along the roads, and when I asked about them I was told they would mark raid progress.
"If you remember City of Heroes, you had all sorts of raids there. You had Hamidon, Rikti mothership battles, you had my favorite, Rikti invasions. What I liked about Rikti invasions is that if you had a new level 1, and you were looking around, someone would invite you onto a team. And even if your team leader was level 50 and you were 1, you could still join in and be effective. They would sidekick you up to level 49. We want to do that, we want to have raid content where it doesn't matter what level you are. Although I do say that with a proviso, because if you're actually level 1 you're only going to have a couple of powers, and it will be more difficult for you. But you should be able to join in and have fun."