Legions of fans were discouraged when NCSoft shut down City of Heroes. Now Missing World Media is trying to bring back this world from the ashes with The Phoenix Project.
At one point when you were a kid, you imagined that you were a superhero. Whether it was flying through the air, stopping bank robberies or defeating super villains, there was no limit to your imagination.
In 2004, Cryptic and NCSoft came out with a revolutionary new MMO called City of Heroes. In this game you could create your own superhero (and later villain) to unleash on the world of Paragon City. This dream did not last forever as NCSoft closed the servers and left thousands of players stranded, yearning for a new experience. Now the folks over at Missing Worlds Media have banded together to make something called the Phoenix Project. We recently caught up with the Nate Downes and Jacob Bazzrea on this project and had a chance to ask them some questions :
GEEK: First tell me a bit about yourselves:
Nate Downes (Technical Director, Missing Worlds Media): I’ve been around for awhile now, began with server development back in the 1990′s under a weird new system out of Finland called Linux, remarkable change from the OS/2 system I had been using. Helped out a lot of projects, most of which people would not have heard of.
Jacob Bazzrea (Studio Manager, Missing Worlds Media): I have been involved in RPGs for a long time, I even assisted in designing a table top RPG from the ground up though the project never found a home. I have a background in engineering and hardware predominantly, with some software experience as well.
Nate: In the simplest terms, it is a new massively multiplayer online role-playing game being built by fans of the now shut down City of Heroes MMORPG. In broader terms, it is a community-driven project, a sort of virtual habitat for humanity, to build a new home which is by, of and for those who build and support it.
Jacob: He said it well, this is really our attempt to recreate the “feel” and experience that City of Heroes gave it’s fans for so many years. We are also taking the opportunity to do some things that I think the original fanbase really wanted to see in the old game. We are very excited to get the project off the ground!
How many people are involved with this project?
Nate: Checking our records, at the time I write this we have over 140 people affiliated with our project in one form or another. This includes active volunteers, semi-active volunteers, and occasional contributors. Being community-based, there are going to always be more occasional contributors than fully active, but with the goal in mind, it is working out very well. This approach has worked for numerous projects.
What are going to be some of the unique features of this project?
Jacob: Well, we will have customization on a greater scale than even City of Heroes offered for starters. Additionally, we will have a mission crafting system, and a custom content creation tool for players. One of the aspects I like quite a bit is the ability to choose a PVE instance of the world, or you can choose an open world PVP instance as well. You can even take the same character into either instance depending on your mood that day. We are planning on some great things.
Will you be able to create a hero or villain?
Jacob: You can make both. We intend to have a system where the same character can even change sides as well. Though, having that at launch depends on how successful our Kickstarter is, as that’s one of our stretch goals. We are going to cater to both sides and create missions and content that not only make sense, but will allow players to indulge in some of the nuances of the role of being a good guy or a bad guy.
What about the world? Can you tell us anything about where it takes place?
Jacob: The city itself is called Titan City, and it’s a sort of conglomeration of different neighborhoods, much how many modern cities are. There has been inspiration for architecture and ideas taken from many areas of the world, as we have people from all over the planet helping with composition and art that combine to create the environment the game world is built in. The world itself is ultimately going to be massive. We are planning for 12 zones in at launch, and we plan to more than double that number as we go along.
What about the powers? Are they going to be customizable or is it going to be like CoH?
Nate: The underlying mechanics are rooted on CoH’s, but with a more dynamic way to build on top of them, an improved enhancement system which we call Boosts. You have to keep in mind, any power in any game is made up of two elements, the back-end mechanics and the visible area. By combining a very flexible front-end, with the Boost system people will be able to create some very customized abilities.
Jacob: We are looking at the power sets to be in a similar format to CoH, however, the Boost system is very robust, and offers many options to the player for customization. We will even have some Boosts capable of changing the actual nature of the powers they are slotted into. Additionally, the Boost system will have components that allow you to customize your Boosts though augmenting as well.
Will we be seeing any iconic characters or enemies from the CoH universe?
Nate: For several reasons, this is not to be. NCSoft owns City of Heroes, it is their property to do with as they wish, even if we disagree with their decisions. It is not only illegal to use their intellectual property without permission, it is immoral to do so.
Jacob: Sadly, Nate is correct, however, we fully intend to have our own set of iconic characters that we feel the fanbase will come to know and love as much as the many well renowned characters from City of Heroes.
Will this be running on the Unreal Engine?
Nate: Yes, the Unreal Engine has proven itself more than capable. We had tested, and even prepared for use of other game engines, but in the end in terms of performance, capability, ease of programming and customer support, Epic’s Unreal just is the right choice for The Phoenix Project.
How much will this cost?
Jacob: Well, ultimately the project will end up costing into the millions…though at this point we are trying to get as much funding as we can initially. Our projections indicate if we can hit the $4 million mark, we can get most, if not all, of what we want into the game at launch included. If we can raise more than that, then we will be able to get even more features into the game. We already have some expansion zones and other plans for future content that could be included with enough funding.
When will this project be coming out?
Nate: We have set as our target getting the first iteration in peoples hands by the end of 2015. I am not saying we will be released, bug free in a shrinkwrapped box before December 31st 2015, because this is a process, there will be continual growth and changes over the years, not just a pack-it, ship-it, and forget it as we find elsewhere.
What are some of the great rewards for kickstarter members?
Jacob: We have some awesome reward ideas, even in lower tiers of the Kickstarter. Some of them include closed beta access at a very low tier, and in some of the slightly higher, or middle tiers, things like creating custom costume components, a custom aura, custom logo collaboration for your character in game, custom NPCs used in the game, custom base locations, artwork of your character signed by our artists, a dinner with the developers, and lots more! Anything we can come up with, down to the last minute is on the table for the kickstarter rewards program. Also, anyone who contributes at all will get their name listed on a wall in game showing all the kickstarter contributors.
Anything else you want to say to fans of CoH and the Phoenix Project?
Nate: The reality is, MMORPG’s are a lot of work. One of the issues which have made them quite expensive to develop over the years is that companies keep them under wraps, with only sneak peeks, until they are mostly finished. This means if there is a mistake in the design, some basic flaw with understanding what players want, it is not uncovered until fairly late in the process, when it is most expensive to fix. There is another option, which is what we’ve chosen, to use community feedback to help drive design decisions. Most companies do not trust their customers, we embrace them. But this does mean asking for patience.
Jacob: He raises a valid point about our design process…this isn’t just our work and ideas alone. There are many forum members who participate in discussions and help us generate ideas for the game itself. In my mind, this is an innovative new model for game development. Instead of assuming they want what you want as a developer, why not collaborate and get ideas that improve yours and work in line with what the playerbase wants? After all, the community as a whole is who this game is for, not just a subset of that community, or a particular group that favors one thing over another. I feel like we are breaking quite a bit of ground in that regard, and it’s exciting to hear what some of the ideas are coming from the forum discussions. If you’re a CoH fan, and you’re following the development of this game, we want to hear your voice on the forums!
Will this project rekindle the flames of City of Heroes fans? Is this a game that you can see yourself playing over Champions Online or DC universe? We want to hear from you so let us know what you think!
Images: NCSoft, Missing Worlds Media, The Phoenix Project