City of Heroes Dev Diary – Electric Control
Our good friends over at NCSoft sent us over the this Dev Diary for exclusive first publication! It talks about the design process that has resulted in the amazing looking Electric powers in City of Heroes.
Castle: Floyd “Castle” Grubb here. I’m the Lead Designer for powers on City of Heroes. I created the mechanics behind the new Electric Control power set in City of Heroes Going Rogue, along with Keetsie, who actually made the power look great.
Keetsie: Hello, I’m Keetsie Braz da Cunha, a Paragon Studios VFX artist. One of my many projects was Electric Control, a brand new set for the Controller and Dominator archetypes.
Castle: The Electric Control power set wasn’t actually designed with players in mind, originally. It was built as an experimental test bed and designed to have almost every power as a “Chain Power” – You hit one target with an effect, and it jumps from that target to 2 others, and so on, until a link missed and failed to pass on. It was a fun experiment, and we had a lot of head scratching moments trying to figure out all the oddities that cropped up based on it.
When we needed a power set for Dominators and Controllers for Going Rogue, I had a couple choices, but Electric Control seemed to fit the bill the best. However, we first needed to make some serious alterations to get the set into shape for actual game play. That process mainly involved reducing the number of chaining powers and replacing them with more standard control effects. The signature powers of “Jolting Chains” – a chain Knockdown power, and “Static Field” – a placed field which pulses Sleep effects and drain enemies endurance, remained the center pieces of the set, and the two powers which our closed beta testers have found the most surprising and fun.
Keetsie : My overall goal for Electric Control was also the biggest challenge – making it look different from the other Electric sets. We have Electrical Blast, Electrical Mastery, Electric Melee, Electric Armor and even Storm Control, which uses lightning bolts.
So how were we going to make Electric Control look and feel different from all of the electric powers in-game? This can be really difficult with more abstract sets like Energy or Kinetics, where the artist has to invent the visual language to represents the power. But for literal concepts like electricity, there’s more freedom to explore new visuals.
For Electric Control, I wanted to get away from the Zeus-like thunderbolts of the blasting set and try something new. To spark up some inspiration, I turned to YouTube for its wealth of footage of plasma balls, power line disasters and singing Tesla coils. Along with all the amazing shapes and movements, I was reminded of the obvious; electricity is fast. Really, really fast. That erratic, quick timing was something I wanted to emphasize for Electric Control. Elements like the sporadic pulses in Static Shield and the pops of light in the gremlin bodies were used to suggest the rapid nature of electricity. Some of the lightning sprites are only visible for 2 or 3 frames – barely a tenth of a second.
This timing needed contrast, though. Just like in animation, if every element in an effect moves at the same speed and stops at the same time, the result is flat and boring. I had to introduce some slower elements to contrast with the main sprites. Some electric attacks leave behind smoke to “slow out” the effect. Smoky residue is a guaranteed way to imply that something painful just happened. Additionally, I experimented with suggesting retina burn, by letting electric bolts or glows linger and fade out after the power fired. These slow, but still somewhat violent elements, gave me the overall timing I was looking for – something akin to “JAJAJAJA! Owww….” They also made the fast stuff look even faster.
I think a good chunk of the beauty of this set can be credited to Castle. “Chain Powers,” powers that jump from target to target, were his idea and ultimately contributed a lot to the erratic nature of the set. These were complex powers to set up, and I had to work closely with the designers to get the effects working properly. Powers like Jolting Chain and Synaptic Overload, some of my favorites of the set, are great examples of artists and designers collaborating to make powers play and look great.
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing behind the curtain a bit and enjoyed our segment of this series of Dev Diaries. If you want to see videos of Electric Control in action you can see it in ViDoc #3 on our Facebook Fan Page. Until next time, this is Castle and Keetsie, signing off.