Questions by Meticulous Meta, Retired Superhero
In a world where vacuum cleaners cut hair and televisions are at war with radios comes an all new super hero MMO all out of bubble gum. City of Titans, formerly known as Project Phoenix, is being created by Missing Worlds Media, a volunteer studio formed in the ashes of City of Heroes. One year into the creation of the CoH spiritual successor Missing Worlds Media has come to the world to find support. Less than one week into their Kickstarter campaign they are already nearly at their goal of $320,000 (goal was reached earlier today while prepping this!), all of which will be used for licensing, website servers, and those dreaded taxes. As a former hero myself I jumped at the opportunity to interview some of the developers and find out a little more about the project.
Meta: I’d like to start off with an introduction. Could you please tell us your name, what you do in Missing Worlds Media and why you became part of this project?
Quinn: Sara Quinn, although I prefer just Quinn, I’m the company president, and I joined because I wanted to help make a game that I genuinely wanted to play, and that would appeal to people like me, who are generally not the target market for an MMO.
Hare: Chris “Warcabbit” Hare, Project Lead. Why? Because it’s the ultimate challenge, for me. That, and because a very good person once inspired me in City of Heroes, and while I’ll never have that experience again, I want others to have that moment.
Jennifer Bolack “Petalstorm”: Jennifer Bolack “Petalstorm” Art Director. I joined because I got tired of giving my husband and Nate all of my good ideas. I am an avid gamer who fell in love with City of Heroes and when I heard about the project I just really wanted to help out. Someone let it leak to Warcabbit that I went to the Art Institute for computer animation and there was no turning back.
Nate Downes: Nate “Doctor Tyche” Downes. I am the Technical Director, a fancy title for the guy supervising the programmers, servers, and similar technical needs. I am one of the originals, from way back when it was just a “Plan Z” to save CoH. I was at the first meeting on IRC to discuss our options for doing it, and have stuck through thick and thin.
Meta: How did City of Titans come to be?
Hare: There’s a bit often parodied in those old Judy Garland / Mickey Rooney movies. “Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show! Let’s do it in the barn!”
“It was sort of like that. After the absolute stun of the NCSoft announcement wore off, some people went to save CoH. Some of us looked around and said ‘we’ve got artists, we’ve got lawyers, we’ve got writers, and we’ve got programmers. Let’s make a new game. If CoH is saved, so much the better… but let’s have a backup plan. A Plan Z. Besides, it’ll be fun and educational.
Meta: How many people are working on City of Titans?
Sara Quinn: I checked the organization chart yesterday, and we have over 110 specifically assigned to positions. I know we have more that we are still placing, but I am not sure how many.
Hare: Last time I saw a number, we were looking at 163 active volunteers. Blows my mind every time I see it.
Meta: What makes City of Titans unique to other MMOs already out there?
Sara Quinn: The priorities. We’re focused on player enjoyment, plot, and community, not maximum financial yield, grinding, and plots the player is peripheral to.
Hare: I’d say things about technical features, but many of them will already exist in other games. Some won’t, but they’re secrets.
“So the answer really is three things. Story. We’re going to have story beyond what even Star Wars: The Old Republic dared to dream. Agency. We’re focusing on giving players the ability to pick their own path in ways that have never been combined with Story before. And, of course, Heart. GO PLANET!
Nate Downes: We’re not a modified version of WoW. By working with inspiration from an MMO design which pre-dated the 800lbs gorilla, and how it evolved independently of the industry giant, it makes a unique foundation for ideas. If you play SW:TOR, within short order it is clearly based on the traditional MMORPG model. Same with Tera, DC Universe Online, all across the spectrum. They are fine games, we just want to take CoT into a different direction.
Jennifer Bolack “Petalstorm”: The people who are making and creating this new world together. We have a lot of love and passion for this project. It’s our baby and we are doing everything in our power to give it the chance to become something big and wonderful and community oriented.
Meta: How does having a completely volunteer dev team work?
Sara Quinn: A lot like a Rube Goldberg machine. It’s more complicated than the way you might usually do it, and some of the mechanisms are more than a little unusual, but it’s fun to watch, and it works.
Hare: Well, it’s all about managing time, personalities, skills, and talent.
“This isn’t really all that much different from running a really large guild or MUD or MUSH. It’s harder, yes, but I developed a lot of skills doing that, and they’re mostly applicable. There’s a lot of active listening involved, and a lot of trying to find out if a problem is real or perceived, and a lot of translating from one department’s speak to another’s.
Nate Downes: You can ask that question of any major open source project as well, and I’ve been part of several over the years. It means that everyone is there not because they need to be there, for a paycheck, but because they want to be there.
“Every volunteer comes in with their own desires, wants, and drive, and you need to keep each of them in mind. It means if some feature they want will not be used, you better have a good reason why. It also means you cannot take them for granted, if they do not feel useful, they will go elsewhere.
Jennifer Bolack “Petalstorm”: For the art department it has it’s ups and downs. Art takes up a lot of time and focus and a majority of my team are very talented 3d and 2d artists from various art schools.
Several of my higher experienced artists have full time jobs in the field and free time is very precious. It makes making deadlines stressful at times but my artists have pulled through for us on several occasions with rather amazing results.
They are all passionate and are here because they love the game and you can see that in everything they do. It’s not a paycheck for them; it’s about making dreams reality.
Meta: Are you still looking for volunteers? If so how does someone go about applying?
Sara Quinn: We’re working to fill the more specialized slots now. Many people with general skills have come on, now we need to attract people with skills or experience that are less frequently found or less “sexy”, like experienced Web design or copy editing in languages other than English.
Nate Downes: In addition to core volunteers we do have a larger community pool. We may not need someone right this minute with a particular set of skills, but getting involved in the community means when the need for it shows up, you’ll be right there ready. The best way to let us know is to sign up on our forums and get involved on there.
Jennifer Bolack “Petalstorm”: Yes! The art department is looking for several specialized 3d artists, modellers, lighting and a level builder. I could also use another graphic artist and a comic book artist on the team.
Meta: What does City of Titans offer people who maybe didn’t play City of Heroes, or has never played a Superhero MMO at all?
Sara Quinn: The same fun as when kids tie a towel around their necks and run around being a Superhero. The chance to play through a comic book plot with you as the protagonist. Or, if you’re not so interested in the plot, the chance to kick butt with your friends in a game that is not just another fantasy-themed grind fest.
Hare: You like the Avengers movie? You want to be a hero, write your own story, save the day? Or a villain to take over the world, or give it the best try you can? Or just a guy from the street seeking to make something of himself, with a rough sense of honor, not too concerned about the law? Do it here. There are going to be awesome powers, amazing explosions, and daring deeds and fantastic heists, but most importantly, they’ll all mean something to you.
Meta: Are there any iconic NPCs created yet? Do they have a story?
Sara Quinn: Yes, and very much yes. We are looking forward to introducing them. We see them as benchmark characters, providing anchors for certain plot points, and giving a basis for comparison so you can see how far you have come from a humble beginning.
Hare: There are, and we’re planning on introducing them to you in the updates to come. But you’re going to remain the most important person in the game.
Nate Downes: Our main focus for the iconics is as role-models to aspire to and surpass, not as the end-all-be-all they are in almost every other game. That has shaped their stories as a result.
Meta: Can you tell us a bit more about the character creation process?
Sara Quinn: Only that it is one of the areas we plan to significantly expand beyond our predecessor.
Hare: I could, but, again, planned update. I will say we’re going to allow for download and upload of costumes.
Nate Downes: We have some ambitious ideas which, if they work out as it appears they will, would change the traditional character creation process. But as they are not proven yet, we do not want to disappoint people if they do not pan out.
Meta: How do you plan to facilitate the different genres of superhero fiction? (silver age, noir, etc)
Hare: Well, the overall tone of the game will be a bit bronze, but the different personal storylines will tend to shade one way or another. Of course, everyone has their own definition of era.
My personal cut-off of the Silver Age goes with Kurt Busiek, and marks the end at Gwen Stacy’s death. The Bronze Age is the Silver Age with awareness of the world. Mature themes, such as drugs and death, multicultural society, philosophy, and depth of story begin to emerge. But even that’s a simplification.
The best touchstone is always the DC Animated Universe, which, combined with Astro City and the fantastic reinvention of Ultimate Spider-Man, defines what I call the post-modern era of comics.
In the Dark Age people poked fun at fighting for justice and wearing a costume. After that, people deconstructed heroes, and realized that the silly costumes and the hotkey words meant something, and that justice is worth fighting for.
They began to respect legacy and spirit again. Good stuff happened. And that’s what we’re aiming for. But again, personal storylines may head for noir, or even pure EC Comics horror. We may even write in a pouch-filled 1990s antihero storyline, if that’s your thing.
Meta: What is your favorite thing you’ve worked on so far?
Sara Quinn: A flood abatement and disaster planning system for the city.
Hare: It involves dinosaurmen. I’m pretty sure that’s better than Nazis.
Nate Downes: Bah, Moon Nazi occultists still rule!
Jennifer Bolack “Petalstorm”: Getting Kickstarter ready to launch. Also the most stressful thing so far.
Meta: Will there be Oculus Rift support? Ok, all kidding aside, will there be support for the non-Windows crowd?
Hare: Rift is something I’ve been going ‘Okay, someone here’s going to get one, so how can we not support it?’ It’s going to be one of those ‘guy did it on his own time’ things, but it’ll happen eventually, I’m pretty sure.
We’ll probably support TrackIR as well, because it’s awesome. And just wait till you see what we have planned for tablets. As for Mac, that’s planned. Linux is a bit further off, but our Tech Lead was one of the first developers of what became Gentoo Linux so has a personal interest in getting that to happen.
We have the talent and interest, we just need to schedule it to priority, effort, and time. I’m personally fascinated by the Steambox controller and am taking making it work for a MMO as a challenge in design. If, of course, we have the time.
Meta: When do you hope to start inviting people to play be it Alpha, Beta or Launch?
Hare: “We’ll see. It won’t be Soon(™).”
Nate Downes: We also are planning on interim component releases, such as the Character Builder, which will allow people to see part of the game before the whole system is finished. These components would then be able to integrate into the full game, and enhance the finished game experience.
Meta: Why are you doing a Kickstarter now instead of earlier or later in the process? What will the money be used for?
Sara Quinn: Before, we couldn’t have proven we can do this. Later, it would not be as effective in speeding up production.
Hare: We wanted to prove we were ready first. We intended to launch on the anniversary of the Atlas Park 33. We didn’t quite make it, but we came closer to the anniversary of Plan Z.
We’ve been together for a year. We’ve had splits, we’ve had drama, and we’ve done a lot of work. Some of which we had to throw away and start over from scratch. (It happens. It happened to SW:TOR, it happened to WoW.)
We’ve resolved the personality issues, we’ve come together, and we know we’re here for the long haul now. As far as the money? Software licences, software royalties (UDK) and resulting taxes. Anything over that? Middleware. Tomb Raider had really nice hair, and that’s something you can actually buy, for example.
Meta: City of Titans already has a lot of steam on Kickstarter, but what will happen to the project if you don’t meet your funding goal?
Sara Quinn: We will adjust our launch goals and carry on. It will take longer and we will have to rein in our ambitions more, but it won’t stop us from reaching our overall goal.
Hare: Listen, and understand. City of Titans is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until we are live.
Nate Downes: Keep on going with the tools we have. License more advanced tools as we can. It won’t stop. It just means that we progress at a slower pace.
Meta:If you could talk to people considering backing City of Titans what would you say to them?
Sara Quinn: Ask your questions, tell us your concerns. We will answer honestly, and trust your decision.
Hare: So…tell me about your dreams. Let’s see if we can make them live.
A huge thank you to Quinn, Nate, Jennifer, and Chris for taking the time to answer all of these questions. We wish you all the best and will be keeping our eyes on Kickstarter for the next 27 days.
If you would like to know more about the City of Titans Kickstarter Campaign you can visit it for yourself by following the link here. And if you have any other questions you would like answered leave them in the comments below for them to be included in a follow up interview at a later date.