Meta’s Verse: City of Heroes Nate Birkholz Interview
by Shannon Doyle, OnRPG Journalist
I know you must be wondering where I disappeared to. And yes there have been some rumors that I sold my loyalty and free time to the Rifts. But I can tell you that this is not true. I pulled myself away from Rift to go on a wild adventure that saw me captured by Praetorians and rescued by City of Heroes Producer Nate Birkholz (under cover of course as his alter ego Second Measure). I took that time to ask him a few questions which I now give to you.
What is your favorite part of the Animal Pack Expansion and why?
I love the wolf head. I have wanted to make a character for several years that is a dog that walks upright and haven’t been able to before now. My wife and I used to make up stories about how our dog snuck out at night and fought crime, so we tried to make him in the game but could never get it right. It still doesn’t look much like him, but at least it looks like a dog now!
Is there another booster pack lined up for us in the future?
We have a booster in development that we are very excited about. As always, we want to wait until everything is done to release details, but there will be the very first appearance of a popularly-requested costume feature in this pack. Before that, we will offer the classic Vanguard costume pack as a bonus for our seventh anniversary.
The hot topic on everyone’s mind right now is Issue 20. What part did you play in its creation and what part are you looking forward to most?
I am involved with nearly everything in development at the studio — managing the flow of what we are putting into the game and helping make sure it gets done on time. For example, when we add a Strike Force, I make sure the right people are involved in the design meetings, that the right people review the design, that we have enough time to do everything for the schedule, and that we ensure it doesn’t risk any of the other features we are working on.
I am most looking forward to playing in the Incarnate Trials on the live servers. We have been testing these internally and on the Beta server for many months now, but I can’t wait until everyone gets a chance to play through some of the most challenging and engaging content we have produced at Paragon Studios!
In the latest Intrepid Informer we were introduced to the floating fortress which remains rather shrouded in mystery. Can you tell us anything more about it?
In Issue 19 we introduced the invasion of Primal Earth from the alternate universe of Praetoria. In this issue we learn that the floating fortress supports some of the portals that the Praetorian invaders have used to bridge the gap between the worlds, and players have to prevent the portals from being used.
What is your favorite story arc/Task Force in City of Heroes and why?
It’s very hard to choose! I just played the Vincent Ross story arc from Issue 19 with my new brute character, and that story really ends with a bang. I also really like several of the missions in the Alignment System we introduced in Going Rogue, since they really make you think about who your character really is and what your character truly represents. My favorite Task Force is definitely the revised Positron Task Force, even though the new Task Forces from Issues 19 and 20 are a lot of fun, too; the Positron Task Force really is a great way for your character to feel powerful at an early level, and it is a fun tour of the early zones.
What would you say to the claims that City of Heroes is taking a step back with the new features and going from industry first to copying what other MMOs have already done?
We may be inspired from time to time by features from other games, but we always strive to innovate and expand the boundaries of everything we add to the game.
In Issue 20 the Incarnate Trials introduce an endgame that is designed to be friendly to casual and hardcore players alike, with easy-to-access grouping features and great missions that won’t take hours to complete. We want everyone to be able to experience the Incarnate Trials without needing to be a specific archetype, needing to be in a big Super Group, or needing to commit an entire evening to make any progress. This is an innovative approach to adding an inclusive endgame that meets our core philosophy of providing great content for all types of players and helps us stand out in the MMO space.
City of Heroes is coming up on its seventh anniversary. And now been joined by two big name hero based MMOs. What one thing do you think makes City of Heroes stand out against the rest?
In addition to the best player community in gaming – period — we have seven years of great missions and other great content, including countless combinations of powers and thousands of costume pieces to choose from, so that’s a big strength.
I also think the fact that we have our own world and our own brand over which we have total control gives us a lot of strength. We can make the story always stay true to the gameplay. We can let player characters become the most powerful heroes in the known universe without too many consequences. We know these strengths will help City of Heroes stay the world’s most popular superhero MMO for a long time to come.
Why do you think Super hero MMOs flourish where Sci-Fi MMOs seem to struggle?
Superheroes get to do the things we all want to do in a much more immediate and impactful way. I’d love to fly a spaceship or explore the unknown moons of a distant planet, sure. But far more often I want to jump across town in a single leap or solve a big problem with a well-timed show of strength.
Where do you see City of Heroes a year from now? Are you looking so far ahead to be thinking about the ten year anniversary?
We are definitely thinking that far in the future and beyond, planning story as well as features and content. We want every issue to have better content and more epic storylines than the issues that have come before, and we want to be able to surprise players with new directions in the story and new features that enrich the game experience.
One final question, is everything a Nemesis plot?
Some of it is a ruse to distract from Nemesis’ true plot. Ha ha. That is humor. In no way do I wish to impugn Nemesis as neither a super powered being nor offend his entirely benevolent organization.
I would like to thank Second Measure for taking time out of his busy heroing job (and you know that other job he does, producing City of Heroes) to answer these questions for OnRPG.