"Crossing the Lines Between Good and Evil"
By Shawn "Pit" Pitman
How's it going? I'm Shawn "Pit" Pitman, feature lead for the Going Rogue Alignment system in City of Heroes Going Rogue™. You may recognize me in-game as being the dastardly, yet dashing, guide that answers a variety of questions for Villains and Rogues in regards to the Alignment system (not for goody two-shoe kitten-saving Heroes and Vigilantes, though... that's Redemption's gig). Today, I'll chat about what went into making the Going Rogue Alignment System.
The Going Rogue Alignment System is a new feature we introduced in our latest expansion, City of Heroes Going Rogue™. The Alignment System allows Heroes and Villains to take a journey that can ultimately result in their character changing alignments. It's not as mundane as just flipping a switch between good and evil. Instead, we chose to go with a series of story-driven missions where a character can decide how they want to approach that slippery moral slope. So what did it take to create such a system?
Ever since we launched City of Heroes® and City of Villains®, we've given players a great deal of options in regards to what type of character they'd like to invent. By way of numerous costume choices, detailed story-arcs, player-made secret bases, etc, a player could create just about any kind of justice-defending Hero or the power-mongering Villain they could think of. However, we knew that not all heroes are shining paragons of virtue. Similarly, not all villains are tirade-spewing, demand-making, kitten-kicking tyrants of death and destruction (okay, maybe the kitten-kicking part, but still... you get what I'm saying.).
Thus was born the Hero's shadow, the Vigilante, and the Villain's less ambitious cousin, the Rogue. Next, we had to come up with a way for players to actually become these fallen heroes and likeable cads.
From the very beginning, we knew that we didn't want to offer an 'Im naow teh evilz' button. Many well known comic book characters go through a moral journey at a certain point in their development, so why shouldn't our players get to do the same with their own characters? So with that in mind, Joe "Hero1" Morrissey and I would begin crafting a system where players were presented a choice on how they wished to approach a mission. An example of this is a mission where the player finds information leading to the location of an illegal drug lab. A hero would choose to take that opportunity and swoop in, arresting all of the culprits involved with creating and selling the dangerous narcotics. A vigilante, however, would instead choose to plant bombs around the lab, blowing the place sky high with all dealers still inside... fixing the problem once and for all.
The story was always the most important thing that we kept in mind when writing these missions. Each mission had to be the character's story, not the game's story. One of the biggest challenges in an MMO is making the player feel like they're the stars. Since morality is a personal thing, we wrote these new missions in such a way that kept the player's character the main focus rather than the assistant to the mission granter. This is why signature characters such as Statesman and Lord Recluse now take a backseat to lesser-known characters during these missions. Instead, you'll interact with people such as Flambeaux, the attention-craving brat, or Frostfire, the punk who whupped a lot of lower-leveled hero butt... but always just wanted to be a cop. This Rogue's Gallery of characters drawn from earlier missions would be the ones to revolve around the character's story, rather than the other way around.
So that was about all there was to it, right? Well, there were a couple more things we needed to do: Reprogramming the code to incorporate switching between alignments while simultaneously preventing NPCs from killing EVERYONE on sight (we can thank the Marvelous Master Andy Maurer for that), delicately editing over six year's worth of existing missions, merging the markets, piercing the veil between red side and blue side, incorporating tip drops to all over the place, creating new zones for Heroes and Villains, and having a group of very talented mission writers handcrafting a plethora of alignment missions, taking on - *gasps for air* So, yeah, there were a feeeeew other things we had to do as well.
Morality is a very subjective matter. A number of games in the past have approached the topic with varying degrees of success, but we really wanted to avoid the 'Pet the Kitten vs. Kick the Kitten'* choices that are sometimes presented in those games. Instead, we approached it from the view of 'What would your character do vs. What would the player do'. Hopefully some of these missions may force the player to pause for a moment and ask themselves - "Do I feel comfortable performing the deeds to become a villainous blackguard, or deep down inside do I prefer to make heroic choices?"
The key feature to bringing this all together was our ability to create more detailed conversations with characters and objects. Being told to 'Defeat the Self-Righteous Hero' feels villainous, but talking with them first and describing all the atrocious things you did to their sidekick until they attack you in a blind rage? That's the kind of thing that gets you head-of-the-line privileges to a rather hot, and one might say, hellish place. Players were able to get a taste of these dialogs with the 'Dark Mirrors' story-arc, and we already see where they can be used to continue to bring more character-focused content.
To give an example of how the moral cycle turns within Going Rogue, let's take a look at Silent Blade, one of members of the Rogue's Gallery. Not only do the players experience moral qualms, but so do the background characters. Silent Blade starts as a Vigilante, using her skills as an assassin only on those deserving of justice. Upon convincing her father to disband his guild of assassins, a Villain would cruelly strike the man down for 'going soft'. This would make Silent Blade feel that she was misguided in her idealistic ways, resulting in her recreating and becoming the new, Villainous leader of guild of assassins known only as The Whispered Hand.
Under her leadership, many lives would come to a tragic end as the Whispered Hand grew in numbers. This would all change the day she learned her sister was leaving the guild and fleeing to Paragon City to become a Hero. Personally undertaking the mission to kill her sister for daring to believe the 'lies of foolish dogs', Silent Blade would stay her hand right before executing the final blow. A Rogue, hired as a bodyguard, would show Silent Blade that right and wrong only have meaning under one condition - when you truly care about something.
From that moment, Silent Blade would herself leave the guild, realizing that everything she had cared about was lost to her - her father, her sister, her honor. Now she takes any job from anyone, never caring whether what the target did to deserve the hit. Fending off attacks from her former pupils she personally trained, Silent Blade lives the desperate life of a Rogue. Deep down inside, however, she wonders if there is still something left for her to care about - something greater to believe in - perhaps, even, something Heroic to strive for.
Maybe you might run into her along the way and lead her to the light? Or perhaps join her if the price is right? Hire her to have someone to put the blame on if your plans fail? Or bring unto her the pain and suffering that she has caused so many others? In the end, your character will make the same difficult choices that Silent Blade has over her own 'career'.
Thanks for your time, guys! Ultimately, I hope you enjoy the missions and find that your characters are given sharper tools to define whether they walk the straight and narrow or break away and simply go rogue.
*DISCLAIMER: DUE TO THE CONSTANT VIGILANCE OF GOODY-TWO-SHOES HEROES, NO KITTENS WERE KICKED DURING THE DESIGNING OF GOING ROGUE.