Simultaneous Systems of Character Choice

coh[City of Heroes/Villains] City of Heroes/Villains exhibits all the varieties of choice in games to which I referred recently, and it does it all before you even start the game.

First, the game is class-based, under the name “archetype.” Each game begins with five options. City of Heroes will be the most familiar: tank, support, crowd control, damage (ranged), and damage (melee). There you go: class-based game, five options.

Next we have sub-classes (power pools). That is a familiar hybridization: do you want a mostly defensive tank, or will you trade some defense for some damage? What sort of support do you want to provide? What type of damage do you want to deal? Where most games have three or so sub-classes (like specialization in Dark Age of Camelot or talent trees in World of Warcraft), CoH/V has about five options each for primary and secondary power pools, so we have quickly gone from five classes to over one hundred sub-classes. Wow.

In one sense, you can cut that at least in half because some of the options are fundamentally similar. No one cares what kind of damage your Defender deals, and the same mostly applies to all the damage-dealing powers. Each set of pools has an odd man out, but most play about the same. Energy Blasters and Assault Rifle Blasters mostly do the same thing: damage.

In another sense, that is a very important difference to you when it is your character. Sure, even people you team with tend to forget whether El Roboto Diabolico has a Dark Miasma or Poison secondary, but you have a character concept. Frankly, no one at your workplace cares whether your undergraduate degree was in English Language or British Literature, but it is significant in how you think about yourself. In finding the character that fits your playstyle perfectly, it might matter a great deal whether your damage pool’s disorient is single-target/high magnitude or area effect/low magnitude. And do you want to shoot blue & white waves, pink rings, or black rays?

(We are just going to ignore the next step, since it creates few meaningful choices. This is not the paragraph you’re looking for. Move along.)

This brings us to the final choice system: open-ended. By that, I mean your costume. There are so many costume options that we usually ignore the 100+ sub-classes when talking about how many choices you have at character creation. If you have not seen the City of Heroes character creator, go find a few screenshots or ask a friend to show you. You could fill your account with characters that are in some way different from every other character ever made. Of course, by the millionth character, that might be because you have a different shade of lavender on your head fin or that you have the partially transparent light yellow-orange rimless glasses, but that goes back to the perfect character for you. If it is really important to you whether the kitty on your shoulder is forest green with light blue stripes or dark green with periwinkle stripes, you can spend ten minutes flipping between them. You have three sliders each for the shape of your forehead, nose, cheekbones, etc. Go nuts.

These latter two also provide an important feature in choice: choosing not to choose. You can easily narrow your range of choices on those things that are unimportant to you.

You are not looking at a menu of over 100 classes; at each point, you pick from a half-dozen. What kind of character do you want to play? Okay, a Corruptor; what kind of damage do you want to deal, and what sort of buffs and debuffs? People who are terribly interested can compare the brawl coefficients of Defender secondary attacks versus Blaster primary attacks, how each compares to Scrapper primary attacks after adding the probability of a critical strike, and whether the Controller should take something from the Fighting pool as an effective tool for knockdown with damage. You can lay out all the choices or you can pick one from column A and one from column B.

You do not need to use the sliders for your body and face. There are a half-dozen preset options that you can pick and be out the door, or just take what the character looks like out of the box. You cannot match colors to save your life? There is a button to keep everything in the same palette. Really do not care at all what you look like? Hit random and off you go.

And hey, you already chose which menu of choices you wanted when you bought the game. If you read up before buying, you knew that this game has no attributes and limited path-dependency in character development. You could have played Asheron’s Call or EVE Online, where you select your character attributes and individual skills, but you were comfortable with this sort of character specification. Or maybe you did not even care that much, and you bought the game because your friend said it was fun.

You choose how much you want to choose. The important thing is that you can choose where it does matter to you. Are you the guy who really cares whether you are dealing fire or ice damage? Are you the guy in the produce aisle deciding whether your bok choy needs to be organic? Or do you just want a burger, you don’t care where from, yeah a taco’s fine, whatever?

Personally, I like ice damage but fire buffs (only a weak preference), I shy away from organic bok choy (and will use celery in a pinch), and most hamburgers are good (but can we not go to McDonald’s?). I have few opinions about what color my computer case is, what fabric my shirt is (machine-washable? done), or which version of Windows is on this computer.

So what choices matter to you?

: Zubon

One thought on “Simultaneous Systems of Character Choice”

  1. Great post Zubon; I’ve just recently bought CoH and CoV last month when CoV came out – I’ve been amazed at how many hours I’ve already spent just generating characters… that alone is ahelluvalottafun. I think I have created about 25 different characters across 4 or 5 servers now (both heroes and villains).

    How many times have you just slapped the random button to see what it comes up with? I am guilty myself of jamming on several occasions, seeing something that’s really cool and going “Hmmm… a couple tweaks and this could be a coool character”. Next think I know I’ve taken that character, gone back and modified the archetype and subclass to fit the character’s looks and voila! New Character.

    And what choices matter to me? I like the choice of how many squares are on the roll, make it two-ply please, and quilted is preferable. Thank you.

    Oh; bok choy need not be organic imho – at least I’m eating something that’s good for me!

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