The final post on my series of how I’d do City of Villains if I was time warped back to the beginning of its development and given total control of the studio.
A New City of Villains
-The theme of Mercy Island was being a minion. You took orders from a superior officer and executed those orders, then eventually executed the superior officer (probably). We’ve talked about it at length earlier, but I’m listing it here for completenesses sake.
– The theme of Port Oakes was street level crime. Plotlines that originally revolved around decryption programs from Arachnos bases were downgraded to the RIP, ones that revolved around the Legacy Chain and Wyvern heavily were switched to focus on a single vigilante and her ghost pirate minions. I intentionally made Port Oakes more street level in order to set up…
-Cap au Diable’s theme is all about major heists and espionage/sabotage jobs targeting groups like Wyvern and Longbow. You steal high tech gadgets from Aeon Corp and Crey in the Cape itself, you hop over to Paragon City to break people out of the Zig, you blow up Longbow fortresses on your own initiative as a sort of thematic follow-up to Mercy Island, when you did so under direct orders from Arachnos.
Cap au Diable is also where we encounter our first strike force, content designed for multi-villain team-ups. And I think these are basically fine as-is. Some of them could definitely use some better framing to be less “do what I, the quest giver, tell you to do” and more “I, the quest giver, have a lead for you to follow,” and that includes the one in Cap au Diable. But ultimately, all you need to do is write these as a villain who’s got a maniacal scheme of their own, but it’s a big job and they need lots of other villains to help out, and they’re willing to cut you in if you can gather up some friends (or make it happen alone – it’s totally doable). For example, the strike force here can be framed as Virgil Tarikoss, the existing game’s strike force contact, knows that the Circle of Thorns will soon be attempting to bind the demon Bat’Zul, and knows that the Legacy Chain are trying to keep the demon bound, and is seeking out villainous associates to take control of it. Keep all the same missions, but write out the part where he asks the villains to prove their worth to him by beating up the Legacy Chain and change it to him just needing the Legacy Chain beaten up so that they don’t shut down the Circle of Thorn’s binding ritual, because you won’t be able to hijack it if the Legacy Chain succeed in stopping it altogether.
-In Sharkhead Isle, we start getting up to some serious villainy. Maniacal schemes here are things like creating a clone army, stealing a fragment of a sleeping Lovecraftian god and absorbing its power, stealing a device that allows you to mind control dozens of people at once (with a wind up, but still), and stealing giant robots with the help of the Sky Raiders, a rogue PMC who operate out of a helicarrier. The theme is that you have arrived as a supervillain. You commit supercrimes that let you do awesome things.
This is where we’ll introduce second tier maniacal resources, made from combining two different first tier maniacal resources:
–Weapons + Favor from on high: Elite enforcers
–Drugs + Secret documents: Superadine (a mutation-inducing super-drug already in CoH lore)
–Friends in low places + infiltration gear: Unseen allies
–Favor from on high + unobtainium restraints: VIP hostage
–Secret documents + weapons: Super weapons
–Infiltration gear + drugs: Auto-drug apparatus (it pumps drugs continuously and covertly into the wearer – I’ll admit I’m reaching with this one to make the theme work, but I think one combo that reaches a bit will be overlooked)
–Unobtainium restraints + friends in low places: People who won’t be missed
In the existing game, Sharkhead Isle is the point where you start needing five newspaper missions to progress the plot. In the revamped version, maniacal schemes still require (usually) three maniacal resources, but usually one of those will now be a second tier resource. For example: Want to steal super robots? You need weapons and infiltration gear, but regular mooks won’t do, you need elite enforcers.
-In Nerva Archipelago, our main theme here is that super heroes now consider you a priority target. Whereas previously you would occasionally target heroes like Sea Witch because they had stuff you wanted, now you’ll be halfway through a maniacal scheme when someone like Aurora Borealis or Infernal will show up to stop you.
Nerva Archipelago is also a great place to have a cross-origin theme. All the maniacal schemes here are origin themed, and if you want to get all of them, you will have to convert some origin-specific materials from whatever origin you actually have into the origins you don’t. The ones that are related to your origin require one conversion and will be relatively easy (i.e. mutation to magic or science). The ones that aren’t related (i.e. mutation to tech or natural) will require two conversions and will take a little longer. If properly balanced, finishing all five maniacal schemes shouldn’t be necessary (just as it isn’t necessary to finish every maniacal scheme in any of the zones), so taking the long way through two conversions shouldn’t be required for anyone but completionists. For completionists, having achievements that are hard to get is kind of the point. Give them a special badge for getting all five (including two inconvenient ones) on one character and they’re happier than if all five were easily accessible. Maybe even a special scheme that requires unique materials acquired from finishing the other five.
Nerva Archipelago works so great for this because A) it’s late enough in the game that no one’s going to feel like we’ve thrown a brick wall at them (you don’t have to do any specific maniacal scheme, of course, but some people will feel like anything that has a badge is required), and B) it’s got magic-themed Circle of Thorns, natural-themed Wyvern agents, plus Rikti who can serve as all of science, tech, and mutation themed if need be, assuming we don’t want to use Freakshow for tech or Crey for science, both of whom show up in the existing game’s missions here (although Freakshow only show up in missions and have no place on the map – still, we can use that mission as the basis for a maniacal scheme themed around them if we don’t want to use the Rikti for tech and we can just add them to the map, since we’ve time traveled back to before the map was finalized).
-St. Martial was a huge letdown as the penultimate section when City of Villains launched. Like City of Heroes’ initial launch, City of Villains launched with content only going to level 40, with content up to level cap of 50 released a few months later in a patch, which means St. Martial was originally the endgame, albeit with the promise of more to come shortly. St. Martial’s mission chains aren’t bad, but they all seem extremely small-time compared to Sharkhead Isle and Nerva Archipelago, and its general theme is basically just “Las Vegas.”
I can see why being in a pleasure palace would seem like a good penultimate stage for villains. When you’re here, you’ll feel like you’ve become wealthy and powerful, was perhaps the thinking. The problem is that the local contacts are all just, like, casino enforcers. We just got done wrecking super heroes, and the point when we started stealing war robots and absorbing the power of Lovecraftian gods was two zones ago! The actual gameplay doesn’t allow us to do anything like host a high class party exclusive to other major villains or buy a Paris-themed casino and use a shrink ray to steal the actual Eiffel Tower to use as the centerpiece of the party celebrating the acquisition. When we interact with a corrupt city councilman from Paragon City, it’s by snooping through his garbage for blackmail material on someone else’s behalf, rather than meeting him in a smoky backroom to discern exactly what price – or threat – will convince him to pass legislation favorable to our interests. But just being here doesn’t feel like we’re now super-wealthy and infamous super villains, not when the actual missions cast us in the role of a freelance enforcer on the streets and not the guy raking it in from the penthouse.
When I first looked at the St. Martial content, my first thought was just to push it to between Cap au Diable and Nerva Archipelago. Let the idea be that we made a bunch of money with our high tech Cap au Diable heists and we’re going to go spend it all in Super Vegas. But while I was thinking about a few example maniacal schemes, it occurred to me that the problem isn’t that no one’s getting up to high grade super villainy around here. The problem is that you don’t get to do it, because the contacts you’re working for are throwing all the real power around. This is exactly what the maniacal scheme system is for! Instead of some quest giver being the one who comes up with the scheme to get a city councilman in their pocket, you select that option off the list, gather the resources, and do it yourself. Back in Port Oakes, the contacts were cool characters who should be retained by the stories in the maniacal scheme version, and while I haven’t gone scheme-by-scheme in these other zones, that’s true of most of the contacts in most of the zones. But not St. Martial. For the most part, the St. Martial contacts can be cut completely and nothing of value will be lost (there are some exceptions, though – I think Vivacious Verandi’s mission chain could be turned into a “wreak havoc in St. Martial” maniacal scheme with relatively minimal alteration, for example).
Special shout out to the local strike force which – once again – is framed as a demanding superior officer who wants you to prove your worth and then gives grudging respect when you jump through all her hoops, even though this is totally unnecessary to the plot. She’s number two to Scirocco, who is in Lord Recluse’s inner circle and is one of the five most powerful people in all of the Rogue Isles, so she’s definitely powerful, but this late in the game, we should be, too. We’ll again reframe this, this time as “Scirocco asked me to do a thing I can’t accomplish on my own, I will pay you all the money if you help me stay in his good graces.”
-Strictly speaking, Grandville is beyond the scope of this exercise, because it was released after the debut of City of Villains. In fact, St. Martial might be, too, depending on whether or not the maniacal scheme system is sufficiently difficult to code to require two zones be pushed back to the issue 7 update (which, in the alpha timeline, added the newspaper system that the maniacal scheme system is based on). I’m already here and have absolute power over the studio, though, so I may as well see things through to the issue 7 update. It was only like four months later anyway.
Grandville’s main theme is the four patrons. The main difference is that instead of picking a patron and then being their lackey for three mission chains before breaking free of Arachnos in the fourth (in this version, we did that basic arc clear back on Mercy Island), you instead have six maniacal schemes, one for each combination of two of the four patrons. The four patrons are constantly at odds with one another, and thus you can win the favor of one by intervening in their behalf in one of these conflicts. So you have:
-A Black Scorpion vs. Ghost Widow scheme
-A Black Scorpion vs. Scirocco scheme
-A Black Scorpion vs. Captain Mako scheme
-A Ghost Widow vs. Scirocco scheme
-A Ghost Widow vs. Captain Mako scheme
-A Scirocco vs. Captain Mako scheme
In each one of these, you do something that could potentially benefit either patron, then decide at the end which patron’s side you’re going to take, fucking over the other. This locks you out of the three maniacal schemes that don’t directly involve your patron, while also unlocking an additional scheme that advances your patron’s interests against Longbow. You’ve made a powerful ally (and unlocked your patron power pool) while also making a powerful enemy. After you hitting level 45, you unlock the final scheme: A scheme to force Lord Recluse to acknowledge you as an equal and put the fear of God into both your own patron and the other three (if you’re doing all the content in order, you’ll have made enemies of all three of them while advancing your patron’s interests).
The basic structure of the Time After Time arc works. It was City of Villains’ author saving throw against how people didn’t like being treated like a lackey throughout most of CoV (it wasn’t a focal point of the backlash, but I think the St. Martin content being at the end of CoV’s initial release was a major contributor to this), and in that capacity it’s good enough, and about as good as we can get in a format where actually taking over Arachnos isn’t really doable. Since the whole maniacal schemes idea is to make all of CoV (post-Mercy) more like that, Time After Time doesn’t need to be scrapped, just altered. Instead of your patron tipping you off and helping you under the table, you just do it all yourself.
One other minor tweak: In the original plot, you time travel into the future and discover that you and Lord Recluse destroyed Paragon City together, but then he stabbed you in the back, one thing led to another, and World War III started. Doctor Aeon travels back in time to become Professor Echo (he shows up in Cap au Diable a couple of times) and tries to stop your rise to power early, but fails. We are then told because of reasons that the only way to prevent World War III and the destruction of the Earth is to defeat Recluse without causing an Arachnos civil war. It’s not really clear why this is: Wouldn’t the obvious possibility to attempt just be to kill Arachnos first and the heroes of Paragon City second? Y’know, maybe you’re better at this whole “conquer the world” thing than Arachnos is, and maybe you can do it without triggering World War III. Since you already travel to the future on two separate occasions, here’s my solution:
- Back in the Cap au Diable Professor Echo arc, have Professor Echo save you from himself. Professor Echo seems to have an unlimited number of contingency plans (every time you thwart him, he just goes back in time and tries again, knowing in advance what you’ll do, so the version of the fight you actually experience is the one where he has just enough contingency plans to defeat you, no matter what you do), but a second Professor Echo shows up and tells the first one not to kill you because “it won’t fix anything,” and the first one immediately believes him and lets you go. In the debriefing, your sycophant talks about how weird it is that Professor Echo turned on a dime from being Hellbent on killing you to letting you walk away unharmed after literally one line of dialogue from his doppleganger.
- There’s a giant ruined statue of Lord Recluse in your first visit to the future, that he built on the ruins of Paragon City, thinking it would be the start of his rise to global supremacy. In the second visit to the future, the statue is of you (if taking your model, giving it a statue texture, and blowing it up to huge size can’t be done on the fly, we’ll just make it an empty pedestal instead, and in this timeline your statue got blown up). One of the two Professors Echo tampered with the time portal to send you into a different alternate future, the one where you won. In fact, your triumphant future was the original. You survive Recluse’s betrayal, fight him for control of the world, destroy it in the process, and ultimately end up ruler of the ashes. Maybe you even have to fight your own dark future self in a burnt out throne room. Doctor Aeon survived the apocalypse in the you-victory future and went back in time to try and kill you, but Lord Recluse just finds another villain (referred to only as “the Destined One,” which is what Recluse is now calling you in the present, so this was originally mistaken as a reference to you – but in the Recluse-victory future, the Destined One was someone else), and this one happens to be strong enough to help him defeat the Freedom Phalanx and destroy Paragon City, but not strong enough to win the ensuing power struggle. Recluse begins taking over the world and causes World War III with just, like, Russia and stuff, so that timeline’s Doctor Aeon, again surviving the apocalypse, goes back in time and also becomes Professor Echo. Once the two Echoes meet up and compare notes, they realize that they need to convince either Recluse or you not to kill the other at all. They tried Recluse first, but he wasn’t budging, so now they decided to find the original Destined One (you), bring you to the future so you’ll see the result, and convince you to kill Lord Recluse before you defeat the heroes of Paragon City. Then a third Professor Echo emerges right as the first two are convincing you to stage your coup against Recluse early, and he tells you that this doesn’t work either, because the ensuing rift within Arachnos causes World War III even with the heroes of Paragon City around to try and stop it. The three Professor Echoes agree that if killing you early doesn’t stop the war, and killing Recluse early doesn’t stop the war, then the only way to save the world is if you two just don’t kill each other at all. The four of you all agree that the best way to do this is to go into the Recluse-victory timeline and kill Lord Recluse there, thus proving you can do it and since that timeline is already apocalypse’d you can hardly make things worse. So you do that, bring the helmet back to Recluse, and this convinces him to call the whole thing off.
So, uh. Yeah. That was a bit over ten thousand words on how I’d redesign City of Villains if I had a time machine and a very specific, witch-enforced mandate not to use it for something more important.