Valiance: Online – Building a living City of Heroes – An interview with SilverHelm studios Producer, Aaron Victoria

November 30th, 2012 was the last time I logged into City of Heroes as my first max level hero, Lady Quickdeath. One by one, players logged off, saying goodbye for the last time. City of Heroes was closing down for good.  Some players were moving on to Champions Online, others were leaving the sub-genre forever. Some players, however, decided to take that day as a day to come together and create an online world where the spirit of City of Heroes can live on. One of those games is SilverHelm Studio’s Valiance: Online, which is set to enter a closed Alpha very soon. I recently had the chance to talk to Aaron Victoria, the Producer and Programming Director for Valiance Online:

Proven Gamer: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. This is quite an exciting project.

Aaron Victoria: Thank you for doing this. This is great.

Proven Gamer: So let’s dive right in – Since the closure of City of Heroes/Villains, there have been a lot of indie projects made by fans to try and capture that magic. It is pretty obvious the same can be said for you and your team. So how did you and your team come together to try and make this incredibly ambitious project?

Aaron Victoria: It originally began with me searching the community for other players which were adequately skilled developers in hopes to find a team of professionals capable of using my existing technology to make a successor. At that time, I had been developing my own MMORPG for about 5 years, and had recently combined my technology with that of my friends whose technology had been in development for 4 years at the time of the merger. Essentially, I had a really powerful architecture that was built by 3 well-versed server and client solutions engineers and was open to lend to anyone interested in helping maintain a home for our community. I was pointed to the executives of City of Titan’s development studio, Missing Worlds Media and the team behind Heroes & Villains.

We had a meeting after which the founders of Missing Worlds Media determined that they weren’t interested in using the technology. I was planning to reach out to the team behind Heroes & Villains, but before that could happen allegations were made by one of their founding members to the validity and intentions of the Valiance Online team. With both of those option ending rather abruptly, I made the decision to form a team of my own.

I knew it’d be quite hard as I was still working on my other MMORPG project as well. However, it was something I felt I needed to do for the community to try to resurrect our home. Quite a few members of the community offered their assistance and joined quite quickly after a post I made on the original Valiance forums. Over the following years we acquired more dedicated members after they showed great dedication and commitment to the project through forum involvement, pre-alpha input, or eagerness to join.

PG: I was a huge fan of City of Heroes. That is what directly lead my to your website. Obviously, you don’t want to be known as another “City of Heroes like” game. So, what sets Valiance apart from CoH?

AV: One of the biggest things we’ve embraced as a team is that Valiance Online is its own product. It has a need to be unique, different, and robust and that’s our focus. We also make no delusions to the fact that our product exists within a completely different economic and market climate than City of Heroes existed within, so to thrive we have to maintain relevance to the current and future game market’s ever changing climate. Most importantly, we recognize our love for City of Heroes, and actively take in everything the game has taught us about where we want to go and how we need to proceed to launch the product successfully. We’re, therefore, taking that powerful inspiration and giving players a feel and atmosphere similar to what they remember, but with all of the great expansion and overall progress they’d expect from their “next” adventure. Our biggest goal is to honor the legacy of City of Heroes while remain obviously recognizable as a unique entity.

In regards to uniqueness, we have a strong focus on role-playing, player choices often affecting the game world, player creativity and some non-linear game-play, the living world aspect of the world, and the most obvious element being the era in which the game is set. Valiance is set in an era in time where the world is bustling with alien lifeforms and intergalactic travel and communication. Technology and space exploration have made the planet rich with minerals, life enhancing drugs, and freedom of humanity to grow exponential as a culture and species. These same elements have led to the introduction of hostile visitors for space or inter-dimensional planes, dangerous biological diseases and deformities, the introduction of the Super gene, and people struggling to feel safe in a world where people are born every day with highly dangerous capabilities; conditions that often lead the average person to disastrous attempts at self-modification just to feel protected.

So, we work hard with our art, content, dialogue, overall aesthetic, and visual effects to give people the proper ambiance of the world they now live in.

PG: Whoa! So what sets it apart from other superhero MMOs out there? Marvel Heroes and DCUO to be exact.

AV: Personally I find Marvel Heroes Online and DC Universe Online to be more casual MOGs (Multi-Player Online Games) rather than actual hardcore MMORPGs. Both, in my opinion, have very arcade-like game structures without a strong focus on grouping and even less on role-playing; it’s a bit hard to truly role-play when you’re forced to be a specific character or have a given history. Valiance offers a deep role-playing experience with a strong focus on group-oriented game-play and professions. There is also a hardcore PvP element within the game and the essential functionality to support solo-centric game-play. Though the game isn’t aimed at the casual market, we aim to provide a reasonable casual experience for those that wish to enjoy the game that way, and I think that sets our product apart from what other current products offer.

PG: Awesome stuff. You don’t get that kind of experience much anymore outside of very niche hardcore markets. So let’s talk about what players will actually be doing when they log in. What is the moment to moment game play planned? You mentioned non-linearity, how can an MMO be every changing with so many players making decisions?

AV:  The game is being designed as an open-world sandbox of sorts, with a primary focus on combat, a secondary focus on professions, and also includes the tertiary option to just start the game and head off in any direction you want; doing whatever you want. This gives role-players the options to do what they want and enjoy the game they way they want without being forced down a linear path.

Regarding non-linearity, it comes from many of our living-world systems, and I’ll try to express this in a way that doesn’t give up any of the events we have programmed and waiting for players. You’ll see either on-screen or in your journal the “Investigative Mission” panel. These mission are often part of the living-world system. An example would be that you are doing a mission, you find a lootable drawer that you wouldn’t have ever seen without actually interacting with objects in the mission instance. You find a book that appears to hold a secret ritual used by the cultist group you just apprehended, and it tells of a dark dimension that is said to be opened after some manner of moon-shift after the ritual is complete.

Further investigation of the building leads you to find a journal, the journal of the cult’s leader suggests that he has summoned the demon from the ritual and the moon-phase is the only event that remains to hold the demon at bay. In this situation the player can further explore, go to a local magician’s store, talk to the clerk and uncover more details on the rituals and find a way to stop it. The player finds that he/she has to enact a counter-ritual requiring a certain amount of players that are skilled in Darkness Manipulation, all must be equipped 10 warp shards, and stand over an alter created by someone of the enchanting profession. Together those individuals can stop this event from happening.

We expressly inform the players as to when they have successfully completed a living-world event and in some cases you find out that the crisis can’t be averted but that you can complete the mission by preparing properly for the start of the event. Investigative missions aren’t the only missions that can do this, but this outlines how the living-world element works. If that demon escapes, there will be a massive world boss destroying major parts of the city in a way that is visible to everyone. Those aware of the events probably will be awoken to the chilling fact that they had the opportunity to prevent the disaster.

We actually have one of these events planned for the public alpha launch. I think it’s going to be great and I look forward to seeing how players do.

PG: Speaking of the players, what can you tell me about character creation? How do you handle character creation in regards to a role playing focus? How do you force the role playing without seeming overbearing for players? 

AV: We aren’t limiting players in regards to character creation, we even over-exaggerate how apparent role-playing is by allow players to tag every region of their body in character creation and describe it for players that like investigating players and reading about details of their characters. If you have a cyber eye and it’s part of a story, in the details panel choose your eye and add a description/story to it. Player that browse your profile will be able to do likewise and will be able to read those fine details.

Our content is built around this level of freedom, even allowing players to straddle the lines between good and bad, tipping the scales either based on actions or due to NPC’s/group’s specific perspectives. There are many situations where the real-life dilemma of “what is wrong/what is right” plays into the experience whereby the player does something that can be viewed as inherently good, but the NPC views it as bad. There is lots of depth to our system.

PG: About that – with players being bad and other being good, will there be a PvP element to the game? Will players be forming their own unique arch nemesis?

AV: This is something our Systems Director is currently working out. He has decided that we will have hero vs villain battlegrounds that are essentially areas of the city that are labelled hazard zones and you can only go in if you’re interested in PvPing. However, he’s still exploring the idea of implementing in-world events where live villains create content for PvE players by just being there and violating the law. However, it’s one of those things that we’re still considering with no definitive idea as to how we’re going to do it in a way that doesn’t ruin things for PvE players that despise PvP.

And yes, you will be able to form nemesis association using our player database system. We’re building it for an incredible amount of usability. Even allowing players to request ancestry connection to characters from other accounts. The character experience is DEEP!!!

PG: You have my excitement levels RISING! Incredible ambition! I love it. Let’s speak on combat, since it is the biggest part of the game. What is the style of combat? Is it like traditional MMORPG? Or is it more action/combo based? How many powers/abilities do characters have? What does leveling up look like?

AV: Yes, it is very much like traditional, classic MMORPGs, whereas your character is rooted during attacks. We did experiment with mobility-supportive motions/animations and found that it made balancing the experience very hard. In one situation we had a ranged characters moving and attacking, maintaining an impossible-to-close gap between melee characters. To counter we experimented with giving melee character lunge attacks to close gaps, but in some cases, especially PvP situations, a melee character that was well-positioned during a combat scenario could dash to a ranged target, floor them, and finish them off rather quickly. Aside from that issue, we also experienced what we refer to as floating melee. Some melee attacks such as sword or staff attacks felt like it had reasonable impact during strafing and running, but it’s really hard to implement a martial arts style standing kick without sliding the character around on one foot. To really give the game proper balance, and to support the types of animations we’re creating for the game, we had to root players

However, we have worked really hard to blend animations and motion to give combat as fluid a feel as can be accomplished in this situation.

We currently have 90 power sets in-game; the majority of the powers do not yet have proper visual effects and/or sound effects. We have animations for nearly all sets, but are currently in the process of financing visual effects.

Leveling up has the player choosing abilities from 4 different power sets in an offset sequence. Those powers are Primary, Secondary, Pool, and Archetype. The primary and secondary power sets are your typical base combat ability sets. Pool powers offer utility powers such as travel powers like flight and surface crawling. Archetype power sets give you a repository of powers specific to your archetype. An example of an archetype power set would be the Titan archetype’s power set feature many taunt and tank abilities that expand beyond his actual primary and secondary powers.

In a similar sequential fashion, when you level up you unlock enhancement slots which allow you to socket enhancements onto your characters, these are similar to gear in other MMORPG. There are Red, Blue, Yellow, and Purple enhancement types with Blue, Red, and Yellow being various degrees of effectiveness across very common types of effects. Purple enhancements are what most would refer to as super enhancements and are very powerful; they often have 3 or more attribute or effects boosts on them.

PG: Honestly this sounds like a truly remarkable feat. I know you are a ways away from releasing this game, but you do have a few videos of the Alpha build , which our readers can find here:

(These Alpha Streams are very raw and are intended to be a peek behind the curtain.)

                                        Goodness starts around the 24:00 minute mark

AV: Yes, and we will also have some other events coming up. You’ll just have to hang tight for that information.

PG: Alright, alright. Thank you for your time! 

AV: No problem! Thank you for the interview!

 

It sounds like Valiance Online is taking a page from many MMO’s while also creating something incredibly unique. I, for one, can’t wait to see more details as they come to the surface.

You can follow Valiance Online on various social media outlets:
Twitch: twitch.tv/valianceonline
YouTube: youtube.com/valianceonline
Facebook: facebook.com/valianceonline
Twitter: twitter.com/valianceonline

If you would like to help fund the game, you can do so by visiting valiance.shogn.net/donate 

Post was edited to correct Silver-Helm to SilverHelm Studios. 

Stephen Fontana (47 Posts)


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