Sunday, December 22, 2013

Redside: Environments

As a continuation of the Redside series of articles, I want to discuss the topic of environment.  In this case, a comparison of the zones in City of Villains to the original zones from City of Heroes.

One of the more common reasons for players preferring heroes to villains was that the environments of the Rogue Isles (where the villains were located) were much less appealing than the heroes' zones in Paragon City.  The redside zones universally had an element of urban decay (though in varying degrees), and almost all of them had a much more muted color palette than the zones found blueside.

It is fair to say that the blueside zones were much more colorful than the ones redside, though I found the latter to have much more detail and interest, as well as having a more organic design.  Simply put, it looked like a place where people lived and which had grown over time, compared to the very organized (and somewhat cookie-cutter) layout of Paragon City.  For example, there was practically nothing to differentiate Atlas Park, Galaxy City, and Steel Canyon aside from a couple of major landmarks.  By comparison, every zone in the Rogue Isles felt significantly different, as well as having its own story or theme (such as the Family civil war in Port Oakes or the trapped demon in Cap au Diable).  From the gambling strip in St. Martial to the docks of Port Oakes, the redside zones were fairly recognizable no matter where you were.  I am sure that some of this differentiation can be attributed to lessons learned during the development and subsequent live phase of City of Heroes.

With the introduction of Praetoria in the Going Rogue expansion, a newly themed area was added in the form of  a slightly futuristic utopian setting.  The color palette was relatively sterile, but was not as drab as the Rogue Isles.  The developers had returned to having more colorful zones, and even the relatively run-down areas didn't see as bland of color as those found redside.

I'm curious how the developers would have redesigned the original zones in Paragon City, given the lessons learned from later development.  Faultline had been rebuilt/redesigned, though it was a changed from a Hazard Zone to a standard City Zone so it wasn't a direct comparison (though the new version was far superior to the old).  Dark Astoria was also rebuilt, though I did not get a chance to see the new version.

I also wonder what changes (if any) would have been implemented in the Rogue Isles to make the setting more visually appealing to players.  I felt the higher level zones (Nerva Archipelago and St. Martial) were the weaker ones in City of Villains, as there seemed to be a lot of unused space.  Not to say that NPCs didn't spawn there, but rather the story or theme for the area was never really used to great extent.  I would rather have seen more content in the less-used areas of existing zones, rather than new zones added.

Overall, I think the general urban blight and bland colors of villain zones really didn't appeal to some players.  However, I found the zones to be much more thematic and to have a better overall design than a lot of the original blueside zones.  I think urban blight has a place in a villainous setting, but it probably should not be spread across all villain zones.  Give villains some variety, as more well-to-do characters would not want to live in such squalid conditions!  And while it's understandable to leave room for growth in your zones (for future content), it's important not to make an area feel like it's forgotten or strangely untouched by surrounded factors (at least not without a good reason for it).