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Level Designer On Massive 'Hollows Zone' Makeover

Wednesday 19th March/Brighton, UK… Level designer Melissa "War Witch" Bianco explains, in her exclusive Developer Diary, the improvements made to the City of Heroes Hollows Zone.

Hello there. I’m Melissa Bianco, Level Designer on the City of Heroes team, and some of you may know me as War Witch. Having worked on City of Heroes for over five years, I can tell you that we know a lot more now that we did at the beginning and zone design is a good example of that.

The Hollows has been one of those zones that I've wanted to take some time and revisit. In the past, there have been several common complaints about it: The content is repetitive and not all that interesting, framerate is poor, enemies are too hard, players can’t solo it, and they’re forced to go there to get missions!

So I wanted to go in and make some spawn changes, and make us all a lot happier with the zone. Going in, there was little in the way of outside resources (Art and Tech were heavily booked with the Issue 11 material) available to rework the zone, and I had a small window of opportunity to get the work done in. In the end I just jumped in with both feet and started reworking the zone. I started by gutting every spawn in the Hollows and starting from scratch.

Spawns Changes

This is what I did (by neighborhood):

Cherry Hills

This is the first neighborhood players encounter when they enter the zone from Atlas Park.

The spawns for this neighborhood are now like City zone spawns, not Hazard. So they're based on 1 - 3 players. The level range is now 5 - 7 only.

I wanted to make the transition from City zone to Hazard zone less painful, especially since new players are 'forced' to go there by a Contact. I made this neighborhood a standard 'city' spawn zone. What this means is that I made the spawns “do-able” by solo players up to groups of three, which is pretty standard for a city zone. I also kept the roads free of bad guys so that, within reason, players could get around Cherry Hills without massive difficulty.

I added some fresh blood (er...meat?) to The Hollows. There were piles and piles of Outcasts and Trolls and Trolls and Outcasts. Both villain types are kind of tough, so I wanted to add some flavor and some variety! So I added Skulls, Hellions, and Lost to the mix. Also, you may run into Paragon Police or Longbow, but since they're allies, they'll help you out. The heroic presence (Longbow and Paragon Police) is small, so that they don't kill steal too much. However, gone are the canned animations of the Paragon Police. If you drag a villain back to them, now you'll definitely get a reaction, if the Police Drones don't get them first.

Four Seasons

This neighborhood is also a "city" sized spawn neighborhood. The level range for this neighborhood is now 8 to 10 only. I've also brought in Hellions, Skulls, and Lost to the mix here.

Red River

This neighborhood was pretty much vacant of spawns entirely. Not anymore. Now there are Hydra, Coralax, and some Trolls wandering around. The Trolls seem to be paying special attention to the dam. The spawns here are also for 1 - 3 players so they shouldn't be too difficult to solo or for small groups. The level range of this neighborhood is 8 - 10 only.

Eastgate Park

There weren't too many changes to this zone other than to make them more standard in terms of spawning 'rules'. No piggy backing of spawns near other spawns so that the place is lagged down and it's a blanket of bad guys. Players should have some room to breathe again as they make their way through this neighborhood. This neighborhood is level 10 - 12 only. The spawns range anywhere from 1 to 5 players. It's not a consistent city-sized spawn, there are hazard elements, but there is a 'possibility' of a small spawn for the solo players. Also, I always throw spawns into EVERY neighborhood that are three villains maximum so players should be able to find something to kill as a solo player.

Vahzilok have moved into the neighborhood, but usually only at night and in a very specific location. The Legacy Chain have a presence there too, a heroic group of mystical heroes who are there to help, not hurt the heroes of Paragon City. They want to get to the bottom of the Circle of Thorns threat as we do. There might another reason, too, but they won't even give that up to Longbow. PPD have a small presence at the entrance from Skyway City so they're pretty much watching the door.

Grendel's Gulch

Now we're getting to the pain. Admittedly, the spawns in this neighborhood were entirely too difficult. They were even too difficult for a 'hazard' zone (3 - 5 players). They have been seriously toned back and the groups shouldn't be so close to each other so that if you trigger one, you don't trigger the one next to it, too. These have been made a bit differently. They spawn anywhere from 1 to 5 players. What this means is, you MIGHT get a big group of Igneous or you MIGHT get a do-able solo spawn size. It depends on your team size and the luck of the draw, really. Also, except for some surprises, you should see the Igneous well before they ever see you.;

In the guts of the Gulch, the spawn levels are 13 - 15. However, around the perimeter (to accommodate the Talshak mission), there are a set of spawns that are 11 - 12 only. These guys are clearly defined as they are the only spawns in the entire Gulch that are face down in the ground taking a dirt nap. If players want to drop down and go deeper into the Gulch, they do so at their own risk.

The Trolls are brave (or dumb) enough to move into the Gulch. They either haven't noticed that the rocks are deadly or they don't care. There's also a very small presence of Devouring Earth, in the form of some Bees, but they're so minor and easy to kill it's barely worth mentioning.

The Vahzilok have also crept into the Gulch, but they tend to keep their distance from the interior of the Gulch and hang back near the perimeter, where the dirt is soft and shovels are plentiful.

I made no changes to the Caverns.

Eastgate Heights

This is another combo city/hazard neighborhood. The spawns are for 1 - 5 players. The level range is also 13 to 15.

Originally, this area was fully dedicated to Circle of Thorns, but I brought in Skulls, Hellions, and Trolls who tend to flesh out the edges of the zone, but as you get closer to the tops of the peaks, it's all Circle all the time. There are also some Tsoo but they're sneaky, and you never know when they're going to drop in. Since there is such a large Circle presence, there is also a Legacy Chain presence to thwart them.

Missions Changes

Mission Doors

I pulled every single mission door from the zone and reassigned it to a specific contact AND that contact's neighborhood. What this means is; no longer will players have to fly across the deadly Grendel's Gulch at Level 5 for their Frostfire mission at the other end of the zone, dodging spawns that can make mincemeat of them in a few short hits. I've added mission doors to Grendel's Gulch (caves), Eastage Park (manhole covers), and Eastgate Heights (caves, CoT) so that players continue to remain within their own neighborhoods in which their contact is located. The exception is Meg Mason, who is located in Cherry Hills and will send players across the zone, depending on their level.

Repeatable Missions

I added a new contact to the zone, an undercover operative named Meg Mason, who has the skinny on all the gangs in the area. She hands out repeatable missions for each neighborhood. Meg Mason is located in Cherry Hills by the abandoned water tower on the hill where the Supergroup Teleport exit point is.

Contacts

Since I gutted the entire zone's spawns, when I went back in to populate the zone, I made a very wide path to the contacts. A very wide path. I also added Meg Mason, as I mentioned above, to Cherry Hills.

Parting Words:

Although I began this diary by listing a lot of common complaints, I’ve always felt that the zone had promise. It just wasn’t being realized! So my goal was to simplify, streamline and liven it up. Now that the Hollows is a bit of a hybrid zone (some city spawns, some hazard), I think it’ll be a lot more welcoming. And even though I think players will miss putting their Hero on Hover while they go for coffee and wait to get to the Frostfire entrance, they’ll be happier that he’s much easier to access now. The Hollows now fits the style of Striga, Faultline, et al in that the missions the contact gives are now in line with the neighborhood difficulty. Plus, Meg Mason is a breath of fresh air for people who just want to get out and do one-off missions. Once you’ve had a chance to try it out, I’d love to hear your feedback in the game or on the boards!

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