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Making A Fun AE Mission

First, notice that I said "fun" AE mission. Not "the best" AE mission, not "the most XP" AE mission, but a fun one. Too many times, people get caught up in making a mission that is all about XP and forget to make it fun--killing the same purple guy over and over again gets a bit old after the 41st time. Plus, there are those missions that make you want to bash your head against the keyboard in defiance of the utter futility unfolding on your screen; even if the story is great, the boss is overpowered or the scenario is too hard, etc.

The following article gives advice on how to make a fun story-based mission, and also how to make a fun "bust-'em-up" mission; I will begin, however, by noting some common pitfalls where mission authors forget to make the mission fun.

Common Authoring Pitfalls

"Defeat All" objective on Large/Outdoor maps. These types of missions make me want to tear my hair out. Not only do I have to hunt all over this HUGE map for bad guys, but if I miss even one, I can't get out of the mission until I find it. Very, very frustrating. "Defeat All" objectives are okay, and Large/Outdoor maps are okay. Just not the two together, please. Doing a "Defeat All" objective on a Medium map is a good compromise; also, doing a "Defeat X number of bad guys" objective on an Outdoor map will do well.

"Rescue X people" on Outdoor maps. If I see this objective pop up on an outdoor map, the chances are good that I will simply quit the story rather than try to finish it, because I hate this type of mission so much. I don't even like them when they pop up as "real" CoH missions, because it's such a time waster, and I'm not alone in this opinion. After you've been over the whole map, you can't tell where you've really searched all the different terrain levels and where you need to search again, and so you spend more time flying/jumping/running around the map trying to find that last darned captive than you did rescuing all the others. Again, very frustrating. (Can you tell I don't like Outdoor maps much? XD) A compromise here is to reduce the number of rescues, or choose a Large or Medium indoor map instead, so you're dealing with less terrain changes.

The "everything cons as an Elite Boss" mission. You might like an intense challenge, but your audience may not. Keep in mind that Elite Bosses are very hard to take down, and if everything in the mission is an EB, then your average player has close to a hundred hard fights to get through. Sure, it's great XP--when you're not racking up XP Debt from eating so much floor, and when you're not coming out of the AE Hospital and refilling your Inspirations for the 11th time. You can compromise on the difficulty factor by having several bosses spread throughout the mission, with each boss surrounded by "Medium" or "Hard" level minions. (I would recommend "Medium" over "Hard", personally, because "Medium" usually makes oranges and reds appear a little more frequently.)

The "completely-overpowered boss" mission. It really stinks to get through to the end of the mission or the end of an arc only to be soundly defeated by a boss that has insane powers, especially if the two powersets the boss has cannot be combined in the real game. Take care to test the boss' power level by running the mission yourself a few times, with different archetypes if you can, and see how your idea for the boss plays out. Remember, you can always make a boss a little bit harder if you feel it is necessary, but sometimes, you have to dial it back down a bit. Nobody should get defeated by a boss in a few seconds--at least give the players a chance.

Making a Fun "Bust-Em-Up" Mission

One important note: this is not a set of tips on how to create a farm/meow mish. This is simply guidance on how to create a mission that is not driven by characters and plots, but rather a series of strategies. "Farms", by their nature, are just endless battles meant to give the player tons of XP, but they are not necessarily the most fun, because everything is so XP-driven. What I am proposing is a middle ground between farms and true "story" arcs--a "strategy" arc, where you can test how to take down different enemy groups, check out how different maps play out, or even just have a bit of fun designing a mission without having to worry about a story.

Choose your bad guy group wisely. Council, 5th Column, and other similar groups have a lot of ranged combat; Circle of Thorns, Crey, Nemesis, and Malta have a lot of holds, stuns, and endurance-drainers; Hellions, Outcasts, Freakshow, and Tsoo have a wide range of abilities. Of these, Crey, Nemesis, Malta, Freakshow, and Tsoo are some of the harder groups. Remember that Freakshow can resurrect themselves, while the boss-level Sorcerers in the Tsoo group can resurrect other Tsoo. Crey and Nemesis also have healers. Choose the bad guy group that you feel gives the best balance of challenge and victory.

Choose an interesting map. Because you aren't likely focusing on story elements, you will want a lot of interest in the map. A less linear map will create more of an "infiltrate and search" feel for your mission; a larger map could also create more spawn spots for your bad guys. You could even go for a more exotic setting than the usual warehouse/office map, like caves and the like, or even outdoor maps (as long as it isn't a defeat all or a rescue... ;) )

Resist the urge to crank up the difficulty. Programming groups of "Hard" bad guys might not seem so difficult to you if you're used to playing a Tank, but remember that people of all archetypes will be playing your mission--make sure that that Controller or Defender doesn't die at the door. You can make the back rooms of the map more difficult than the front rooms; select the "Ramp Up" style of difficulty on the first page of the AE mission creator. You can also have a "Staggered" difficulty, but this may put some of the hardest groups right up front, so be careful with this setting. Also, remember that some players may already have their personal difficulties cranked up to fight enemies a few levels higher, or have it set to where the mission treats them as more than one player.

If you're making a custom bad guy group, don't make every bad guy the same. Taking down that one purple boss is an adrenaline rush; defeating the 30th purple boss, which is the exact same as the last 29, is a drag. Make some variation between lower-level baddies and higher-levels; maybe the lower-levels can have different archetypes, different types of attacks from the higher-levels, or different damage resistances. Remember to make the different levels of baddies look different, too, so that players can more easily recognize what they are facing.

Don't make the mission arc too long. If you're not focusing on a story, you don't really need to make a five-mission bust-em-up, because it won't have much purpose after the first mission or two. But if you want more than one mission in your arc, you could do a two-mission bust-em-up. This can be your chance to introduce the bad guys in the first mission with a bit lower difficulty, and then make the second mission a little harder, maybe with a different boss or a stronger boss.

Making a Fun "Story" Mission

If you loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid (am I dating myself? XD), then story-based missions will definitely be your style. And even if you love literature in general, or just love the thrill of a good story, story missions are way more fun, because you can get into the story matter and really interact with the characters. As an English major in college, I often loved to write my own side-story versions of how a new character might interact with the established characters in the novels and short stories that I read for classes. With the Mission Architect, you can craft your own interactive stories, and you can make them fun, even if the story is more drama than comedy.

First, think about the story you are trying to tell.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the conflict?
  2. Who are the main characters?
  3. How does the player fit into your story?

Write down the answers to these questions so that you have them for reference later on. In response to the first question about conflict, determine why the contact (the personage your audience will first interact with) wants this mission done. For instance, in my arc, "Anger Management: The Trials of a Council General," the contact is a hero named Setting Sun, who at first has been fighting against the main villain, General Pystov, as simply one hero among many. Pystov is angry at the whole heroic world, and wants to get rid of every hero who crosses his path. Thus, the conflict is firstly a broad "good vs. evil" conflict. But soon, Pystov brings the conflict right to Setting Sun's doorstep when he captures Setting Sun's wife and holds her hostage. This makes Setting Sun even more determined to get rid of Pystov, since he is now not only a threat to heroes in general, but he is a personal threat as well. Developing this conflict in your mind before you start making the mission will make it easier to determine what should happen later on.

When I developed Setting Sun's character, I didn't know at first what kind of hero he was, but as he took shape in my head, I realized he is a fighter, not a desk clerk. He hates being the contact and not the guy actually completing the mission, because he's used to getting out there, kicking butt, and taking names. I also added that Pystov injured Setting Sun so badly in their last confrontation that Setting Sun was forced to be on the sidelines for much of the arc. But I wanted to make sure the audience knew that Setting Sun was not used to delegating tasks to others, and that it grated on him. My boyfriend described Setting Sun quite well as a "Lieutenant Worf"-type character--a warrior, not a water boy. Giving your contact more of a backstory can help you flesh out your story and figure out what really matters in the whole situation.

Next, if you're including any heroic NPCs to aid your audience, figure out a bit of backstory for them. What do they have to gain by helping you complete the mission? In "Anger Management," I included several allies who all wished to see General Pystov taken down because he represented a virulent threat to all heroes, not just the few who made his hit list. Since Pystov is a man who hates the heroic cause deeply, the allies each had to stand up to him in their own way, based off their archetypes and backstories. For my arc, I made sure that all the NPC allies were connected with Setting Sun as friends or colleagues, and that their backstories were fairly short but enough to tell a bit about their personalities as well as how they became friends with Setting Sun.

Last, figure out what kind of character the villain is, and what his/her backstory is. Once you know who the bad guy (or bad girl) is, you can better formulate the hero who works against everything that the villain stands for. Just don't be afraid to change that villain character as the story takes shape! In "Anger Management," I had intended to make it a humorous story, even down to the full name of the villain himself: General Lee Pystov. (Read the full name a few times... XD) But as I wrote the story, Pystov became less of a comic villain and more a serious character. He's an aging Council soldier who's already lost his arm fighting against heroes, and who now finds himself losing control of his anti-hero weapon (who becomes the heroine Catarinya). In the end, he is so dejected that he asks, "Can I be getting too old for this?" as you defeat him for the last time. Pystov's come a long way since I first wrote him as the Council general who's angry at everything--he now has reasons why he's so angry, and he's become a lot more human in the process.

In terms of finding out where the player fits in the story, I have found that it's almost easier to write a story in prose form first, and then figure out which character will be replaced by the player in the mission version of the story. Case in point: the arc I've been referencing is actually based on a larger story which involves several evil upper-level Council members, including Pystov, and their prisoner, a forcibly-mutated heroine (Catarinya). In the prose form of the story, there is a kindly Council guard who loves Catarinya as if she were his own daughter, and he works secretly to free her, right under the noses of the bad guys! As I wrote the arc, I realized that the players who would be experiencing the arc would be, in essence, playing as that kindly guard, because part of the arc is about rescuing Catarinya. This helped me polish and tweak the arc more effectively later on as well.

Make your characters more human (if it works with your story). It's fine to have a straight "good vs. evil" battle where the conflict is more black-and-white--the shining hero versus the shadowy villain. But if you want to throw a little more of a twist into the story, how about giving the hero a flaw, like an excess of pride or a guilty pleasure? A hero with courage born of bitterness might be an interesting start. On the flip side, how about giving your villain a virtue, like refusing to actually kill, or perhaps a bit of conscience? Mixing that into your story can help the characters become more human, more believable, and it can help the players get into the story more. You can allude to these character traits through actual NPC dialogue in the mission (patrols with two NPCs talking, the NPC hero or the villain's speech), or through clues, mission information text, mission completed text, etc.

Use a group of bad guys that makes sense with your arc's story. For my "Anger Management" arc, it would have been silly if I had used Tsoo or Freakshow baddies instead of Council--Pystov is part of the Council, so it made sense for me to use Council bad guys. But even if you're doing a custom bad guy group, make sure that it fits the flavor of your boss/villain, unless you want your villain to be the leader of ragtag groups of different bad guys (which could also work). Having a random close-combat villain when the rest of the bad guys have been Family with Tommy guns, for instance, doesn't make sense to the audience unless you explain the difference.

Don't forget to tie all your clues/information back together at the end. Keeping your story consistent can be difficult if you edit your mission over several days or weeks. But I found that keeping a record of all the clues and dialogue I put in could be helpful--otherwise, it falls to the players in your missions to ask "What does this clue mean? It seems kind of random." At the end of the arc, you could include a souvenir clue that helps put all the pieces together, or you could have the contact's final "Mission Complete" text tie all the loose ends together...or both!