PAX East 2018: Talking superhero MMOs with Ship of Heroes’ Casey McGeever


At this year’s PAX East, I discovered that my mental picture of Casey McGeever did not match the actual man in person, but that was a positive thing; meeting the man himself, he projects an aura of warmth and earnestness that’s almost impossibly infectious. Not that it should be all that surprising, as he’s spent so much time talking about the strength of community when it comes to building up the base behind Ship of Heroes as a whole.

McGeever and I had an opportunity to speak about a number of issues surrounding the City of Heroes-inspired superhero MMO, starting with some talk about the game’s roadmap moving through the remainder of the year. The roadmap covers the past few months and recent known developments, but it had to be delayed slightly while the team pushed through the early stages of pre-alpha, engine upgrades, and the associated tasks. Now we’re into April, and it’s time for the community to see what’s on the docket for the next three months.

Aside from interviews such as this one, the big focus for April is working on the day/night cycle, adding more effects, and adding a new healing powerset. May, meanwhile, will be all about a login test (not exciting, but important to make sure that the servers are working right) along with one revised power set and one added set; there’s also going to be a new mission map and lighting changes. Last but not least, June will see costume testing, peeks at Controller and Debuffing powers, and preparations for raid testing.

The overall plan remains for the game to enter some form of beta testing later on this year. The game has been in development for two years now, so it seems like a good milestone to hit overall. Not that it’s always been easy to convince people that the game is a thing that’s really happening, despite that turnaround time.

As McGeever puts it, in his own experience it takes people a good year and change (12 to 15 months, in his own words) to believe that a given company is actually serious and planning to do something. So people weren’t just surprised when Ship of Heroes showed up; they were also skeptical. He feels like at this point, the community has begun to accept that yes, the game is actually being made and it’s going to happen, but it took some time before that was the case.

Not that he sees himself in competition with the other City of Heroes spiritual successors. More games is a good thing; it makes for a better environment for everyone, more options and more to enjoy. He feels that Ship of Heroes has always been clear about doing a specific thing and having a particular focus, and having more games seeking to recapture the magic is ultimately good.

As for his particular focus? Building and supporting a strong community and offering a strong lineup of repeated content. Which is also, in part, why the game is set on a spaceship instead of any of the more traditional settings.

McGeever explained that if you think about it, superheroes going to space is perhaps the oldest superhero trope in existence. There are exceptions here and there, but not only is it one of the most common elements of storytelling, it also winds up calling to a whole lot of classic stories (the first Avengers film, the Phoenix saga for the X-Men, Kirby’s New Gods, Superman against Braniac… the list goes on). It’s mainstream superhero storytelling, made unusual only because it was something that City of Heroes never did.

But the spaceship also offers another advantage: It allows for semi-repeatable event content without it being constantly available. This week, the ship could be close to a planet with certain traits for you to explore; next month, it could be somewhere completely different. McGeever joked that there would probably be a place totally not named Ouroboros where you could explore old content, but the movement allowed the game to provide new content without having to explain sudden new sections of the city all the time.

When asked about villainous content, McGeever was enthusiastic about the fact that he would love to have the option of playing villains; the main reason it’s not meant as a launch feature is simple scope creep. Trying to bring too much into a small game developed by a small team would be a sure way to keep the game from ever happening. In the future, he’d love to add it; however, he also knows that there was a great deal of interest in bringing villainous archetypes over to the hero side. So people might be more interested in the mechanics than the actual villainous storytelling.

On the subject of storytelling, the game’s iconic heroes are meant to be far less important to players than their personal characters. While there are meant to be heroes in place to provide a sense of grounding for the world, they’re there as the backdrop rather than as the “real” heroes; he wants to avoid any NPCs with the same level of hatedom as, say, Statesman. That having been said, if players really want a character to die… well, there are no rules against it.

He also stressed the idea that one of the important elements in the game’s design – for both storytelling and content – is the idea that late-arriving players shouldn’t feel ostracized or penalized for not being in the game earlier. New players who heard about the game and started later should be just as welcome in the title, and veteran players should be welcoming and encouraging.

This was something that he also cited as a particular issue with Champions Online, a game he has a lifetime subscription to but admits to not playing for at least two years or so. While it seemed like a fun idea, the impossibility of new players catching up and the general coldness of the playerbase left him unengaged when he did play, and the game’s mechanical issues were the sort of thing that made the game less fun all around. Letting players be everything meant that everyone could do everything and never needed teammates.

So what will the world feel like? After some consideration, he compared some of the feel of the Ship of Heroes city itself to the early days of Superman comics in Metropolis; the city is clean, bright, and forward-looking. Peel beneath the surface and it gets more dangerous, and the fight that the heroes are engaged in should always feel like it matters. The danger is real, losing is perilous, but there’s also plenty worth defending, and the world should feel optimistic and heroic.

To cap things off, I asked if he thought Ship of Heroes would have space on the show floor next year. After a moment of consideration, he said it wasn’t sure if the game would be ready enough to support that. But the year after that? Certainly possible.

We’d like to thank Casey McGeever for his time and patience in answering our questions.

Massively Overpowered was on the ground in Boston for PAX East 2018, bringing you expert MMO coverage on everything (and everyone!) on display at the latest Penny Arcade Expo!
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