Antilles and I walked into our NCSoft meeting with little expectations. We knew two important details about our next hour, it would feature Blade and Soul and Master X Master, the publisher’s first major push into the popular MOBA genre. Alone outside the NCSoft staff, we cozied up for to the TV’s glow for a new character reveal. We were promised something special, something that would excite fans of NCSoft. I took a sharp breath and, completely unable to whisper, thought to myself “Could this be a City of Heroes character?” It made sense. NCSoft had already mixed in numerous properties. The superhero MMO had a fanbase. Numerous well-known NPCs would fit various archetypes without much issue. But a little voice in the back of my head tampered the initial enthusiasm.
On April 31, 2012, NCSoft announced the “sunset” of City of Heroes and the closure of Paragon Studios. We have seen many games come and go here at Lorehound. Some before a fanbase of any reputable size was gathered, others after numerous restarts. City of Heroes was neither of these. It was the most popular game in its niche subgenre of superhero MMORPGs and had been open for years. NCSoft made the hard decision, and while no fanbase is happy, the denizens of Paragon City were far more vocal than most. This wound is what set the little voice off. It dumped a stream of questions into my brain. I held the voice in check until the end of the reveal and then let it all out. The staff on hand appeared a bit perturbed at my line of questioning. “How could he think this is anything short of cool?” their faces said.
There’s been plenty of coverage of the Master X Master news since the embargo was lifted yesterday morning. We didn’t partake. Not for lack of enthusiasm or access, it felt dubious to celebrate seemingly loaded news. The voice took control. It wouldn’t let me hit Publish. Instead of ignoring mini KooPA, I decided to act and reached out to NCSoft for a follow up Q&A.
Sean Orlikowski: Sure! My name is Sean Orlikowski and I’m the Brand Manager on MXM (my community alias is Valor). I’ve been with NCSOFT for about 7 years now and previously worked on Aion.
LH: Let’s get this out of the way up front. Is the inclusion of Statesman in Master X Master a long tease? Is NCSoft testing the market’s appetite for City of Heroes 2?
SO: Let me start by saying that including Statesman in MXM has been my passion project for the last 2 years. I’ve personally been working on including him in the game because I saw MXM as an opportunity to add him to a universe with our other characters. I’ve read a lot of different theories over the last couple days as to why we included him, but the real reason is simply that he works in this setting and I saw it as a way to include a game I loved into my current project. Now that’s the quick response, but I promise to go into a lot more detail in your other questions.
LH: Time to get everyone up to speed in case they forgot or missed some CoH lore. I assume I don’t need a spoiler tag for this. Statesman died during the course of City of Heroes. Can you recap how he has returned?
SO: Absolutely. I wrote his lore and spent a long time trying to get it right. Some fans have even noticed that parts of his story come from after City of Heroes officially closed. I went as far as reaching out to former Paragon colleagues I’d worked with in the past in hopes that they could assist with writing his lore, but unfortunately signing NDAs when you work at another game studio doesn’t really fly. Bottom line: I didn’t want his return to be some cliché comic book thing where he’s just magically not dead and it’s explained away as “Hey! Look! Statesman! Because… Statesman!”
The Statesman you see in MXM is not the same man who wore the mask in Paragon City- not technically, anyway. He is Tyrant, who happens to be the Marcus Cole from an alternate universe called Praetorian Earth. Fans of City of Heroes obviously know who that is but for readers who do not, he was an alternate universe version of Statesman, with the same powers and abilities, whose different choices and experiences would eventually lead to him becoming the power-hungry Emperor of Earth who then set his sights on also conquering Primal Earth, the main setting for City of Heroes. I knew that the CoH devs had plans for Tyrant redeeming himself one day in their story line and donning the guise of Statesman to help Earth in its hour of need, so that was the main basis for his return in my story. Statesman is dead and the world needed a symbol to rally behind to stop the Battalion (an alien race that was alluded to, but never materialized before the game closed). Tyrant pretended to be Statesman to be that symbol for Earth, and by serving this noble cause, had a change of heart, reminded of what he fought for all those years ago, before everything went south with the Devouring Earth and the resulting nuclear war. In the aftermath of the Battalion war, he revealed himself as Tyrant to prove a point. He basically said, “Look, symbols don’t matter. You just followed your enemy to victory because you thought I was your hero. You had the power to do this all along.” At this point, he was done being an emperor, and he couldn’t remain in Paragon as a hero, so he left it all behind him. He found another connection between Earths that led to MXM’s world where nobody would know him and he could start anew.
When Atlas– MXM’s mechanized antagonist– came online and began converting tech-assisted humanity into its Synd army, Cole saw that the people were rallying behind a new type of soldier called Masters to fight back and reclaim their planet. He decided to be that symbol once again and helped the Masters of the Dredgion win their first battle after returning to reclaim Earth. The people here didn’t care who he used to be. They didn’t question his motives. They simply embraced him as a hero, so he saw it fitting to don the mask and name of the Statesman once again. And because he is actually Tyrant, we made that costume his first alternate skin.
SO: I sent the first e-mail about Statesman back in 2014 when I joined the project. Like I said above, I saw it as a way to incorporate a character from a beloved title into our universe. Myself and the producer for MXM were both big fans of City of Heroes (I was more on the CoV side, myself) and we worked together to make sure we got his skills, look, and even his VO right since he’d only ever been voiced for a single sentence of a single trailer in the past. The bottom line for me was that nearly all of NCSOFT’s properties were being represented in the game; Aion, Blade & Soul, Lineage II, WildStar, Guild Wars 2, even Death Knight from the original Lineage MMO are in the game. I wanted the West to have proper representation, so we started brainstorming ideas for Western characters to add to Rytlock and Mondo Zax who were already in development. I made the argument for Statesman because the MXM universe offered a way he could be prominent again, and the rest is history.
LH: Was an original character ever put forth or was the plan always to use a well-known NPC?
SO: A lot of people misunderstand MXM as the “NCSOFT Character MOBA” but the reality is that most of our characters are brand new. Statesman is our 36th playable character but only our 10th character from an NCSOFT IP. Going forward, we’ll be adding both brand new and existing characters to the roster.
LH: Why Statesman? There are many other well-known characters that could have been selected. Particularly, ones that were still living when the game closed.
SO: MXM’s story is very much about humanity fighting against an overwhelming force. Each Master is a champion in their own right, fighting for different reasons to stop the Synd and reclaim their planet. All sentiment aside, Statesman was a perfect character to add to MXM for that reason alone. Fighting back against unstoppable evil is what heroes do and he was the key visual symbol who represented CoH.
Statesman will be playable in our CBT, but we have a number of other characters in development for MXM as well. Some of those are NCSOFT characters and some are brand new to MXM, but we’re planning on releasing one more Master before we launch this Summer and that one is an NCSOFT character….but you’ll have to wait until after the beta for more info on that. ☺
LH: Did the team have any reservations about mining the CoH universe? The closure wasn’t without some controversy.
SO: With a community as passionate as the CoH fans, there’s no way to talk about the game without it bringing up old wounds. If I were to point out the MMOs that are the entire reason I’m in the industry today, they would be City of Heroes, Star Wars Galaxies, and Aion. The first two of those carry a lot of emotional history in their communities. I played the hell out of City of Villains and still hold it dearly. If anyone played on Virtue, Villain side, my main characters were Jon Riposte and Nadia Mindshot, but I had a handful of others just for fun such as the pinstripe suit-wearing thug Mastermind who was part of a Supergroup called Da Corleones. I absolutely understand the negative sentiment, but I hope people realize that Statesman as a playable MXM character was not done out of malice. I loved the game, worked alongside Paragon colleagues at NCSOFT events, and went through all the steps I could to ensure that what I was writing for Statesman would meet the high expectations of those colleagues and especially the CoH fans. I’ve even received some kind notes from a couple of those colleagues saying that they enjoyed the story and how closely it followed their plans for Tyrant. Basically, I had the chance to bring something from a game I loved and was passionate about into a game I currently love and am passionate about. That kind of opportunity does not come along very often in this industry, so I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure it was done right.
LH: Is it safe to assume any game from NCSoft may see a revival in Master X Master? Specifically, when can we expect Tabula Rasa to get a nod? I’ve a Collector’s Edition in my viewing cabinet if you need to borrow it.
SO: I still have that awesome Tabula Rasa CE coin on my desk! I would say that the majority of characters, stages, and enemies in the game at this point are brand new to MXM, but if it is an NCSOFT IP, it has a chance of making an appearance in some way. We have even thrown around ideas for PvE stages where at some point your character has to utilize a vehicle and having those vehicles be an eXteel mech or a car from Auto Assault. You probably won’t see any Dungeon Runners Bling Gnomes trotting around any time soon, but we have a world where these characters can exist together, so we’ll always be looking for fun ways to do that.
LH: We appreciate your time and candor. Thanks for hanging with us. We’ll see you on the battlefield.
SO: My pleasure. I can definitely appreciate how passionate the CoH fans still are today, so I’m more than happy to answer these questions for you. People didn’t love City of Heroes because of the Statesman. They loved it because of their own characters, their own stories, the amazing roleplay community, and the friendships that many of us still hold today. I can’t personally give any of that back to you, but I can pay homage to a character who acts in some ways as a symbol for those things. As I wrote in Tyrant’s story, a symbol is only as powerful as the people who follow it, so I hope CoH fans can see MXM’s Statesman for what I hoped he would be; a tribute to a game I loved, which contributed to a career I love, and who now lives on in a new game I love.