Mission Architect Custom Units
|Player Guide Notice|
| This article is a Player Guide. Paragon Wiki takes no responsibility for the content within.|
Questions and concerns should be posed to the authors of the article using the article's talk page.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Know Your Audience / Difficulty
- 3 Know Your System / Mission Architect
- 4 Know Your Limits / What You Can't Do
- 5 Power Sets - Pros and Cons / What Set to Use?
- 6 Virtual Archetypes / How to Combine Sets
- 7 Unit Difficulty Settings / How Hard Baddies Are
- 8 Sets to be Aware Of / Advanced Power Set Information
- 9 Understanding and Changing AI / Manipulating How Units Use Powers
- 10 Frequently Asked Questions / I Want More Information
- 10.1 Why can't I put certain costume pieces on my characters?
- 10.2 How many guys/units can I put in a mission or group?
- 10.3 How do I delete a unit?
- 10.4 Can I make a unit without a secondary?
- 10.5 How do I make easier or weaker or low level units?
- 10.6 How do I make harder units or really strong AVs?
- 10.7 Why can't I give a minion Full Auto?
- 10.8 I don't want my unit to have Detention Field. How do I get rid of it?
- 10.9 Why does my unit only use Web Grenade or never uses Wormhole?
- 10.10 Why does my boss always run?
- 10.11 Why are my custom allies not attacking most of the time?
- 10.12 Why aren't all the buffing allies using their buffs?
So, you want to make your own group or custom boss with the Mission Architect system? You came to the right place! This guide is intended to go over all the information you'll need to know to make your own units. Some of this information is pretty basic, while some is more advanced information that you may not have known.
Know Your Audience / Difficulty
The first thing you need to know is who you're making it for. Are you making it for yourself? Are you making it for friends or people in your SG/VG? Are you making it to release to the general public? Once you have the answer to that question, you can figure out where to go next.
The biggest question this answers is difficulty. If you're releasing the story for more than a couple of people, or more than just yourself, you'll want it to be as accessible as possible. You don't want to make your custom enemies so hard that most people can't beat them (or do you?).
If you do intend to make your enemies extremely challenging, make sure your story arc comes with a notice. Otherwise, the majority of players don't want to fight enemies that can wipe their team every encounter. The Mission Architect system allows the players to create very powerful units, so always be careful and test. In general, if you want to follow the guidelines of normal story arcs, make your regular enemies relatively simple to handle, and reserve the big, tough, impossible challenges for boss fights.
Know Your System / Mission Architect
Once you know what you're making, you'll want to delve into the system and start playing with it. You'll notice right away that the way you create enemies is fairly close to how you create a player. There are several quick ways to get started on creating units:
- From the main screen of the MA, go to the My Characters tab. Here you can simply press the Create Character button.
- From the My Groups tab, you can press New Custom Group and begin editing units from there. This method is better if you want to create several units at a time as part of a new custom group.
- Once you're actually editing a story, you can begin editing a custom unit by pressing the Custom tab near any Enemy Group or similar settings. This applies to the group of a mission as well as any boss, captive, or ally objectives.
Once you begin editing a unit, you'll be able to pick between Custom Character Rank, Fighting Preference, and Flight Power to start off with.
Custom Character Rank is fairly self-explanatory: do you want a minion, lieutenant, boss? EB, AV? If you pick Person, this unit will only be an NPC that you can rescue or use as a contact. They can't have powers and won't fight.
Fighting Preference determines a portion of your unit's AI. If they're set to melee preference, the unit will do everything they can to close into melee range to attack. If they're not able to, and have ranged attacks available, they'll use those instead. If the unit has a ranged preference, they'll be content to stay at range and attack the player as long as they're able. If they have melee attacks, they may still use them if range permits. If you conflict the AI by giving them only melee attacks with a ranged preference, the unit will still act according to the abilities of their sets. For more information on this, see section on Understanding and Changing AI / Manipulating How Units Use Powers.
Flight Power is what's currently available for travel. This defaults to None, but you can also select Flight or Reflections Effects. Flight is just Flight; the unit will fly around if it feels like it. This will activate costume parts like wings or jet boots just as it does for players. Reflections Effects is another version of Flight. The effect is the same, but the unit will also be drawn somewhat translucent with a bright white glow around them, same as the Reflection units in the Shadow Shard. Functionally the two are the same. The only difference is visuals. In either case, units will only fly when pursuing or fleeing. They will not default to fly like ghost units. Their preference is to walk.
Once you get past this screen, you're able to pick a primary set for the unit. You can pick any form of attack set or control set from any archetype. You can also pick a difficulty setting (Standard, Hard, Extreme). The difficulty setting, along with unit rank, determines what powers they have access to. The tab titled Custom Character Powers will show you which powers the unit has according to the settings you have picked.
The next screen is merely the unit's secondary set. This time around, you can pick (nearly; Mastermind sets are excluded) any offensive set as well as defensive, buff, debuff, and control sets. You may have noticed by now that you don't have to follow normal player archetype restrictions. You can make Ranged/Defense, Control/Control, Melee/Buff, or anything else you can think up.
The next two screens are merely to determine the appearance of your character. Once you pick type and build, you can make the actual costume. This is the same as making a player, so you should know how this works. Here you can save and load costumes or make new ones.
The last screen is to give the unit a name and a description as well as a summary of the things you've done so far. You can also determine an enemy group to put them in. Once you have this screen done, hit Save and Continue. If you've been following along, you just made your first custom unit! You should now know the basics of the system.
Know Your Limits / What You Can't Do
Now that you know how to create a unit and the basics of, there are a few things to note about limitations of the system.
We've already covered that your primary has to be an attack or control set. This means you can't have a unit that's Buff/Buff, Defense/Defense, or anything similar. This limitation is merely to prevent the player from making helpless units who can't fight back. A further limit on powersets is that you can't have two weapon-based sets on one character. This means no Dual Blades/Archery units. You also may not combine two Mastermind primaries. This mostly has to do with AI issues.
There's a further limit on which powers a certain rank can have. For instance, a minion will never be able to have Total Focus or Full Auto even on Extreme. Though it may be unfortunate you can't quite create clones of some units who do have these powers, it's for the best. In general, the powers in MA are far more powerful than normal NPCs. A minion with Full Auto would shred players unmerciful.
You can't control the specific powers that units get. Your only control is rank/difficulty. So you can't give a minion one power or take one away. You also can't control how or when they use those powers. Their AI is set so that they'll use them when they feel they're needed.
You can't use sets that are used by Kheldians or Soldiers of Arachnos. That unfortunately means no Peacebringers or Bane Spiders. The best you can do is try to come up with a reasonably close simulation of the sets.
You can't use archetype modifiers. It's hard to create a Tanker because their damage and defense will always be scaled closer to a Scrapper. You can't give a unit higher or lower modifiers, or give them inherent abilities such as Criticals or Gauntlet.
If you're creating a group, you can't control spawn settings. For instance, you can't make a gang spawn with high numbers like Council, or be boss-heavy like Rikti. You can, however, tip the scales by not including any lieutenants (creating larger spawns of minions) or only bosses (to create boss-only spawns). Note that this will apply to Elite Bosses and Arch-Villains too. If you have only EBs/AVs in your group, they'll spawn in regular groups.
Power Sets - Pros and Cons / What Set to Use?
The biggest defining factor of each unit is what power sets they have. Since you know that you can combine just about any sets, how do you know what sets to combine? First, let's cover what each type of set does and how you can use it. If you're already familiar with each type of set, you can skip this section, although it does have some tips on how to use them in more interesting and non-standard ways. For each type of set, you can sort by archetype to find sets that are usually used by that archetype. For instance, if you're looking for ranged attack sets, you can sort by Blaster, Defender, or Corruptor to find them.
Melee Sets - Sets that Scrappers, Brutes, and Stalkers have as their primary and Tankers have as their secondary. Any sort of melee fighter you may want to use can use these. Whether you're making something that's designed to be similar to a Scrapper or a Tanker, melee sets will work. Great set for any unit, though beware that all melee sets include one high powered ranged attack.
Ranged Sets - Sets that Blasters and Corruptors have as their primary and Defenders have as their secondary. This covers all blast sets from all of those archetypes. As usual, you aren't restricted by the archetype rules, so you can pair Fire Blast with Fire Melee if you wish. Or even two blast sets. Great set for any type of unit.
Control Sets - Control sets are those that Controllers and Dominators have as their primary. They tend to contain holds, immobilizes, and sometimes stuns, sleeps, fear, or confuse. On the highest difficulties, they have pets. It's not usually recommended to give this to minions unless you saturate their ranks with several other non-control units so they aren't very common. NOTE: As of April 03/09, control sets always have a chance to overpower for +1 magnitude on control powers. This may change in the future.
Assault Sets - Assault sets are those that Dominators have as their secondary. These are a mix of ranged and melee powers. Units who have these sets will alternate between ranged and melee attacks. These are very good sets to give lower ranking units to give them a variety of attacks to use both in melee and ranged. Note, however, that they lack some of the more powerful attacks in the corresponding sets. This can be good or bad, depending on your needs.
Pet Sets - Pet sets are those that Masterminds have as their primary. This will enable your unit to summon pets such as zombies or thugs. Besides the pets, the unit will also have thematic attacks such as Dark Blast, Dual Pistols, or Pulse Rifles. The attacks themselves do very little damage, so make sure to pick a good secondary for the unit. The pets themselves will appear fully upgraded (so even if a minion summons a pet, it'll have at least 3 attacks!). Pets will also be summoned according to rank. Minions will only summon 1 pet. Lieutenants will summon as if they're level 12; 2 of the first tier and 1 of the second tier. Bosses and higher will always summon the max number of each type. Recommended only for rare and special unit types.
Defense Sets - Sets that Scrappers, Brutes, and Stalkers have as their secondaries and Tankers have as their primaries. These are primarily used to make the units themselves more durable, whether that's by increasing their defense, resistance, regeneration, or health. These are simple sets that are usually run through passives or toggles and will always be on, though some have click powers that the units will use if they feel the need. Some of these sets can make units too hard to kill, especially higher-ranking enemies. Always beware of giving units tier 9 powers like Unstoppable. Also beware of giving too many units status protection, because this makes them too hard for Controllers and Dominators to handle. Recommended for some units, but not all!
Buff Sets - Sets that Corruptors, Controllers, and Masterminds have as their secondaries and Defenders have as their primaries. These are usually sets like Empathy, Pain Domination, Forcefield, or any other set designed to make the user and his/her allies stronger in some way. These sets can be used in small doses to create support units or in large doses to create heavily fortified units. You can use them heavily in weak supply or use them sparingly but in high-powered units. Recommended for the occasional unit.
Debuff Sets - Sets that Corruptors, Controllers, and Masterminds have as their secondaries and Defenders have as their primaries. Similar to the Buff sets above, but these are focused at reducing the effectiveness of the players attacking them. This may include sets such as Storm, Dark Miasma, or Radiation Emission. Though similar to Buff sets, these are recommended in smaller supply. Debuffing the player is usually not as well-recieved as buffing the enemies. Players don't generally like having their defenses and accuracy debuffed heavily. Although these can be used to create hard challenges, use them sparingly, especially when using heavier debuffs on multiple units.
Support Sets - Sets that Blasters have as their secondaries. These are sets that give the unit self buffs and sometimes a few melee attacks or powers to keep them alive. Most also include a control power or two Though not as strong as Defense sets, they can also include damage buffs, accuracy buffs, range buffs, or other effects. These sets can be useful if you want to make a unit that doesn't necessarily have a defense set, but does have some tools and utilities available to them to make them more interesting. Recommended for any type of unit.
Virtual Archetypes / How to Combine Sets
Now that you know what all the sets are for and when to use them, how do you combine them to make good units? Two options are available to the player. You can either follow the normal archetypes that are already in the game, or mix and match sets to achieve new results. NPCs in the normal game don't really follow any specific set of rules, so while some resemble normal player archetypes, some are widely mixed. Let's first go over the game's normal archetypes, then move on to a section I call Virtual Archetypes.
Blaster - Ranged/Support. These units will be dealing high damage from range while supplementing their damage with self buffs and additional melee attacks. Some will have minor control powers and other utilities to use. These units are suitable for any type of rank.
Scrapper/Tanker/Brute/Stalker - Melee/Defense. The melee types. These units will be tough fighters. They are more difficult to kill than most other units, and deal significant damage. These melee fighters are suitable for most ranks. Elite Bosses and Arch-Villains who are designed like this can be exceptionally hard to defeat, so be careful when scaling their power difficulty and rank too high.
Defender/Corruptor - Ranged/(De)buff. Ranged units who don't quite do as much as Blasters, but do have the ability to support their allies. These units can debuff the players or make their friends stronger. Though these types of units could be used for any sort of rank, they're recommended to be kept in small number, so often limited to Lieutenants or even Bosses due to their force multipliers.
Controller - Control/(De)buff. These can be exceptionally good support units. Though not doing much damage on their own, they can severely cripple players and support their allies. As these are generally quite powerful units, it's recommended to reserve them for Lieutenants or more likely Bosses.
Dominator - Control/Assault. Similar to Controllers, these units can be good at crippling the players. Instead of buffs/debuffs, they have attacks that they will use inbetween controlling. Though they aren't as strong as the other damage-dealing archetypes, they can still do significant damage. Recommended for Lieutenants and higher.
Mastermind - Pet/(De)buff. The pet class, Masterminds summon pets to do their fighting for them. Most Masterminds will fall back on their secondaries after summoning pets, but if they don't have any other options, they'll attack too. On their own the Masterminds don't pose much threat, but their secondaries can weaken the player or make the other targets stronger. Recommended only sparingly as pets are often an annoying obstacle in high numbers.
While the normal archetypes of the game can fill in just about any role, you can mix and match just about any combination of powers to create new encounters. The following is only a list of suggestions and not intended to be a definitive list of all the possible combinations. This list of Virtual Archetypes is meant to be a guide to help you combine sets to create interesting units. The names used here are only a quick reference to their actual roles.
Glass Cannon - Attack/Attack. Attack sets can be Ranged, Melee, or even Assault sets. Combining two attack sets creates a unit that is purely offensive. Similar to a Blaster, this unit will focus only on attacking. Having no support or defenses will mean this unit is easy to kill, but will do a lot of damage before it dies. Some combinations of powers will flow smoothly between the two (such as Super Strength/Martial Arts) while some will not (such as Dark Melee/War Mace). For more information, see [ccg_mai] - Understanding and Changing AI / Manipulating How Units Use Powers. Experiment to see how your units act. Recommended for most units, though minions set to this mode can sometimes be too dangerous offensively. Examples: Fire Blast/Fire Melee, Super Strength/Martial Arts, Ice Melee/Icy Assault, Energy Blast/Electric Blast.
The Soldier - Attack/Defense. Similar to a Scrapper, but not limited to melee attacks. An example may be Assault Rifle/Invulnerability. In essence, any unit who focuses on attacks but also self defense. An armored soldier or fighter who is more durable than his/her comrades. These are great fighters for just about any rank, including minions. Examples: Assault Rifle/Invulnerability, Archery/Ninjitsu, Radiation Blast/Regeneration, Electric Assault/Electric Armor.
The Medic - Attack/Buff. Similar to Defenders, these units will attack but support their allies. Though Medic implies healing, this can be done with any support set. To create more unique enemies, you can combine Assault or Melee sets with support sets such as Empathy to create more interesting units, like Katana/Empathy. Based on the sets and powers available, these could be used for any rank. Examples: Katana/Empathy, Energy Assault/Pain Domination, Fire Melee/Thermal Radiation, Martial Arts/Kinetics.
Mesmer - Control/Control. Though having low damage, these can be wickedly powerful debuffers for the enemy team. With stacking control powers, these units can be the primary debuffers of any group. Though they can be unique and interesting, try to use them as infrequently as possible, limited probably to Bosses. Examples: Fire Control/Ice Control, Mind Control/Illusion Control, Plant Control/Earth Control.
Commander - Pet/Defense. Since pets only last until their owner dies, the best way to ensure that pets stay alive longer is to make sure the summoner is hard to kill. This combination ensures that the summoner will stay around long enough to summon pets and have them attack. This can be particularly effective when paired with pets who are capable of buffing the owner (bots) or debuffing the player (zombies). As this is a pet set, it's recommended only sparingly. Examples: Robots/Invulnerability, Ninjas/Ninjitsu, Necromancy/Dark Armor, Mercenaries/Willpower.
These aren't the only combinations can be made, of course. Further exploration and tinkering with the system can come up with even more interesting results. Just as a few examples: Dual Blades/Devices, Dark Melee/Dark Miasma, Thugs/Super Strength, Fire Control/Fire Armor, Necromancy/Mind Control.
Unit Difficulty Settings / How Hard Baddies Are
Now that we've picked our sets and know what roles each one will be filling, we need to know how hard the enemies will be to fight. Though the settings can vary from set to set, there are some general guidelines to be aware of. If you're trying to make enemies as hard as possible for a personal challenge or a very difficult arc, you can step up over these settings or even just use Extreme all the time. This guide will tell you how to create enemies about as difficult as normal NPCs.
Minions - Standard/Standard. Though most sets don't offer more powers even on raised difficulties for minions, you should still use Standard most of the time. In just about any incarnation, minions should be easy. They will be numerous to make up for their weaknesses. If you're using attack-based units, it MAY be okay to raise the bar a little, but be wary.
Lieutenants - Standard to Hard/Standard to Hard. Based on the powers you give them, Standard to Hard may be set for the secondary. On Hard, their attack (or control) primary will give them a lot to do. If you intend to have annoying units like Sappers or Sorcerers, Lieutenants are a good pick because they won't be too numerous, but will still be able to be locked down with control powers (unlike Bosses, who have higher protection).
Bosses - Hard/Standard to Hard. Based on powers, you may consider dipping down to Standard for the secondary. Bosses on Hard will have a lot of options for powers, so don't feel like you have to move up to Extreme. In fact, I recommend not doing Extreme below Arch-Villain unless you have special powers you want.
Elite Bosses - Hard/Hard. With higher stats, EBs will hit quite hard. Extreme is not recommended unless the EB fights will be uncommon or even one-time occurrences. From EB up to AV, self-contained secondaries are the best, because the other units in the spawn will be gone quickly and you'll be left with just the boss. If the boss only has powers that buff other units, their secondary won't do them any good.
Arch-Villain - Extreme/Hard to Extreme. Depending on your goals, you may want to bring the AV's stats down below Extreme. In general, an AV represents a very challenging obstacle. Usually the final battle of an arc, designed to be fought with allies. If you are in fact designing your AV for parties, feel free to make them challenging, since parties can handle nearly anything. AVs will also scale down to EBs on small teams/difficulty settings, and even the toughest EBs can usually be handled with inspirations and temp powers. One note, beware of giving AVs sets which allow them to resurrect! Also, if your arc includes AVs, it's usually best to warn the player beforehand, because not all players can handle AVs (even when scaled down to EBs).
Sets to be Aware Of / Advanced Power Set Information
If you've come down to this section, you're probably looking for extra information on sets. This section will go over some of the sets that are particularly weak or particularly strong. Some sets may have effects or roles you may not be aware of, or have applications you haven't considered.
If you're looking for ways to make your minions weaker (for instance, if you're designing low-level content), there are a few power sets you can look for. For primaries, the weakest attack sets are generally the Assault and Ranged sets. Assault sets are similar to Melee sets, but have a mix of moderate damage melee and ranged attacks, instead of the Melee sets' high damage ranged attack. Sets like Assault Rifle have rather minimal secondary effects. Beware that Archery may seem to be weak, but has such a fast fire rate and high accuracy that it can actually do rather significant damage over time.
For secondaries, the weakest set is Regeneration, which gives almost no defensive benefit at all (+75% regen, +40% recovery). So, if you're looking for a no secondary option, Regeneration (on Standard) is a good choice as it has little benefit in addition to having no visual effects (since the powers are both autos).
Tanker/Brute attack sets in general are tremendously powerful since they're usually used on archetypes that have a low base damage. In particular, Energy Melee, Super Strength, and Stone Melee do a massive amount of damage even on Standard and should usually be avoided. On the highest difficulties, Super Strength and Energy Melee are capable of doing ridiculous amounts of damage; a level 50 AV can do 1700 damage with Knockout Blow and 2100 with Energy Transfer -- before Build Up/Rage! Debuffing attack sets like Radiation Blast and Sonic Blast can also stack to debuff the players to be tissue-paper and be extremely easy to kill, so beware of using these sets.
In secondaries, the most powerful sets are (ironically), Regeneration and Willpower on higher rank foes. If you create Elite Bosses and Arch-Villains with these sets, they'll be able to heal at a TREMENDOUS rate and be very hard to kill. Note that defense secondaries in particular are very powerful on Arch-Villains, who can reach 100% resistance to damage (easy with Moment of Glory, Unstoppable, Power Surge). Other secondaries to beware of are any that include self-heals, as AV heals can go up over 2000.
Another thing to watch out for is control sets. Having too many of these can stack mezzes very fast and mez even units who resist mez (like Tankers). Also watch not to overuse rare controls such as Fear or Confuse (Illusion and Mind being the big culprits here) as the majority of Defense sets don't have protections to these and they're exceptionally rare in the normal game.
Some sets have interesting attributes that you won't find in other places. For instance, Energy Assault and Electric Assault are colored red, unlike their blast counterparts. Using this, you could create an Electric Blast/Electric Assault unit who has both red and blue electricity (and has a blue AND red Voltaic Sentinel!). You'll also find that if a set is shared between two archetypes who have different versions of the set, only one is available. For example, none of the melee sets are designed as they are for Stalkers (so no Assassin Strike or Placate). However, Ninjitsu, which is a Stalker-only set, has Hide. You may also notice that sets that have more than one castable buff that have similar effects (such as shield powers) are merged together so that the unit only has to cast one bubble, which will grant ALL defenses/resistances. In the same way, Empathy's Regeneration and Recovery Aura powers are merged into one.
Understanding and Changing AI / Manipulating How Units Use Powers
In this section we'll first talk about how the units act normally, how they differ from normal units, and why they do what they do. The second part of this section will give hints and tips on how to alter how your units behave and change how and when they use their powers.
Firstly, it's important to know the differences between critters made through the MA system and normal NPC enemies.
The biggest difference is how they use toggle powers. Normal critters will turn on toggles when engaged, and turn them back off after a while. Units like Earth Thorn Casters will only turn a toggle on when attacked, then turn it off after a while. Sorcerers will also do this with Hurricane. This toggle up/toggle down behavior is to give the player some breathing room in case they can't handle debuffs like Hurricane. Additionally, no two units of the same type will run the same toggle at the same time. Using Earth Thorn Casters again, only one from any given spawn will ever turn on their armor toggle. As soon as one turns theirs off, another one may toggle theirs on. The same is true of Sorcerers.
It's important to note that NEITHER of these rules applies to MA critters. They will ALWAYS run toggles (including Hurricane!) and they don't care if their allies are using the same powers. Because it's possible to have 8 units all hit you with Hurricane at the same time, be careful to avoid scenarios where debuffs will overpower the player.
Additionally, various powers work differently for NPCs than they do for players. Toggle powers don't use any endurance. So any unit using a shield power or an AoE debuff (Hurricane to keep using the same example) are not consuming any endurance. This is generally for the best, as enemies don't slot for endurance (or anything for that matter) and don't have Stamina. There are also a number of toggle powers that are turned into click powers. A few examples include Radiation Infection, Snow Storm, and Darkest Night.
Though there are some units in the game that will use their buffs as often as they can (Longbow Empathy Wardens), MA critters only use their buffs if they have a reason. This reason always involves the unit already being aggroed, meaning units will NOT sit around putting bubbles on their friends before you engage them. For some buffs like Fortitude, this reason may be as simple as this ally doesn't have Fortitude yet. For other powers such as heals, they won't use them until a unit is low enough on HP to use it. For self-buff powers such as Aim, Build Up, or Power Boost, the units will usually use them as soon as they're available, whether or not they plain to chain them with something.
Most tier 9 powers, whether they're nukes or armor powers, don't have any restrictions to when they're used. A notable exception to this is Unstoppable, which the unit will only use when their HP hits 1/4. In most cases, though, units can and will use their tier 9 defensive powers (such as Strength of Will) or nukes right off the bat. This can often be undesirable behavior because nukes tend to drain most, if not all endurance from the user. NOTE: As of April 03/09, this is the case with tier 9 powers. This may change in the future.
Some sets have a heavy tendency to be used in melee or range despite what the unit's Fighting Preference may be set to. For example, Energy Assault users have a strong preference to enter melee to fight, even if they're set to ranged preference.
Now, on to ways to alter or manipulate the AI. There are a few simple tricks to make the AI do what you want, even if there's no REAL way to alter the AI directly. This section includes a few simple things you can do to make your units act more like you want them to!
Melee/Range Preference Trick
As you've likely already read, a unit with a preference will do what his/her preference tells him/her to do. If a unit has both ranged and melee attacks and is set to ranged, they'll usually be content to stay at range and use their ranged attacks. However, as you've probably also read, a unit that has only melee attacks who is set to ranged will still work. So why would you want to set a melee unit to ranged preference? Two words: Buff sets. As it turns out, buff sets seem to be considered under the ranged AI. Combine that with the fact that units usually need a reason to use a buff or heal, they won't bother to do any of these things until they have that reason and will simply default to attacking.
What does this mean? Let's give an example. Say you make an Assault Rifle/Empathy unit with ranged preference. Usually they'll get caught in attack mode and simply blast away with attacks. If you make a Dual Blades/Empathy unit with a melee preference, they'll again get caught in their melee mode and just attack. However, if you make a Dual Blades/Empathy unit with a RANGED preference, their priority is to use buffs, but they usually don't have a reason to. But as soon as a unit takes damage, they'll immediately stop what they're doing to support and heal them. The net result is a more support-concsious unit that will still attack when it has nothing else to do, but rush to the aid of his/her allies.
Less Is More
Do you have a unit with buffs or debuffs that isn't using them enough? For example, a Forcefield character who simply isn't buffing people? Believe it or not, the answer may be that they have TOO MANY powers. A unit with Forcefield has eight powers to worry about just in their secondary, and the need to put a bubble on someone may too-frequently be ignored because they have other powers they want to use. Toning them down to Standard will only give them 3 powers to worry about, and they'll be more inclined to cast Deflection Shield.
Units With Rare Attacks
An interesting trick with the AI concerning weapon sets is that, given the option, the AI will opt for a set that doesn't require a weapon to be drawn. If you combine, for example, Martial Arts with War Mace, the AI has two attack sets to work with, but the redraw is bothersome. When engaged, the AI will pick a random attack to open with, so will sometimes use a kick and sometimes use the mace. After a couple swings of the mace, however, it's put away and never used again, in favor of kicks. If the unit starts off with kicks, it will never switch to the mace. Using this method you can create units (such as werewolves or zombies for example) who occasionally pull out a bone or club, but tend to stick to brawling melee attacks. This can create the illusion of a rare attack that only happens some of the time.
This trick can also work when creating units who are Ranged/Melee. For instance, a Mercenaries/Martial Arts unit set to melee preference (important detail!) will sometimes open with their gun, but eventually opt for physical attacks instead.
Frequently Asked Questions / I Want More Information
This section is dedicated to questions I hear quite often about MA features pertaining to critters. This is also the home of some additional information that I couldn't fit anywhere else without it feeling out of place.
Why can't I put certain costume pieces on my characters?
Pieces such as capes, auras, vet rewards, etc... have to be unlocked to be used. To keep the explanation short, you can make units with any character on your account, so it's hard to determine on an account-wide basis what unlockables you should have. Account-wide parts like the Valkyrie pack are available if you have it, but things like auras have to be unlocked using Architect tickets.
How many guys/units can I put in a mission or group?
There's no direct answer for this. Firstly, it's not a per-mission basis, it's per arc. It depends on what types of units you make too. As an average, a unit takes up about 6.5% of your filesize. Units with no special costume parts with small descriptions take up less than units with extras like auras, wings, and weapons with long descriptions. Additionally, if you include pre-made units (from other gangs) in your group, they take up almost no space. Mixing regular units and custom units can give you a very large group.
How do I delete a unit?
This is somewhat unintuitive, but you can't delete units from all the UI screens. You have two options. The first is to delete the files off your hard-drive directly while the program is closed (or else it may recreate them). The second is to delete them using the My Characters tab from the main UI.
Can I make a unit without a secondary?
While you can't directly make a unit without a secondary, you can use Regeneration on Standard difficulty. This has the weakest effect of any set you could give a unit for their secondary. Effectively all they gain defensively is +75% regeneration, which by itself does almost nothing, and +40% recovery. For more information, see [ccg_sao] - Sets to be Aware Of / Advanced Power Set Information.
How do I make easier or weaker or low level units?
Besides the answer above about using Regeneration as a secondary and making sure all your units are on Standard/Standard, try using attack sets that don't do much. Check Sets to be Aware Of / Advanced Power Set Information section for information about easy sets, but also be aware that even the easiest MA critters can be more than a handful for very low level heroes due to their stats and available powers.
How do I make harder units or really strong AVs?
If you really want to make more challenging units, I'll refer you again to the Sets to be Aware Of / Advanced Power Set Information section to find powers and sets that are particularly strong. You can also push units up to higher difficulties to give them more of an edge. This won't increase their stats, only their available powers.
Why can't I give a minion Full Auto?
Although NPCs like Council or Family have powers like this, or other similar off-limits powers, those versions are different than the ones the MA system uses. The MA system uses, for the most part, player versions of powers, which tend to do more damage. For more information on this, see Know Your Limits / What You Can't Do section.
I don't want my unit to have Detention Field. How do I get rid of it?
Unfortunately, there's no way to get rid of individual powers. The only control over powers you have is rank and difficulty. All you can do is change the rank of the unit, change the difficulty, of the unit, or use a different set. If the problem power persists even on low ranks and difficulties, changing the set is all you can do.
Why does my unit only use Web Grenade or never uses Wormhole?
Currently there are various issues with sets conflicting and messing up the AI. Devices is a big loser here, and units will sometimes spam Web Grenade or Taser. Some other issues involve Earth Armor users not using their toggles or Ice Control sometimes not summoning Jack. You can try changing the Fighting Preference or difficulty, but if that doesn't work you'll just have to change sets. NOTE: As of April 03/09, these powers/sets have the noted issues. This may change in the future.
Why does my boss always run?
Also known as the 8 foot monster fleeing from the 4 foot catgirl syndrome. This is an AI issue that has persisted on various units for a long time. The only real cure is to make sure you have some form of taunt available when fighting them. Other remedies include making sure they're a ranged unit with ranged preference or changing the power sets they have available to them. Alternatively, you can check the boss placement settings in the objective to make sure they aren't set to run under certain conditions.
Why are my custom allies not attacking most of the time?
This is another AI issue, but this one pertains to pets and allies. A lot of the time, melee allies will stand just out of range of their melee attacks and be unable to use them. The best cure is to always use ranged allies, but when this isn't an option, making it so they run faster means they'll often overstep the range and be able to attack. Attacks with longer range also help. You can also make sure they have other useful abilities (like a buff secondary) so even when they aren't attacking they're still contributing.
Why aren't all the buffing allies using their buffs?
If the suggestions in the Understanding and Changing AI / Manipulating How Units Use Powers section don't help any, it may be due to the AI that prevents numerous allies from buffing too much. In order to make sure the player can't stroll through missions with maxed DEF and RES with allies who don't attack, the AI is set to limit the number of buffs that units will give to players. This is mainly to prevent players from getting high rewards with minimal effort.