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Mission Architect Tutorial 300 Series

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Parent Article: Mission Architect Tutorial

Tutorial 301: Custom Critters and Enemy Groups Overview


No real prep for this. This is going to be more of a discussion and overview of custom critters and groups, how to plan and what to expect.

What's a 'critter?'

Critter. Mob. NPC. Anything that's not a player, essentially, is a "critter."

No, I didn't pull this term out of thin air. It has been used before -- but it's being used primarily because that's what the file on your drive for each one of these is called -- a .critter file (from the extension used). It's what the Devs call them.

These are your custom bad guys (or allies) that you create for your missions. They are not necessarily arc-specific -- you can create critters and critter groups for multiple arcs.

Files - what inherits what from where

This is somewhat of a mini-version of another guide.

There are a few things you can bring in when creating a custom mob or group.

.costume files: From the tailor. The "Save" button will save a .costume file you can use later. Handy for copying your character's look in game to use as a critter later.

.critter files: Add a bit of extra information (such as name, group, powers and such) to the .costume file.

.CVG (CustomVillainGroup) file: Adopts all the critter and costume information from the .critter files. Piles them all together.

.mission files: Brings in the entire .cvg or .critter file you use.

This comes into play when we consider mission size.

Mission size

Storyarcs cannot be larger than 100kb on the server. Now, if we look at the files on disk, they may *be* a bit larger there -- the server throws away some of the human readable information and compacts it in other ways. Arcanaville, our Lady of the Numbers, did her typically thorough research into it, finding some of what changed, and what didn't. (For instance, a myth had started coming around that a black costume took less space -- it doesn't.) I'll leave any real explanation of it to her.

That said, if your storyarc is taking up half or more of the available space, it's custom critters doing it.

Size, number of critters and stories

I feel it's best to mention this here: Some people have put in one mission with their custom group and seen a 50-70k storyarc. They've then reacted, essentially, with "That's one story? How can I do all five? That's not enough space!"

There's one very important thing they're missing, however. Custom critters are only loaded once. At the very beginning of the arc. If you look back at the tutorial missions we've done already which have had no custom critters, most are very small - if any are 5k, I'd be surprised.

And so, even though the first mission is up to 70k (and 70%) full because of the space hogs that custom critters are, if you don't add in any more custom critters and just use the ones already in the first mission and maybe add some of the standard NPCs, then you can easily add four more missions without going over the cap.

As I look at my initial batch of missions from beta -- not counting the tutorials -- I see my custom critter arcs. One has only a boss as a custom critter, and runs 31kb for five missions. One has a pretty full group of several minions, two LTs and a boss. Four missions, 61k. And another, with two custom groups (one with a minion, two LTs, a boss, and another group with a LT and Boss) -- 63k for five missions total. The missions themselves are *small.*

Standard NPCs, however, are called with only one line, since they don't have to be created piecemeal like custom critters. Thus, they add very little to file size. Keep this in mind.

Creating custom minions - whys and wherefores

I foresee much playing with custom minions. They're fun, and you can get combos that you just can't get elsewhere. You can make copies of yourself to fight against or alongside.

It's somewhat easy to gimp the critters -- and even more so, and tempting, to make them overpowered. Robotics/Radiation Mastermind, anyone? Mind/Illusion Controller? KINETICS mastermind? If you use them, play them with a variety of characters and ATs before publishing... and ask yourself honestly if they're fun or not.

Creating custom groups

The very first thing you need to ask yourself is, "Do I have to?" If the answer is yes, which I'm sure it will be... go for it.

With the file size limits, assume you can't have more than 12 custom critters - and that's going to be pushing things, quite often at the expense of the story.

Several mixes have come up for "good" groups. 4/4/2, for instance, of Minions/Lts/Bosses - you may want fewer LTs and more Minions for more variety in spawns at all levels. A mix of range and melee, buff/debuff and attacking can be had with that size.

Now, the astute among you may have noticed my bolding of the word "Custom." You can, with a bit of thought, put pre-existing mobs in a custom group. Use them as filler mobs. Just be aware that, unlike with purely custom groups, they will affect your group's level range (and thus the mission level range. Pay close attention to that.

You may also notice I didn't mention putting an AV or Elite Boss in. I find you have a bit more control if you make them their *own* group. We'll get into this shortly.

Group management and working with size restrictions

So you have this wonderful, varied group you want to work on. Go for it! Make ten of each, minions, LTs, Bosses...

Just don't try to load it into a mission.

Save your group as a "name-Main" group. Then look over your critters when you're creating the story arc. Pick a good mix, and create a second set -- a sub-group -- to load into your arc. If they need fillers, use standard NPCs for variety. Save the "main" groups as libraries for future ideas.

This is the same idea of using Master documents from which you make other copies to use. You do not use the Master copy. If you do, then it's no good to make other copies from. And so, in the same way, you're going to make Master or Main groups that you do not use for any missions, but instead, create a new group for that mission or arc and copy over your critters from the Master/Main group to the arc-specific group. This way, any edits to the arc-specific group isn't going to affect any other arc.

Consider how you see, say, Council or Longbow at various ranges. You're not going to be restricted by range, particularly. You may have a rifleman, machine gunner, Eagle, specops and flamethrower for minions, the ever-popular Nullifier as a LT, and two or three Wardens or Officers as bosses (or LTs). That's nine or ten critters, and they mix things up enough to give you a good fight.

With too many -- especially with very flashy powers -- it can be overwhelming, to the player or file size. Too few? Think of the levels with nothing but Sorcerers and Blue Ink Men, or Earth Thorn Casters as seemingly every spawn.

Find a good balance both of numbers and powers. This isn't something that can be told, just done through experimentation. And again, don't be afraid of using preexisting NPCs to fill out your ranks, if you can find some appropriate ones.

Above all, look at what *others* have done before actually using your own groups.

Tutorial 302: Custom Critter Creation


Take a male character to the tailor with a basic costume (no vet pieces, unlocked pieces, etc.) While at the tailor, hit "Save" in the upper right. Name the costume "Tutor1." (There's a reason for male that has nothing to do with actually creating a character. Just humor me.)

Find the original tutorial we did (tutorial 1, from the basic guide.) Save and rename it 301-Critters. We'll use this to test.

Custom Critters

What are custom critters? These are NPCs you can use in your missions that you create yourself. They can be enemies, allies, hostages, even your contact. They have a wide variety of powers available to them - not all, however (no VEAT or Kheldian power sets.) And you can adjust both their rank (minion to AV) and difficulty, the combination of the two adjusting their difficulty.

Custom Critters are another way to tell your story. And, honestly... they're just fun.

Creating a custom critter - walkthrough

We're going to create a custom critter just to walk through the process. He won't be anything fancy. We'll go back afterward to look at how some of the options affect them.

Go to the story browser. Click on My Creations, My Character. Click on Create Character.

You will be presented with a screen with multiple choices. Select Minion, Melee and None. We'll go over the choices later.

Select Next to go to Choose Custom Character Primary Power.

You'll see two things here: a list of Archetypes, and three buttons, Standard, Hard, and Extreme. Yes, you can mix power sets that you can't for your own character. Just follow along for now.

Select Tanker, Super Strength. Select "Standard." Select Next.

Select Tanker, Fiery Aura. Select "Standard." Select Next.

The next screen is just like the costume creator - selecting gender and body type. We'll leave him at Male - Athletic. Hit Next.

And here we have the costume creator. I think we all know it well.If you saved a costume from before, click on "Load" and select the costume Tutor1. (If any errors come up, click on "Attempt to fix.") If you didn't, well, pick a color you like. Hit Next.

And here we have the Register Custom Character screen. Very much like your own bio screen, but with some extra fields.

For Name, put in Two-Toe Rial.

Enemy group gives you two choices. On the left, click on "Enter group here" and put in Tutorial 302.

In Custom Character Description, give him a bio: Due to a tragic accident in the lumber yard, Jon got the nickname "Two toe." He's kept it as a badge of pride, even into his hero career.

Click Save and Continue.

This will bring us out into the story browser again. Congrats, you've just made a custom character -- and (not to get ahead of ourselves) if you click on "My Groups," you'll see Tutorial302 as a custom group. Good job.

Putting them in a mission


Find and open tutorial 101. Change the story title to 302a- A Critter. Save as tutorial 302a.

Before we do anything, look down at the bottom of your mission editor screen. You should see a file size bar that's mostly empty -- mine shows .58%. Remember, custom critters add to this file size quickly - but only once.

Select your only mission in this arc - misison 1, page 1 (story settings.) Make the following changes:

  • Enemy Group: pick Custom.
  • Custom Group: Tutorial 302

Save and test.

Simple, wasn't it? You should have had a mission full of flaming Two-Toe Rials.

We're not done yet. First, go back into the editor, and look at the file size -- you should actually see some area on the left filled in. Mine, as I type this up, is now showing 6.20% filled -- so over 5 1/2% of that was from one custom critter.

Pay attention to how many critters you add. We'll go over some of this in another tutorial.

In any case, as you noticed, it took the critter name and named every spawn that. If you want different names, then edit them and give them another name. You may want to put them in another group, as well, that's mission specific.

But what about bosses? Do they take the same name?

If you remember our older tutorials, bosses have a Boss Name field. This will override the Two-Toe Rial of our custom critter. Let's add one. Go back and edit 302a.

  • Basic Mission Goals: Fight a Boss
    • Boss Name: Flaming Freddie
    • Boss Type: Custom
    • Boss Enemy Group: Tutorial 302
    • Custom Character Name: Two-toe Rial
    • Optional Boss Text
      • Boss Description: This isn't Two-Toe!
      • Navigation Text Singular: Fight Freddie

Save and test. Check out Freddie and his bio! If you leave any field blank, it will copy it from the 'template' mob you used (so not naming him means you fight another Two-toe.) "Fight a boss" does not change his rank or powers, either. If you look at Freddie's information in the mission, it'll even say he's a Minion. "Boss" as a goal is simply that - a goal label. Don't get confused.

Looking at the bottom of the screen, you'll see the size has gone up again... but not as much. It didn't add another 5% (roughly) for another copy of Two-Toe. Mine went to 6.66%, from adding the next objective and the text.

This is important to remember: More critters mean more room is taken up. Using them repeatedly does not.

The creation screens

OK. Go back to where we created old Two-Toe: My Creation tab > My Characters tab > Click on Create Character. We'll examine the screens one by one.

Customize Character Screen

Custom Character Rank

Options: Minion, Lieutenant, Boss, Elite Boss, Arch Villain, Person

This is one of two areas that affect what powers your character will have from the set. Minion has the fewest, Arch Villain the most (and most powerful.)

What is Person? If you select it, everything else greys out. This creates a non-combat NPC. No powers. It can be used for a contact or hostage, typically.

Fighting Preference

Options: Melee, Range

This SHOULD be obvious. Where are they going to want to fight? Consider your power sets, Do they have to be hand to hand (Superstrength, Dual Blades) or should they stay at a distance (Assault rifles, controls?)

Flight power

The only travel power your NPC has.

Options: None, Flight, Reflections Effects

  • None: they'll have to walk.
  • Flight: They fly.
  • Reflections Effects: is still Fly, but with a nifty aura around them. They're somewhat translucent as well -- go for this if you have role-playing reason they should be ghostly. Reflections does add 25 feet of Stealth to the critter, but since players typically have 500 feet of Perception, this is barely noticeable.

Choose primary/secondary power Screens

I'm putting these together since the screen is the exact same, though some options may grey out (similar to your own character -- no Dual Blades/Shield.) Yes, you can make a Super Strength/Thugs mastermind, for instance.

One thing to note here -- you cannot make a character with zero attacks. You can do the opposite -- want a Superstrength/Dark Melee character? You can do it, a critter with two offensive power sets (but not two weapon-equipped power sets). But you can't make one with two defensive power sets, an Invulnerable/Willpower character, e.g. They will have some sort of offensive capability.

One other thing to mention -- some power sets are problematic and thus, not available. The most visible ones are Kheldian and VEAT power sets. They are not in the editor at release. We don't know if they will be in at any point in the future. (Poison and Traps, due to AI issues, are also missing.)

Now, if you look along the top, you'll also see Standard, Hard, and Extreme. This interacts with the Character Rank on the last page to determine which powers of which set are available. It does not affect strength. A minion won't see any difference very often (though they will, on occasion) -- they're the most limited in their powers. A Boss or higher can, on Extreme, have all powers listed available to them. You can make one power set Standard and the other Extreme, if you choose. (For instance, a Superstrength/Archery character, with Superstrength on Extreme will have the full SS powers for NPCs, while Archery, on Standard, will have only Snap Shot and Aimed Shot.)

So what gives what?

There's no hard and fast rule - for instance, "Minion/Standard only gives the first two." Some sets will have three or four, and not necessarily the first three or four powers. The best you can do is look through them all. The only surety is that a Boss or higher on Extreme will have full sets.

I (Ricochet/Memphis_Bill, the original author of these tutorials) may, should insanity stay with me after writing all these guides, write up a matrix with what's where. No promises.

Body Type and Costume Screens

There's not much to explain in the costuming or bio screens that's all that different from creating a character. I will point out one or two things, though.

In the Create Your Costume screen, there's a nice option here, potentially, if you didn't save your current costume (or happen to be on a character you want to duplicate.) If you click on "Load," you'll see an option at the bottom of the costume list called "Load Self." If you're the same body type as the character you're making, it will attempt to copy your costume. It may not always work -- you may have older, "invalid" (such as the old Malaise pants, or a part that's been moved or isn't available or unlocked in the MA yet) options.

For instance, in the character I was using to write all these (Feliney Assault,) I attempted to load her into the costume creator and got "Failed to load: Could not find a match for parts. Costume creator may not have access to costume parts."

The issue? Well, by the name, she's a cat. She has the old detail of cat ears, from before they moved it to the "Ears" category -- so it doesn't exist for the costume creator.

The fix? Select "Attempt costume fix," then click "Load Self" again. The ears disappeared. Click on "Load" and you can go back to the costume creator and tweak it so it's just right. Give it a try -- it may not always work, but it's been pretty reliable for me.

Register Custom Character

There are only two things I want to point out here.

Enemy Group: if you fill anything in here, it will create the character as part of a new enemy group. If you want to add them to an existing group, click on the drop-down list where it says New and select the group to add it to.

Edit Save Path: Now this is interesting.

By default, it saves your critters to wherever City of Heroes is installed, in a Custom_Critter folder. But suppose you want to save them elsewhere?

Well, you can't do that. Sorry to get your hopes up, there - but it's the first thing some will think of with it. It will, however, provide the path to your Custom_Critter folder.

This button really needs renaming. All this will let you do is change the .critter file name. So yes, you can have a critter with a different name in the "Register" screen and critter file. So you could save old Two-toe as SuStFireMinion - you are limited to 20 characters (seriously - call it 12345678901234567890 and you won't be able to type more.)

So why have it? If you try to save a character, and forget you have another with the same name, the system will prompt you ("Would you like to overwrite?") If you do NOT want to overwrite the character, you can use this button to create a different file name.

Thus, you can have several critters with the same name if you save each one under a different file name.

All in all, a simple system to create characters, using all the things you've done before.