The Mission Architect system is implemented in-game as a "virtual reality simulation" (a simulation inside a simulation; wrap that one around your noodle) which lets your heroes or villians romp around inside a giant Holodeck or Danger Room or whatever you'd like to call it. This has the primary advantage of immediately declaring all user-generated content non-canon. You still can't infringe copyright, but you can create a mission calling upon heroes to save the iconic Statesman's mother.
So what can you do? Well, you can create your own amazing stories for everyone to play! Each story arc is made up of one to five missions, and the goals and overall story is entirely up to you. For example, my current work in progress is entitled The President's Pants Are Missing! and, as you can very well guess, involves you tracking down the purloined pants so that the Commander-In-Chief is not doomed to give a speech in his briefs. I realize the whole "pants is a funny word" thing peters out rather quickly, so I'm working on making the story more interesting than just that.
The editor is surprisingly sophisticated for an enduser application, and is handled entirely in-game. It's not as robust as it could be -- you must use pre-generated maps, for example -- but the ability to create your own mobs and groups, as well as the number of objectives you can chain to each mission, more than makes up for it. Even better, the entire story arc file is saved locally in text format. I haven't checked the files yet, but I'm reasonably sure you could do all your editing locally and that's pretty awesome when you think about it.
The story arcs are also supported by a player ranking system. This system automatically promotes any arc maintaining a 5-star rank over 1,000 votes into the Hall of Fame. This is not the best ranking system, but it'll have to do for now. Even so, arc creators will have to put on their best Patient Hat to endure the pubbie comments and scams. For example, this is a common scam: "Hi I just rated ur mish 5 stars rate mine 5 back k" Thing is, the scammer didn't even bother to play, much less rate, your arc. You can check how many plays you've received and how many votes, but players are only indentified if they send you personal feedback.
This feedback is about as constructive as you would expect from J. Random Internet Users. A step up from YouTube comments, but no less useless. While I have not published my arcs yet, I have listened to pals discuss the feedback they've received, and two of the all-time greatest are, and I paraphrase:
Your mission to save Statesman's mom isn't canon because Statesman's parents are dead. (Toot toot, all board the Missed Point train)and
The goons in your arc shouldn't be wielding baseball bats because they're wearing suits and thus could afford to buy better weapons. (Well, then.)And what of the arcs I've found? Well, I've played a lot of mediocre story arcs, some with difficulty issues and level balancing issues, and some with just a minimal grasp of story and pacing.
I've also played some truly ghastly ones. "Kill Andre and bring the peace to all heros of the world" was a particularly memorable one. Without explaining who Andre was or why I needed to kill him, my mission contact said "thank u for ur help" and sent me to an abandoned office building where, predictably, Andre lay in wait. As I shrugged and proceeded to pummel Andre into oblivion, he gamely told me that girls hit him harder, and then eventually cried for Mommy when defeated. I can only guess that Andre was this creator's little brother or something. Anyway, heros of the world, I hope you enjoy the peace I bringed you.
(Also, if the mission you choose involves dragons or catgirls, you know you're in for a truly special treat.)
There have been some really fun arcs, however. Most of my favorites involve a healthy amount of parody, but what I have found is that the story and the dialogue really make the arc. Anyone can throw you into a room and make you kill stuff, but getting to know the whys and hows is key.
Three arcs I can recommend to Co* players are The Footsteps Initiative by Muu, which involves helping out five newbie heroes who look and sound just like a stereotypical bad pubbie group (including one who goes AFK periodically and one who brags about having been in since beta.) Muu also wrote Troll Goods, Best Goods which involves Garr, the best Troll NPC ally you'll ever meet. (Leaving Garr behind in a mission prompts him to yell "WAIT, I'M SMASHING THINGS OVER HERE!" When you go back to get him, he cheerfully says "IT'S OKAY. I SMASHED IT." Oh, Garr.) The icing on the cake is checking each NPC's Info text, something that not a lot of people bother to replace from the defaults. Muu's Footsteps character bios are spot-on and hilarious.
Also recommendable is These Machines Kill Fascists by I think Doc Photon. It's a multi-part story about the 5th Council (the Nazi analogue in the City of Heroes universe) and their robots, who have decided to turn on their owners. It's not overall broad parody, but the storyline is interesting and just solidly written.
Anyway, that's why I haven't gotten much sleep over the weekend. I'll let everybody know how the President's pants turn out.