Thursday, September 6, 2012

I come to praise City of Heroes, not to bury it

I was never huge into MMOs. Back when I worked at the comic store, the Viscount, who had worked there previously, would regale of us with tales of his time in Ultima Online. The living world just sounded so cool. But I never did wind up playing Ultima.

I did play a text-based MUD called Mirkwood for a few years. That was fun. And then I found City of Heroes.

Like most of the gamers of my generation, I started with D&D and I've played it, but it was never my favorite. Ah....but superheroes. I saw a feature on CoH when I was working in a bookstore, while flipping through a magazine I was supposed to be destroying, and thought, hey, this could be neat.

I started a week after launch. Safari Joe was my first character, an AR/Devices blaster. A bunch of real life friends played it at first too. They kind of drifted away for their various reasons, but I stayed with it for years. Shortly after the last of my real world friends gave up the game, I was ready to hang up my cape too, but then I learned my brother in Florida was in to it. So I reactivated my account and we teamed up.

I can't tell you what I liked so much about it. With the exception of a rapid succession of major nerfs (Diminishing returns on enhancements and a major reduction to defensive powers), the game got better with every update. I remember the first time I felt like an honest to goodness super hero. It's when I was in a large group gathered together at the entrance to a high level area to defeat the Hamidon, the only raid boss in the game at the time. The leader gave the go order and suddenly everyone was flying and leaping and teleporting and superspeeding towards the target. It was glorious and it was epic and the only other time I felt that way was when I was running the ITF for the first time and we couldn't stop the alien controlled Centurion until I blasted him with the chemical warhead I'd been saving for a rainy day.

My interest waxed and waned over the seven years, but I can't think of any other game I've played regularly for seven years. I hadn't played much since the last update, but I kept up with forums, and the upcoming update (they called them Issues, and this would have been Issue 24) looked very promising and I planned to check it out. And then, while checking my phone during some down time at work, I noticed a facebook post saying "Please Read" and a link to a "So Long and Thanks for all the Fish" post on the official forums. All development was ending immediately and servers would be shut down at the end of November. They were professional to the end and put on as positive a spin on the situation as they could, but it was a pretty raw deal and everyone knew it.

There are couple explanations to what led up to this. The parent company, NCSoft had a lousy last quarter. They had a new majority shareholder in the form of Nexon, and while CoH was profitable, it wasn't pulling in crazy money and rumor had it that Nexon was putting pressure on them to close the studio.

I had been playing the game since before my daughter was born and now she's reading well enough to play. (She certainly spells better than most people you find in a Pick Up Group.) She would sit on my lap when she was a baby and I was playing and when she got older she would make heroes in the character builder. With Issue 24 approaching, I had the thought that I would finally be able to share this game I enjoyed with my daughter. I suppose that's why I feel so melancholy about the whole thing. I knew the game wouldn't go on forever, but it's disappointing to have it cancelled under these circumstances. It reminds me of the scene in the Matrix where Cypher is pulling the plug on his former comrades in the Matrix, and Switch just says, "Not like this." It's silly to get upset about it when there are so many more important things to worry about out there, but I am.

I remember reading once that the TiVo had one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any commercial product. Almost everyone who tried it was very happy with it.

That's how I think of City of Heroes. It seems to be fondly remembered by people. When I mentioned that it was going to be shut down to a couple of people with whom I had played, the overwhelming consensus was "That's a shame. I had fun with it back in the day."

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