Save City of Heroes campaign labors on

It’s been about a month since the announcement of City of Heroes’ closure, and the movement to save the game has reached a critical juncture.  It’s hard to maintain momentum for big movements like this over a long period of time, because we’re oh-so-easily distracted and there are all of these games and expansions coming out.  Plus, it’s critical because after a month of protests and other general activist activities, we haven’t heard peep one from NCsoft that the company is wavering in its decision.  Finally, we know at least some of the Paragon devs have left to join Cryptic and Star Trek Online, so even if NCsoft relented today, the studio and game wouldn’t be in the same shape it was a month ago.

One of the leaders of the movement has admitted partial defeat, saying that he can’t see a future where NCsoft agrees to restore the game/studio or at least keep it alive on maintenance mode.  Instead of hoping for some sort of decision reversal, he’s hoping that the company will be open to selling CoH off.  SOE?  GamersFirst?  Perfect World Entertainment?  gPotato?  Nexon?  All of those leap to mind when it comes to multiple MMOs and companies willing to take on orphaned titles.  I won’t pretend to have any deep insight into this, however.  Nexon is in bed with NCsoft, so whether that’s an impossibility or a slight in-house reshuffling is unknown to me.

There’s always the even slighter possibility that City of Heroes gets shuttered in November and then picked up at a later date to be restarted, a la APB.

I’m wondering how much any of this movement to save City of Heroes has surprised or impacted NCsoft.  It’s hard to put a human face to a corporation, especially an overseas one that coldly and dispassionately pressed the cancel button on this title.  It’s certainly not been a PR boon to them, and perhaps they thought that any disgruntlement would just blow over quickly instead of sparking into a full-fledged rally the way it has.  Maybe NCsoft anticipated all this and more, but made the decision and steeled itself against the backlash.  Really, there’s little pressure other than giving the company bad publicity that players can do.  NCsoft already wasn’t mourning the financial loss or loyalty loss of these customers, so the leverage is all on their side.

Eliot from Massively thinks that the movement needs to go further and pull out the harsh language. “There’s a certain revolutionary spirit necessary for an effective protest,” he writes.  “I’m not entirely certain that we’ve got that.”

But perhaps don’t count City of Heroes’ capes out just yet.  The rally was a huge success and there are two more months left.  The players posted this really well-done (and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it) video recently about the movement, and I’m impressed all over the place with it:

Can City of Heroes be saved?

It’s a phenomenon as predictable as Old Faithful: Whenever a significant MMO (or, heck, TV series) has its ending announced, the fans come out in force to try to save it.  Sometimes these efforts bear fruit: Jericho got a second season and Star Trek a third because of fan efforts, while EQMac and… um… hm.  Some other MMO that I can’t think of got a stay of execution.  Actually, in terms of MMOs, these protests don’t seem to work as well, usually because there’s a lot of licensing, staffing, and financial issues at play behind the scenes.

But let’s turn our attention to City of Heroes anyway, which is the target of a major fan effort to save the title before its November closure.  From the fan’s perspective, it makes sense: The game was making money, it still had a healthy population, and it deserves to keep operating (at least until one of those first two factors changes).  We all love seeing this sort of thing, because it’s inspiring and brings out the best of the community.  Plus, sometimes it’s great to see that the power of organized fans can indeed change a company’s mind and remind them that there are people at the end of those dollar signs.

Inspiring, yes.  I’m totally on board with the idea — I’d love to see City of Heroes be saved.  It’s premature to cancel it, and I think that the reasoning behind NCsoft’s decision doesn’t have anything to do with the title specifically so much as losses elsewhere in the company.  But the question on the table is can it be saved?  Are we all just spinning our wheels and making noise in a futile attempt to speak to corporate suits that don’t care to listen to us anyway?

Paragon Studios is on the fans’ side, of course, but that doesn’t count for that much since the devs and team are looking, if not already accepting, jobs elsewhere.  We got word that there are “discussions” taking place regarding the title, which is just a smidge more than no hope at all, but it sort of feels like grasping at straws to think that NCsoft will suddenly have a change of heart.  Sometimes the decisions are made despite what the fans want — see Star Wars Galaxies.  I know that SOE would’ve loved to have kept that running, because it did make money, had a good amount of players, and was a nice feather in the cap of the studio.  But sometimes the big shots make the call and there’s little that a studio can do to change that.  I’m not saying that CoH is in the same exact situation, but it does feel similar.

But even if the odds seem long, what harm is there in trying?  One of the things that make our hobby so special is how attached we get to our game worlds and how much they end up meaning to us.  Seeing the City of Heroes’ fan base rise up in an attempt to do everything in their power to save this title is something we can all identify with, even if CoH isn’t our game.  As one of the leaders of the effort to save the game wrote, “We are heroes.  This is what we do.”  The game treated the players so well over the years, now it’s the players’ turn to rally around the game.

Maybe it won’t work, and November will be a sad time for many.  But, what the heck, fight on.  Give NCsoft a pause, at least, and a reason to question its corporate ruthlessness.  And if City of Heroes does get a reprieve, even if it’s just to remain on maintenance mode for the remainder of its life, I’ll be right there cheering along with the rest.

City of Lost Heroes

As you’ve probably heard, NCsoft is shuttering both Paragon Studios (and all of the staff there) as well as City of Heroes.  The last chance you’ll get to be in the first superhero MMO will be this November, and then another chapter of great gameplay will pass into history.

First things first: As always when it comes to closings, downsizings, and the like, my sympathies go out to the employees whose very real livelihood depended on these jobs.  However we feel, it’s just a game for us — it’s money and security for them.

That said, I’m sitting in a huge funk right now.  We’ve seen the closure of many MMOs in our time, but this is the very first that I actually cared about to any significant degree.  While Anarchy Online was my first MMO and WoW my first love, City of Heroes was sandwiched in the middle there and taught me the ropes.  It gave me a great ride.  I was there at launch and made my first character, a storm controller named Weather Girl.  I bought City of Villains and was there on day one as well.  While post-WoW I never played City of Heroes for great lengths of time, it was always, always the game I’d return to for sheer fun and character creation bliss.  This was the game that had a game before the game, after all — I don’t know anyone who played it who wasn’t constantly making alts and coming up with creative new superhero concepts.

City of Heroes was more than a character creator, however.  It took familiar tropes into an unfamiliar universe, and sold us on the idea that superhero MMOs didn’t need Marvel or DC to be accessible and fun.  It was one of the best games to group in, and even back when it had that harsh death penalty, I still didn’t really mind dying if it was from an epic confrontation.

Am I surprised at this announcement?  Totally.  From where I’m sitting, I’ve seen no huge warning signs that CoH was on the verge of unprofitability.  Then again, what do I know.  NCsoft doesn’t invite me over on the weekends to look through its books.  I guess I just assume that if a title goes F2P and makes it past a year or so — and has an expansion and several regular updates — then it’s doing okay.

Then again, this is NCsoft, the Fox Network of the MMO industry, forever killing titles whose names don’t start with “Lineage” at the first sign of any weakness.  I haven’t trusted them since seeing how little faith and promotion they put into Auto Assault and Tabula Rassa, and I’m less likely to now.

Well, what’s done is done, I suppose.  I hope all of Paragon’s staff find better homes, and for those players who suddenly find themselves on the verge of losing their superhero home, I hope that they can make the transition to one of the other MMOs in the genre without losing faith.

See you, City of Heroes.  We made great memories, you and I.

Where to get MMO soundtracks

Yesterday on Too Long; Didn’t Listen (you know, that podcast you so adore!) Dodge and I were talking about MMO and video game soundtracks, a topic which I quite adore.  I wanted to follow the podcast up with a quick post about some places that I’ve found legal ways to obtain these scores:

Free MMO soundtracks:

Amazon MP3 downloads:

Direct Song:

Blizzard Store/iTunes/misc.:

Let me know if I missed any and I’ll add them to the list (I’m not looking to list/link torrents and CDs, however)!

Clash of the Superfriends

Superhero MMOs have had it easy so far, competition-wise.  Really, when compared to the clown car-packed field of fantasy, the fewer-than-all-the-fingers-on-one-hand club of superhero MMOs doesn’t really elicit a lot of sympathy for their chances.  City of Heroes — king of the hill, has been for some time, doing just fine with a recent expansion.  Champions Online — struggling upstart, didn’t really put a dent in CoH the way some folk thought it would, is just trying to stay in the public consciousness.  Superhero Squad Online — not out yet, aimed at the kiddy demographic, could be a sleeper hit.

Then we have DC Universe Online which, as you may have heard, launched yesterday to a muted fanfare of excitement.  I guess people were happy?  Again, I’m not really in the personal know, but from what I’ve seen come across my blog feed in the past 24 hours, DCUO didn’t really cause a stampede to the launch button.  Like most everything else it’s been handling this past year, SOE could’ve done better by DCUO here.  Pushing back the launch date from last fall was bad enough, but the past few months have been lukewarm at best for this title — and the company’s marketing team seems like it’s going through the motions but there’s no spirit there.

I’m not saying DCUO is a bad game; on the contrary, from what I’ve seen it is a decent actioner with an RPG-lite overlay, and the PS3 tie-in is really going to help it more than any marketing push.  In fact, I think a lot of the MMO industry is watching this launch closely to see just how much DCUO benefits from the console market.  We’re really in mostly unexplored territory here, FFXI and EQOA notwithstanding.

What’s interested me personally is that the superhero MMO subgenre now has a three-way clash (and players have more than one or two options) for supremacy.  It appears that Cryptic and Paragon Studios have realized this as well, since – and I’m sure the timing of this was no coincidence whatsoever — Cryptic just so happened to announce Champions’ F2P launch yesterday while Paragon Studios posted a producer’s letter on Monday that culminated in a plea for players to stay: “We love you, man!”

No, seriously.

Anyway, I’m not that invested in any of these games, nor am I rooting for one to triumph and one to fall, or whatever.  I just think it’s about time that these games get shaken from complacency and forced to actually compete, which will benefit the consumer in the end.

I really do wish that Cryptic was handling Champions’ F2P version better, however.  I know — how much can you complain about something free, after all?  But when “free” means that you end up playing a version of the game that doesn’t include one of the game’s biggest selling points (the ability to choose your character’s powers), then it ends up being all kinds of sad.

If I was handed the reins to Champions and told to come up with a F2P edition, I’d certainly go another way.  Perhaps putting a level cap (say 20?) but leaving the game open otherwise.  Maybe I’d allow players to pay to unlock powersets permanently, a la carte-like.  Really, anything but the archetype templates they’re going with here.

So what do you think about all of this superhero news?  Are you rooting for one game over the other?

2010: Looking Back

As much as I love retrospective posts and Top X Lists of the Year, I suppose it’s almost time to tuck those away for another 364 days.  January 1st always hits me like a wall of normalcy after the hectic month that was December.  Once tomorrow rolls in, it’s back to normal schedules and normal objectives and no awesome holidays until President’s Day (party central!).

So instead of getting bummed about the 1st, I wanted to take a couple minutes to look back at 2010.  While it may have not been much for MMOs, I thought it was a pretty exciting year — announcements, betas, getting back into old games, and so on.  I actually played a lot of MMOs this year, including:

  • World of Warcraft: I wrapped up my interest in this game early on in the year, and was finally able to say goodbye.
  • Lord of the Rings Online: I got back into LOTRO in February and have had an utter blast getting a character up in high levels, being part of a terrific kinship, and participating in many non-combat events.
  • Global Agenda: Played it for about a week, it’s decent for what it is, but it’s not for me.
  • Star Trek Online: Despite numerous hiccups on Cryptic’s part, I’ve enjoyed STO off and on during the year, and have spent about 100 hours in-game so far.
  • Ultima Online: Finally got a taste of this classic MMO for a few days — nothing compelling, but cool to be able to say I was there.
  • Anarchy Online: Spent a few weeks revisiting this title and my memories from back in the day.
  • Allods Online: I liked the beta, but the launch cash shop ruckus turned me off of it.
  • Age of Conan: Yeah, spent a couple days going through the newbie zone.  Decent game, but I didn’t feel like sticking it out.
  • DCUO: Played a very little bit of the beta, thought it looked really nice but I wasn’t too thrilled about the consoleish feel.
  • City of Heroes: Returned for a couple weeks with the intention of seeing the Going Rogue launch, but a once-familiar staple of my gaming life felt really drab and meandering, so I quit.
  • DDO: Enjoyed it off and on, but ultimately it lost its grip on me and I let it go with a teary farewell.
  • EverQuest II Extended: Went through the intro zone and generally liked it, but was turned off by the graphics and the bizarre pricing plan.
  • Guild Wars: Been playing through the campaigns for the Hall of Monuments calculator, and although I haven’t been in-game for a month or so, I have plans to return.
  • Rift: Got into the beta, and have been slowly won over by this gorgeous and pretty dang fun title.
  • Star Wars Galaxies: Played it for a couple weeks for a column, liked it so-so but it just got me itching for The Old Republic after a while.  Cool space combat, tho.
  • Vindictus: Tried the opening level, it felt way too much like a mindless click-fest and quit.

Whew, in retrospect, that’s a LOT!  And I’m not including all of my off-line gaming, including Mass Effect 2 (awesome), Back to the Future: The Game, Borderlands, Secret of Monkey Island, Dragon Age Origins, Torchlight and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

On the homefront, it’s been pretty crazy too: classes, work, family life.  Back in April my daughter was born, a daughter who’s now standing up and holding her own in play sessions with her one-year-old brother.  Being a dad is better than any game out there, which is why MMOs don’t stand a chance if they’re awake.

In February, I was hired by Massively to be a columnist and contributing editor, and in a way, it was a perfect fit.  I’ve always wanted to be a part of the games industry in some way, and writing about it comes naturally.  The folks over there are just terrific, and we’ve had a great year of covering the news and talking about the games we love.  I don’t know how you feel about the site, but I can testify to the real passion that everyone there has for MMOs.  It’s not a job, it’s being paid for what we were going to talk about anyway.  Well, okay, on days I don’t want to write, it’s certainly more job-like than others, but all in all I consider myself a very fortunate guy who has two jobs he really likes to do.

2010 wasn’t perfect — I didn’t lose all the weight I wanted to (although I made a small dent), I let a few projects slip that I wish I would’ve been better about, and I know that dividing my writing interests have hurt Bio Break in some ways.  But you have to take the bad with the good, and I’m pretty darn satisfied with how it ended up.

Rift: How many souls makes a man?

One of my earliest MMO memories is the day I got my City of Heroes box and spent hours before logging into the game pouring through the manual (yes, I think there was a time when I actually read manuals).  It was nearly impossible — but in a good way! — to figure out what superhero I wanted to make, because I not only had to choose an archetype and powerset, but a second powerset to meld with the first.  Any game that gives me a good degree of freedom in creating and building my character outside of narrow limits and an over-reliance on gear is one that has my patronage more often than not.

This is why I’m pretty fascinated with Rift’s mix-and-match class system, aka “Ascended” or “Souls” system.  Basically, you’ll choose one of four basic callings (fighter, healer, rogue, mage) and then start to accumulate souls of other people who died long ago.  Once you have a soul, you can invest points (which you accumulate per level) into the tree to unlock bonuses and special abilities.  Straight-forward enough, sure.

It gets cooler when you realize that you can swap souls in and out almost on the fly, radically changing your abilities as the situation calls for it.  Then add the fact that you’ll be able to activate three (out of an eventual eight) souls at any one time, and it’s a recipe for an obscene amount of builds and combinations.  You can dump almost all of your soul points into just one soul (effectively creating a one-soul build), spread them out evenly, or come up with symbiotic bonds.

While we’re a ways off from launch and even a final list of souls, one enterprising fan has taken all of the publicly available information to create a Rift Role Builder for fans to tinker with.  If you have any interest in the game, I suggest you check it out, if only to get an idea for how the system might function in game and how fun it’ll be to fiddle with character builds to make something unique (or at least, personal).

I’ve even heard rumors — perhaps dev speculation, I can’t recall — that they may also include “for fun” souls that are more geared to RP and festive events.  There’s definitely possibilities for fluffy fun if cosmetic souls are included.

In any case, I’m digging the idea of this, mostly because it’ll stave off one of my major complaints of most every MMO’s end game — a fully built but mostly static character.  Once you figure out the optimal build for your playstyle, there really is little reason to change.

Except that in Rift, the devs encourage you to keep experimenting, to save multiple builds for different roles, and not be pigeonholed into just one limited profession.  I like that.  I like you.  I think we should be friends.

City of Heroes: What Is Old Is New Again

Jockeying for my #3 MMO at the moment is City of Heroes, which I picked up at least for a couple months due to the summer lull, the upcoming expansion, and a desire now and then to play fairly mindless (yet purdy) combat.  I remade my plant/radiation controller Killophyll (sometimes coming up with names is the best part of superhero MMOs) and set out to see how the landscape had changed.

The old maxim that players will always seek out the least amount of effort for the greatest reward has been proven true in CoH over and over.  Running regular missions is passé.  Sewer missions give you a boost through the first 10 levels in under an hour, and then virtually everyone now jumps into Mission Architect farms.

I’ve been doing these AE and punching bag farms over the past week (groups form for them more than anything else I’ve witnessed), and I have mixed feelings about them.  I really like the Mission Architect setup, and the sheer variety of missions offered combined with some impressive creativity (and a lot of lameness as well, as is par for the course) means a wealth of unlimited content to explore.  I don’t have to travel much to get to it, and the scenery changes quite often.

Plus, the rate of leveling through farms and punching bags (the latter are level 2 arch-villains who reward you a healthy chunk of XP and are scattered all over one big map) is really impressive.  Like, I feel as though I’ve accessed the CoH cheat code impressive.  It’s fun to quickly level up a toon and feed your altoholic side, but…

…But it does take away a lot of the accomplishment of doing so.  And, of course, there’s the lack of variety that drains a lot of the enjoyment out of running these.

I’ve found an interesting phenomenon with these farms, in that people are so bored doing them that they actually start talking.  I’ve been in a lot of groups where we get into great conversations because the combat goes on auto-pilot at a certain point, and in a way it seems like it’s how older MMOs like EverQuest used to be.  Groups mindlessly farming while chatting away.  Tipa summed up the experience in a recent post, and I’m inclined to think that CoH, in a way, is actually heading back in that direction.

Has the old become new again?