City of Heroes, you are still remembered

Last Friday night the faithful turned out to celebrate City of Heroes’ 13th birthday celebration in Paragon Chat, and while there wasn’t any blastin’ or tankin’ going on, in many other ways it was the same-old City of Heroes shindig that we always loved. There were costume contests (so many contests), impromptu dance parties, stoic torch holding, badge races, trivia contests, and lots of friendly chatter.

Representing Massively OP, I went around and played the part of the goggling tourist, taking screenshots and ogling everyone’s incredible costumes. We were talking on the livestream about how much the game had added and changed since I left sometime after City of Villains, and boy you can tell that in these looks. That’s not to say that there weren’t many familiar costume pieces as well…

Still feel a lot for this community that had their game and home taken away from them before its time. The protest lives on, even if it’s more subdued. Lots of simmering residual anger toward NCsoft bubbled up to the surface that night.

The crowd started getting bigger and the little Atlas Park platform quickly became a moshpit of weirdos and heroes.

The civilized hero drinks coffee whilst thinking back to the halcyon days of Paragon Studios and live servers.

Meanwhile, Syp Had Fun With Emotes. I didn’t realize there were so many in the game and tried out pretty much all of them. The dances were the best, and I think that the Robot was the best suited for my steam-mechanical outfit.

Tea is truly the refined hero’s beverage of choice. Did I say hero? This guy looks like a minor god out of a pantheon of modeling deities.

Even a villain or two showed up to glower in support…

I did take a brief side tour to the monorail station to see if I could get to other zones. Turns out, yes, I could. They’re awfully empty, of course, and that felt so dang eerie that I quickly went back to Atlas Park.

Lots of clowns, harlequins, and jokers represented. I don’t really want to know the why behind this.

Bree and I enjoyed hanging out with the crowd, interacting a bit while recalling some of our favorite memories from the game (good AND bad).

In one of the costume contests there was a guy dressed as a jet. Best jet costume all night, to tell the truth. Probably a GM or something, since a Borg cube showed up later.

Here’s an image that will haunt my dreams: The BK Big Fish. He eats your eyes first — and you thank him for it, since you won’t have to look at that costume any longer.


Back to City of Heroes with Paragon Chat

As this Friday is the annual birthday celebration for City of Heroes, a group of us at Massively OP decided that we’d get together to join the party in Paragon Chat. If you’ve never seen this, Paragon Chat is a combat-free version of City of Heroes that lets players create their favorite costumes, hang out, talk, and enjoy a handful of travel powers in Atlas City.

I’d been aware of Paragon Chat for a couple of years now, of course, but had never logged into it. Last night changed that, thanks to a fairly painless process that involved downloading the last version of City of Heroes made and then the Paragon Chat client on top of it. A (free) registered account later, and I was actually logging back into City of Heroes — kind of — for the first time in over a half of a decade.

It was, to put it mildly, surreal.

It was like City of Heroes never left, if I was willing to buy into that illusion (with my illusion powerset!). Same music, same character creator, same wonky costume options. Well, it was all a little newer than I remembered, since I wasn’t really around for Going Rogue and Freedom, but more or less, it was a lot like I remembered it.

My kids, who had never seen City of Heroes at all, started to congregate at the computer and ask what the heck I was making. I told them “a superhero” and boy did that glue their attention right to the screen. I started scrolling through all of the head, costume, and detail options, and there were both appreciative noises and crazy laughter at some of the more ridiculous aspects. My son in particular grew quite interested when he saw bug costume options and asked if it was possible to make a bug superhero. For sure, son, for sure.

Of course, time hasn’t been completely kind to this game, particularly since it’s been in an arrested state since shutdown. Those blocky hairstyles, painted-on faces, and some of the costume pieces (ugh, those trenchcoat tails) are quite ugly and dated. And the claw hands! But that’s all part of the nostalgic package too.

Part of the fun of City of Heroes was when you cut loose from the concept of making only good-looking toons and walked on the wild side. I went with a kooky mad scientist hero, complete with a backpack that spat gears, a mouth that chewed on a cigar, and a jacket that I never remember seeing in the game. The exposed brain I totally do, though.

You ever tell yourself that you’ll never go back to your high school or college after graduating but one day you do? I imagine it feels a little like this moment, seeing the loading screen into Atlas Park. Like I never left, I kept repeating in my brain. Like I never left.

Lo and behold, there was a small crowd hanging out at the plaza as if NCsoft never bothered to tell them that the game was being closed and they weren’t going to listen anyway. Emotes and chat were the order of the day, and we passed a few fun minutes talking about the upcoming party and how cool it was seeing all of this again.

One of my favorite parts of City of Heroes was eyeballing all of the other designs and feeling completely inadequate. In a good way. A fun way. Superheroes were supernarcassistic, but kind of in a more youthful “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine and we’ll both make oohs and ahhs to feel validated” way.

So what else is there to do? No enemies, no fighting powers, but there are a few more options. You can explore, thanks to an array of travel powers (you get access to all of them, but I went with superjump because SUPERJUMP C’MON!). You can earn badges. You can fiddle with all of the chat channel options. You can’t die, although I did try by flying high and then turning it off for some vertigo. You can emote. And that’s about it, I think.

Overall, it’s certainly amazing that such a fan effort exists. It might be just a shadow of what City of Heroes used to be, but it’s SOMEthing — a living memorial to a great game that allows fans to congregate, ruminate, and enjoy a few of their favorite social activities. Looking forward to Friday night… maybe I’ll see you there? Keep an eye out for “MOP Justin” if so!

City of Heroes returns! (totally not a clickbait headline)

“Hey guys and gals! Remember that awesome superhero MMO that ran for eight years? The one with that kick-butt character creator? All of the costume contests? The claw hands? Super-jumping? Badges and mission architect? The puking zombies and thinly disguised Nazis? The endless stream of pun-themed outfits? The mix-and-match powersets?

“Remember how wonderful it was? How it felt like home? How there was just no other MMORPG out there like it?


“Remember how it was still turning a profit, still doing decently, still bringing in the crowds? Remember how we stepped on it and killed it without a second thought? Remember all of the last-ditch vigils and letter-writing campaigns that we ignored? Remember how we laughed from across the ocean at any entreaties to cut the game and its studio loose?

“Remember how we kept that dead MMO and its IP as a trophy in our president’s cigar room as a conversation piece to show how powerful he was? Remember how we used to laugh at the buckets of tears that fans would FedEx us weekly? Remember how we launched Guild Wars 2 like a week later and expected all of those superhero players to migrate because one MMO is as good as another?

“Remember how we were making that MOBA that pulled from all of our properties and thought, hey, why not dig up the rotting corpse of that superhero game’s iconic character and shoehorn him into the new game? Oh man, that was good. It’ll go down as the Face Slap Heard ‘Round the World, and we’ll still make bank on these chumps.

“Good times. Good times.”

Star Trek Online holds the torch for City of Heroes


I’ve been gaining traction in Star Trek Online nicely since returning from my vacation. It took a little bit of searching, but I think I found a welcoming fleet — Access Denied — to join. Even better, I’m rocketing up in ranks thanks to pushing through the episodes and doing DOFFs as much as possible.

I know that getting new ships is a major carrot to the leveling in this game, but after having gone through it a few times, I have to say that I think I would prefer having and sticking with a single ship from start to finish. I keep getting attached to various models, only to have to abandon them a few hours later for the next tier. I’m really partial to both the Ambassador and Intrepid-class ships, and while I know that there are retrofit versions later on, right now it feels like I have to keep my distance.

Oh, this time around I’m giving my ships names like Happy Chicken and Uppity Llama. I assume that Starfleet does not approve. I do not care.

I am very much looking forward to getting to tier 5 so that I can settle down with a ship. The summer event is coming up quite soon, and with it should be an opportunity to score a high-level ship for free. I might still drop a few bucks on one of the Federation carriers even so, although probably just a tier 5. I still have a free T5-upgrade boost on my account to use, so no sense wasting money I don’t need to.

Another thing I’m anticipating? Getting into episodes that I haven’t seen before. I have the full Delta Rising expansion that I’ve never touched as well as the Iconian War and other episodes that have been added over the past year or so. That should more than keep me busy until the expansion launches in July. Hearing good things about Agents of Yesterday so far from people on the test servers.


Perhaps it’s just in returning to the game with a fresh perspective, but this time around it’s remarkable how much Star Trek Online is reminding me of City of Heroes. I think it’s one of those things that’s always lurked in my subconscious but I’ve never articulated.

Makes sense, of course. Both games were developed by Cryptic, and the studio no doubt brought some of its City of Heroes tech into Star Trek Online. Now that I’m looking for it, I see it everywhere, from the character creation to the font to the floaty nature of character animations to the pop-up text boxes. Foundry missions. The layouts of ground mission instances. STO just has that CoH “feel” to it in a way that Champions Online and Neverwinter, two other Cryptic properties, does not.

It’s its own creature, naturally, but I enjoy seeing and feeling those City of Heroes echoes as I’m playing. More than anything else, each MMO has a distinct feel that’s made up of its sounds, music, animations, gameplay, systems, and such. When you’re playing those games, you can’t mistake them for anything else, and sometimes even the smallest trigger can flood you with memories of those titles. So should it be that surprising that I’m getting CoH flashbacks left and right?

Nice to know that its spirit is still alive in a currently running game, at least.

Battle Bards Episode 53: City of Heroes

cohboxIt was the first big superhero MMO, and for at least one Bard, it was the entry point into MMO gaming. Today we’ll be looking at the late, great City of Heroes and its strange, lovable, and often baffling soundtrack, as well as trying to explain to Syl why superheroes are totally cool. Pull on those tights and prepare to soar up, up and away into a score like no other on today’s show!

Episode 53 show notes

  • Intro (featuring “Main Theme” and “Steel Canyon Copper District”)
  • “Freedom Court”
  • “Devil’s Coat Tails”
  • “Argosy Industries”
  • “Freedom Theme”
  • “Going Rogue Theme”
  • “Welcome to Nova Praetoria”
  • “Bloody Bay: Green Nugget”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Mail from Joseph
  • Outro (“Mission Complete”)

Listen to episode 53 now!

10 things I still miss from City of Heroes

cohAs time marches on, the distance between us and City of Heroes’ closure grows ever-greater. However, the memories linger, and today I felt like making a list of 10 things I still miss about that game.

1. The incredible, flexible character creator

Even though it didn’t have every option on the planet, the character creator allowed players’ creativity to shine through an insane variety of costumes and looks. It was genius when you look back at it: by allowing players an agency not just in their power selection, but their very look, the game got people deeply invested in the theme of their heroes.

I loved that I could make body extreme characters, from tiny pixies to hulking masses to everything in between. I appreciated the monster options, the funny accessories, and the fun of picking out colors.

2. Getting lost in Perez Park

Sure, it’s something I hated, too, but that park and its dense, labyrinthian forest had a unique feel all to itself and was downright intimidating, especially before one got their travel power at 14.

3. New power levels

Was there anything so exciting as dinging a level where you’d get a brand-new power? It seemed unfair that those came further and further apart the higher you went, but still, it was thrilling. I’d spend hours while gaming planning out my next power picks and look forward to each of them arriving.

4. Grouping

I don’t think there was ever an MMO where I grouped as much as I did in City of Heroes. It was simply the most economic way to rake in the XP, and besides, the solo game was rather dull. Heading out with a pack of heroes to blast through instances felt epic and was a good way to show off your costume and powers.

5. Impromptu dance parties

Oh the boombox emote. And the dance emotes. Anytime a group would have to wait for someone to get there, chances are that a dance party would soon break out.

6. Costume contests

Few things brought the community together in droves than a good ol’ fashioned costume contest in Atlas Park. I loved to see the fashion on display and always thought that these community-driven events were a sign of MMO devs doing a system right. I don’t think I ever won one, but I felt that I had a couple outfits that were deserving of an award.

7. The Dark Dark Defender

I almost exclusively played controllers, but the DDD was always tempting me into being a defender. It had a pet (sorta) and so many awesome powers with cool smokey visual effects that I felt epic every time I played one. It was the one defender build that didn’t make me feel that I had to be a healbot or shieldbot but still contribute to the team at large.

8. The sounds

One of City of Heroes’ strengths that was rarely mentioned was its diverse and incredibly memorable array of sound effects, particularly with powers. Could have done without a few of them, like the force bubble whines, but such is life.

9. The sheer fun of super-jump

Everyone had his or her preferred travel power, and while I could apprciate the utility of flight or the economy of super-speed, for me it was always super-jump. It was fast enough to get me around, high enough to traverse vertical spaces, and so exhilerating to activate. WildStar’s low-gravity zones reminds me of it.

10. Paragon City

The main location of City of Heroes was as much of a personality as anything else in the game. It may have been a little bland and non-descript in places, but it cemented itself in my memory as a real place. Every zone had a distinct feel, from the prison to the caves to the run-down King’s Row. It was a cool place to explore — and protect.

City of Heroes and the camping trip

cohRecently I was asking EverQuest players to share some of their memories of the early game and was regaled with several tales of how most of their gameplay involved camping. As EQ vets will be quick to tell you, this wasn’t the mosquito-and-hot dog type of camping, but rather the “plant your butt in one spot while a puller ran out to grab a pack (or a single mob) and bring it back so that you could all collectively beat it up” type of camping.

As I was reading these, I was thinking how much that sounded like the early days of my time in City of Heroes. Rushing through an instance as a group was a sure way to quickly wipe and incur the dreaded XP debt, so instead we’d hang back in a safe room while a trusted tank would zip ahead, round up a bunch of mobs by insulting their mothers, and then lead them back.

So a lot of my time was spent twiddling my thumbs in an otherwise-empty room, breaking out the boombox emote, and anxiously awaiting the time where I could unleash my powers. Sometimes the waiting would be too much, I’d get too impatient, and then I’d commit that cardinal sin of going all alpha strike on the bad guys, getting aggro, and dying. I think everyone couldn’t wait to bust out their powers when the mobs finally arrived.

Maybe that’s not the same kind of camping, but it had that feel to it for me.

It could be cool at times, but often it was visually chaotic. The tank would stack the mobs in a corner, and their and our attacks would all be concentrated in the same place. It would be a bazillion spell effects going off at the time time, creating a visual and audio assault that was pretty much impossible to follow. Most of my attention was focused on the HUD overlay, playing energy management and tabbing between bad guys. I could do it for a while, but after an hour or so I would log out, exhausted from all of the shiny lights and shrieking noises.

There’s stuff I miss about City of Heroes, but also stuff I really do not, and I think that’s to be said about a lot of canceled MMOs.

I do miss the sheer anticipation of even levels, when I’d be treated to a single power point that I could spend on anything I wanted (as long as the power slot was unlocked and I was level-appropriate). Man, was there ever an MMO where a single new skill was such a big treat as it was in City of Heroes? It pained me when I had to “waste” six levels on the two throwaway skills and that one stamina power, because even though it was necessary and pretty much standard, that was a long stretch of no fun new toys.

I think that when I close my eyes at night, sometimes I can still clearly see Generic Confusing Office Layout #1207, Generic Ugly Cave System #811, and Generic Warehouse That Does Not Meet OSHA STandards #45. It’ll never truly be gone as long as we can be partially traumatized by the past.