Monday, December 3, 2012

The End of An Era: City of Heroes


Three days ago gaming and the MMO genre lost one of its unsung titles. City of Heroes shut down after eight and a half years of service due to still-unknown reasons. Handed from Cryptic Studios to Paragon Studios, the game continued development under publisher NCSoft. Deciding that despite making profits, NCsoft decided to pull the plug on the game, firing Paragon Studios the day of the announcement and disenfranchising tens of thousands of its playerbase.
We learned in August that come November 30th City of Heroes would be no more. Not many can understand what this game meant to those who played it, much like trying to explain the meaning a song to a person who had never heard it, but I’ll do my best.

I played the game since its inception in 2004, two days after launch. My first high-flying antics were with an Assault Rifle/Devices blaster named Violet Eye. The game was rich and colorful, letting me create any character in my imagination, practically without limit. The gameplay was closer to a classic beat-‘em up style, inviting action and reflexes. It was stepping into an arcade shared by over two hundred thousand players at launch. 

Eventually I moved to Virtue server which became my permanent home a few weeks later. It was a game I came back to year after year, even when other MMO’s became stale, it was a glue that held together my PC-gaming where I met a cherished community that valued those who were a part of it. Everyone recognized and knew one another because each vision and character was unique. For eight and a half years I was honored to be a part of it

Together we rocked the villains of Atlas Park, flying alongside signature heroes like Statesman, Positron, Manticore, saving the world from evil. As villains we stole and shocked the Rogue Isles with Lord Recluse, Ghost Widow and others.

City of Heroes was a wellspring for the creative. People crafted their own villains and storylines that thousands of others could experience through the Mission Architect system, wrote their own novels that they shared online and through Supergroup channels. Unimaginable amounts of ideas, and heartfelt stories came forth, from tales following the established canon, to tales that followed Greek mythology or non-sequitor humor.

Coupled with City of’s strong roleplaying community it became more than just the sum of what the developers crafted; it was our own, it belonged to the people. The world has lost a gateway to the imagination, a tray filled with crayons, markers, inked pens and paper, giving us the tools to create the heroes inside our hearts and minds with fluidity and ease.

Now the playground is gone, and while there are other titles similar in substance, they’re just not the same. They lack the creative options of Mission Architect, the sense of bond and community.

I try to draw the comparison between other titles. For those I know in the Street Fighter community, imagine if Capcom was owned by an unseen corporate publisher. One day that publisher decides that even though the series is profitable, they’re going to cut access to the game. Imagine that tournaments can no longer be held, that you can no longer go online or play any of the prequels. Ever. I, for one, know that such a thing isn’t possible, but I know it would be one of the worst things imaginable. That’s how I and many other City of Heroes players feel.

We’ve entered a time in gaming where we no longer own the games we purchase. Publishers like NCSoft and EA give us borrowed time and yank out the carpet underneath us. We buy games through publishers who have a certain set life or expectation of their product that just aren't feasible; not every MMO will be the next World of Warcraft or “WoW-Killer.” There will never be another WoW. It doesn’t get high marks in originality (Everquest did everything it did first) nor will it ever be replicated and it’s damaging to creative gaming to continue to try. 

I’ve met countless people on City of Heroes. Two of my real life friends who I recently visited in Colorado over the summer were made on that game. I’ve met eight foot tall beasts with a heart of gold, Supermen who wear star-spangled capes, Psychic seductive villainesses out for profit, cool-minded assassins in suits and more. Inspired from everything from anime to comics and fiction in-between, the gamut of characters is endless but they all have one thing in common; they’re all played by flesh and blood human beings, with real hearts and dreams. I know; I’ve met and spoken to a great deal of them personally over the years.

For my own personal story, I’ve dealt with schizophrenia in my family, loss of loved ones, break-ups and more, but City of Heroes was always there for me to hunker down and pretend to save the world. I’m torn up that I will no longer be able to do that. I’m torn up how hard it is to express the thoughts, feelings and experiences I’ve had and shared.

No longer will I be able to scale the golden-brown pyramid tiles overlooking clouded St. Martial in the Rogue Isles, or visit the blue-side bar in Pocket D, taking in the sights as I virtually drink and chat about our characters’ troubles or the latest crisis that needs dealing with. No longer can I fly over Silver Lake’s reflective sheen in Steel Canyon taking in the golden sunset off of its waters, and no longer will I see the mighty statue overlooking Talos Island with its protective, determined gaze.

Gone are the battles against the alien Rikti, The Fifth Column and The Carnival of Shadows. Gone are Praetoria and the battles to free its oppressed people from Emperor Cole. My friends and countless other players fought together, played together enjoying this rich, vibrant world that was both made for us by Paragon Studios’ amazing development team and made by ourselves, the players. We didn’t lose each other or our characters, but we lost our home and the connection between each other. For my own part, I wrote countless backgrounds and stories, but I’ve lost the canvas on which they were laid upon.

Many will not understand how much all the work and the world meant to the developers, the playerbase and myself. Some of my more fond and creative ideas were made playing City of Heroes, and while the world may not exist in the real world, it existed on the computers, hearts and minds of the people who shared it.

I hope someday that the City of Heroes may rise again. I know I’ll be doing my part to help change that. Hopefully others will too. Until then I won’t hang up my cape. I’m taking it with me to other realms and games and reality, where I can find ways to try help others for real. Godspeed Paragon City; you may be gone from our homes, but not from our hearts.

“Heroes may die, but heroism never shall.”  - Cyrus ‘Breakneck’ Thompson, City of Heroes


1 comment:

  1. Very well-written, Justin. Who knows...we may have teamed on Virtue... but regardless. Just know that you're not alone in your thoughts and musings. It's gone...but will never be forgotten. @Soundtrack