Farewell City of Heroes

City of Heroes has fallen.

On August 31st game publisher NCSoft announced that they were immediately suspending all development on City of Heroes and that the game servers would be shut down on November 31st.

While no reason has been given for this decision there are several clues. The first is that NCSoft posted a second quarter loss of $6 million. The loss was due to several factors, including rising labor and marketing costs, an acquisition and disappointing performance of their game Aion.  There are also reports that there is not enough server space for their big new release Guild Wars 2. Again there is no direct connection to any of these that has been publicly stated, but I think it shows where this might have come from.

For those not aware City of Heroes was the first ever superhero MMO game. It’s a game I have a long history with. So let’s stroll down memory lane for a bit and look at what this game was and what it meant.

City of Heroes had a long development. It was announced over 10 years ago by a small company called Cryptic Studios. Originally the developers wanted to create a flexible power creation system along the lines of the table top superhero roleplaying game Champions. Unfortunately internal play testing showed that this method lead to people either creating min/maxed characters that were unstoppable, or characters build on a theme that were too underpowered to survive. Due to this fault the developers scrapped the character design system, went back to the drawing board and pushed back the release date two years.

This was pretty daring considering a lot of companies will rush a game to meet a launch date. Cryptic stated that it was better to delay launch then release a severely unbalanced game.

The result was a game that went from having an open ended creation system to one that had what was pretty standard. You selected a class just like you would in most fantasy games, Tanker, Scrapper, Healer, Blaster, and Controller. You also selected an origin but that just affected what types or upgrades you could use. Even with this restriction you could still basically build almost any character you could dream up.

What made City of Heroes stand out in character creation was the costume creation. It still stands as one of the most customizable systems for visually creating your character. People could spend hours just playing around with the different looks they could give their avatar. There would be in game player run costume contests because people loved showing off their designs. The down side is that really uncreative people would do their best to just recreate characters from comics, movies, or any other media. Since this could lead to legal issues it was against the rules. And even with that City of Heroes was sued by Marvel, but was able to win.

Game play was really standard MMO fair. Get missions which were either defeat X number of Y foes, run an errand, or go into and instanced mission zone and complete its specific win scenario. This led to an issue that affect many MMOs and still does. If you run more than one character you will repeat missions. This of course requires the MMO developers to create new content to keep its players engaged. City of Heroes actually did pretty well on this front, releasing regular updates that added new missions, zones, character classes and powers.

Another strong point was the graphics. Unless I have missed something it was the first MMO to be set in a modern urban setting. And on that front it succeeded, you had the feel of being in a real city.

Eventually they released a companion game City of Villains, which is you had both you could cross-play. Eventually they were both just effectively folded into one game.

Another big achievement for City of Heroes was when they released the Mission Architect system. It was a tool kit for players to make custom missions complete with the ability to make custom built villains. Then they could open it up for people to play their missions. It was an amazing introduction of player created content into an MMO.

I started playing the game as a beta tester and stayed with it until about 3 years ago. I had in that time leveled 4 characters to max level and I was never interested in the end game material. I found myself moving on to other games. But I let my subscription stay in place for a while. This was because even though I was not playing the game much anymore, I was still active on its discussion board.

The discussion board is probably one of the game’s biggest successes and the reason why the end of the game is being rallied against so hard. MMOs are supposed to be social by their very nature. In most of the ones I play I tend to be a solo player. City of Heroes was different. I would join pick up groups and get together with friends. And the discussion boards were and still are very active. The geek culture forum, called Comic and Hero/Villain Culture was my home base. From here I was first convinced to give the Dresden File novels a chance. It was reposts of video reviews that led me to discovering That Guy with the Glasses. It was where I would go to share geek news I had come across. I keep my subscription for almost a year after I had actively stopped playing just to keep visiting. But eventually I realized this was not realistic and dropped it, although I still periodically check the forum for news.

And that is the real tragedy of the end of City of Heroes, the end of a passionate geek community that has bonded over the years.  There are of course efforts to in some way save the game, but looking at the corporate realties involved I will not be holding my breath.

So instead I will hold on to my memories of the game. I am one of those geeks who creates back story for his characters after all.

So I will remember the plight of my vampire Caliban as he fought to hold off the evil of his curse through heroic acts.

I will remember Swashbuckler and his quest to prove worthy of upholding his family legacy.

I will remember Technomancer and his struggle to overcome the miss use of his technology by the Freakshow gang.

And I will remember the friends I spent time with in the game.

A wrestling MMO, or why I should not become bored.

Last post I made I went over my nostalgia for my old wrestling role-playing game group. Today I want to go over what brought that up.
It all started with me getting bored. Apparently I should not be allowed to become bored. When I get bored I start planning things.
Recently I went on a trip that we need to take my wife’s car because it has more cargo room than mine. I can’t drive a stick shift so she had to drive. It was a long drive. I ended up with a lot of time to think. And where did my mind go?
I started mapping out how you would structure a functional wrestling MMO.
Yeah, really, I went there of all places.
So we went over my history with wrestling role-playing. Go back and re-read it if you need a refresher.
The other link that leads to my boredom inspired plan was a trip to San Diego Comic Con one year. It was when Everquest was the king of the MMO heap.  There was a panel that was about designing MMOs. At the panel I asked the panelist thought were the different genres that could translate to MMOs. The lead designer said that any genre that is successful as a regular video game would work as an MMO.
You know what are fairly successful games? The WWE wrestling games, after all they put out one or more a year.
So these are the elements that came together in my head on this long drive.
So what plan did I come up with? Come with me on my whimsical flight of game design fantasy.
The one major conceit needed to make the game work is that everything shown in professional wrestling is absolutely real.
Also a wrestling game by its very nature is going to be Player vs. Player. There is the ability to have some Player vs. NPC action, but it would not be the focus of the design.
Let’s start with the basics. How a character would work.
When you create your wrestler you would have several choices to make. First would be allocation of points. You would have a basic set of stats to fill: Stamina, recovery, brute strength, technical skill, acrobatics, martial arts, and dirty fighting. All the stats except stamina and recovery represent a style of wrestling and determine the wrestling moves your character can execute and how well. They also define how well the character and defend against that style. Stamina determines how much punishment you can take and recovery determines how well you can regain stamina. Once all the stats are done you will pick your characters finisher (their signature move)
Next you would select the look of your character. Not just what the avatar looks like, but how they stand and walk. You would also select a ring entrance style. Alignment would be next, are you a face (hero) or heel (villain).
Finally you would select personal information. Of course the character’s name would be the most important thing here. This would include a first and last name, plus an optional nickname.  You would also need to pick which one people commonly call you.  You would also select where you are from, and have text field to enter a character bio.
Once your character is finished it would be off to the tutorial. The tutorial would take the form of going to a wrestling school. Here you would go through the basics of how the game works and a few sample matches. All matches in the tutorial would be player vs. NPC. Once you are done it is off to the big bad world of professional wrestling.
The character will start off on the independent circuit. These are shows that have no real storyline outside of the match itself. All matches are set up by the game system itself. It would be possible to have matches some matches that are player vs. NPC here, but they would be worth less points then PvP.
This brings us to rewards. Rewards would take two forms: points and money. Points would be spent on improving your stats, both in raising the overall stat, or buying a special maneuver if you meet the stat requirements for it. Money on the other hand would have several uses. You could by better gear to improve your look. You could upgrade to a flashier ring entrance. You could spend it to hire a manager or valet, which would be an NPC that would go to the ring with you and might provide some bonuses. You can also save it up for one time uses.
Once your character is past the beginner levels they will have the opportunity to join a wrestling federation.
This brings us to the thing you have to deal with if you want to have a wrestling game with thousands of players? In a wrestling game your goal would be to become the champion and hold that championship belt. But how do you do that?
The answer is you base it on a guild structure, an in game organization of players. In most MMOs a guild is a large group that gets together to share resources and go on organized missions. In our proposed Wrestling MMO these would be called federations and would be the crux of the game.
A federation would need 10 people to start. At first it would have a limit of 25 members. There would be a federation point system to allow for growth. Eventually the federation could grow to a membership max of 75. Each federation would start out with a championship belt.  The members would compete amongst each other to be the champion.  As the federation grows it can add more belts.
As with the independent circuit, federation matches would be set up automatically by the system. Getting a title shot would be based on ranking in the federation. The rank would be calculated by various factors, such as overall win/loss record, how active you have been recently, if you had a recent title shot, and so forth.
One rule that would have to be in place is that once you win a belt you have to defend it at least once a week. This way someone cannot just win the belt and sit on it. If you do not the system strips it from you and sets up a tournament to find a new champion. Beside a title match generates more money so there is a reason to get out there and defend it.
The heads of the federation (which would be like officers in a regular MMO guild) could schedule periodic events, called PPV events (named for Pay-Per View events that real wrestling organizations have) They can be whenever they heads wanted them, but no more than once a week. There would be twenty slots available. Getting a slot would be based on how active you were in the week before the event and how well you did in your matches, as well as being logged into the game at the right time for slot selection. If a belt holder is logged in they automatically get a slot defending their belt. All PPV matches are worth double money.
For additional interactions federations can have cross-promotional matches where two feds have a joint PPV with the winner being the fed that wins the most matches.
And I’ll stop here. This is not everything I thought up, but it is the basics I came up with.
Now in all fairness, I am not a game designer, and I do not know if what I came up with is feasible or not. I just know that I would love to play in a game like this.
So what do you think? Cool idea or should I never be allowed to become bored again?