In yesterday’s post I said that City of Heroes was “inspiring”. But what did I mean by that?
Obviously, as linked in that post, it drove me to create a character who wasn’t a hero, just a reporter who wrote about heroes: Calvin Meeks and the Front Page. But it also heralded my first serious foray into fan fiction.
Sure, I’d written things about my characters in EverQuest, but those were just short stories, a few pages. City of Heroes inspired me to actually write an entire outline of a book, a series of intertwining stories that culminated in a cohesive plot. Sadly, when I allowed myself to get dragged off into other games, I also allowed myself to abandon that work, entitled City of Fallen Heroes.
I dug through my office the other day and found most of the outline and a bunch of jotted mini plots for the chapters. I’m going to take a stab at finishing that, if I don’t get too depressed about the closing of the game.
In the meantime, you can read the first three chapters, which I did complete and placed online way back when.
To me, it was an interesting concept. Write a story set in the Rikti invasion, the event that happens just before the launch of the game, and write about all the heroes who don’t survive. I know from the start that none of my characters will make it. Some will die “on-screen” while others may survive to take the plunge with Hero 1 into the Rikti homeworld. Or maybe they won’t, because I have to say that I developed an unreasonable attachment to the main character of Chapter 2 and actually made changes to my outline at the time to account for it. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and I hope I can churn out more worth reading.
This is what regret feels like.
EverQuest wasn’t my first MMO, but it will probably always be my favorite because it gave me, at the time, exactly what I wanted and what I needed. Coming off of three years of hardcore Team Fortress playing, I found a new community. The game itself was only moderately fun, but what saved it were the people. I’ve been looking for that game ever since and haven’t found it again.
But in late 2003/early 2004, I was accepted into the beta for City of Heroes. While I never found the same type of community that I had in EQ, what I found was a game that inspired me. On many levels, the greatness of the game is that, despite what some theory-crafters out there will try to sell you, every character, no matter the build, is playable if you just learn how to play it. But what really sold me on the game, what caused that inspiration, was that the game allowed me to play in the way I wanted to play, even when that was different than everyone else.
To the right you’ll see a shot of one of my characters, Calvin Meeks, writer for The Front Page. He was an investigative journalist who knew no fear, and when he got in trouble wouldn’t hesitate to call in the big guns. For his entire career he never did a mission solo that required super powers, because he didn’t have any. He followed the leads and when violence was called for he phoned up one of the heroes he’d gotten to know while working the beat and together they would take down foes. It was strange and exciting to be able to play the game this way, to join a group and follow them into enemy territory like an embedded combat journalist.
Of course, I played City of Heroes normally as well. I had a few supers who ran around pounding bad guys into the dirt, but I was most excited to play Calvin. And I’d like to think that there are people out there who really enjoyed being the muscle for me.
Eventually, I got caught up in WoW and I wandered off through a series of games, each less satisfying than the one before, mostly because so many of them lacked the basic community that EverQuest and other early games had in spades. And now it just might be too late. NCsoft, faced with losses in other areas, have chosen to close Paragon Studios and to shut down City of Heroes. Efforts are being made to try to save the game, but I don’t hold out much hope.
I logged in last night to check out the protest, and found my old friends list filled with lit up names. I chatted with a few of them and we all had the same regret. “Why did I ever leave?”
If, by some miracle, the game is saved and stays online, I’ll be back. In fact, for the three months that remain, I’ll be there. I need to get in as much of this wonderful game as I can before it disappears forever.
I was going to write up my thoughts on the game, as I’ve been in the beta for a long while now, but Tobold already did a fine job of it, and he covered pretty much all I wanted to say.
To me, the game felt like City of Heroes crossed with EVE Online. Towns, missions, character creation, all of that feels like it is right out of City of Heroes. The economy is player run like EVE Online. The major difference, and the biggest innovation, is how “winning” the PvP game is handled. If one side dominates the game, holding control of enough ports, they “win”, the ports reset control, and the other teams all get a leg up for the next round.
Over all, I’m not horribly impressed, but I’m also not disappointed. If you have been wanting a Pirate game that isn’t Puzzle Pirates, this is a well built game, much in the way that City of Heroes is a well built superhero game. However, if you are looking for breakthrough, innovative MMOs, this probably won’t blow your skirt up.
I won’t officially give this game a rating unless I play it after release, because they still have more beta time and things could change. But if I were to rate it, right now it would be a 9 or 10 out of 13.
A post over on Aggro Me about City of Heroes got me to thinking…
One of the things I enjoyed most about City of Heroes was that it was very hard to put together a group that didn’t work. Even if you didn’t have a “healer” the group could still do well. Since just about any character could solo, unless you got unlucky, any group of characters can pretty much make a team. All this is said with one caveat: as long as the players were willing to adjust and learn as they went.
The biggest downfall of CoH was, in my opinion, the fact that it did break the mold. It wasn’t your traditional tank/heal/dps game, and people who insisted on playing it as such usually got more frustrated than people who were open to the more freeform style that CoH thrived on.
How it dealt with healing was one of the major breaks from the norm. Since combat was fast and furious, so was healing, and more focus of the game was spent on the prevention of damage than pure healing. Buffs for friends and debuffs for enemies, with healing as something you do when things go bad.
Aggro’s post talks about the Kinetics method of healing, and my experience in the game was similar, yet different. Throughout beta and for over a year after release, the character build I played most was the Dark Miasma/Dark Blast Defender, or Dark/Dark. The playstyle of the Dark/Dark mainly consisted of charging your team into a group of enemies and then making one of them your bitch, dropping a handful of area effect debuffs making him and his friends less accurate (damage prevention) and easier to hit (damage increase). When allowed to do my job, it was a thing of beauty. Clouds of dark fog slowed and blinded our enemies and if it was necessary I would leech health from them. If things went bad, I could even mass revive the group while draining the bad guys. But, all of this requires that I keep one enemy locked with all my debuffs running on him… most players had this horrible habit of just wildly picking targets and taking them down or worse, assisting me, and causing my powers to drop. After a while of being blue in the face trying to explain this to people, I simply gave up grouping with strangers, and later nearly gave up grouping alltogether.
In the end, I applaud CoH for doing its own thing and breaking the tried and true triumverate, but I have to hang my head in shame at the players who seemed to want the exact thing they complain about in every game and refuse to learn to play the game on its own.
One of these days, when I finally do upgrade our PCs, the wife and I will go back to City of Heroes (and City of Villains) because it really was the most fun I’ve had in an MMO, despite the problems. And who knows, maybe at this late date people might finally know better.
Sometimes one of the best things to do in online games in to set goals for yourself. And I don’t mean strictly the ones the designers lay out for you. Levels, items, zones, quests… they’re all decent goals, but often times they wind up being diminished by the fact that so many other people have done them.
So, with that in mind, in every game I play I always find little things to task myself with. The most recent one is in City of Heroes. I’m not playing CoH as much as I used to… heck, I’m not playing any game as much as I used to, but my time is currently divided between World of Warcraft and City of Heroes… WoW when Jodi is around, and CoH when its just me. Anyway, in CoH I’m playing Ishiro Takagi, a scrapper, martial arts and regeneration. Given enemies his own level, he’s fairly unbeatable. It takes guys 2 or 3 levels higher or groups of 6 or more to put him in the dirt. Ishiro is level 26, and currently prowling the streets and rooftops of Striga Isle, Talos Island, Dark Astoria and Independance Port… I go into Terra Volta every now and then, and when I’m sent to the hospital I remember why I don’t go in there alone, heh.
In Independance Port there is a bridge. Its long and covered in bad guys. I start at the north end and begin wading through. I haven’t made it yet… either I run into a boss who cleans my clock, or an afore mentioned group of 6 or more who I just can’t thin out before they get the upper hands. As I level it will get easier, and that’s sorta the point. My goal isn’t levelling, its something else, which if I keep doing it will lead to levelling, but in and of itself is far more satisfying than watching the experience bar fill up… instead I watch my progress across the bridge.
I’m halfway there.
City of Heroes is about to do something that, unless I’m mistaken, is nearly unheard of in the world of MMOs. They are going to advance the story.
No, not just some expansion that tacks on a dozen new zones and makes an additional story you can explore, but actually taking the existing story and moving it forward. The only other game I know of that has done this is Asheron’s Call… and it makes sense once you know that some of the top guys at Cryptic were once the top guys at Turbine, makers of Asheron’s Call.
If you have been playing the game, or buy it right now and play, one of the villain groups you will fight are the 5th Column. These are a hold over from WWII, rooted in the Nazi Party but since separated into their own goals and headed by a man from another dimension, an alternate Earth when Germany won WWII. In a month or so (or less, I hope), you won’t be able to do this. In fact, if you join the test server now, you’ll find that the 5th Column are gone, and a new group, The Council, have risen up to take their place, destroying and devouring them from within. In a few months time, except for the odd plaque and the memories of older heroes, the 5th Column will vanish from the game.
One of the problems with other games on the market, is that they are, for all their lore and diversity, static. In EverQuest, if you buy an account right now and start from scratch, I can point you to quests and monster spawns that have remained unchanged for more than five years. The story in EverQuest has expanded, they’ve added new continents and worlds, alternate planes. They’ve added new lore and stories, new arcs of history and adventure, but they have remained reluctant to remove the old ones… The Paladins of Marr and the Freeport Militia are at the same tense standoff for control that they have had for five years. Wait, that’s five “real” years, but since 72 real minutes = a Norrath day, then you have 20 Norrath days per real day, which means that its been over 100 Norrath years. Beyond simple storytelling, EQ would have benefitted from adjusting its game in other ways… as time went on they developed more and more high level content, because thats where the bulk of people were, but they also took away none of the low level content, so the decreasing number of players turned into empty underpopulated zones and loss of social activity. In its beginning, people met in EQ because they were in the same places… now, until you get up to the later 50′s in level, there just simply aren’t enough people to fill the world to make for meaningful interaction between players.
This whole thing with City of Heroes gives me hope. I’ll be keeping my eye on the future of World of Warcraft to see if they follow suit, and even though I have no interest in playing EQ2, I’ll keep an eye on them to see if they have learned from their past. I’d love to see more worlds, more stories, instead of giant online gaming habitats.
Every now and then, ever since I’ve run a webpage or owned a domain, I go to search engines (Google in this case) and throw in my domain name to see how long it takes to get a link either directly to my site or a link to someone’s page that directly mentions my site. Normally its the third or fourth page, however, because of my writings I’ve done for City of Heroes my subdomain the Front Page shows up on the first page.
Out of curiosity, I decided to keep looking through the search results and see when I came up the second time. On page 4, one of my email addresses shows up in link to a post on the City of Heroes message boards, a place I do frequent. On page 8, a link shows up for a guy’s blog site, where he refers to the Front Page as “At first glance, this appears to be slightly odd City of Heroes fanfic. Look closer. It’s very odd, and it’s not quite City of Heroes or fanfic…”. I’m not sure how to take that, but I guess if someone is reading its better than no one reading at all. Around pages 12 and 13, a few links to posts on some programming boards come up, again because of my email address. Then we get a weird one: http://www.webknowhow.net/dir/Hosting/Free/ where they say to check out Probablynot.com to see examples Free Banners and Hosting, as well as “tab, music, whats cool, hot links, files” … hmmm, its not really a link to my site, but when you click it, you do go to my site. Page 25 gives us a link to an old EQ forum where someone references my old City of Mist raid guide as being good… of course, that link doesn’t work to get to my raid guide, and neither does the forum its posted on, but its in the Google cache. Some more links to email addresses show up, and then… we run out of results. The root site of Probablynot.com doesn’t show up on Google directly… *sigh*
But then… I remember seeing something odd, so I go back to Page 2 and see http://www.probablynot.net. It seems that there is a big problem with kids and gambling, and probablynot.net is a website devoted to helping recognize signs of gambling addiction in kids and ways to put them on the road to recovery. I’m a little scared of the site though, and not just because of the goofy pictures and colors, but that there is a sentance: “The most popular games of chance for youth are betting on games of skill, such as pool, card games and instant scratch-off lottery tickets.” See, either they have something grammatically incorrect with that sentance or scratch-off lotteries are based on skill and not blind stupid luck… and here I thought I never won because I was unlucky, but it turns out it might just be because I don’t have a good enough poker face to pull off the bluff, or perhaps I’m not using my penny properly to scratch off the card. (Note: I do not play scratch off lottery, my stupidity only goes as far as buying a $1 ticket every time the MegaMillions goes over $100 Million, because, well, shit, who couldn’t use $100 Million?)
I decided to check out probablynot.org, because someone does own that, but its just a holder page… no content. I also wanted to check out my old domains to see if anyone was doing anything with them… loadfix.com isn’t owned anymore… squadleader.com is, but like probablynot.org its a dead site with a holder page. Once, a long time ago, I wrote for a TeamFortress gaming site called lockandload.com… another dead site. Then there was my last gaming clan, nobodysheroes.org.. dead. ClanDoS.com… it belongs to a Battlefield: Vietnam clan called the Deadly 2 Dozen who have disbanded.
More curiosity began to creep in… There are way too many Jason Pace‘s in the world for me to sort through, besides I think I did it once before and I wasn’t there. But of Jason G. Pace‘s, there are three links, one to my resume and two to pages that link to my resume.
Well, largely an exercise in futility, but it interested me for a while, so I thought I would share.
If you know City of Heroes, and you frequent the message boards, you might be familiar with the battle cry, “Repeal the Purple Patch!” and you might even know what they are referring to…
First off, what is the Purple Patch?
When City of Heroes first opened, it was possible for a player to fight and defeat a foe that was 8 to 10 levels higher than he was. These battles were usually fierce and hard fought, but with the way experience was given turned out to be well worth the effort. See, exp in CoH is done on a scale.. a mob is worth X exp, and then a bonus or subtraction is made based on other factors. The major factor is your level. If you are the same level as the mob, you get X. If you are higher level, you get less than X, and the scale works quickly down so that once you are 4 or 5 levels over it (and the mob is easy to defeat) you get nothing. On the other end, there is no limit… if the mob is 10 levels higher than you and you do 100% of the damage to defeat it, you wind up getting something crazy like 4 or 5 times the exp, so a mob worth 50 exp becomes worth 200-250 exp to a lower level. The issue is, the game is largely balanced around you fighting mobs your level. So, at level 10, you might get 20 exp for defeating a level 10 mob, which is 2% of your exp for level. 50 level 10 mobs, and you level. If, however, you can fight a mob and get 200 exp, then you only need to defeat 5 of them. Problem is, they didn’t expect people to be able to defeat a mob 10 levels above them, and didn’t expect people to level quite so quickly.
As a result, the Purple Patch came into play. What they did was once a mob goes purple (4 levels above you), your chance to hit begins to decline very steeply… VERY steeply. So steep that once a mob is 8 levels above you, realistically you have 0 chance to win the fight because you will be simply unable to do more damage than he will be able to regenerate due to missing. (Originally, it was harsher than this even, the decline started sooner and a mob 5 levels above you was impossible, but they eased up, so the original patch is not important anymore, only the existing situation).
The effect this had on players, was that now that they were relegated to fighting mobs 4 levels above and lower, the exp rewards were not as ludacris as they had been. Leading to the inevitable “they nerfed all the fun out of the game” cries because people couldn’t earn mad exp while fighting impossible odds. To a degree, the players ARE correct. However, as often is the case, they are single minded.
This can be tied in with my MMORPG Project (link over on the right)… See, the players are focused on “repeal the purple patch”, but what they don’t realize is that the purple patch isn’t the issue… its that the mobs they “should” be fighting (according to the developers) are too easy and not rewarding enough. Would they still be asking for the repeal if the fights with orange (level +2) and red (level +3) mobs were more harrowing and yielded a better reward?
I don’t think they would. And this is where the developers should focus. They were right with the purple patch… players should be fighting things 8 and 10 levels above them… but players should regularly seek challenge, even level to red con, and they should find it fun and rewarding.
The devs are on the right track… now its just a wait and see to see if they follow through.
With the NDA lifted, lets talk about City of Heroes.
First off, to see lots about the game, go to the official site at http://www.coh.com. If you want to look at the powers and plan a character offline, get the tool at http://coh.blacklistguild.com/.
Now… on to my thoughts…
The Character Creator: There are literally millions of costumes you can create here. And unless you are trying to make a costume similar to a well known comic character or are going for something very simple (white tights with a red star on the chest) its unlikely that you’ll see someone in the same suit (similar, possibly, but not identical). The only issues I have with character creation are things like: Not being able to make a full “skeletal” robot (they have the arms, but no legs to match); no capes, trenchcoats, jackets, or robes (they do have tails, but they are fairly rigid – this is all due to the choice of doing the game in OpenGL instead of Direct3D); and no “colored” hair (your hair is all one color, you can’t have a stripe or otherwise altered hair).
Its been hinted at that there will be some way to alter your appearance later in the game, at a cost of influence, or something, but for now, expect your costume to be static after creation.
Gameplay: You are a hero, you defeat bad guys. In that, read, there is no PvP. Everything in CoH, for now, is PvE (player versus environment). You can run out in the street and fight thugs, you can get missions to find stolen objects or break up some bad guy’s sinister plan.
In the game, you can either go solo, or you can group with up to 7 other people at once. Street events tend to be doable with 1-3 people fairly easily, though some city zones and some encounters require more firepower than a hero can do alone. Missions do tailor to the group going in though, so if you go in solo the mission will be “easier” than if you go in with 7 other people, although you may finish faster with a group than you could solo. Neither grouping nor soloing is clearly more efficient in City of Heroes, although, like any game, a good soloer is always better than a bad group.
The game tailors well to time restrictions as well. If you want to just pop in and fight for 20-30 minutes, you can. If you want to spend all day doing missions and task forces, you can do that too.
Archtypes and Powers: In the game there are serveral archtypes to choose from: Blaster, Controller, Defender, Scrapper, and Tanker. Blasters are primarily range damage, Controllers are range with mainly healing and hold powers (snares, roots, mezzes), Defenders are buffers/debuffers with ranger, Scrappers are melee damage, and Tankers are melee damage absorbers.
Within each archtype, there are primary and secondary power sets. With each of those lies nuance for the archtype. For example, a Force Field Defender buffs and shields his group, while a Dark Miasma Defender debuffs the bad guys, both are defenders but both are played very differently.
There are also Power Pools that are available to all archtypes. These are things like Flight, Superspeed, Leadership, Medicine, etc. Essentially, they allow you to have a travel power and/or augment your archtype with a skill you are missing.
Every even level (2, 4, 6, … ) you will get a new power.
Items and Equipment: The costume you create in the beginning is how you will always look. Throughout the game the items you get will be Inspirations and Enhancements.
Inspirations are temporary buffs or instant effects. Healing, Endurance recovery, defence, accuracy, damage, resistances… even a revive (more on this later).
Enhancements are what make your powers better, and allow avenues for making yours different from someone else in the same powerset. Each power lists the enhancements it can take: more damage, more range, reduce cost, more defence, more debuffing, etc.. and each power starts with one enhancement slot. Every odd level (3, 5, 7, … ) you get more slots to put on the powers you choose. There are three kinds of enhancements: Generic, Dual Origin, Single Origin. Think of them as 10%, 25%, 40%, while those numbers may not be correct, it helps to visualize what they help you do. As with any math in games, going larger is easier than going smaller. If you slot 5 Single Origin damage increasers into a power, you will increase the damage by 200%. Increasers are calculated at x + (x * .4) + (x * .4) + (x * .4) + (x * .4) + (x * .4) = 3x. However, reducers are limited in that they cannot cross 0. So if you slot 5 Single Origin refresh time reducers, you will not get x – (x * .4) – (x * .4) – (x * .4) – (x * .4) – (x * .4) = -x. It has not been determined at this time if you simply cap at a certain point, or if its dimishing returns: (((((x * .6) * .6) * .6) * .6) * .6) = .07776x.
Enhancements also have a level. If you are level 10, only enhancements level 7 through 13 will function for you. Anything 14+ you can’t slot in, and anything 6- will be “red” and not providing any benefit. As you adventure though, you can either get new enhancements (through drop or from a store), or you can combine enhancements to keep them up. A level 6 + a level 6 = a level 6+. 6+ is effectively level 7. If you then combine a level 6+ and a level 7, you get a 7+ (8). But, if you combine a level 6+ with another 6, you get a 6++, which is also effectively 8, but cannot be combined further.
Death: City of Heroes is not modern comics. Frank Miller doesn’t live here. This is the Golden Age, and no one dies. When you defeat a foe, he’s carted off to prison (not shown, the body just fades away). This is visually indicated by the fact that his health and enduance are never empty, just reduced to a minimal amount and he falls to the floor.
Heroes aren’t defeated either. They go to the hospital, or they can be revived on the spot through a number of powers or an awaken inspiration.
The penalty for defeat in CoH is an experience debt. When you are defeated, you earn a debt equal to approximately 10% of the current level’s total exp (last I heard they were talking about knocking this to 5%, as well as levelling it off so that at high levels, the debt isn’t astronomical). If your level takes 2000 exp to complete from start to finish, a defeat earns you 200 debt. Your max debt is half your current level (some say equal to the level, but I’ve never earned enough debt to test that out), so 1000 in this example. While you have debt, half the exp you earn will go to debt, and half to regular exp. So in reality, you never “lose” exp, you simply level at half speed until you work off the debt.
In practice, I found that I rarely cared about my debt, although it did prevent me from trying something stupid more than once or twice. When I lost a mission fight, I would try again, but if I lost twice, I would go find something else to do until I either came up with a new strategy or levelled.
Missions: This is were most of the game is at. You can go earn exp on the streets, but inside a mission, you don’t have to search for the bad guys. You also earn experience for completing the mission in addition to anything you earn fighting.
Missions tailor themselves to the player a bit, as well as to the group. The larger your group, the more foes… to a point. Every mission has an intended level as well, so if you get a mission at level 6, then don’t do it and go back to it at level 12, the guys inside will still be level 6. The same is true all the way up, but the missions scale a bit (at level 10 I got a mission and all the foes were level 10, I didn’t finish it, I came back later at level 11, and all the foes were level 11… when I went back at 14, they were still level 11).
Some missions are “busy work”. “Go clean up the streets!”, “Go Patrol!”, etc… other missions are part of a story, “Find the missing scientist.” followed by “The scientist is safe, but they have his plans, get them back.” followed by “The plans are in our hands, but these clues indicate the 5th Column are up to something big, find out what it is.” etc… Its worth it to read the story, unless you just don’t care and want to level to 40 (the current max) as soon as you can.
Overall and Final Thoughts:
I’ve played EverQuest for almost 5 years, and while it may partially be wanting to seek something new, City of Heroes just seems to be a fantastic game. In the 5 months I’ve been beta testing, the replayability of it just soars past EQ. No camps, easy to get groups or solo, custimization of the character both look and powers, the flexibility of gameplay to time investment… Is it a perfect game? No. But its really quite well done.
So far, I’ve found no archtype that I couldn’t solo or group well with once I learned its strengths and weaknesses. Every problem I have with the game at this point is purely cosmetic:
- I’d love to see capes, jackets, robes…
- I’d love to see player housing, or at the least, more “public” housing, bars, bowling alleys, gyms, etc…
- I’d love to see an arena or “danger room” where I can play against other players in a controlled area. I’m not a huge fan of open PvP, but sometimes playing against other people is fun because they can be unpredictable in ways AI can’t.
Some people want to see crafting, but I don’t. I don’t see a need for it other than to cater to people who like combining stuff into other stuff to sell or trade, and there are plenty of games with crafting out there already.
My final thoughts on this game… I love it. I’m definately going to buy it. I don’t know if its going to push EverQuest completely off my PC, but it will definately give me something to do when there is nothing to raid and no one to group with.