Archive for Computer games

After the End of the World

Well, City of Heroes, the best dang superhero MMO ever, was shut down in the wee hours of this morning, and I got to stay online and enjoy the ride clear up to the final disconnect notice.

I played City of Heroes for over eight years. I didn’t get in at the very beginning, ’cause I had to get a new computer that was able to run it. And I had a few periods when I wasn’t playing, either because life was too busy, or because my old computer went kaput and I wasn’t able to play anything. And I’m really glad I got to play all that time. I’m even glad I got to play clear ’til the game shut down. I know people who were so upset about the game ending that they didn’t play anymore — every time they logged in, they were overcome with sadness. I don’t blame them a bit — I think I’ve been adjusting fairly well, but there’s no way to tell whether I’ll wake up tomorrow and go into a period of deep mourning about it.

I can guarantee I’ll very quickly miss flying over the casinos in St. Martial, or super-jumping across the rooftops of Steel Canyon and Talos Island, or zipping across Skyway City at superspeed. I’ll miss watching my mastermind’s robot minions tear through enemies, smashing through villains with my tanker, or blowing up cars and bank vaults with my brutes. I’ll miss sliding down the slopes in the ski chalet, watching costume contests in Atlas Park, hunting exploration badges, and finding the secret, hidden locations in each zone.

There are rumors that there may still be a chance to resurrect the game. Some of the players have speculated that NCSoft may have obscure legal reasons — possibly related to the $47 million judgment against them in the Richard Garriott lawsuit from a few years back — to want to shut the game down completely before offering it up for sale. If that’s the case, whoever ended up buying the IP and the servers would probably be able to get them for a lot less money. But I’m not comfortable assuming that’s going to happen. I think it’s probably better to expect it not to happen — to expect the game to be gone for good. If it is done for, the easier to get adjusted to that fact. If it comes back, well, that’s a happy surprise, isn’t it?

I don’t think there’s any way to question that City of Heroes did a lot of things right. The character creator is widely considered the best one ever made for any game — with a lot of people wondering why other games haven’t made similarly extensive ones. Likewise, the sidekicking system, which let players team up no matter what level they were, is something I just can’t believe hasn’t been adopted in every game out there. You could bring new players in, team them up with players who had already hit the level cap, and know that everyone was still going to have fun. The mission architect — which let players create and play their own missions — was an amazing accomplishment, even if they stumbled in implementing it.

They had some stunningly beautiful zones — Atlas Park, Founders Falls, Croatoa, Talos Island, St. Martial, just about every zone in Praetoria — and lots of amazing music. They had incredible details in the scenery that often had me sitting around and wondering what on earth it must be like to live in a place like Praetoria or the Rogue Isles.

And they did superheroics better than anyone else. I was never a roleplayer, but I loved getting to play all my characters — not just because they had great powers, but because I loved getting to imagine what they were thinking while they fought (or committed) crime. I wrote biographies for almost all of my characters, often before I got out of the tutorial. It was one thing to play the game — it was another to play while envisioning my characters’ motivations. That helped make it the most fun of all.

There were still some things that I wish had been done better. All of the most recent zones were very strongly horror-based, particularly First Ward, Night Ward, and the new Dark Astoria, which went from enjoyably creepy to unpleasantly scary and depressingly grim. I like horror a lot, ya know, but I think they really overdid things in their last few updates. I wanted to play a superhero and smash up the bad guys — I didn’t want to run around the nightmarish zone and deal with missions where the monsters told me I hated life, was chronically depressed, and wanted to be eaten by eldritch monster-gods.

The game never managed to do superstrength the right way. Superstrength really is the signature superhero power, but characters who had superstrength in City of Heroes only got to smash up bad guys a bit — it didn’t even do very much damage, compared to other powers. And you certainly couldn’t pick up a car and throw it at a bad guy. Both Champions Online and DC Universe Online had decent superstrength powers, but City of Heroes never managed it.

And really, I wanted a costume option for pencil-thin mustaches for years, and I never got it. How was I to recreate Mandrake the Magician without pencil-thin mustaches?

I’ve long wished that City of Heroes had gotten some more press within the comics community. The game got possibly its only mention on comics news websites like Comics Alliance when it was announced that it was closing — and Comics Alliance gave buckets of free publicity to every single press release for any computer games based on DC or Marvel comics. The occasional article about CoH on Comics Alliance or Comic Book Resources might’ve brought in a bit more cash for the best dang superhero MMO ever made.

But I don’t want to spend a lot of time with recriminations and complaints. I had a great time over the past eight years, and though I’m sad that the game is gone, I’m also very happy that it was ever made in the first place, and that the City of Heroes community, already known for being one of the strongest in the computer game community, got even stronger over the last few months. And the developers at Paragon Studios, who’ve been awesome from the first time they started work on the game, have gotten even cooler, too. City of Heroes gave me almost a decade of happy superheroic memories, and that’s a solid win in my book.

Was this a sad day? Yes, it was. There are lots of folks who I knew through this game who I’ll probably never meet again, whether online or in meatspace. There was a great deal of sorrow, not just sitting out in Atlas Park, but during our missions and taskforces. There were a lot of people bidding farewell to the characters they’d played — in some cases, they’d been playing these very same characters ever since they started the game, and they knew they’d never see them again, except in their own screenshots.

But more than anything else, we were all saying to ourselves, “What a great game. These last few years have been amazing. We had so much fun playing together and running around this great game world.” We were sad, but we also stuck around, not just because we enjoyed the game so much, but to pay tribute to the game creators and developers and to the players who have made the game so wonderful.

Hats off, ladies and gentlemen, for City of Heroes. May it live long in our memories.

Comments (2)

Friday Night Fights: City of Heroes Forever!

Okay, I was taking the week off, but I couldn’t say no to a little Friday Night Fights, could I?

Well, it’s November 30th, and in mere hours, City of Heroes, the best dang superhero MMO ever, will be shut down. The game’s owner, NCSoft, has shown more dedication and grit and focus in getting the game cancelled than anything else it did over the last eight years, and the loyal players and developers have been amazing and impressive in the ways they’ve worked to save the game. Unfortunately, it’s looking very clear that nothing is going to save the game, despite nearly the entire playerbase working together and supporting each other. So again, mere hours ’til the game’s servers are shut down. I expect to spend my last day in City of Heroes running missions and taskforces, and probably sitting around in Atlas Park outside of City Hall, reminiscing about how much fun we’ve all had.

I’m gonna miss this game a lot, not just because I loved playing superheroes and supervillains, not just because the costume creator was the best ever made for a game, not just because of all the friendships I made with other players. But also because it was fun to drop some whupass on the bad guys.

So, from the minds of Cryptic Studios and Paragon Studios, here are the heroes and villains of City of Heroes. Please give it up for…

The Orange Avenger!

Necrovora!

Miss Mega!

Jonni Rotten!

Beelzebambi!

The Brain from Planet 7!

Blue Heaven!

Murderin’ Jack!

Talon-12!

Waterspout!

Plutonium Lass!

Justice Gal!

The game may end tonight, but in my imagination, they’ll be fighting the good fight forever.

Comments (2)

Final Heroes

I’m taking most of this week off blogging. I’ve got plenty of comics to review, but right now, I’ve got a leisure activity I’d prefer to focus on for now.

As I’ve mentioned before, my beloved City of Heroes is shutting down at the end of this week. I’m still not real happy about that, but I’d like to spend as much time as I can this week running around Paragon City and the Rogue Isles — and I can’t do that if I’m coming home and worrying about how I’m going to fill up a blog post.

So no blogging for most of this week. If you’re playing CoH, I hope I’ll get to see you online, and we can toast this mad, glorious game in its final days.

Comments off

The Monsters Are Coming to the Ballot Box

Check out this crazy story:

The Republican Party of Maine has revealed that Democratic State Senate candidate Colleen Lachowicz has a secret life that she’s been hiding from voters. Drug use? A Swiss bank account? No, sadly, even worse: she has a scary-looking World of Warcraft character.

“Colleen Lachowicz spends hundreds of hours playing in her online world Azeroth, as an Orc Assassination Rogue named Santiaga,” reads a flyer sent to voters in the district. It’s identified as funded by the Maine Republican Party.

“I love poisoning and stabbing! It is fun,” the flyer quotes Lachowicz as saying. The candidate is apparently a regular commenter at DailyKos, a liberal blog. And the Maine GOP has mined the site looking for what it regards as damning comments. Most of Lachowicz’s remarks were posted in 2009 or 2010, most likely before she began her current campaign for office.

(snip)

Lachowicz uses salty language in some of the comments, but someone needs to sit the Maine GOP down and explain the difference between fantasy and reality. Every day, millions of people engage in simulated video game violence without committing any real-world violence. By suggesting a World of Warcraft hobby should disqualify someone for office—and implying that voters are too dumb to tell the difference between virtual and real violence—the party is only embarrassing itself.

I don’t even know where to start with that one.

Obviously, there’s the bizarre equating of playing a game with real life, as if the candidate’s fondness of playing an orc rogue means she really is both a rampaging assassin and an inhuman, green-skinned, fanged monster. That’s just crazy delusional to the point where I question whether they should be allowed to roam outside of the insane asylum, much less running state political parties.

There’s also the way the flyer seems to be trying to say that Lachowicz shouldn’t be in office because she’s — horror of horrors — a NERD. Which is the kind of thing most of us, gamers or not, have been suffering through since junior high. Doesn’t matter if you play video games, read comics, play D&D, or another stereotypically nerdy hobby, or if you’re just a normal person who isn’t a member of the in-crowd, there’s always someone who wants to declare you socially unacceptable and deem you a pariah.

But nerdiness isn’t the horrifying curse we used to think it was. Millions of people play World of Warcraft. Almost 200 million play other online video games. Trying to be the party of the Cool Kids vs. the uncool geeks is a little foolish when the uncool geeks outnumber you, are more mature than you are, and may even be more valuable as consumers.

At any rate, in this case, I’d much rather be the orc.

FOR THE HORDE!

Comments off

City of Heroes to Hang up its Cape

This weekend, I fought my own evil twin, a giant squid, and three giant robots. I traveled through time and to alternate dimensions. I beat up ninjas, steampunk automatons, ghost pirates, zombies, murderous gnomes, alien invaders, and a homeless guy wearing a broken TV over his head.

I’m going to miss “City of Heroes” so very much.

Last Friday afternoon, those of us who are players on “City of Heroes” got a very unpleasant surprise — the publisher, NCSoft, was shutting down Paragon Studios, the game developers, as well as the game itself.

In a realignment of company focus and publishing support, NCsoft has made the decision to close Paragon Studios. Effective immediately, all development on City of Heroes will cease and we will begin preparations to sunset the world’s first, and best, Super Hero MMORPG before the end of the year. As part of this, all recurring subscription billing and Paragon Market purchasing will be discontinued effective immediately. We will have more information regarding a detailed timeline for the cessation of services and what you can expect in game in the coming weeks.

It looks like the game servers will remain operational through the end of November, but that hasn’t done much to pacify the game’s players, who are reacting with a combination of complete shock, furious anger, and abject sorrow. And I can’t say I can blame them.

I wasn’t able to play the game from the very beginning — I was actually waiting for a new computer to be delivered so I’d be able to play — but I’ve been a loyal player for over eight years. I never managed to get a whole lot of characters to the level cap, ’cause I’ve always been afflicted with alt-itis — addicted to creating more and more and more characters, too many to give them the right amount of playing time to get them to Level 50.

To say that I’m disappointed that the game’s going to be shut down in a few months is a vast understatement. It wasn’t as popular as games like World of Warcraft, but I thought it was a lot more fun, more innovative, with better storyarcs — it’s definitely light-years better than Champions Online and DC Universe Online, the other two superhero MMOs. I don’t know why NCSoft decided to shut the game down — they say it’s strictly a financial decision. That may be so, that may not be so.

This has been a game that let me fly around a giant city in colorful spandex, living out all my superhero dreams — and supervillain dreams, too, since you can play as a good guy or a bad guy. I got to beat up monsters and villains and gangsters, make awesome costumes in the best costume creator of any game out there, run missions that are exciting and funny and scary — and even cooler stuff than that.

Some of my best memories of the game aren’t even related to virtual crimefighting. I once attended an in-game wedding for some friends who were about to get married in real life. I once attended a memorial service for a player who had died — at least a hundred other players turned out to remember him. I once got hit on by a teenager who was hilariously horrified when he found out that, though I was playing a female character, I was actually a man. I made some great friends online, and I made some great friends who’ve since vanished and who I’d love to try to find again. And the best job interview I ever had in my life was for a position where I would’ve been working for NCSoft’s Austin office writing for the “City of Heroes” website. I didn’t get the job, but I never enjoyed an interview more, thanks to all the comics and game memorabilia scattered around the building.

So I want to thank the developers for making a great game and keeping it great for over eight years. I wanna thank the players for being awesome and fun and friendly and cool. I’ve never loved a game as much as I’ve loved this one, and I don’t know that I’ll ever find something as great to replace it with. I’ve got three months before the first and best superhero MMORPG goes away, and I’ll do everything I can to enjoy it while it lasts.

Comments (3)

Failed Champions

Champions Online

You may remember I gave the “Champions Online” MMORPG a kinda-sorta-review back in December. I couldn’t really give it a proper review then, because my old computer wouldn’t have been able to run it. However, I did pick up a more advanced computer since Christmas, and I decided to give Cryptic’s newest superhero game a shot.

So what’s the gimmick? As we’ve said before, it’s an MMO, like World of Warcraft or Everquest, but instead of a fantasy hero, you play a superhero. It’s based on the old Champions pen-and-paper roleplaying game, so some of the people you can meet include big-time Champions superheroes like Defender, Ironclad, and Sapphire, as well as villains like Grond, Menton, Foxbat, and Dr. Destroyer. You travel all over the world — Millennium City, Canada, the American Southwest, even the moon and an underwater city.

The game was produced by Cryptic Studios — the same people who developed “City of Heroes,” the current big-dawg on the superhero MMO scene. They’ve tried to design “Champions Online” as a combination of a traditional MMORPG and a fast-and-furious action game. You can’t just target an enemy and start button-mashing to get your powers to take him out — you’ve got to be prepared to block attacks or you’ll be kissing pavement.

Verdict: Thumbs down. But I’m gonna work my way around to explainin’ this to ya.

First, there were a lot of things I liked.

The character creation system is great. I’ve played “City of Heroes” for years, and I’m well-used to having a wide variety of costume options to choose from, so I can create anything from a massive, musclebound alien monster to a high-tech battlesuit to a tiny pixie-winged elf to a trenchcoated private eye and everything in between. And the character creation system in “Champions Online” completely blows the one in “City of Heroes” away. Yes, they have a lot of similar costume pieces — capes, spandex, suits, battle armor, and all that — but Champions has two unique elements that put them over the top.

First, while CoH will let you do a little alteration of your body type — height, shoulders, chest, waist, hips, and leg length — Champions has options for changing almost everything. At one point, I was working on a new character that was a dinosauroid alien, and I wanted to make sure he’d look freaky. So I made him as skinny as I could, shrank his leg length to the minimum, stretched his arms as far as I could, and enlarged his hands and feet, to make sure his claws would be scary looking. Another was going to be a part-time bodybuilder — I increased her muscle definition, broadened her shoulders, narrowed her hips, and made her arms and legs thicker.

And second, Champions lets you change the way your character stands. That doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it is a big thing. You can make your strong-jawed hero stand heroically. You can make your sword-slinging sex-kitten pop star stand differently than your magic-wielding under-confident librarian. You can make your werewolf character stand hunched-over, and he’ll run on all fours. I’ve been dreaming of something like that for CoH for years, and nothing has come of it.

What else works well? When you level up and select new powers, you can test them out first, and if you don’t like them, you can pick different powers. And you’re not stuck with a single set of powers. You can start out with fire blast powers, level up, add some ice blast powers, level up some more, pick out some gadgeteer powers, et cetera.

And you can take travel powers as soon as you get finished with the game’s tutorial. There’s quite a variety of travel powers, too — from traditional ones like flight, superspeed, and super-leaping to more unusual ones like tunneling, high-tech flying disks, swinglines, ice surfing, and flying around on chunks of concrete. And I really loved the animation of the super-leaping power — super-leaping in CoH is effortless, flawless, and graceful, and I love it. Super-leaping in Champions is sprawling, flailing, and looks like you jumped so hard, you’re about to lose control any second. Each leap is so powerful, you crack the ground when you land. And I love it even more.

So far, it sounds like I loved it, doesn’t it?

Here’s what I didn’t like.

For all those character creation options, you only get eight character slots. Total. You can purchase four more, but that’s it. It’s nuts to give people that many costume options, make it insanely fun to build and outfit new characters, offer so many different kinds of superpowers, and then put such an extreme limit on how many characters you can create. It’s cruel, frustrating, and just generally no fun.

And the tutorial goes on forever. In CoH, you can finish the tutorial in 10-15 minutes, maybe even five minutes, if you know what you’re doing. In Champions, it can easily take over an hour. Sure, in that hour, you’ll go from Level 1 to Level 5. But it’s still just the tutorial. There’s no reason for a tutorial to take that long to complete.

And when you finish the tutorial, you don’t start out in futuristic, awesome Millennium City. You get sent to either the desert to fight irradiated mutants, or the arctic to fight ice demons and zombies. And I didn’t want to get stuck in the boondocks. I wanted to hang out in that gorgeous city with the huge holograms everywhere. I figure I was going to be stuck out in the wilderness until Level 15, and that’s a really long time to be forced to hang out in a boring setting with no cool scenery.

And then there was gameplay. If you’re not used to console gaming, you may have some trouble with gameplay. I never once managed to block an attack successfully — I just wasn’t used to hitting that one extra key to execute my block, so I got smacked around a lot. Luckily, you heal fast, even from very low health — unless you get stuck fighting a boss. And you really can’t avoid the bosses — you often need to fight them to complete your missions, and the only way you can beat a boss is if he’s two levels below you or you’re very lucky.

The missions and quests are a big problem — specifically, they’re almost all hunt missions. Go hunt ice demons. Go hunt zombies. Go rescue people who are guarded by mutants. Go hunt one of the really tough bosses who can kill you with one shot. Hunt missions are boring. Insanely, fantastically boring. And apparently, this isn’t just a problem on the low levels, but all the way to the level cap. Hunt missions, hunt missions, hunt missions.

In the end, the fun is vastly outmatched by the no-fun. And while I’ll miss getting to leap all over the place with my awesome-looking superheroes, I won’t miss watching them get beat down like a punk every time they try to fight a bad guy.

Comments off

Computers and Barbarians

Well, the new computer is up and running. I spent most of the last two evenings downloading programs, uploading my old programs and documents (and not done yet — found another few last night that I still need to extract from the old backup drive), downloading and installing driver updates, etc., etc. I got “City of Heroes” working, but haven’t really had time to play it yet. I downloaded “Old, Blackened Century,” a new album from a metal band called Flaming Tusk — a brief, abbreviated listen-through has me declaring it great, but I won’t have time to sit down and focus on it ’til Saturday. The apartment is littered with empty boxes, receipts, computer disks — and it looks like the dumpster is already overflowing with other people’s garbage.

In other words: Wah, wah, wah, I have a new computer!

I think I can get a review done, so let’s hit it.

Joe the Barbarian #1

Okay, it’s a new comic from super-writer Grant Morrison. It’s published by Vertigo, and Morrison has published a lot of good comics through Vertigo — “The Invisibles,” “Animal Man,” “We3,” and “Doom Patrol,” just for starters. And it’s just one freakin’ dollar!

So we got this kid, Joe. He’s diabetic, his mom’s worried about him, he’s pissed off at his late father, and he’s picked on by almost everyone. He comes home one day, climbs up into his seriously awesome attic bedroom, takes a nap, and when he wakes up, starts hallucinating a whole different world, where his toys and action figures are the inhabitants of a dying fantasy world. He comes to, and realizes it’s been hours since he ate anything. He needs his insulin bad or he’s going to die. Can he make it clear across his house, hallucinating all the way, to get his medicine in time? Or is there something much bigger going on?

Verdict: I’ll give it a thumbs up. It’s definitely not your standard Grant Morrison comic. It starts out slow — heck, it moves glacially slow nearly all the way through. Some folks are already complaining about how slow it moves, but it’s fine with me. If it was anyone other than Morrison, we’d expect that there would be some slow build-up, some time taken to establish character and setting — for Morrison, we tend to expect some explosions and head-tripping straight out of the gate. So I didn’t mind the slow pace. If I’ve got a quibble, it’s that Morrison is a bit too subtle about Joe’s diabetes — I had to read the comic twice before I realized why Joe’s mom kept admonishing him to eat candy and before I recognized the blood-sugar meter next to Joe’s bed. If you don’t realize that he’s diabetic, you won’t understand why he’s hallucinating, or why he’s so worried about it.

And it’s a buck! One little George Washington dollah! Can’t beat that with a stick!

Comments off

A Brief Pause While I Wrassle with Technology

MagnusRobotFighter

I done got me a brand new computer! It showed up on my doorstep yesterday, and it was so cute in its little baby bonnet, I had to bring it in and give it a ham.

So I’m taking a short blogging break. Probably just a day or two, to make sure I’ve got everything plugged in correctly. The video card on the old machine had been giving me trouble, so I haven’t been able to play my beloved “City of Heroes” since before Christmas. So I’m jonesing bad to head over to Paragon City and smite some evildoers. So yeah, I gotta do that, too.

Ya never know, might take a bit longer, if I’m having too much fun with “City of Heroes,” or if the machine don’t work, for some reason. But more than likely, I’ll be blogging normally in a day or two.

You guys be good and don’t set anything on fire while I’m gone…

Comments off

Holiday Gift Bag: Champions Online

Another edition of “Holiday Gift Bag” already? Yeah, I’m running a bit behind, so I decided to pick up the pace a little to get some more gift recommendations done. Today, we’re going to look at Champions Online.

ChampionsOnline-4Arms

This is going to be a bit of an unusual recommendation for me, because I don’t own this game and haven’t played it. My computer is old enough that it probably wouldn’t be able to run it. Plus, I’ve still got my ongoing addiction of rival superhero MMO “City of Heroes,” and haven’t bought any new computer games in years.

Nevertheless, Champions Online looks pretty good. Like I said, it’s a superhero MMORPG — in fact, it was developed by Cryptic Studios, which originally designed “City of Heroes.” In the game, you play a superhero or a supervillain taking on a wide variety of opponents in Millennium City or other locations, including the Stronghold superprison, the undersea Lemuria City, the icy-cold Burial Butte, Canada, Monster Island, Snake Gulch, and more.

ChampionsOnline-Mystic

Because this is a superhero game, a lot of work has been done to create cool powers. Unlike “City of Heroes” — and actually, most other games — Champions doesn’t have character classes or archetypes. Any character can take any power they want and customize it almost any way they want.

One of Champions’ spotlight features is the custom nemesis. At a certain point in your superhero/villain career, you’ll be able to create your very own archnemesis, who will periodically ambush you, leave clues to new schemes, and generally serve as the Joker to your Batman, the Sabretooth to your Wolverine, the Doctor Bong to your Howard the Duck…

ChampionsOnline-Armor

Longtime players of the Champions pen-and-paper roleplaying game will probably recognize some characters who will show up as NPCs, allies, or enemies, including Defender, Ironclad, Sapphire, Menton, Grond, Armadillo, Doctor Destroyer, and even Foxbat. Yes, Foxbat! Everyone loves Foxbat!

Because Champions Online is an MMO, there is going to be a monthly $15 subscription rate to play the game on top of the cost of the game itself. That fifteen bucks isn’t a whole lot, but keep it in mind if you’re buying the game as a gift — you’ll want to make sure your gift recipient can afford to keep playing the game if they enjoy it.

ChampionsOnline-Bank

Champions Online. Go pick it up.

Comments off

Zombie Apocalypse!

Well, now, y’all know about my MMORPG of choice, right? City of Heroes/City of Villains is all about playing as a superhero (or a supervillain) using your powers to fight evil (or to rob banks) and styling around town in your spiffiest spandex outfit.

Well, a few weeks before October 31, they start up the annual Halloween Event. Most years, it’s involved some giant pumpkin-headed monsters roaming the city and a chance to go “trick or treating” — click on some doors, and you’ll either get a treat (an in-game reward of some kind) or a trick (an attack by vampires, werewolves, or other monsters).

This year, they’ve added something new. At random times in each city zone, the sky will suddenly turn an ugly reddish-black color, a short snippet of spooky music will play…

…and the zombies come out.

And not just one or two — hordes of the rotting flesh-eaters…

Zombies!

ZOMBIES!

ZOMBIES!

ZOMBIES!!!

Whoooo! Whattarush! Halloween really is the best time of the year, ain’t it?

(P.S.: Ya know what Lubbock needs? A good ol’ fashioned zombie walk.)

Comments off