City Of Heroes Reborn

Three years ago, I wrote an epitaph for NCSoft’s axed superhero MMO City of Heroes, and for my beloved character within it.

“The City of Heroes has been closed down forever, and so The Entomologist is dead. Does he still exist on some dusty server, or have the bytes that made him been wiped forever? It doesn’t matter. There’ll be no Jean Gray resurrection for him.”

I was wrong.

I never really wanted to play City of Heroes again. It would mean grind I no longer have patience for and it would mean empty nostalgia, and even if I were able to convince John, Jim and Kieron to join me in a brief return to a time when we felt like the very centre of the gaming universe, it wouldn’t work. Our worlds are too different now. You lived City of Heroes or you didn’t; you had to be obsessed with progression and willing/able to clear all your decks to play it endlessly, or you’d get nothing out of it. Going back would feel awful. (And for me personally, going back when I haven’t really moved forwards in the years since would feel like an admission of defeat.)

But I didn’t want the Enotmologist to die. I hated that I had so few screenshots of my pint-size, obsidian-skinned, robotic-armed, bootie-clad hero, and that the option to simply stop in and see him again was lost to me forever when NCsoft closed its servers, arguably prematurely.

Today, I saw him again. I took him for a walk through his old stomping grounds, posed him between the feet of colossal statues, gazed at the energy fields which separated the zones of Paragon City, took screenshot after screenshot of his tiny, ridiculous form. And, well, I must have gotten something in my eye.

City of Heroes is not truly reborn, but a living memorial to it has come online. I cannot fight anyone, I cannot talk to NPCs, I cannot even move between zones without entering a command line. Most distressingly, I cannot access transport powers, so dear Ento’s super-jump is denied to me, and as such I cannot reach the rooftops and spires and giant fibreglass donuts of the city’s skyline. Those places were my home, and it’s frustrating that they’re inaccessible for now. This experience would be entirely pointless if it wasn’t so damned good to simply be there, in this place, seeing that some part of my past still lives despite its untimely death.

There are a few other players to be found here and there, though most simply stand still, typing into public chat, enjoying being back together far more than playing a game which only allows you, in its current form, to go through the most rudimentary motions of an MMO. It’s very quiet, as one would expect. The absence of mobs and chatter somehow makes it feel all the more timeless – COH’s half-dramatic, half-plain architecture looks spectacular when unencumbered by life. This feels like Ento received the Kandor treatment: preserved forever (well, we’ll see) in a bottled city, never entirely living but always there, a reassuring, unchanging face from my past to look in on in low moments.

Except… he isn’t quite The Entomologist. He’s my painstaking recreation of the original Entomologist, using my few screenshots to replicate his every feature in City of Heroes’ still marvellously versatile character creator tool. If one part of COH was to live again, it needed to be that. I’m so glad it’s been rescued, and might now continue on as a toy to prod and poke at and create ridiculous things with.

It has near-perfectly remade Ento, too. I might have got a few of the body and head proportions wrong, but the outfit is exact and he looks and feels identical to memory, even down to a slight clipping error where his grotesquely muscled shoulderblades appear to poke through his cape when’s he running.

Now (left) and 2008 (right)

Possibly a little fatter than he was, but then that’s only fair after seven years of inactivity.

To see him again, to be him again, is glorious, but I am acutely aware that the months of play I put into the original is not there. He is an Ento, not the Ento. The powers are missing, I have shortcutted to every costume piece rather than tinkered and unlocked incrementally, there is no record of the fights I fought and quests I completed. He is an animated waxwork, a ghost in the machine, patrolling endlessly with no-one to defend and no-one to defeat. But I got to see him again, I got to visit his home again, and I finally got to take those last few screenshots. There are even new graphics options since the last time I played, so it (and he) looks prettier than ever.

I could wallow in my own nostalgia thanks to Paragon Chat and the Titan Network, one of several ongoing attempts to partially resurrect City of Heroes, and the first with meaningful success. While it initially involved manually obtaining original COH files and all sorts of fiddling, now it’s a single application which grabs everything for you then loads up this ghostly version of the game in which players can move and chat to each other, and design heroes (or villains) but not a lot else. More may come later, including the transport powers, but for now they’re deferring to other projects for any kind of combat support.

To get in, you’ll need the Tequila installer (or Island Rum, if you have designer spectacles and spend a lot of time in coffee shops) from here, which will go grab all the relevant files for you. You’ll then need to create a free account here then login here. You can then login to Tequila/Island Rum using the format [yourusername]@chat.cohtitan.com and whatever password you used.

Once COH launches, you can stick anything into the in-game username/password boxes, but keep a note of what they are as any characters you create are bound to those details. Once in the character creator, you can then save or load outfits. Once inside the game proper, you can chat to other players or change zones by referring to the instructions here.

More is planned from Paragon Chat in the months to come, including super-travel powers and some NPC presence, but it’s a bit ifs and maybes. Take a look at the roadmap here. As for me, I don’t really want to play City of Heroes again, but I do want to visit from time. I want to see Ento, and I want to commune with what was a brighter time for me personally. Though I do worry that having Paragon Chat installed makes me Mrs Haversham.

24 Comments

  1. geldonyetich says:

    I wish NCSoft would just release the server software. I have no idea why they shut down City of Heroes, it had plenty of traffic and was a feather in their cap even if it may not have been all that profitable.

    I probably spent more hours in City of Heroes than I did any other game. Rerolling, forever rerolling, trying a different mix of archetype, primary, and secondary power set. Each hero was going to be the one I would stick with until level 50. This only happened twice, once with an Illusions/Storm Summoning Controller and again with a Robots/Gadgets Mastermind. I guess I got the full experience out of the game in the end, but my favorite part was usually the early game, climbing up to level 18-26 and getting a feel for what a character could do.

    The game’s mechanics were unappreciated genius. A glorious fusion of evasion, damage mitigation, damage types that mattered, various forms of control (including knocking back dozens of minions at once), ect. The fact that NCSoft ultimately shut it down was like being cast out of Eden: humanity apparently doesn’t deserve something that good.

    I’m not sure Cryptic Studios thought they were doing with Champions Online, but they ought to go back and try again, this time reaching back towards what they did right in City of Heroes.

    • Shuck says:

      The developers (Paragon Studios) were trying to buy/license the property (for what I understand was a reasonably substantial sum of money) from NCSoft to continue running the game and NCSoft rejected them, so I can’t see them actually giving it away or allowing anyone else to resurrect it, unfortunately. NCSoft clearly, for whatever reasons, wants the game dead right now.

      • bv728 says:

        As always –

        1) Large companies don’t sell IP. They just don’t. Expecting them to do so seems so pervasive in gaming, but the truth is, IP sale is pretty much 99.9% driven by bankruptcy. Licensing is more likely, but you need to be doing something that isn’t going to conflict with something else the owner is doing, which is a huge pain, as they may not even want you doing a video game.

        2) My understanding, from comments by people who worked at NC and Cryptic, is that CoH was profitable but barely, and any significant change in costs would have taken all the profits… and one was coming. The usual guess is server end of life requiring an extended maint contract or a change in hosting costs. There was also some unverifiable rumblings about some NCSoft accounting dumbness where the game wasn’t profitable at all because operations costs were being put in the wrong accounting silo and someone figured it out and slammed the door.

        • Idealist says:

          My understanding regarding profits is that CoH was running something in the low seven figures. Quite nice for a niche MMO, and if Paragon Studios had been a small, independent developer, there would have been no reason to shut it down. However, it was a mere blip compared the revenues of NCSoft’s other projects, and the executive decision was made that it wasn’t worth the comparatively small return on investment.

          • skittles says:

            Well to be honest NCSoft have for a long time been pretty notorious for shuttering stuff instead of trying to do stuff with it. See for example Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, and of course CoH. TR was particularly annoying to me, it was interestingly different, certainly buggy but could have gone somewhere. That of course blew up for all sorts of reasons, most of it seemed to do with NCSoft though, particularly as Garriott won all those lawsuits. Everything I have seen about NCSoft though makes them seem much more as a bunch of corporate suits pursuing money and there own interests, rather than being actually interested in making games. I am surprised they didn’t simply nuke WildStar.

      • Moraven says:

        EA let what what left of Mythic to branch off as Broadsword. They continue to support Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot.

  2. drussard says:

    As with any and all MMOs, even those that remain active and I could go back, it’s never the same. That moment in time will forever be frozen in memory and all but unreachable. It’s about the people. Even rejoining those very few you can find, it’s never the same. CoH will always be to me one of my first escapes from the tendrils of Everquest and those few mates who escaped with me will forever be my heroes and friends. Locked forever in memory pulling entire zones of mobs to be AE’d down into oblivion amidst a showering maelstrom of particle effects that more often than not had my PC chugging along like a choking locomotive.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Johnny Law says:

    Aw. I was kind of hoping that somehow someone was running a server backup that actually had our old characters. I’d really like another chance to see John Law, Mr. Twister, Eschaton, The Hammer of Byzantium, Coruscate, Doom Buggy, Dr. Preposterous, The Night Fright, and my other assorted hero/villain dudes… but not enough so that I’d want to go through the process of reverse-engineering them in the character creator.

  4. Darkz0r says:

    The only MMOs I really played a lot were WoW and CoH. I started playing CoH kinda late but loved it. I’m sad to see it gone and would play it again even nowadays!

  5. Idealist says:

    More than once I have seen the understandable comment regarding not being able to–or not wishing to–go back to City of Heroes, because the memories of the experience reflect a different place in each individual’s life as well as a community that existed at that time.

    But honestly, even without all of that, the pure gameplay of City of Heroes was a joy. Never, in any MMO that I have played in the last fifteen years, has there been a levelling experience quite as fulfilling and varied. This was much less true at the launch of the game, but at its twilight it was absolutely the case.

    Some people may have been disappointed that CoV and Going Rogue did not fulfill their potential as expansions to the game, but when so many MMOs favor adding content solely to the endgame it was refreshing to receive such new and different low and mid-level content. Especially because so much of the uniqueness of CoH was in the imagining of a new character, and realizing and playing through their story in a way that was personal to them.

    I would gladly pick up CoH again today, even if it couldn’t recapture the experience of playing it years ago, simply because it would be FUN.

  6. Jayson82 says:

    The sheer amount of effort it would take to get coh back in a useable state is almost the same as making a new game expect it would be a dead game unless they had the ability to update it over time.

    There is very little ip in coh that could not be redone in a new game.

    If there is that much interest in a super hero mmo the people interested should just do a new one with more up todate engine and code.

    Everyone who has an interest in the old coh has already played it so why go back to something you know when they could have something new to play with.

  7. shadeovblack says:

    I consider City of Heroes to be the best videogame ever created, and I would do literally anything to bring it back.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      I definitely consider it one of the best MMOs (though I might not go so far as to call it one of the best games). The architect system, in particular, was a beautiful addition that extended its life far beyond what the vanilla content provided. In fact, I was part of a supergroup (The All-Stars, in case any of you guys are creeping around these parts) that used it for the bulk of our scheduled gaming. Every week was a different adventure, and we could even create our own unique recurring villains to serve as arch-rivals of the group.

      Sadly, the law of supply and demand doesn’t really seem to apply to PC games, so no matter how many of us want to see CoH return, odds are very much against it.

  8. Arglebargle says:

    There were some reasonable rumours recently of negotiations with NCSoft to buy City of Heroes. Then the info drips just disappeared. Gone as in non-disclosure agreement clamp down. So there’s at least a slim hope that something might come of it.

  9. behrooz says:

    I never played CoH, but every time I see a much-loved game die, I think about MPBT:3025 and curse EA and/or Microsoft.

    Forever.

    Goddamn fucksticks.

  10. king0zymandias says:

    For a second there I thought your guy was called The Etymologist. Now that would be a hero I would like to see.

  11. KaiWren says:

    I think Philip Larkin said it best.

    “Truly, though our element is time,
    We’re not suited to the long perspectives
    Open at each instant of our lives.
    They link us to our losses: worse,
    They show us what we have as it once was,
    Blindingly undiminished, just as though
    By acting differently we could have kept it so.”

  12. -Spooky- says:

    Still one of my two fav. MMO of all times so far, after Ultima Online. And .. still missing CoX.

  13. xsikal says:

    “There’ll be no Jean Gray resurrection for him.”

    Jean Grey. :D

  14. Winterborn says:

    People often say on these City of* posts that ‘Even if it was still around I doubt I’d go back’ well I for one would. Every few months(maybe twice a year) I’d head back to CoH/V and play for a few weeks, it was such a fantastic palate cleanser and a better levelling/combat system has never been made in an mmo(and it seems no one learned a thing from it). I thought I’d always be able to go back when I had nothing else on, get a few more levels on my Stone/Invul brute – try out a new archetype(I’d wanted to make a gravity controller for ages but never got around to it… now I never will) and do some badge hunting. Sadly none of the fan made kick-started games seem to understand a thing about why it worked, content to turn out tens of thousands of words of bad fiction rather than replicate or iterate on any of the fabulous systems the game that inspires them had. Oh well. We may never see it’s like again but it won’t be forgotten.

    • Jonfon says:

      Me too. I’d go off and play the flavour of the month game for a bit but I’d burnt that out I’d always think “I’ll hop onto CoH and play around with that Dark Melee/NRG Brute for a bit” and jump onto CoH. I miss the fact I can’t do that any more.

      Although my daughter will be happy the cossie creator is back in some form. She loved that thing,

      (Incidently Grav/Trick Arrow Controller was a weird but excellent combination. Teleporting whole groups of enemies into a corner, throwing an oil slick at their feet and then casually igniting it with a taser never got old. )

  15. randofuribundus says:

    But will this allow us to hunt and kill skuls to our heart’s content anytime soon?

  16. Dr. Strangequirk says:

    I also came to CoH/V/GR late but fell in love with it. In addition to its great gameplay it had one feature that has not (to my knowledge) been replicated in any other game. The character creation program. This vast array of body types, facial types, minute details allowed one to create totally original characters. I’m very thankful for those people who made the “Icon” program available. As I still have my last updated copy of CoH I can still see my old characters & make new ones.
    Now that Alec Meer has kindly shown the way to revisit the shade of CoH, I’ll have to use his links and see what’s up.
    As to playing CoH again, I would. Many of friends feel the same way. I had at the end spent much of my time in Architect as my fellow players had many, many great tales to tell & if there is anyway to salvage the old server data I would love to play some of my favorite adventures written by our peers.
    I wish all the various attempts to bring CoH or City of Titans much luck & success.