I left him in there to die. I wish I'd at least taken one last screenshot. I thought I didn't care, but now it hurts like hell. He's gone forever.
City of Heroes has gone to great server in the sky, despite the best efforts of its community, and with it goes my beloved character The Entomologist. I've left countless characters on countless servers in countless online games, both still alive and long-axed, but they mean nothing to me. Even the several years poured into Samsa, my gnome rogue in World of Warcraft, will bring no regret if ever Blizzard's giant topples.
City of Heroes and my diminutive superman The Entomologist is a different matter. All of four foot high, red-caped, Hulk-bodied, cute blue booties, a garishly gigantic yellow E on his obsidian chest and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The world's worst secret identity too: see if you can spot The Entomologist hiding in this image:
Beautiful, heroic, ludicrous Ento. The perfect hybrid of my youthful enthusiasm for superheroes and my adult inability to take soft sci-fi particularly seriously. Painstakingly customised and re-customised over months of play, agonising choices between different types of shoe and the right length of cape - getting him just right, meeting some unknown agenda in my head and, against all odds, eventually satisfying it.
Ento was the one MMO character I ever cared about, the only one who meant something and seemed in some small, absurd way to represent me - not a lot, but a little, and in videogame character terms a little is a lot. 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've known The Entomoogist for almost ten years, and he he proved such an easy fit into my online existence that half of my usernames across the web are 'ento'. Indeed, that's the handle I'm using in the super-secret RPS staff chatroom even as I write this.
I didn't take the opportunity to go back into City of Heroes once I heard it was closing. Partly I just couldn't be bothered - I know full well I'd already exhausted what NCSoft's virtual world of superheroes had to offer me and in general I am now so weary of the rat-maze pursuit of stats and items so many MMOs hinge upon.
Partly, though, it just seemed too sad. Sure, I could pop in to see dear Ento one more time, but what then? Forlornly bouncing around rooftops on my own? Beating up a few thugs for old time's sake but no possible purpose? It'd be taking a dying dog for one last, painful walk before he was put down. Sad. A dim and tragic echo of what once was, and overwriting happy, earlier memories with those final, despondent ones.
So I left him there. He's gone, and I wish I'd seen him one more time. Maybe taken one last, ultra-high resolution screenshot, pulling the crab most muscular atop Paragon City's tallest skyscraper. Maybe, yes, just super-bounded about for a bit - not forlornly, but relishing how well City of Heroes realised its travel powers.
I miss Ento. But that there'd been some way to export him, keep him in some virtual box to visit when I pleased. Oh, for a 3D printer over the last couple of weeks - a permanent desktop micro-statue of my micro-superman.
Heck, I even earned money from the little guy. Back in my freelance days I was often commissioned to write about City of Heroes, but whenever I did it always ended up being about Ento.
A second-rate clone of The Entomologist still lives in Champions Online - very similar looking indeed, but nonetheless an impersonator, and one who prowled the streets of a far less magnetic game. Perhaps that's not entirely fair - after all, much of the reason Ento means so much to me is because City of Heroes was the first MMO I ever put serious time into. He cleaned the mean streets in the noble company of Jim 'Andov' Rossignol, Kieron 'Warwych' Gillen and John 'rubbish healer' Walker - the RPS team before it was the RPS team, each playing the roles we'd eventually take on the site.
Rock-like but infuriatingly silent Jim, determined to rule but haphazard Kieron, aid-through-anger John and flighty, all over the place me. We built something there in Paragon City, and though we never went back (much as we always talked about it) we all know it meant something. We crafted our own legends, and they stuck. The right game at the right time - before MMOs declined to leave their well-worn rut, when there seemed to be so much promise from these virtual worlds, where every other pub conversation was 'wouldn't it be great if there was an MMO of concept x or license y?'
Perhaps I am simply misty-eyed about my first time, and had Champions or another game arrived first I'd be saying similar things about those now. I suspect not, though. There was an innocence to City of Heroes' early days that I don't feel I've seen since - far more focus on playing dress-up and having a jolly time than on the mastery of mechanics or pursuit of statistics.
Even now, for all its own failings, abandonment of those initial principles of liberty and its miserable demise, City of Heroes still seems like a signpost to what MMOs could and should have become. Precious few chose to follow that sign, least of all City of Heroes itself. Still, for a time it shone so much brighter than any of its peers and I shall now place it upon a pedestal with no regrets.
An innocent hero for an innocent time. The Entomologist will never and can never be replaced, and I'm grateful for that.
So maybe I don't need that one last screenshot after all. Better to die now than be worn away to nothing.