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City Of Heroes Reborn

The death and partial return of the superheroic MMO

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] 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.

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