CoH: Fare Thee Well, Old Friend

Like a lot of others, today, I heard the news announced that City of Heroes and Paragon Studios will be closing down in a scant three months from today, on November 30th.

It is a hard thing to hear, and my sympathies go out to those who will be losing their employment in this euphemistically called “realignment of focus” but at the same time, on a personal note, there is a bittersweet relief mixed with keening nostalgia.

How do I say this?

I will miss City of Heroes deeply.

I will miss every so often visiting boards.cityofheroes.com on a whim and lurking around reading all the threads.

I will dearly miss the community, though they probably never knew me.

Names like CuppaJo, DJ Jester, Samuel_Tow, Arcanaville, Nethergoat, Aett_Thorn, Steelclaw, TonyV, Leandro, Aura_Familia, Megajoule, Paladin, Memphis_Bill, Bill Z Bubba, Altoholic_Monkey, Bionic_Flea, Texas Justice, Techbot Alpha, GadgetDon, TerraDraconis, Snow Globe are merely a random selection out of a whole host of other names that made the place familiar and a kind of home.

For a long time, those forums stood out as a surprisingly mature place, filled with sensible sentences and discussions, a ready helpfulness, a always-out newbie-welcome mat and bolstered by an odd harmless crazy meme, like UniqueDragon’s jerkhackin’ and gone to the Americans thread, Kill Skuls, and so on.. .

(Until things rapidly ran down the drain in the last two years, as folks turned insular and aggressive, helped along by the positive smiley troll Golden_Girl and some twisted new permission to post LOLcat pictures and the like.)

Hell, for a time before my “falling out” with the direction of the game (I still hate raids) and my dismay at the changing tone of the forums,  I was a long time wall-of-text contributer.

In the spirit of all the reveals amidst the fond farewells (Fyndhal is Castle, Tic-Toc is Back Alley Brawler! Ye gods, I recall that name!), I will share with you all here that I went by the handle Lycaeus.

You may recognize the blue-tinted wise wolf somewhere else… (hooray for grayscale)

(No, not Lycanus, who is another player who messaged me once about a similar name, but Lycaeus, for the wolf and the mountain.)

Joined in Dec 2004, and hit about 1.8k posts, most of them all lost in the mists of time.

In my newbie days after sampling the only four tank armors at the time, I wrote a lowbie guide to tanking and holding aggro, also lost now, which is for the best since it is about 20 issues outdated.

I made an amateur CoH machinima music video about my favorite in-game story, “Oh Wretched Man,” around the time demo-editing and making videos of stuff became popular, after being inspired by folks far better than I, such as Samuraiko (Dark_Respite) and Aralcox.

For those few of you who don’t like pop and can only listen to metal or something noisy, too bad, deal, don’t watch it.

But the bittersweet tenor of the music and the lyrics have taken on a new meaning in the light of the news, especially these lines:

I don’t regret this life I chose for me.
But these places and these faces are getting old,

Be careful what you wish for,
Cause you just might get it all.

You see, though I -am- saddened at the prospect of losing an old friend, I fear I went past the stages of grief and loss some time ago and hit acceptance some time back.

What I miss, and still do, are the old days of City of Heroes. When people got lost in Perez Park trying to reach the Hydras, whose xp had not yet been nerfed. When folks made teams on a regular basis and fought as a concerted synergistic whole. When the community helped each other and gave each other random gifts of influence because we were heroes.

City of Heroes was my first true MMO. It introduced me to how things worked in three dimensions (rather than in text on a MUD,) about aggro and pulling and LOS and AoE, about class roles and through a happy accident of fate (or poor game balancing and subsequent tuning,) it skewed off from a classic holy trinity and gave buff/debuffs and crowd control as much importance as tanking, healing and damaging.

Even knockback, that typically red-headed stepchild, I learned, could be put to great use in this game, from positioning smashing mobs against walls and corners, to flying above their heads and knocking them down, and orbiting the fray and knocking mobs into the reach of meleers, rather than automatically away from all and sundry, forcing people to chase.

When City of Villains came by, it was another sea-change. Hybrid classes, built to do well solo, could also learn to cooperate together, in nothing quite like a standard trinity. Splitting aggro, control, support duties among all that could handle them. You didn’t need one pure specialist per role. You just needed a couple of guys that could absorb the alpha strike by whatever means necessary (their bodies, an AoE control or debuff, their pet minions, etc) a couple of folks that helped to mitigate the damage taken by the team for the few moments it took for everyone to do damage and defeat the mobs.

The dev team pioneered many things: the character creator with a multitude of options that all other subsequent MMOs had to struggle to match, developers that chatted with their community over the forums and listened and explained things, and they were never afraid to experiment and create odd new systems, some of them more successful than others.

I believe my mindset is much broader having come from such an innovative background.

But I also know that I have learned all I could from this game.

When you play a game long enough to see past the trappings and grok the patterns, boredom begins to set in. You have no idea how many groups of 3 minions or 1 minion and 1 Lt I soloed before one could set the difficulty level to match the challenge one wanted. The same missions became way too predictable, to the point where I enjoyed street sweeping more because the spawn sizes were a lot more random.

I saw the community start to slip and become more selfish as the concept of “loot” reared its head, with the ultimate grindy goal of making oneself uber-powerful and self-sufficient. Well, as time passed, that happened. And when you can take on all the spawns in a mission solo, why would you wait or care about others on your team? It’s all about getting to the end as quickly as possible so as to farm the mad rewards, no?

And eventually, the ultimate hamster wheel of Incarnate raids slouched its beastly way into existence. There, I drew the line. It’s a personal preference, but I don’t actually find much intrinsic joy in standing around for an hour waiting for LFG chat to gather enough people together, then rolling through as a big zerg where one barely can keep track of all the team members, trying to figure out unclear gimmicks in order not to die and to succeed. And even worse when there was no other alternative or option, and one would be in fact, compelled, to attempt them if one wanted the rewards.

Players like autonomy. Players like choice. When finally they listened and created a solo path to Incarnatehood, only then could I feel it was okay to give the raids a try. Because I didn’t -have- to do them. I was choosing to attempt them. And mostly I did so just long enough to see how they worked and how the story went, and I never wanted to do them on repeat loop ever again. Personal preference and all that.

One thing became rather clear. The thrill of basic combat was gone. I could stop playing for 4-8 months, come back, and my fingers would automatically hit the keys in the appropriate patterns for each character and take down the mobs. Over-familarity. The new stories were… not that terribly well-written, with a couple of exceptions. I was mostly ambivalent about a good part of the game. I could stop the sub, stop playing, and not really miss it very much.

The stuff I liked and still do? The zones, mostly. The scenery. The cleverness of the scripted mobs and street-side encounters. And of course, the good ol’ memories.

Be careful what you wish for, you just well may get it. For a long time, the cynic in me has seen it coming, despite the denial of the ever-more-insular players on the forums. Player numbers and profits appeared to be dropping badly over the past months and years. Going Rogue wasn’t as successful as hoped, though it seems most old players bought the expansion. Freedom gave CoH a monetary boost at the expense of morals, by utilizing lockbox lotteries and milking a lion’s share of money from the most passionate players with the cash shop. A lot of the later additions have seemed a desperate attempt to garner sufficient revenue to meet quarterly targets.

I do believe it still could have lasted as a F2P game for a good while yet, though not with any record numbers of anything, but alas, we all know how ruthless NCsoft can get.

A lot can happen in three months. Perhaps we can hope that some other benevolent investor or company steps in to buy over the game or keep it afloat in some fashion. But if the worst happens, I am prepared.

Nothing lasts forever.

All things pass.

There is a time for all seasons, and every season comes to an end.

I will mourn for the loss of a good, passionate community.

I will, no doubt, spend at least a while in-game to take even more screenshots than I already have, of my characters and favorite zones.

I might even make myself get around to making a few more demo-edit videos of stuff I had ideas for, but never found the time or urgency to work on. (The deadline is certainly there now.)

But I am ready to move on.

I have been for some time now.

For ultimately, all that lasts in an MMO are memories and relationships, hopefully good ones. (I wonder if all those folks grinding for electronic bytes find their efforts worth it now?)

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