CoH: Fare Thee Well, Old Friend

This is how I feel right now... (I didn't do it, I swear!)

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 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?)

GW: The Lonely Vigil

A surfeit of stuff starting with "s" - snake, statue, sand, sky, stones...

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

— Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818

All right, all right, so it’s really a female warrior statue known as The Lonely Vigil. Maybe Turai Ossa (aka the Ghostly Hero) can be Ozy.

And when you get up closer, it ostensibly falls and collapses to form a bridge, though the wiki says one never sees it actually happen.

With that, the Wayfarer’s Reverie of Tyria ends. Being an opportunist, I poked my head into the Crystal Overlook to pick up the teleporter waypoint for the Elona quest too, getting fantastic screenshots along the way.

I love the Crystal Desert and the Arid Sea. Besides it being the place of Ascension, which makes it feel especially memorable, it is wide and flat and open, making loop backs and cursing and swearing less likely. And despite it being desert, there’s so much to see.

The gorgeous sky, the bones, the ancient ruins that keep calling to mind Ozymandias and wonder about this specific set of fantastical ancient peoples whose civilization has been lost to the sands, not to mention, Forgotten (pun intended.)

Oh, and hydras. (Ancient farming memories, anyone?)

GW: The Majesty of Rotscale

My wings are prettier than your wings... Them's fighting words!

Ah, Rotscale.

I have no Ancient Times stories about Rotscale. I doubt I explored that far.

Even if I did eventually wander into Majesty’s Rest, it was generally a case of “I came, I saw, I died. Repeatedly.”

But I do have tremendous respect for him. How could you not? He sits up on a rise, the King of the Dracoliches, flanked by the most scary-looking Council of Undead Dragons of Way Higher Level Than 20, ready to challenge all comers.

The flaming Balthazar statue and the entourage of smoke phantoms herald the path toward him.

It was probably only a couple years ago that I felt ready to attempt taking on Rotscale, with a more sturdy Paragon and slightly better built heroes. There were a lot of solo experiments, failed attempts to pull, many deaths, frustration with Frozen Soil, much Googling of ancient forum posts dating back to 2006-2007 and in the end, maybe a 25-50% chance of defeating him and his gang on Normal Mode, don’t even begin to talk about Hard Mode.

There were vague memories of having a much easier time during the Halloween festival. At the time, I wasn’t sure why, but the next Halloween refreshed my memory as to why. One got a whole contingent of Candy Corn Men to help out.

Somewhere through the painful learning process, it eventually hit me that the statue of Balthazar might be there for a reason, and there was such a thing as /kneeling in front of altars. Oh hey, a buff! Many buffs!

I might have wanted to prove that I could do it without ‘outside’ help at the time. These days, my advice to anyone wanting to fight Rotscale. Take the buff. Take all the buffs you need. It’s a lot less painful. The key is not to let anyone die and Frozen Soil screw you over, so buff up those heroes’ hp and their regen (and your own) by any means necessary.

A year ago, in 2011, I decided it was finally time for the ultimate test. A Majesty’s Rest vanquish. Yep, Hard Mode Rotscale. He still kicked my ass around the place, so eventually, sometime during Halloween, this happened:

Note the insane number of buffs I threw on. Consets, the altar buff, probably candy of various sorts or whatever. The Candy Corn Men came along for the vanquish too, but I think they all wiped during the big push. Even my heroes have been downed twice somewhere along the way.

The fight was pretty colossal and raid-like in scope for me being by my lonesome. Literally minutes went by as we kept stalemating his hp and trying to drive it ever so slightly lower.

Eventually, it gave out and I was the happy owner of a golden icon signifying a successful area vanquish. Epic.

I gotta admit in retrospect that my hero builds were still not as good as they could be. Their gear is not entirely ideal. And didn’t have Panic yet, for example.

These days, I take Gwen and Vekk around as double mesmers, able to switch between panic or energy surge builds as needed and very interrupty. (I take Vekk for a number of reasons: I spent quite a while kitting out his gear with ludicrous amounts of +energy, I hate the look of the other mesmer heroes, and who can resist a snotty Asura? He can also switch to searing flames elementalist as needed.)

But hey, a win is a win, even if it’s 5 years after others have done it and with more effort than thou.

For the Wayfarer’s Reverie, I went in Normal Mode, something I was confident of getting done with just altar buffs and no need for strange confluences of buffs and overkill.

While taking screenshots, in extreme nostalgia mode and thus paying close attention to the scenery, I noticed something I never took conscious note of before.

Can you spot them?

Bugs. Red bugs. In the grasses off the road, if you walk into them, there are huge swarms of little red bugs flying around, and if you listen to the ambient sound, there are distinct cricket-like insect-y sounds.

Close up of the critters

They’re tiny little sprites at best, but, I mean, wow. Someone went through the trouble of putting such tiny barely noticeable detail into the map. Just for… I dunno, subconscious ambience?

Seriously, who pays attention to itty bitty red beetles when one is worrying about how to best place oneself to defeat Rotscale?

But they’re there. Just because.

Talk about immersion and ArenaNet not doing things halfway. Mad props and kudos.

One hectic fight later, where happily, no one died, it was time to claim the quest waypoint in style.

Thus passes the dracolich…