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[Column] City of Heroes: Reflecting on City of Heroes

MikeBMikeB Community ManagerQueens, NYPosts: 6,160Administrator Rare

With City of Heroes and Paragon Studios set to close by the end of the year, we're taking some time this week to reflect on the game.

Really try and think back to 2002 or even ahead to 2004 when the game officially launched and consider what MMOs were like at the time. Cryptic Studios was really going against the grain both in gameplay and theme. City of Heroes focused on doing ‘action combat’ before it became a buzzword and players could group up with each other regardless of level and party size due to the way the game’s instanced content and sidekicking system worked. You could fly around, leap across the city, speed through tunnels, all the while tossing fireballs, going super nova, or just smashing some dude into the air with a hammer made entirely of stone. This all from a first-time developer that really fought an uphill battle trying to bring the game to market.

Read more of Michael Bitton's Reflecting on City of Heroes.

Michael "MikeB" Bitton
Community Manager
Twitter: @eMikeB


  • LucienReneLucienRene Dallas, TXPosts: 62Member Uncommon

    I think Mission Architecture, as implemented by Paragon Studios, killed the game's community.  The feature set of the Architecture system was great, but the exploitable nature of experience grinding in those missions made it the optimal choice for grinding to max level. 

    I played COX for years, and my now 18 year old daughter played COX as her first (and currently only) MMO. 

    I had a good time, but it's time for it to go.  Too bad Paragon didn't have a good exit stratergy for what should have been obvious years ago (the shrinking population).  I would have pre-purchased a COX 2 sight unseen. 

    I wish all the devs the best of luck in their future endeavors.

  • TanemundTanemund Posts: 145Member Uncommon

    City of Heroes was my second MMO after Dark Age of Camelot.  When I made the switch I was thrilled with CoH, so pardon me one wall of text while I wax nostalgic over the death of an old friend.


    The first big perk in CoH was travel powrs.  After playing a game where it took (remember there was no porting in DAoC when it released) a lot of time to go from point to point, the idea of being able to just jump there in a few seconds was astounding.


    Then there was the sidekicking system, which enabled people of different levels to play together any time they wanted.  Had to miss a few days of playing and fell behind?  No problem.  You could still group with the same people and enjoy the time together.


    The fact there was practically no loot at release (you bought enhancements and everyone had access to the same thing) I  thought might be a  negative.  In truth, after watching people squabble over loot drops for years it was a relief not to have to worry about it.  It took a huge stressor out of grouping.  As they added loot (Hamidons anyone?) I began to worry that the snake was loose in the Garden of Eden, but I don't really ever recall stressing about loot or too many loot fights.


    It was also the first game I played where you could literally solo from level 1 to level 50.  Your character had many contacts who gave them missions (quests really) and those had interesting story lines.  If you logged in and didn't want to group or your buddies weren't on and you couldn't find one it wasn't a problem.  You just popped open your contacts, got a mission and off you went to level up.  After playing a game with forced grouping to llevel in anywhere near efficient time (21 days /played to level cap back in DAoC 2:00 AM on March 3, 2002 and that was approximately "normal" back then) the ability to log on for fifteen minutes and solo and achieve something was a revelation. 


    There was no PvP when the game launched, but truthfully I never missed it.  Even when they implemented it, I never really engaged in it.  For some reason I just never felt the need to PVP in that game.  People scoffed (although the PvP system did have great features) but something about the air of the game made PvP kind of unnessesary. 


    Now the big seller was the character customization.  I'd come from a game where your choices were about 15 different faces and whether you'd be small, medium or large.  Then it was down to the kind of dye you wore on your armor to express your individuality.  With CoH you could sit in front of the computer for hours designing your chracter with almost limitless character size scales, costume options and a huge color pallet.  To this day it still has to rank as one of the great charracter creators ever.


    The game also caught me at just the right time in my life.  I was starting my own business and my wife and I were having kids, so I couldn't afford the time to play a game like DAoC anymore.  DAoC almost demanded you log on every night if for no other reason than to defend your realm.  CoH was so casual friendly that it was a boon.  I could miss a week of gameplay and still hang with my buddies, where in DAoC I'd have been left behind.  It also allowed me to start and stop suddenly for when someone needed a diaper changed etc.  The side benefit was when I had a fussy baby I could sit him or her in my lap and log into CoH and the quick movements and flashy colors would distract both them and me. 


    But the best part was the community.  Back in the day if you were a roleplayer this was the place to go.  And if you wanted to find the best roleplayers you logged into the Virtue server and headed for Galaxy Park.  There you found hundreds of other players roleplaying, telling stories and preparing for a night of adventure.  I've got theories as to why the game generated such a welcoming and happy community (Lack of PvP, not much in the way of loot, strong roleplaying segment, developers like Cupa Joe who were incredibly accessible  in and out of game and who actually played their game), but it was just what a refugee from a Realm based game needed.


    Finally on a personal note this game gave birth to the most vivid character I ever dreamed up as a roleplayer; Nox Noctivagus - The One Who Wanders at Night. (a Dark Melee/Super Reflexes Scrapper)  Nox came to Paragon City as a faceless (he wore a faceless steel helmet over his head) and nameless werewolf slave to his vampire Mistress Cimmaron (played by a truly excellent roleplayer I met in DAoC).  Over the course of his leveling up he met other characters and eventually rediscovered his former self and was freed by his Mistress, who then became the great love of his life.  The story of his journies and adventures in Paragon (Echoes in the Dark) covered more than 300 pages when I printed it out and was posted on the Virtue VN Boards for all to read.  People joined in and added their own chapters about their experiences with Nox  who went from souless wrecking machine to big, terrifying, cuddly Superhero who terrorized the criminals of Paragon City while protecting the weak and innocent from the attempted evils of the villans. 


    Thanks to City of Villians (which I helped beta test) I was able to create Lord Ignotus and his Order of the Fang, Nox's nemesis who not only battled Nox, but tried to tempt him into yielding to the animal instincts of what Nox called "His Beast" (his werewolf self) and become a villain.  The Order of the Fang included Madame Cauchemar (Pleasant Dreams, Mon Cher!), Dr. Creepzncrawlz (Death has a head start on you!), Myster Grym (I am Myster Grym), Lady Blackheart (And one to the heart!), and The Scarlet Vanguard (who later changed her ways and became a hero.  This was before Going Rogue so I had to delete her as a villain and rerole her as a hero).  Tempted by power, lust, greed, hatred, fear and the disappearance of his Mistress Cimmaron, Nox faced madness and the demons in his ancient soul (he was 4000 years old) before ultimately mastering his beast and remaining a hero.  Yet he would always find himself strangely tempted by the gracile, stunning beautiful, spectacularly deadly and cruelly manipulative daughter of Lord Ignotus, Madame Cauchemar (a stalker and chief operative of the Order of the Fang) who's laugh and languid taunts delivered in French, always haunted him.


    With all that going for it, it's no wonder I remember CoX fondly.  So maybe before they pull the plug I'll load up the game one more time and just take a tour of all the old sights and maybe, just maybe, run across someone who remembers the Old Wolf from days gone by.  So in tribute to all that was good in Paragon City, here is what was always the first and last lines of all the Nox Noctivagus story arcs.  Maybe someone remember, but most won't .  But just so a little piece of that time survives, here it goes.


    "Welcome to my world.  It is a stark world of black and white under pale moonlight and it comes to life after sunset.  Every night, after the sun goes down, I yield to Mistress Luna, who calls to the animal in me, and I don my red and black leathers, my red mask and my black hood and I go out to do what I have done for more than four thousand years.  I go out to do what I will do for the rest of my undying life.  I hunt.


    Who am I?


    I am The One Who Wanders at Night.


    I am Nox Noctivagus."


    Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.

  • jinxxed0jinxxed0 Posts: 841Member Uncommon

    Theres a slim chance Nexon could buy it if NCsoft would sell it.

    Normally I wouldnt care, but I've spent so much money buying paragon points to support the game and buy new costume sets and power sets. It sucks that I've wasted 7 years and hundreds of dollars and now it's all going away when I was still enjoying it and expected to enjoy it for years to come. But oh well.


    Maybe they'll make a CoH2 and hopefully they'll get a better publisher.

  • AkaisAkais Memphis, TNPosts: 274Member Uncommon

    COH was the first game that my wife and I played together and it's the first game that I introduced my young son to. I am going to miss this game, specifically around Halloween as it's been a staple in our house during that month. So much so that even with active WoW accounts, I have never seen WoW's Brewfest as I'd always prefer trick or treating instead.

    I have yet to see a game push the same sheer mass of mob numbers at a player in any game to date.  Watching a "flood room" in COH makes any other game look weak by comparison. Jiffy Pop FTW!


    I give huge props to Positron, Castle, BAB, Warwitch and the Crew on working so hard to make this game what it was.

    In my opinion, this is one of those rare instances where freemium models hurt instead of helped.

    Reasonably stable community, add freemium, community dissappears.


    I figure if a game like AC can maintain it's community and it's pricing model for this many years based on its' community then a game like COH could've as well.

    Before it closes down I will definitely be giving my Tanker, 1st Wave another run though.

    It's a shame they close games like this and SWG but leave games like STO open.

  • RobsolfRobsolf Grand Rapids, MIPosts: 4,326Member Uncommon

    I know I'll definitely miss it, but yeah... if a game has F2P options, and it's still empty?  That's a problem.

    I do hope those folks find work.  It became pretty clear, IMO that when Cryptic got split up, Paragon kept the bulk of the talent.  CO was supposed to be CoX 2.0 and turned out to be CoX 0.6b...

    It sucks to see so much work get deleted.  Good luck to all of you...


  • VesaviusVesavius Posts: 7,825Member Uncommon
    Originally posted by LucienRene I had a good time, but it's time for it to go.  Too bad Paragon didn't have a good exit stratergy for what should have been obvious years ago (the shrinking population). 


    Well, I guess F2P was their strategy for dealing with the pop issue... but whaling only works when there are players willing to be big enough whales, or you have enough smaller ones.

    Obviously this is where the game run into issues, just as Aion has.

    I agree with what you say about the AE though. The actual feature was pretty amazing, but they should have actively plugged that avenue of exploitation a long time ago. It simply was not good for the game.

  • tawesstawess LkpgPosts: 3,638Member Rare
    It will be missed, but nothing last forever. Maybe someone will manage to make another superhero game at some point that is as good.

    Tawess gaming

    Tawess soapbox

    This have been a good conversation

  • Such a shame. This was, to date, my favorite mmo. I was in on beta for CoV and had just missed out on the beta for CoH. From character creation to gameplay to backstory and mission arcs... Well done! Up until the end I was a paying member. Let us hope for a sequel comes along that can do it justice! My best to those folks at Paragon Studios.
  • BanegrivmBanegrivm Mechanicsburg, PAPosts: 223Member Uncommon
    I'm not really sure what you guys are talking about with the game being empty. The game I played was never empty. I still play today. When Going Rogue came out the game was loaded with people. So many people that it was ridiculous. It looked like CoH had just launched that's how many people were playing. When CoH Freedom launched, it had the same thing happen all over again. On any server I've been on I never had a hard time finding other people to play with and people were pretty common. I know that the players are banding together to try to save the game. I hope they succeed because honestly it's a good game and it deserves to be saved. If I were rich I would totally invest money in the game and buy it. I think that would be money well spent to be honest. It's still an infinitely better game then Champions or DCUO.

    Leader of the 1st Fist of Light

  • spitfire1064spitfire1064 malden, MAPosts: 61Member

    Wow!! this made me want to comment on this. You are either a fraud or just do not know what your talking about. Virtue and Freedom are consistently jammed and i have never found it difficult to locate or assemble a team on either servers.

    Now things have changed over the years and the game has evolved, I started playing the game in  December of 2007, and have noticed over the years that the population has fluctuated. After going rougue and Freedom released all servers enjoyed healthy loads.

    But what i have seen, and experienced over the years is.....a new game will come out (in this case , What 4 have come out in the last 6 to 8 months) servers populations are affected but people always seem to come back. SWTOR seemed to rifle a lot and now i hear and see alot of people returning having stated that particular game has nothing to keep them interested and they were coming back to a game that always has new content coming out.

    I think that if the writer of this article had looked deeper he would had learned this. 

  • AlBQuirkyAlBQuirky Sioux City, IAPosts: 3,828Member Common

    A good reminisce down memory lane, Mike. Thanks for that :) That 2002 video was fun to watch and listen to. The differences between then and what released 2 years later is amazing. "Targeted Combat"? Didn't see that in this game :)

    I will miss CoH, too. It was the MMO that got me into video editing. It is the only MMO that I know of that used a "/demorecord" command that created an editable text file that a player could fairly easily manipulate to create some awesome footage.

    CoH was also my "stand-by" game. I always knew it was there. I knew players on my server and in guilds would be there. Now... it will be gone.

    It is sad that NCSoft is not pulling the plug only on CoH, but Paragon Studios as well. I wish all those people there the best in life, wherever they may end up.

    - Al

    Personally the only modern MMORPG trend that annoys me is the idea that MMOs need to be designed in a way to attract people who don't actually like MMOs. Which to me makes about as much sense as someone trying to figure out a way to get vegetarians to eat at their steakhouse.

  • adam_noxadam_nox hays, KSPosts: 2,065Member Uncommon

    It's true that freedom and virtue had healthy populations, but pretty much every other server did not.


    They had talked about one time a serverless architecture, such a change, and curbing the farmability of mission architect, could have plotted a different course for the game.


    Some months or maybe longer back, I posted about how after they released CoV with the promise of base raid and supergroup vs villaingroup battles, they failed to follow through on that promise, and I believe had they made it a real dynamic and viable endgame, once again, perhaps the game would not be sunsetting now.


    And finally, their f2p model was too agressive with the pricing, it scared away most people who had any common sense.  For anyone to really get access to all content, they would have had to pay way more than a regular monthly fee, and to me that seems to be a self-defeating strategy.


    I wish some smarter heads had been at the helm post CoV release.  Admittedly they tried to get base raids working properly for a year or two, but apparently they laid off whatever programmers had done the initial base functionality coding.

  • blbetablbeta elkhart, INPosts: 93Member Uncommon

    You metioned GW2 and having played that I would just like to say that their engine would be a great match for CoH2 I'd think.

    I doubt we'll see it but City of Heroes combat would fall right into GW2 combat system.  Not to mention the "mission" system in GW2 would also fit a CoH style game very well.  Too bad NCsoft is just the publisher for GW2 and doesn't own the tech.

    Oh well best of luck to everyone involved with CoH.

  • trancejeremytrancejeremy St. Louis, MOPosts: 1,222Member Uncommon

    I am one of those that started playing CoH when it went F2P (so about a year ago).

    I liked it enough I dropped about $120 on it. Which I guess would have been less than I had a subscribed for a year, but still enough that I'm more than a little irked at NCSoft for cancelling the game so soon after it went F2P.


    I think they made a lot of misteps with the F2P switch. Too many servers, for one, and they recommended servers that were almost empty. And yet, because of the way the F2P model worked, once you picked a server, you had to buy character slots on other ones. So when I reached my 20s or so and started looking around for people to team with, there was no one there. And I was locked in. I ended up buying slots on other servers, but out of 14-16 servers, only 2 are really packed with players.

    It also didn't help that the game basically stopped telling you where to go after level 8. You do the intro arc with that Matt Habashy guy and his wife, and there's nothing. You are told to talk to this superhero group, the Shooting star, but that had a level req of 10 past the first couple missions.

    They really should have revamped 1-20, rather than just 1-8 (Atlas Park).


    R.I.P. City of Heroes and my 17 characters there

  • SpytedSpyted Calverton, NottinghamPosts: 108Member
    Originally posted by Robsolf
    I know I'll definitely miss it, but yeah... if a game has F2P options, and it's still empty?  That's a problem. I do hope those folks find work.  It became pretty clear, IMO that when Cryptic got split up, Paragon kept the bulk of the talent.  CO was supposed to be CoX 2.0 and turned out to be CoX 0.6b... It sucks to see so much work get deleted.  Good luck to all of you...  

    This really - very sad to see it go, when it could and should have been the foundation for the next generation of superhero mmo

  • BladesnowBladesnow Lyndeborough, NHPosts: 2Member

    Thanks for your coverage. As others have noted, the population of CoH has always flunctuated depending on what other games were launching, but it always rebounded to roughly the same level.


    Neither population nor profits seem to have been involved in this decision, note that NCsoft's only official word to date on the reasons mentions neither as the reason, but simply cites "a realignment of company focus and publishing support". If profits or popularity were the problem, NCsoft would have said so. Repeated statements by former Paragon Studios employees are that the game was both steadily profitable and had a stable population base.


    It sounds to me like you just happened to wander in during a lull. Also appears to me that you were playing on the villain side, which has never had a strong following simply because most people don't want to be the bad guys. Looking around has never been the best way to check population anyway, server load or sampling the numbers off the search tool gives much more solid information.


    Your commentary demonstrates pretty clearly that this fight is not about numbers anyway. What is far more important is the artistic and human elements of the fight. This community IS unique. I've been involved in many MMOs now, and participated in the community around each of them. None of the others have been as friendly and helpful as the folks in Paragon City.


    We intend to fight to the end, and beyond if necessary. We are heroes. This is what we do.

  • LordOfPitLordOfPit North Bay, ONPosts: 86Member Uncommon

    Personally, I think NCSoft (and Nexon) figured out they simply cannot compete in the Superhero arena, while Cryptic is now marching into the High Fantasy with Never Winter Online.


    It makes me sad to let go, but at the same time, I have to be honest and say that I got what I wanted from CoH.


    Would I invest my time in another Superhero MMO if NCSoft/Paragon Studios would make one? That's probably the question NCSoft figure most players would say "NO" to. And, to be honest... CoX 2 would have to be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G and most likely designed and launched F2P just to compete not only with Champions Online and DCUO but other action-based MMO titles like NCSofts' Guild Wars 2!


    Therefore, I can't blame NCSoft/Nexon for giving up.

  • SirBalinSirBalin Joppa, MDPosts: 1,253Member Uncommon
    For me, I couldn't stick with the game because the lack of pvp.  A game with heros and villains is perfect for a pvp server.  Have bases for each side others could attack.  Could even take it apb style and have quests that send a hero to stop a villain that has a quest to do something.  Perfect game for something like that,...sadly pvp was an afterthought.  That said, the game was still fun...the best character creation of any game i've ever played.

    "You're either with us or against us"

  • ronpackronpack North Charleston, SCPosts: 138Member
    They need to make a CoH 2...
  • VirusDancerVirusDancer Brandon, FLPosts: 3,649Member Uncommon
    I was always curious why CoX ran with so many servers after going Freemium.  So many of the Freemium conversions involve server mergers - Hell, many of them would often end up with only one or two servers...

    I miss the MMORPG genre. Will a developer ever make one again?

    Explorer: 87%, Killer: 67%, Achiever: 27%, Socializer: 20%

  • TriganTrigan South Bend, INPosts: 2Member
    Some of you folks obviously haven't played CoH lately. The game was making a profit. Server populations were on the rise. Content had improved dramatically. Issue 24 looked very exciting! I agree that Mission Architect hurt the game, but it had bounced back from that and starting to look better than it did before MA. The cancellation had nothing to do with how well CoH was doing. It had to do with NCSoft deciding they didn't want it anymore.
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