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A Mild-Mannered Reporter

A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Stop digging up the grave

Super-hero, City of Heroes, Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, Free-to-Play, A Mild-Mannered Reporter, Sunsets

Sometimes you just have to pull off the bandage.
My original plan for this week's column was to discuss themes and tone in superheroic games, but that got pushed to the side when Jack Emmert's comments about City of Heroes lit up the imagination of pretty much everyone still pining for Paragon City. For those who haven't already seen it, here's a helpful link to the video of the PAX East panel wherein Emmert makes a brief statement that the shutdown was not a good thing and that NCsoft should call him.

Friends of mine from the City of Heroes community let me know about this. People I don't know from the City of Heroes community let me know about this. Random strangers let the entire Massively team know about this. Never mind that I was at the PAX East panel where it happened and thereby already knew about this beforehand, that's not really important right now.

You are probably expecting me to join the crowd of the hopefuls, but no. We're long past that point, and even if we weren't, this is not a chance to start hoping that the game will return from the grave. Fact is, it's past time to stop hoping.

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: A super month in super news

Super-hero, MMO Industry, News Items, Opinion, Marvel Heroes, Champions Online, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

For the record, I was disappointed by the 4/1 jokes this year.
Having spent the last couple of weeks systematically irritating the makers of every superheroic MMO currently on the market, I think now seems like a perfect time to go trawling for recent news and views. Especially since I am writing this on April 1st to meet my deadline, so there's a day-long moratorium on any real news being posted. (That Kickstarter of ours is very real, though. You need to give us money right now.)

Of course, the big news was a completely unexpected announcement that came out right after PAX East concluded: Another challenger is entering the arena, and it's something no one could have seen coming without insider information. Meanwhile, Marvel Heroes announced its launch date days after I had speculated on what that might be, and Champions Online is gearing up to kick off another event. So let's get talking about all the superhero news that's been going down since the last roundup.

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: So what's the deal with Champions Online?

Super-hero, Culture, MMO Industry, Endgame, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

It's improved a lot from the game which I preordered and then un-preordered, but still.
Let's be honest here. Champions Online is not in a good state.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about how expecting a limited-time event to flesh out the game's endgame is silly to say the least, and I stand by that. But there are two issues under discussion here, and the second is "does the game need more content?" The answer, right now, is an emphatic yes. An event isn't the place to go looking for that content necessarily, but this is still a pretty significant problem, and the game certainly doesn't look as if it's fast approaching its fourth year of operation (and it is).

So what happened? It's no secret that the game launched to some pretty poor reception, but that doesn't account for the way that the game has been managed since then, especially when its free-to-play conversion has by all indications been reasonably successful. So why is it that after nearly half the lifespan of City of Heroes it still feels like a game that just recently launched?

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: What's the problem with Marvel Heroes?

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Marvel Heroes, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

I got nothin' on this header.  Just read some of the later alt text.
Marvel Heroes is going to release soon. Maybe. Probably? It's hard to say. We have a release window for the game but not a large amount of evidence that the game is actually moving toward that release window; there are beta updates but no clear signs that the game's open beta will be coming soon. That's a bit duplicitous for people already asked to purchase the game's high-end item packs, but that's a strategy employed by more than a couple of games now, so I'm not going to be too harsh about that.

Or maybe I am, seeing as how the game is asking you to spend a lot of money sight unseen when it has some pretty stiff competition out already. I'm increasingly of the mind that Marvel Heroes is taking a hard sell and making it endlessly harder by launching into the teeth of other games without a solid strategy. Worse yet, it might be far too late for the game to change anything for the better in a significant fashion.

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Champions Online, Lemurian events, and you

Super-hero, Culture, Events (In-Game), Endgame, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

Sometimes I just can't seem to stop stirring the pot.
Every so often, I'm told that I don't understand an issue under discussion, and it's entirely true. There are a lot of issues out there, and the best I can do is get some of the information, form an opinion, and then change that opinion based upon new information. So I do my best, but I'm going to be wrong sometimes.

Other times I'm told I don't understand an issue when I actually do, and the problem is that the issue under discussion is not the most relevant issue.

So let's talk a little bit more about Champions Online and the Lemurian Invasion. If you haven't been paying attention, this spawned a little bit of controversy among the playerbase and more when I said that the people raising a stink were wrong. They still are, even if they're also right about an unconnected issue I only brushed against before.

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Asymmetry in superhero PvP

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, PvP, Opinion, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

Actually, it's more about the lack thereof, but the title is clunky enough as it is.
If you stop and think about it, the fact that we've never really had good PvP in a superhero game is pretty darn weird. This is a genre in which heroes fight villains, villains also fight villains, and every few hours some misunderstanding crops up and the heroes wind up coming to blows as well. Even in games without player-controlled villains, there's plenty of room for good PvP, and in games where players can take a walk on the dark side there's even more reason for tussles to work out well.

Sadly, that hasn't been the case. But today, I come here not to roast games but to talk about how this could be made to work well. Which bespeaks a certain asymmetry.

I've mentioned before that heroes and villains have fundamentally different approaches to the world: The former are reactive and the latter are proactive. When it comes to pure PvP scenarios, this should be more true than anywhere else. Instead, most PvP matches wind up being slugfests, something that doesn't really match up with how things work in comics.

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: News from around the superheroic world

Super-hero, Culture, News Items, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Marvel Heroes, Champions Online, DC Universe Online, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

Gotta get this header thing settled.  Seriously.
I've been talking about superhero games in the conceptual state over the past few weeks, which has been great for those of us who really enjoy that sort of thing. (I also got some very nice feedback from the folks at Missing Worlds Media regarding last week's article, so that's also keen.) But there are two titles in the genre already out, plus one that's not yet out but is rapidly approaching launch. So rather than speak in the abstract, let's talk about the news in review, yes?

Marvel Heroes has been making the biggest waves recently with a major beta update that trimmed up systems, changed statistics, and revamped crafting extensively. Champions Online's latest event became a point of some contention when the finale was swapped from being a high-end event to being something for everybody. And DC Universe Online waited until I had just wrapped up my month in the game to launch a big update including housing. So in no particular order, let's talk about all of this.

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: The rocky road ahead for city revivals

Super-hero, Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

Sometimes there's no better header.
I can't currently talk about The Phoenix Project or Heroes & Villains in great detail because neither game is actually a thing just yet. They're both products of the best parts of City of Heroes fandom, of players deciding that if the game was going to shut down, they were not going to go gently into that good night. No, they were going to just make a new game that keeps all of the feel and winds up better besides. Rather than decrying what happened, they're building something new.

This is a good thing, and the thought of having a new game in the same vein as the lost one makes me happy for understandable reasons. But at the moment, it's just that -- a thought.

Both projects have big goals, and I don't fault either of them for lack of ambition. Nonetheless, I wonder whether either will wind up coming to fruition. The fact of the matter is that making an MMO is really hard, even more so when you're working in a genre with several pitfalls, and ambition alone does not make a game.

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: The crafts of heroes

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, Opinion, A Mild-Mannered Reporter, Crafting

I need to be better with headers.
I want to give major props to Cryptic Studios for Champions Online at launch because the studio did something that most superhero MMOs don't even try to do: Crafting was in the game at launch, and while you can say that it was absolutely terrible, it wins respect for existing no matter what else happened afterward. I didn't play around with the crafting at launch, but I can still respect that it was there.

Of course, even if I had liked it, it clearly was disliked enough for the game to completely redo its crafting system later. And from what I saw, it was not well loved. But the crafting systems for DC Universe Online and City of Heroes are both not received with open arms either. Don't get me started on the half-hearted effort Marvel Heroes has for a crafting system, which makes The Secret World look downright deep. (Although that could be revamped for release.)

So what's the deal here? Superhero MMOs are often ahead of the curve in a lot of areas, so why can't we get a superhero game with a proper crafting system?

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: What makes a superhero game?

Super-hero, Culture, Lore, Opinion, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

I really need to pick a header and style to stick with.  It's not my strong suit.
If I want, I can play the same character in Champions Online that I play in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Pick one, any one will work. I can also recreate my Shaman from World of Warcraft, my Dervish from Guild Wars, or my captain from Star Trek Online. And I don't mean that I can just recreate them within a fair margin of mechanical error; I mean that I can straight up cop the same origin story and everything.

That being said, the characters in their original settings are not superheroes. That brings us to an interesting situation. Superheroes are in no small part defined by their abilities, but in another setting, those abilities are in no way out of the ordinary. So it's interesting to try to define what makes one game with mages and robots and supernaturally skilled swordsmen a superhero game while another one isn't.

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: DC Universe Online in review

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Consoles, DC Universe Online, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

In unrelated news, I apparently lost the stuff I had saved about how to do these headers properly, so now I have to try and recreate them from memory.
One of the things I like about my job is the part where I have to play a lot of different games. This is not my default state -- I will happily latch on to games that I like and play them into the ground. The 100-plus hours I've clocked into every Mass Effect installment is proof enough of this. But playing a wider variety of games has given me several opportunities to see things in games, nod my head, and exclaim, "Yes! This is what people should be doing? Why do more games not do this?"

DC Universe Online had me saying that about a lot of elements. And every time I figured I was good and done, I found another one.

A month boomeranging back and forth between lower levels on both factions isn't enough time to get a sense for how the game shakes out over the long run, but it does provide a fairly good overview of the game as a whole. And there's a lot of elements in the game that I found astonishingly clever. It didn't offset the parts that I found somewhat tedious or broken, but it did make the game as a whole interesting on multiple levels.

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Shall I play the villain?

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

I'm not such a bad guy once you get to know me.  For a given value of bad.
Superheroes are defined by their villains. A lot of what makes Spider-man and Batman such celebrated characters is the fact that they've got no shortage of interesting opponents. DC Universe Online knew this when it launched and gave players a villainous option right from the beginning, something that even City of Heroes didn't manage until its first expansion.

Not that this is the norm. Admittedly, calling anything the "norm" in a subgenre with only three launched games to go by is a bit complicated, but that's not the point. Champions Online doesn't let you take a walk on the villain side, and Marvel Heroes will launch without the ability to play a villain now or (presumably) ever.

This seems a bit odd on some level. We like villains, we interact with villains as readers, we enjoy seeing what the villains will do. But does it diminish a game to lack the option, or does it diminish villains as a whole when you can play as one?

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: How superheroes died and why it's good

Super-hero, Culture, MMO Industry, Opinion, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

I really need to settle on a header instead of randomly pulling old ones.  Thoughts, oh handful of readers who look at the alt text?
2012 was probably the worst year ever for fans of superheroes in the MMO space. The best months of the year were just kind of there, and then the biggest game in the genre unexpectedly closed. Unpacking what caused the City of Heroes closure is something that's ongoing to the moment, and I'd be remiss to not talk about the recent anonymous claims that City of Heroes was profitable up to its closure combined with a denial that... isn't, really.

At the same time, I'm a firm believer in the idea that bad things can have positive outcomes. So I think that for all the bad that happened in 2012, we might be looking at 2013 as a banner year for superheroes. Not that it's certain by any means, but between last year's media and the current state of affairs, there's space for some awesome possibilities. And a lot of screwups, too, but isn't that always the case?

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter Extra: Interviews with Champions Online and The Phoenix Project

Super-hero, City of Heroes, Culture, Interviews, MMO Industry, Interviews (Massively's), Champions Online, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

Still sad?  Still sad.
I promised you that we would be doing interviews next time, but astute readers would note that I did not say "next week." So welcome to our special extra installment of the column looking at two different sides following the City of Heroes shutdown.

We've already seen two projects coming from the ashes of CoH; The Phoenix Project and Heroes and Villains are both currently being assembled by passionate fans of the now-departed game. But we'd be remiss if we failed to note the impact that the game's closure has had on existing games like Champions Online and DC Universe Online. Rather than just speculating on any of this, we decided to just ask.

So today you've got two interviews. One is with Brad Stokan, Executive Producer at Cryptic Studios, about how the City of Heroes shutdown has affected Champions Online and the studio that helped bring the game to life in the first place. The other is with the lead staff at Missing Worlds Media, the team behind The Phoenix Project. So let's take a look behind the scenes, yes?

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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Starting fresh in DC Universe Online

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, First Impressions, DC Universe Online, A Mild-Mannered Reporter

I couldn't find a good font for use here.  Also, whose bright idea was it to keep re-doing the title image?
I'm not going to lie to you, gentle readers -- I did not have high hopes for DC Universe Online when I signed in.

Why not? Lots of reasons. For starters, Champions Online turned out to be very good, and I'm not in the habit of expecting good luck twice in a row. My last outing with a licensed superhero game left me pretty cold. I already knew the game broke from a lot of accepted superhero conventions, and it sure didn't seem like a game that would encourage the same sort of roleplaying atmosphere I love. Last but certainly not least, it's always dicey playing a game designed for both consoles and computers, since frequently one or the other gets the better interface.

Despite all of this, I am happy to say that these fears were unfounded. Or at least unfounded enough for it not to matter, which is close enough to the same thing. DC Universe Online is certainly not a successor to City of Heroes, but it's a lot better than I would have guessed, and it's certainly an interesting game thus far in its own right.

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