End of Days

1 Dec

City of Heroes, the world’s first superhero-based MMO, shuts down for good today.

J

29 April 2007: the Justice Jabs assemble in Talos Island.

If you’ve never played a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, it may be hard to imagine what thousands of die-hard City of Heroes fans are going through. After eight years, a beloved world of custom characters, city-sized maps and online communities will be switching off its servers for good today.

MMO role playing games differ from any other form of entertainment because, unlike even story-driven single player video games, you spend thousands of hours inside the game’s virtual world. Try to imagine a favorite long-running television series, except rather than follow the story of the hero, you are the hero. You design your character from the ground up, choose how the character looks and how his abilities develop over time, explore more and more of the world through missions and play alongside other players just like yourself.

080427 Wolf Boy night patrol - crop

27 April 2008: Wolf Boy on patrol in Steel Canyon.

COH was a breakthrough on so many levels. At launch it was hailed as “a super powered gust of fresh air into an increasingly stale sword-and-sorcery MMO world” (Computer Gaming World). While most MMOs immersed you in fantasy settings, the COH world offered the familiar backdrop of a large, meticulously detailed and bustling city complete with traffic, skyscrapers, garbage-strewn alleyways and innocent citizens to rescue. And you had super-powers.

By design, the game captivated you instantly. A new character could jump into costume and battle villains within minutes, unlike other MMOs that required you to spend hours doing mundane tasks to scrounge up enough gold to buy yourself a sword. Its character design engine offered an unprecedented amount of customization, making it virtually impossible for you to encounter another character with a costume and character features identical to yours. COH was also the first to introduce the “sidekick” system, where you could pair with players several levels apart from your own. (You either moved up close to their level or they moved up to yours, making the formation of temporary teams so much easier.)

But, most of all, COH was a game that was lovingly nurtured by its developer team, constantly refreshing the content through 24 Issues (major game updates) over the past eight years that introduced new missions, characters, enemy and ally factions and maps. It was a game that constantly reinvented itself, giving players like myself reasons to keep coming back for more.

24 May 2004: SPEED (center) patrolling the streets of King’s Row while on one of his first team missions.

I have been playing City of Heroes since its launch in April 2004. Not only did I spend hours in the game’s character design engine, the frustrated comic book writer in me insisted that I conceptualize and write a back story for each new character I created. I would even take the time to chronicle (screen grab) memorable missions, some of which are displayed on this blog. (You can see more screen grabs here.) Eight years is a long time to build fond memories.

You never forget the first time your character hits Level 14 and earns a “travel” power. (You could choose from Flight, Super Jump, Super Speed or Teleportation.) I spent hours flying through the skies about Atlas Park, first swooping to the top of the Atlas statue globe, then looking down at the city from above the tallest building and finally flying alongside the Atlas Park blimp — close enough to hear its engines! Six months after launch, COH would introduce capes, which your character could earn by completing a special mission at level 20. Flying was never the same again. A few years later, the game would add the option to equip your character with fully animated wings.

26 June 2005: Queen Maleficent in flight.

In 2005, the Winter Lord attacked, freezing lakes and spawning random ice monsters all over Paragon City. But the best part was forming teams to take down the Winter Lord himself, which meant tons of XP!

Most of all, I will remember Sundays with the Justice Jabs. We formed an all-Controller super group (guild) with real life friends Nic, Angie, Stefan & Simon (players based in Singapore and Sydney). At the same time every Sunday we would chat over Skype and play through task forces (extended mission story arcs) and take down roaming monsters over several hours at a time.

Towards the end, my time in COH would taper off. Eight years is a long time for a game and there would be other shinier, more attractive gaming options. Sometimes, I would stay away from the game for up to 10 months at a time. But COH was the game I would always go back to. It was familiar surroundings, like returning to your home town. Like visiting an old friend.

In a few hours, it will all be over. No more Paragon City. No more Rogue Isles. No more Imperial City.

This post is dedicated to the developers of City of Heroes and its loyal player community. Thanks for the memories.

2012-12-01 01:11:25

30 November 2012: waiting for the End of the World. G0LDSTAR joins other players as they hold vigil at the steps of the Paragon City Hall.

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