A Somber Anniversary

It occurred to me recently that an MMO anniversary was coming.  It wasn’t the good kind, though.

It was five years ago today (minus a few hours) that NCSoft closed down City of Heroes.

Wow.  Five years.  Feels like just yesterday.

Not all of that venerable MMO is gone, of course.  The Titan Network folks have set up a couple of applications that can access the assets in the game to allow you to at least create an avatar and see the zones and other maps in the game.  So if I felt like it at any random time, I could take a quick hop into Paragon City and stand under the statue of Atlas in front of City Hall, or listen to Lord Recluse’s villainous motivational speech in Grandville.  I could go into the Pocket D extradimensional nightclub, or visit the alternate Earth of Praetoria.  And, of course, I could make characters-or remake them, as I still have all my costume files.  But of course, it’s not the same.  The number of people you might find there are much smaller than you’d have found back in the day; you can’t access your superpowers (mostly-travel powers are accessible), and you can’t beat up bad guys.  At least, not in the way you could in the actual game.

In an era where superheroes are more popular than ever, you’d have thought that CoH would be going strong even today.  Certainly, its competition couldn’t touch it-well, its genre competition.  Obviously, its MMO competition were still leaps and bounds ahead; it’s hard to beat World of Warcraft on its worst day.  But it was cut down just before it was ready to start resolving one of its longest running storylines, and aside from a few annual AMAs from its former devs, those secrets remain unknown.  What might have been.

I’ve lost touch with most of the people I’d played with back in the day.  I know a couple read the blog, and I’ve interacted with a couple more outside of the MMO-sphere on a weekly basis, but-just as I’d seen happen with the fall of Star Wars Galaxies-people drift to different games, different hobbies, and just quietly vanish into the ether.  Nevertheless, I’m hoping that they’re all well out there in their various hobbies and interests-and I hope they know they’ve been remembered.

Here’s to you guys.

Try to guess how many of these were alts.

The core of the team; wish I’d had more data to have included more members.



  It shouldn’t be too big a shock that, almost a year after it shut down, I still have City of Heroes on my mind.

  Not in any obsessive way or something like that.  Thanks to the “good” folks who brought me the NGE for Star Wars Galaxies, I’m pretty inured against shutdowns and the vanishment of games nowadays.  Plus, thanks to the Titan Network folks, I have access to the maps and character creator for CoH, which alleviates a heap of the pain.  It’s not the game, but I’ve adapted-I’ve moved on.

  But there are no less than three projects dedicated to moving on in a different way than I have; projects that each want to be the spiritual successor to City of Heroes.  The problem, of course, is that for the most part, they’re all fan-based initiatives.  They aren’t professional game designers, they aren’t backed by a major producer, etc.  But over the last couple of years, the concept of crowdfunding has potentially changed the game.

Because that other City is another intellectual property

  Such is the case with the Phoenix Project, or as they have recently revealed, City of Titans.

  They recently began a Kickstarter to get the ball rolling for tools and the like, and as of this morning, they seem to have hit their goal after about five days.  It helps to have a motivated player base, and as I understand it, the backers include a few names that would be very familiar to players of City of Heroes.

  I…haven’t decided yet to support it with my wallet.

  Certainly I support them in spirit, but spirit doesn’t pay the bills.  But what I have psychological issues with is putting money on something that may or may not have a return to it.  I’ve backed exactly one KS so far, and that was because I knew the product existed (it was for a new print run of books) and the person running it was one I knew to be reputable and reliable.  And let’s face it, books are cake in comparison to the development of something as complicated as an MMO.

  Still, KS seems to be one of the waves of the future with development.  Star Citizen and the Repopulation have held Kickstarters, and have reached their goals as well.  Star Citizen released their “hangars” recently for its backers, while the Repopulation appears to be moving merrily along its development path.  And there are a bunch of other, non-computer related Kickstarters that have used it to successfully push development.

  I just have psychological hurdles here.  I’m sure there are heaps of safeguards against the “take the money and run” thing, but for a KS like the City of Titans…well, the risk here isn’t in delays; it’s whether or not it will even happen at all.  But in a way, it’s not so different than gambling at a casino.  You put your money down, you take the risk you’ll never see it again…for the chance to get a big payoff.  In this case, the big payoff would be a fully realized MMO that has the heart and soul of the City of Heroes that came before it.

  The payoff is in the future; the best projections put it at two years out, and that’s for an initial beta release.  No telling what comes after that.  Still, the community of City of Heroes is a pretty passionate one, even a year after the game itself has faded.  They’re passionate and motivated, and even split into three separate projects, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see one of them hit the big time in 2016-ish.

Eight Years In

Seems hard to believe it’s been eight years of MMOs, doesn’t it?  Well, eight years for me, that is!  As is usual at around this time, at about the anniversary of my introduction to the MMO-sphere, I take a look back at the previous year, summing up the past year of gaming and related stuffs.  Plus, hey, it’s an excuse for me to look over past posts and see how things changed and evolved as we went along.

Hail and farewell….

The first on the list, sadly, is the late and lamented City of Heroes.  But before things ended, there were little moments of triumph.  The villain Dracofire reached level 50, to the acclaim of the Entropy Legion-my only new max level character.  The Legion was likely the most stable of the groups I was involved with; given its villainous bent, it’s sort of amusing.  During the year, I effectively retired the character of Stellar Protector from Hyperion Force, and my involvement with the SG as well; the character did return to the group before shutdown to end as a member of the group he started with.  The Union Supreme also underwent upheaval as well, with a total leadership change.  Also in the running was a new group, the Prometheus Project, in which I and a couple of others hoped to create a new story-based RP group where members designed stories for the other members; unfortunately, it finally launched in August:  a couple weeks before the shutdown announcement.  That sort of castrated the group entirely, so it just morphed into a standard missioning SG until the end.  The game itself was ramping up for some good stuff:  the Coming Storm hinted at for years was literally two issues away from release, the Praetorian storyline was wrapping up, and things were looking bright.  Then NCSoft dropped the bomb.  (And no, I’m afraid I don’t believe some recent statements by NCSoft about profitability; I’ve seen enough info out there to be iffy on their credibility.)

I’d be remiss in ignoring the activities of the CoH community who are doing all sorts of stuff to keep the game alive-or at least its spirit.  The Titan Network is pretty much the central point for activity, by virtue of having a bunch of dedicated people already in place with the CoH wiki, Paragon Wiki.  It was by reading their posts and making use of tools developed in the wake of the shutdown that I was able to create an after-the-fact screenshot of the Union Supreme’s character membership-something that would have been literally impossible in-game.

The Union Supreme-and these were just the characters I could get a hold of.

Next on the list comes Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Or as I have to think of it:  the biggest game fastest to go to Freemium status.  I sure as hell wouldn’t have predicted this a year ago:  subscriptions apparently hemmoraged so fast that Bioware/EA felt compelled to convert the game to Freemium to help stop the bleeding.  Contentwise, most of the action has been toward group content-the operations, mostly.  In other words, stuff that I’m less than enthused in, since my social circle there tends to be limited (and accordingly, my time there has reduced dramatically).  In spite of that, my main characters-Coreth the Smuggler and Alcarin the Agent-reached max level, and Zor’venrel the Inquisitor is in the early 40’s on Belsavis, so it’s not hard to imagine him going over the top in the next year.

Moving towards its first major story content update.

Moving towards its first major story content update.

One of the things that has caught my attention is the coming of the Rise of the Hutt Cartel expansion.  Actually, I’ll take a page from a contact on Ord Mantell:  it is a DLC, which is called an expansion; I am watching it with both eyes.  I may pick it up, I may not; but I’m not preordering for five lousy days of early access.  I’ll wait and see what the folks who have got that access have to say.  The devs have made the right noises as to what it contains, but I look at things from the POV of a player; we’ll see where things go from here.  I was happy with a couple events they ran earlier in the year with the Grand Acquisitions Race and the Rakghoul Outbreak, but not so thrilled since they were apparently one-off events that won’t be regular.  That’s the sort of thing that should really be at least on a yearly basis, given that the game doesn’t exactly have an easy access to holiday events like other games might (Life-Day notwithstanding).

The Final Frontier isn't going to go away anytime soon.

The Final Frontier isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

Moving on to Star Trek Online.  To be honest, I’m sort of surprised with where things have gone here-and in a good way.  There had been a dearth of content over the previous year, but that may be going away.  This year saw a new Feature Episode arc, involving some of my favorite antagonists, the Dominion, as well as Deep Space Nine; it’s added starbases for fleets, a reputation system which puts the high-end gear in better reach for players, a new space zone in the Tau Dewa sector block, complete with patrol missions (all space, at this point), and a new planet:  New Romulus, which advances the storyline in STO and has its own missions as well-some of which are unlocked with the reputation system.  The Corps of Discovery has quietly come back to life to a limited extent-players came back for assorted reasons, and the starbase has managed to get to a tier-1 status, and has an excellent chance of reaching tier-2 in the next few months-a far cry from where things could’ve been if it had continued on the trajectory I’d thought the last time I put up one of these annual posts.

This is not to say all is wine and roses with STO; the lockboxes came in, which sets my teeth on edge.  If this had been all we were seeing, I’d really be glad I wasn’t paying for subscription anymore.  Dilithium-the “currency” that you can use to purchase Zen with, or purchase WITH Zen (the PWE game currency)-is being used for more and more things in the game, and ways of getting Dilithium are either nerfed or removed (and sometimes restored when the devs are told that’s contradictory to their “we want to make stuff easier to get” concept).  The Dilithium Exchange, at this writing, has dropped well below the 100 Dilithium for 1 Zen ratio, which is the lowest it has ever been, and if the devs keep using Dilithium as their magic currency, it’s going to get even worse-or better, if you’re hoarding Dilithium.  For myself, I did manage to get a trio of characters to max level, mostly on the strength of Deck Officer Assignments-two Federation, one Klingon.  My activity there is erratic and sporadic, but I’m still doing my part to get our starbase built up.  (Don’t even talk about the Romulan Embassy; this is rough enough….)  Still, the future seems bright for STO, as it seems to have picked up more devs, including former CoH devs.

Returning to Millennium City!

Returning to Millennium City!

And this brings us to the sister game, Champions Online.  With the closure of City of Heroes, if one wanted to get the superhero fix, this was where to go.  Yes, I realize there’s another game out there, but it just wasn’t gonna work for me.  At this point, I have one character at max level, and one who is in the mid-30s, so has an excellent shot at reaching max level there as well.  With a new game comes a new supergroup, the Paragons of Virtue-a homage to where its founding members came from, but the RP backstory has nothing to do with CoH or its story.  While the game is a freemium game, I took the 3 months for 2 months subscription offer since the subscription actually does mean something in CO, unlike in STO.  There’s still enough in CO that I don’t feel starved for content yet.

But that’s where the danger signs are.  CO recently began its own lockbox frenzy, and signs were pointing to a content drought much like what STO experienced.  A new Alert-an instanced mission-seemed to be the only thing to go right in recent days.  During its anniversary, a big event was aborted since it was actually beating down more than hit points; the previous event ended, effectively removing content that had just been added.  Vehicles were added in, but they’re basically transform devices which turn your character into a vehicle.  (This doesn’t bug me that much:  I play STO, after all, and that’s a starship in a nutshell.)  Despite this, it seems that the next year is about to kick off with a new event-we’ll see if there’s more to it than just alerts, and see if it actually has lasting impact as opposed to “run this once and we’ll remove everything when it’s over”.

The last MMO visit of note was World of Warcraft; it was a brief visit, thanks to a Scroll of Resurrection that was sent my way, which allowed me to upgrade up to Cataclysm (including Wrath of the Lich King).  I didn’t really spend a lot of time there, though.  Still, I can’t help but suspect that when all the other MMOs get cancelled out from under me, WoW will still be there waiting.  Hm, that sounded almost stalkerish.

I’d resolved last year to write one story for each of my characters I’d written before in my various versions of short fiction on the appropriate guild sites.  I blew that one to Hell; I always sucked at New Year Resolutions, anyway.  I did manage to get a few done, though.  The Union got “Days of Yore” and “Nuclear Winter”, while the newly christened Paragons got the origin of Runelord in “The Rune is Cast”.  On my to-do list is a pair of Old Ranger stories, which will conclude the character’s story, continuing the story of Runelord, and a special project that kind of exceeded my estimates just a bit-and is likely to see the light of day first.  Eventually.

And that’s another year down!  I’m expecting lots of ups and downs this year, because why should it be any different than previous years?  I’ll be here to continue posting my observations, my thoughts, and occasionally showing off my characters in the MMOs I play.

Requiem for Paragon

Hail and Farewell, City of Heroes

Well, the end is here.  There were valiant attempts to “Save City of Heroes”, attempts to purchase the IP from NCSoft and public awareness campaigns and the like.  But in the end, as was likely inevitable, we come to this.

City of Heroes will be gone on Friday night, 11:59PM Pacific.  A giant among MMORPGs will be no more.

That’s a term I believe I can use honestly.  It was born in the days of Everquest and World of Warcraft, and in the company of such powerhouses, it managed to survive.  Other superheroic MMOs came, believing that they could topple City of Heroes as the premiere superhero game-and all fell.  It outlasted several other MMOs, but ultimately, could not outlast the holders of the IP in NCSoft.

I came to City of Heroes relatively late.  I had drifted a bit after Star Wars Galaxies dropped the NGE on its players and effectively disenfranchised me.  I tried a trial of the game while I was playing World of Warcraft, but the game failed to grab me at the time; it wasn’t until City of Villains, the standalone expansion, came rolling through that I entered the setting wholeheartedly (in part due to the burnout from WoW I was experiencing)-and it wasn’t long after that I purchased the sister game to get the full experience.

It was in City of Heroes that I actually got involved with the RP community, at least to a limited extent.  I was involved with probably too many supergroups (guilds), even spent a year and a half leading one-and most of my time there as an officer in some group or another.  While I put some time in with other MMOs-Star Trek Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic, both hoping to recapture some of what was had in my SWG days-it was City of Heroes that held the primary spot in my time.  In City of Heroes, I found something I’d not experienced since SWG:  a community worth playing with.

I don’t regret a single moment of my time in the various groups I was involved with:  the Justiciars (no matter how badly it ended), Union Supreme, Hyperion Force, the Adventurists, and the Entropy Legion.  It kills me that most of the people in these groups I will likely never see again; some of them I will meet in Champions Online, as the best superheroic MMO remaining, but that game just doesn’t appeal to some folks, and I can understand that.  And honestly, it’s quite possible that it’s living on borrowed time as well.  I hope I’m wrong on that one.  Still, I know from experience that recreating a community in a new game is an almost impossible task.  The best one can do is hope to expand the remnants into a new community there.

I spent my final Tuesday with my Winter Tornado character.  I will spend my final Wednesday with my Stellar Protector character.  My final hours will be spent with, unsurprisingly, my Old Ranger, whose likeness has followed me from SWG to World of Warcraft and beyond, to City of Heroes at the last.  And yes, the likeness continues to move on into Champions Online, but not as my primary character.  Or at least, that’s not the plan.  But as Yoda would tell you, “Always in motion, the future.”

I’m grateful to the developers of City of Heroes for building a game that, in my opinion, was worth playing.  I’m grateful to the players on the Virtue server, for being a community worth playing with.  May your futures reflect your pasts-and more.

Requiescat in pace, City of Heroes.  You will not be forgotten.

Coreth’s Primary CoH Characters


In spite of what some folks might like to think, the one is not the same as the other.

  Comparisons are something that’s just a part of human nature.  But it’s not always a wise thing to do.

  It’s something I’ve noticed as I’ve bounced around MMOs-particularly where you find similar genres.  When Bioware opened up forums for their development of Star Wars: The Old Republic, there was no shortage of people requesting features that sounded eerily like features already found in the still-existing Star Wars Galaxies.  Star Trek Online suffers occasionally from people wishing that it was more like the single-player Bridge Commander.  And there are people who look at Champions Online and compare it unfavorably to City of Heroes.

  This sort of thing happens when a game is closing down.  SWG veterans (of both eras of SWG) try to deal with the fact that space combat isn’t remotely like the Jump to Lightspeed expansion, which was more like the computer games X-Wing, but more like arcade shooters like Zaxxon.  (Now that’s showing my age…)  City of Heroes veterans are migrating to what they feel is the second-best superhero game.  People are inclined to gravitate to the games they feel are most similar to the games they are leaving.  But here’s the thing:  these people are going in with the feeling that they’re settling for second best-they’ve been playing the game they liked better, after all.  But it’s going away.

  This general attitude doesn’t endear the migrants to the game populations they’re joining.  They’ve been playing what they feel is the better game, after all.  Having a bunch of folks coming in from a game that obviously wasn’t good enough to still be around telling them that the other game was better…well, that’s not likely to bring warm fuzzies.  You can see this to an extent with other games at different points in their lifespan too-how game X was better before developer Y nerfed everything.  And that causes conflict, too.

  People migrating to a new game need to realize and understand that what they had is gone.  The new game isn’t going to be that old game.  TOR isn’t going to be SWG with a new paint job.  CO isn’t going to be CoH with a different art style.  Appreciate the target games for what they are, not for what they aren’t.  TOR doesn’t have housing; don’t spend all your time complaining about that.  Appreciate the involved stories that make up the quests.  CO doesn’t have Mission Architect; but you can enjoy the Nemesis system.  The games are different-but this is only as good or as bad as you let it be.

  People in those games that are seeing a flood of migrants need to understand, too, that they come bearing fresh and raw wounds.  Speaking ill of the dead is tacky.  Don’t put your effort in saying how the old game stunk on ice-the migrants won’t appreciate it any more than you would appreciate them coming in and saying how bad your game sucks.  Help them see and appreciate the game you see-the game you fell in love with.  It might not work-but that’s the way it goes with anyone new to a game.

  This sort of thing seems pretty obvious, but I see the conflicts in forums and I see them in the games.  It’s really pretty simple in the end, though:  the people leaving a dead game are looking for something at least similar to their old one-not just in game mechanics but in community.  The people in the new games are (or should be) looking forward to a new influx of players who can help improve the overall health of the game.  There’s a middle ground here, where both sides can appreciate what the other can bring to the table.  It’s a better place to be than on the extremes where one side shouts, “My game was better!” while the other shouts back, “No, mine is!”

“Foolish Earthlings! Who Will Save You Now?”

Not making any comparisons here; but Ming’s really the only guy who comes to mind with a blog topic title like this.

What do you do when your favorite MMO goes extinct?  What happens when you hear that it’s closing down?  If you’re like most people, you move on.  And then you have the people who not just say “no”, but “Hell No!”

And then you have the subsection of those people who actually do something about it.

Take Star Wars Galaxies.  Specifically, SWG as it existed before the NGE hit.  When the NGE was thrust upon the player base, you had two options:  learn to live with the new game, or to live without it and leave.  But some folks chose to pull a Captain Kirk and take a third option by changing the rules.  Over time and years, they carefully reverse engineered the code and created a working emulator of the game that was lost in 2005.  It’s not perfect, as I understand it, but to have even come close-and make no mistake, they have-is an accomplishment that nobody could have reasonably expected to succeed when they first set out.

Could this be the savior of a doomed game?

It’s probably not surprising that this train of thought comes from the impending closure of City of Heroes.  Some folks aren’t content to sit and watch it pass away.  The people behind the Titan Network are calling upon the players of the game to be as heroic as their counterparts (or perhaps inversely villainous, since some folks are exclusive villains) and attempt to do whatever they can to preserve CoH-by convincing NCSoft to reconsider, to get them to sell the game and rights to another publisher, to release the source code, and so on.  There’s even talk that they’re willing to try to pony up the cash to buy the game outright.

Is this a fool’s errand?

Could be.

Is it worth trying?


There’s something about the impending closure of long-running and beloved games that seem to bring out the best in some people-and in some cases, cause them to be extraordinary.  It’s an open question as to whether or not the players of CoH can succeed, in whatever form.  But the willingness to make the attempt is worthy of recognition.

Another Fades Into Legend

  I never thought I’d be writing these words-at least, not this soon. But then, isn’t that always the way?

  NCSoft announced today that they are closing down Paragon Studios, and that before this year is done, City of Heroes will be no more.

  I’m still absorbing the shock of it.

  My time with City of Heroes started in a way with the death of another game-or at least, what I deemed to be a death. When Star Wars Galaxies threw the NGE at us, effectively destroying a game I’d loved playing, I cast around for other games to play. One of those was City of Heroes. I had a trial CD, so I figured to give it a try. I found I hated the controls and went to looking somewhere else. I came back to it again a little after spending time in World of Warcraft, figuring to give it a second chance like I had given WoW a second chance-except this time, I purchased City of Villains and started out on the Red Side. And I came to appreciate it a lot more. I eventually bought City of Heroes so I could have both sides of the game (this was before the two games were effectively merged into one), and have enjoyed playing in Paragon City and the Rogue Islands for over six years. I’ve written stories about characters, participated in my first RP groups, and alternately enjoyed saving and smashing the world.

  I’ve been involved with several supergroups (guilds). Some I left on good terms with, some not. I feel privileged to have known the people I played with, honored to have been with them through good times and bad. It seems strange that it will all be coming to an end sooner rather than later. When it happens, we’ll drift apart; I’ve seen it before. We’ll all go to other games, or maybe some will put gaming aside-at least as far as MMOs go-and will quietly fade away. There will be promises to keep in touch, and some will keep those promises…and some will not. In that, it’s similar to many long-distance relationships, or keeping in touch with friends from High School or college.

  I don’t anticipate replacing City of Heroes with any new games out on the horizon. I’ve no interest in Guild Wars 2, no desire to do DC Universe Online, and less to do Champions Online. I’ll still be around in Star Trek Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic, but my urges to purchase stuff from cash shops are pretty well squelched. Not when the Reaper is waiting for these games, too. Free to Play/Freemium isn’t a guarantee of survival. Just ask Paragon Studios.

  I imagine I’ll be revisiting this subject again as we approach the sunset date, expected to be November 30.

State of My Games

  Been a couple weeks since the bomb hit with the announcement of Star Wars: The Old Republic going freemium.  Still absorbing things on that end, with a wary caution.

  Lots of little things going around lately.

  City of Heroes is inching closer to releasing Issue 24, which in part deals with the fallout of the big finale of the Praetorian storyline (but it’s not TOTALLY done…), as well as revamping both a hero zone and a villain zone.  I’m especially happy at any revamps of a villain area.  No offense to heroes, but the red side really is the *ahem* red-headed stepchild of CoH.  If you have access to the VIP Beta patch notes, you’ll see there is a big heaping long list of notes; there’s a lot of little stuff going in that includes some improvements to Blaster powers and blasting powersets in general.

  TOR…well, you’d think that stuff would just be put on hold until the conversion is done.  (You’d probably be right.)  But it seems that it’s not completely quiescent:  MMO reporting sites are saying that TOR is about to kick off a new event in Nar Shadda, similar to that Rakghoul outbreak a few months back on Tatooine.  I’m hoping to get a jump on that; I didn’t do nearly as much for the outbreak as I’d wanted, and missed out on a whole bunch.  Hoping for better luck with this one.

  Star Trek Online has fallen to the wayside for me, I’ll admit.  A lot of the life got sucked out of me when I read up on some of the little fine print details on the starbase construction:  like the heaps of dilithium needed to get anything done.  Or even “better”:  the fact that in order to build the special fleet ships, you need to buy special fleet modules with Zen-aka real money.  Which means you’d unlock the ship for one character.  At a price that is honestly more than buying a regular C-store ship which unlocks for all your characters.  I’m getting to the point where I’m about ready to just give up on the game entirely until they release something in it that’s worth playing again.  Fortunately, as a lifetimer, I’ll just accumulate my Zen stipend until then.  There is one good thing about the Starbase mess:  it’s demolished the Dilithium Exchange prices.  My hoarded Dilithium will go for more Zen now than it did a couple months back.  But it comes down to this:  Zen or Dilithium, neither one really does me much good if I don’t actually play.  We’ll see where things go.

  As far as personal gaming goes; TOR has seen me spreading around a few characters lately.  I have a couple projects on the Republic side and one on the Imperial side; they cover a nice range of levels at Taris, Tatooine, and Alderaan.  I’ve been seriously neglecting my high level characters Alcarin and Coreth, though.  Alcarin’s a hard one to really motivate myself to do, as I’m not all that sure he can hold up his end in Flashpoints.  Coreth, though, is a different story, which makes my reluctance to log him in and do anything inexplicable.  Then again, as CoH has shown time and again, I seem to prefer the journey of getting to top level more than actually BEING at top level.  Then again, I seem to be having the opposite problem in CoH right now:  I log in my high level guys more than my lower level ones.  In part, it’s because they’re in SGs, so there’s expectation involved.  I may be getting out of that rut, though-we just finished a double-xp weekend, which motivated people to team up more than usual.  I didn’t spend as much time as I’d have liked-real life trumps MMOs-but I still got a few characters a decent bump.  Might have to do another “Building Character” post to show some of these guys off soon.

MMOs With Friends

  One of the things that tends to be a real challenge in playing MMOs is playing with friends.

No, not THOSE friends!

  That doesn’t sound right, does it?

  But it’s also true to a certain extent:  especially if you’ve been playing a lot, and they don’t.  Or you’ve been playing longer.  Or anything at all like that.  The people who play more will usually find that their characters are many levels ahead, better geared, and generally would blow through content like Kleenex-at least, the content their less frequent friends are playing.  Some games help with that sort of thing.  Some don’t.

  City of Heroes is likely the finest example of helping friends team up.  Their sidekick mechanic means that the lower level character is bumped up to the same level as the high level character they team with.  That was great back in the day, but later patches kicked this to the next level, allowing everyone on the team to match levels with the team leader.  So in theory, you could have a level 1, 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 character playing at the same level.  It’s not all fun and games, of course; the level 1 character still only has two powers to play with (not counting any “special powers” that may have been gained through time or purchase), and is just not as effective as a level 50.  On the other hand, since you can conceivably be letting the level 1 guy be team lead, everyone else will have access to only a few extra powers over the level 1.  There are other disparities, of course, because it’s not just about number of powers, but you get the general idea:  friends can play with friends at any point in the leveling chain.

  Champions Online and Star Trek Online have a similar system-which shouldn’t be shocking, as those games were developed by the same people who developed CoH.  It tends to work in a squad leader sort of manner, where if you get too far away you lose the benefits of matching levels.  In STO, this gets mitigated a lot during certain events like Borg Red Alerts and some of the recent Fleet Events, where everyone is matched to level-but again, you still have disparities like equipment and available abilities.  No matter how you slice it, an Odyssey Star Cruiser is going to outperform a Constitution Cruiser; it just has more bridge officer slots, more consoles, more weapons.  I can’t speak much for CO, but since they also utilize special gear for the characters, I would imagine that it runs into similar issues.  STO is a tad more complicated since it deals with characters, AND bridge officers, AND their ships.

This is what happens when you don’t get special mechanics to help out.

  Not every game out there has taken this sort of thing into account.  Star Wars: The Old Republic is more old school; if you team with someone really high, you’ll probably get killed in your first encounter with something bad if you go after stuff at his/her level, or get no xp at all if you go after things at your level.  Not exactly good for playing with friends.  This is where liberal use of alt characters comes into play; if you’re lucky, you’ll have characters sitting around the various level ranges.  If you’re not, it gets hard to play with friends.  Given that the game rewards teaming with Social Points, allowing access to Social Gear, you’d think that TOR would seriously consider a “sidekicking” mechanic somewhere down the line.  But I imagine that’s way down the line, given the recent appearance of the group finder (which seems to be better for folks looking for high level instances rather than low level ones, based on my admittedly limited experience thus far).

  Ironically, one of the better games out there for teaming with friends of any level might have been Star Wars Galaxies, in its pre-Combat Upgrade days, when experience was based on use of your various skills; if you used pistols, eventually you got better with them and could rank up.  On the other hand, if my memory recalls, that tended to be based on damage output on the target, and if someone high level was blasting away with his uber-skills, odds are you probably didn’t get as much xp for the attack.  Maybe it’s those rose-colored glasses getting in the way again.

  For the record, I’m a big fan of CoH’s system, and I’ve felt for a long time that it should have been a standard for MMOs going forward.  If you’re an MMO developer and you want to encourage group content, you could do a lot worse than make it simpler for those people at a wide stretch of levels to play together.  After all, if you can’t play with your friends, you’re more likely to start thinking that another MMO might be better to play in.  And if you’re a developer, you’d hate to see that revenue stream go away.

Looking for Group? Do the Tools Help?

  One of the big deals in an MMO is grouping.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  What’s the point of playing an MMO if not to interact with other people?  (Okay, soloists, put the axes down; I do plenty of soloing, too, and I understand your POV.  Work with me here.)  The primary method of interaction tends to be “Hey-there’s a big thing I can’t kill on my own.  Help!”  This reaches its ultimate expression in content designed for groups.  They may require special strategies to kill them, they may just require a lot more damage to be output onto them that a single player just can’t produce.

  The problem is that sometimes, finding someone else to do this content is a pain in the posterior.  It’s even worse in games which have no global means of chat; if you’re in the Barrens, it’s hard to learn that there’s a big raid being set up over in Northrend, for example.  Or more to my current gaming tastes, it’s hard to find out there’s an Operation going down without being locked at one of the fleets perpetually.

  Many games attempt to address this with tools that theoretically allow players to find other players who are interested in the same sort of thing.  Star Wars Galaxies had my first exposure, although there it was called “Matchmaking”, and was really more for finding people of similar interests than it was for finding a group to do certain content like killing Krayt Dragons or hitting Death Watch Bunker.  As I understand it, this did get rectified a bit later on, but that was after my time there.  It seems that somewhere along the line, a lot of developers began to see the point of having these.  And this also makes sense to me:  if a dev is going to put time and energy into developing group content, he’d kind of like to see people actually playing it.  If it’s not played, then it might as well have never been created.

  And that sucks.

  So:  looking for group tools.  Oh, call them that, or dungeon finders, or league finders, or what have you.  They’re the same sort of thing:  they’re intended to find people who want to do group content and group them with other people with group content.

When you have a problem, and no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire-wait, that’s not quite how it works.

  Thing is, they aren’t perfect.  How could they be?  For starters, they depend heavily on people actually using these tools.  In City of Heroes, there is actually two levels of grouping tools; the first is the standard flag where you declare to those who are looking “Yes!  I want a group!  (For missions/task forces/street sweeping/etc.)”  That depends on someone actually using the search to find you, though.  And as time goes on, it seems fewer people are aware it exists.  The second level was intended for use for the Incarnate Trials and special seasonal content, although recently it now includes Task Forces.  The problem with this, though, is it’ll be fairly random as to the people it throws together in a team.  You could end up with a Task Force with eight Empath Defenders; unlikely, true, but possible.  It’s a potluck as to whether or not you get a good team.  And since you don’t get to see the progress of the queue-or how many people are in it-you could end up waiting a long time for the content to start-IF it starts.

  Which is why most of the TFs and the like are still gathered by people using the Broadcast chat to call for volunteers.

  Star Wars: The Old Republic recently has brought in its own tool.  And it seems to work okay; okay meaning, you can actually select your role, and this presumably helps create a balanced team to deal with the assorted group content like Flashpoints (dungeons) and Operations (raids).  And you can select groups of content, so you aren’t shoehorned into a single adventure search; you can end up with the first one available.  You can narrow it down so you are only looking for one Flashpoint, too-although there you may have a longer wait.

  For guys like me who aren’t in a major-league guild and can’t stand hanging around all the time in Fleet, this sounds like a godsend, right?  Well, maybe.  Again, a lot depends on who is using it.  I’ve had mixed luck so far, but that has a lot to do with my availability, and last week was a fairly brutal one for me.  (Which is one of the reasons why this post wasn’t written last week, either.)  I did manage to successfully get in a group yesterday to do a Directive 7 Flashpoint; most of us hadn’t done it before, including me.  In spite of this, morale was high, and we made it to the end objective, which proceeded to smack us silly.  Even so, I still think we would have beaten the thing if the game servers hadn’t decided to vomit out everyone for a full restart.  (Some warning in-game might’ve been nice, Devs.)

  One thing I hope to try at some point is to see if this works out for Operations content.  It’s possible that it will work nice and smooth, but I rather suspect in TOR, it’ll wind up like Incarnate trials:  they’ll ignore the LFG tool for Operations, and instead stick with using their guilds and known associates for such operations (not to mention “you must have X gear to even THINK about going near this” as a qualifier).  But you never know unless you try-and we’ll see where it goes in the next week or two.