Friday, September 7, 2012

R.I.P. Paragon City

City of Heroes is shutting down. Good riddens. Also, i'm sorry to see it go. There are a few of these MMOs which have shown great potential, despite their monumental failure in achieving even the smallest part of it. They remain as paragons of the best qualities they might have had. It's mostly tied into their setting, with the inevitable failure coming from mistakes in gameplay mechanics. There was A Tale in the Desert for village life, EVE for spacefaring and now The Secret World for dark fantasy. High fantasy would probably be a toss-up between Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot form what i hear but i can't give an informed opinion on that, sadly, as i passed them up.

What City of Heroes offered was overblown, overstated, overly-dramatic golden-age superheroism, but as i complained in my main post about the game, it sold this concept out to what its developers thought would amount to mass-appeal. Instead of making a game for comic-book nerds, they tried to appeal to leet-kiddies, powergamers, casual gamers, griefers and every other facet of online gamer stupidity, while not scaring anyone away. This lowest-common-denominator approach was what killed the project years ago. That it's been limping along since then with more and more desperate changes to attract new costumers, down to copying LOTRO's free-to-play system gimmick-for-gimmick, is meaningless. It died as soon as the development team started desperately copycatting everything they saw in their competitors.

Let's take a look at some of the nails in CoH's coffin as represented by phrases from the face-saving attempt linked above.

"a realignment of company focus and publishing support"
Realignment from funding years of idiotic last-ditch attempts to boost the game's popularity while never fixing what was wrong with it in the first place? Yes, for once, i'm going to side with the publisher on this one. What needed to be fixed was the lack of true complexity and challenge to the gameplay mechanics and the focus on the level-grind. What you did instead was make the game easier and easier then give players more incentives to roll up new characters and level-grind all over again. CoH's levelling structure had no payoff. There was no carrot to chase. Getting a character to level 50 meant abandoning it. Playing a new one meant being forced to play through the same grindfest over and over again. It was dull. All the acts of desperation like adding PvP, flashy new powersets or trying to scam players into spending money in a 'free'-to-play system did nothing to fix the core issue. The game, as a game, was not worth playing. Realignment? You got fired, and you mostly deserved it long ago.

"the world's first, and best, Super Hero MMORPG"
Well, no kidding, it was the only one worth mentioning, mainly because most companies wouldn't touch the superhero setting with a ten foot pole. Superheroes do good deeds. As a rule, humans want to do bad things and be told they're being good. This is why the fantasy setting is so attractive, as it centers on the moral imperative to kill, kill, kill and be applauded because orcs and devils are by definition evil. Superheroes don't kill.
What's more, as CoH's writers obviously found out, it's much more difficult to create outlandish stories without the all-purpose cop-out of 'magic' to fall back on. As the years dragged on, magic began to dominate the game, eclipsing the modern-day superhero setting. Croatoa, Cimerora, giving the lead hero and villain NPCs a shared magical background, the majority of the villain storylines, all subverted the urban, comic-book feel with demons and fairies.

"These developers are some of the most creative and talented people in the gaming industry. To any potential studios looking to grow your team; hire these people. You won't regret it"
There are a few parts of the development team which i'd like to see working on a new game. Graphic artists, character designers, sure. CoH lasted as long as it did just because of the fun of playing dress-up. Some of the mission dialogue was decently in touch with comic-book style. Even whoever created the original sound effects at the game's launch deserves praise. However, the development team as a whole, especially the decision-makers, are tainted by the utter failure of the project to grasp what it had to offer. When hiring an ex-Paragon employee, could you be sure you're not getting the one who, when designing the shadow shard, thought it was a good idea to make it a gigantic expanse of purposeless, useless space?

"To our Community,
Thank you. Thank you for your years of support. You've been with us every step of the way, sharing in our challenges, encouraging us to make City of Heroes better, more than everyone else thought it could be."
No. Nonono. No! Catering to the whims of the idiotic masses is what killed the game. Pretty much every bad decision was obviously made for the sake of popularity. What CoH needed was a central vision and a coherent development plan. What it got was a scramble to put in everything some ten-year-old brat demanded on the forums.
The warzones were development timesinks that came about because of thoughtless little brats demanding PvP.
The shadow shard was the epitome of the worst aspect of online games, the grind, an attempt to be the MMOiest of MMOs.
Every time some cretin cried that a powerset wasn't powerful enough, the game became easier, until it simply wasn't worth playing.
The emphasis on instancing destroyed the community aspect, the feel of walking through a real city which developers tried so hard to achieve at launch, because it's the 'must-have' of cost-cutting measures for MMOs and it's simplistic enough to appeal to leet-kiddies.

Last, the coup de grace:
"Don't dwell on the "how" or the "why""
Yes, please don't anyone analyze the ways in which we've managed to fuck up our chance at making something great. The emperor's new clothes look magnificent.

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