Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Super-Me, Not Super-DC

"Everything has been said before
Nothing left to say anymore
When it's all the same you can ask for it by name"
Marilyn Manson - This Is the New Shit

Both Marvel and DC Comics are now running their own multiplayer rackets, presumably WoW-clones falsely advertising themselves as MMOs while delivering nothing but the usual treadmill, endless small-group, inconsequential instance farming for individual item upgrades. While DC's take seems pretty much an outright copy of City of Heroes merely plastered over with DC trademarks and might therefore be playable, Marvel's is an insult to intelligence. You get to play as Iron-Man or Ice-Man or Spider-Man... which might be interesting if I didn't really want to play as Wolf-man. The hero worship thing works fine for a single-player game. Even though it's not one of my favorite activities, I still remember X-Men 2: Clone Wars quite fondly from my youth. However, if you're trying to translate that sort of comedia dell'arte mask-donning into a persistent multiplayer community, you are missing the point. Online worlds serve as meeting grounds for approximations, exaggerations and malformations of our own personae. I will leave dressing up as a prefabricated personality to the disgustingly uncreative left wing of the IQ curve.

Ten years ago, a surprisingly high number of gamers were of the same opinion. You may or may not have heard that a faux-MMO called City of Heroes was sued by Marvel for copyright infringement because certain costume pieces could be assembled and colored in the likeness of existing superheroes. Marvel thankfully (and surprisingly, given how crooked the courts are) lost the suit, failing to successfully claim ownership over the concepts of regeneration or yellow spandex, but the case was ludicrous frivolity in more than one way. Rip-off characters were a non-issue. While a few copycat superheroes could always be seen running around the streets of Paragon City (especially when a new superhero movie came out) they were more often than not objects of derision. Most players tended to hit the randomizer buttons until they saw something visually appealing and I'd guess about a quarter of the population went to great lengths to create completely new, conceptually cohesive characters with long-winded, dramatic backstories, custom battle-cries and ridiculously detailed personalized hide-outs.

The basic point of RPGs is allowing the player to express an individual identity. It's not an RPG when personality and creativity are swept under the rug like shameful character faults in favor of corporate-approved marketable brands... which brings us from Marvel to DC. At least that one managed to latch onto what was always City of Heroes' primary draw: character creation. However, though I confess some curiosity as to what came of it and I'd love tromping about an appropriately gothy Gotham under the shadow of the Dark Knight, it's still not enough. These comics were not started as exercises in world and civilization-building as Tolkien's Middle-earth was, and the mere presence of their heroes effaces other considerations. Batman is unfortunately about Batman, not about Gotham. Leaving aside that I've never thought it possible to reconcile power-less Batman and all-mighty Superman within one continuity, I'm a classic Chaotic Neutral sort of wolf, so Gotham does not offer enough novelty and freedom for me.

Unlike either of the two examples above, City of Heroes was a true creative endeavor, however flawed. It distilled superheroic shenanigans down to basic archetypes and origins then attempted to build a world around... possibility. Not around Kryptonite or the Batmobile, but around the very precept of superheroism. Having tasted that wasted potential, the promise of walking in Batman's shadow is dwarfed by the promise of an entirely new world... and several new projects are promising to deliver.

I have yet to look too deeply into any of these three, but here's hoping at least one manages to capture the freedom of City of Heroes while not falling into the same idiotically dumbed-down gameplay mechanics. Merely copying CoH will not in itself yield a worthwhile product. The game failed for some very solid reasons. If all I get from your product is a character creator, I may as well just take some 3D design courses instead.

City of Titans
Heroes and Villains
Valiance Online

I want to dress up and punch gangsters again. Give me a reason to do so.

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