Coded blue.

Sunday 17 March 2002

Screenshot City of Hero logo

Pic of the day: The official logo from the teaser movie.

City of Heroes RPG

Like, wheeeeee! It looks like there will actually be a superhero computer game before the world ends (unless the world ends before fall 2002, which it probably won't if it's up to us humans ... we don't have that capability until 2005 at the earliers, though we could of course end most multicellular life at any time which would also effectively stop game development for quite a few million years).

There is ... not quite a rumor, but something carefully hinted at, in the gaming industry: Superhero games are cursed. There have been attempts. Most famously the people who made Master of Magic, one of the cult hits of all time; they decided to take on a superhero game. I think it was called Agents of Justice or some such. There were cool screenshot, gameplay was tested. Then they started to rewrite the whole thing from the bottom. I'm not sure how often they did this, but it was never released, and the labs were closed down.

My theory is that it's all due to the babes. That is to say, female heroes. Heroines, whatever. The comics are bad enough. With all the nerd boys engaged in 3D modelling hyper-boobied babes, it is no wonder they never get finished. And yes, the babes are back in City of Heroes, with a vengeance. And no, it isn't finished, isn't even in beta test. Hmm...


What already is, however, is a community. This is the age of Aquarius ... eh, the Internet. So whenever someone has a good idea, it starts to aggregate stuff on the Internet, like a magnet in a bucket of iron filings. There are message boards, fan sites, and of course innumerable wannabe heroes already out of the phone booth. Whatever happens to the game, some of those just won't go back in easily.


The thought of a multiplayer superhero game does waken the panting fanboy in me. I love superhero comics. (Even though those are not the only comics I read, they used to be the core.) I also enjoyed the movie unbreakable, about a guy who discovers that he has some moderate superpowers. Many of my fiction characters are kind of superheros, just not of the typical cape and boots type. They are larger than life characters; who wants to read about smaller than life characters anyway? Or even life size? You might just as well read an online diary!

The teasers so far look good. There should be dozens of superpowers (40, many with subpowers) and each character can have from 3 to 8. There will be many different body and uniform traits, each of which can be chosen independently and colored from a decently large palette. In effect, even if the game should become a huge hit, you would be unlikely to find two characters that look the same and have the same powers, unless they have decided on it beforehand.

2-5000 players on one server may seem a lot; but it is set in a metropolis of millions of citizens; I am sure watching over 1000 innocents will be hectic enough. However, only the most legendary superheroes will get in the newspapers and have statues in the parks. That's OK by me, mind you. I don't aspire to the top tier. Simply being more than human suits me just fine.

An intriguing facet of the game is that if you don't show up for a while, your fame declines, and this adversely affects the playing experience. The core gamers will probably be Scandinavians on a disability pension, as few others will be able to put in 16 hours a day of superhero playing. But there should be odd jobs for the casual player too, even though NPCs won't stop and wave at you when you fly by ...


I'm not sure how different the game would really be from the massive multiplayer RPG I already play, Dark Age of Camelot. It is a totally different genre, and the graphics will be very different indeed. But the basic concept seems similar. A magic user, such as my Prismagrrl, already is very similar to a superhero. Energy blasts, adding energy to weapons, a force field that slows down incoming attacks, the ability to summon short-lived energy beings that fight for the hero ... it could all be adapted into a superhero comic book with ease. And my paladin's healing chant would be a mutant healing power that only works when in danger. It is really a matter of perspective. And uniforms. Gaudy colored and tight-fitting threads makes for a superhero; wide flowing robes for a wizard.

Even so, it should draw in some new players that are less comfortable with the idea of spells and elves and levels. (There will be no levels in City of Heroes, I am happy to say - you buy power-up and skills for your exp much like in GURPS. About time someone got that right!)

Life and health allowing, you will probably see me write about this in more detail this summer or fall. But you can already read up on it yourself, starting with the official homepage. Happy superheroing!

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