Pic of the day: Nothing can compare to the feeling of setting bullies on fire. (The center of the conflagration is my hero Moekoi, of which you may be lucky and see part of the yellow cape. 100% flameproof, tested on Usenet.) Screenshot from City of Heroes, of course.
One year ago I was invited into the closed beta test of the game City of Heroes. This was so secret, we were not even allowed to tell that we were in the beta. But I wanted to remember it, to capture that feeling of joy and excitement. So I wrote an entry where I disguised the fact but retained the feeling. I wrote it so that people who don't know me would think of something else, most likely an end to my many years of celibacy. The few readers who actually know me would realize how unlikely that would be: Not just because I am middle-aged and ugly, but because I haven't shown any interest in the local women. The very few women that I would have been excited to spend my evening with -- not to mention much of the night -- live so far away that I could not arrive there without careful planning. But even knowing that, it would take some really good guessing to figure out what had actually happened. It also took weeks before anyone did.
Perhaps it was a kind of infatuation after all. An online penpal of mine told me years ago that infatuation is not about a person: It is about the hope that now things will get so much better. I agree with this. Because humans are social creatures, infatuation tends to be about another person. But we can experience similar feelings when we look forward to something we really wish for: A vacation, a new car or a new home, a new job or a new computer. Things that we really believe can make a difference in our happiness. In reality, happiness is either decided at conception or at most modified during early childhood. Even major life events such as marriage or on the other hand loss of a limb will only change our happiness for a few months or at most a couple years. Gradually our mental thermostat will bring us back to our natural level of happiness, unless we are in constant pain (and possibly even then, if the pain is not actually increasing).
I have written much about City of Heroes since it was released officially near the end of April last year. Today I will not delve into the technical details, but rather the feeling. Because, good as it is, CoH is probably not the final apex of technological prowess even in online gaming. I have conceded as much in the past. The game is picky when it comes to video cards, running reluctantly on anything except NVIDIA. In sheer performance squeezed from the hardware, it lags behind World of Warcraft which is pretty impressive, and even the older Dark Age of Camelot will give photorealistic pictures and smooth animation on slightly cheaper hardware. On the high end, there is EverQuest II which is so ahead of its time that there is no PC available yet that can run it smoothly with all the graphic options on. But judging from the screenshots, it has the most astounding breasts of any major role playing game, so I suppose some will find it worth the wait.
Oh, CoH is good. The visual effects are stunning, and you can do things and see sights that just don't exist elsewhere. But that is not really its strength. The strength is in the atmosphere. The way the game really feels like a comic book come to life. Each hero and heroine is truly unique (unless you choose to clone someone, which is forbidden if they're not your invention). From the looks to the wide range of super powers, it is easy to make an identity that makes sense. Then you go out into the city, and it accommodates you. From muggers to monsters, from robots to zombies, it's all there.
You may think of them as cliches, but I think of them as toolkits to make your own superhero story, alive and moving, partly predictable but also with twists and turns. If you want to be a guy with "realistic" powers like martial arts, fighting "realistic" criminals, you can do that. After the first evening or so, you can start to specialize. Start with muggers and drug gangs, and in time you will fight mafia-type "family" and the Oriental Tsoo, and perhaps take on the hidden menace of a corporation steeped in shadowy deals. On the other hand, if you are a mystic with magical powers, perhaps you prefer to deal with evil mages summoning dark forces, or misshapen zombies that seek to increase their numbers. Are you a robot yourself, or perhaps you are inspired by "Magnus Robot Fighter"? There are plenty of robots being used for nefarious purposes, and it is up to your courage and skills to scrap them before the plans hatch.
But above all that, it is the feeling of flying up from the Steel Canyon with skyscrapers falling away behind you. Or leaping over tall buildings in a single bound. Or racing through the city with super-speed, everyone and everything a blur as you careen at an exhilarating pace, yourself a streak of movement to the gaping newcomers in Paragon City.
Even with all that, the greatest moment for me was a little bit into the beta testing. I was in the monumental Atlas Park, a beginning zone centered around the marble City Hall. As I was moving toward that bright and shining building, I saw other heroes in various colors and in various modes of movement, all converging together with me toward the same goal. And for a moment, one dizzying heartbeat, I was no longer sitting in front of my computer. I was THERE. A hero among heroes, called on to rescue and rebuild a broken city.
And that, my friends, is why City of Heroes is still part of my life. Several times a week I come back. Even though some things are routine where before I was amazed at the newness of it all, the feeling is still the same. Alone or together with other heroes, I live a few hours in a colorful dream.
"Whenever and wherever justice fades and evil gains the upper hand, at that time do I manifest. To free the innocent and utterly destroy the villains, and to restore the right way of life, I appear age after age." (Krishna, in Bhagavadgita 4, v 7-8.)
Also, I thoroughly enjoy setting bullies on fire. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE! (Just kidding. Seriously, I am just a mild-mannered journaler.)
Visit the ChaosNode.net for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.