Monday, November 17, 2014

City of Heroes - Gone But Not Forgotten

Like so many other fans, I miss it. I miss Atlas Park. City of Heroes was my home game since the "Going Rogue" expansion in 2009, and I played it until server shutdown in 2012. I had been introduced to it by my boyfriend, who played City of Heroes from day 4 of the first live release in 2004 right through to server shutdown.

On November 30, 2012 NCSoft shut down Paragon Studios. Their official statement regarding why they shuttered the studio was basically that Paragon was unprofitable, the game was not profitable, and NCSoft couldn't find a buyer that was willing to pay the $80M asking price for the IP.

[image grabbed from]

The servers went down on Nov. 30, 2012, with many players online on their servers to say goodbye to the game, and to each other. Some hung out in Pocket D, the nightclub where social gatherings always seemed to be going on. Many met at the statue of Atlas in Atlas Park and stood around chatting for the game's last few hours. There were still missions being run and battles being fought, but when server shut-down warnings started flashing and scrolling, people began to congregate in central locations on their servers - many hovering above in the skies looking down on the gatherings going on below.

There are a lot of videos put up on YouTube by CoH gamers, and many of them are quite poigniant. Farewell cards from a community to each other, all seeming to say "we will never forget."

During the year following server shut-down, several fans and developers got together to try and bring City of Heroes back. This group eventually split into different groups - all working to give the fans of CoH something to hold on to.

Nate Downes, president of Missing Worlds Media, launched a Kickstarter called "The Phoenix Project - City of Titans" in 2013 to raise funds for a possible successor to City of Heroes called City of Titans. It ultimately raised double its original goal of approximately $320,000. Missing Worlds Media is a community-based media studio. Most of the people who do work for the studio are fans and other volunteers, all working together to help rebuild worlds that will be new, yet familiar. Mr. Downes is engaged in negotioations with NCSoft to either acquire the IP or, to license it in order to possibly bring back CoH in maintenance mode. This is a completely separate project, unrelated to the City of Titans project. He released a statement in the City of Titans forum on Sept. 1, 2014 regarding the progress of negotiations:

For those unaware, my name is Nate Downes. While I am the President of Missing Worlds Media, Inc, I am also a member of the City of Heroes community, and an advocate. A series of circumstances put me in to a unique position, to reach out to NCSoft, not as the company president, but as a member of a small group with the goal to acquire the older property in some form or another.

Early on, this group, which included a few people from MWM as well as other members of the community, made the intentional choice to not directly involve CoT in the negotiations. There are a few reasons for this. It prevented the discussions from negatively impacting the project should they go wrong. It also prevented them from distracting any development. And, most importantly, if this should work out, it would be incredibly unfair for only one segment of the community to benefit.

How it began.

In September of last year, I had lucked into a chance meeting with a few people who worked for NC Soft, including a manager. They advised me then to come back later on to talk with them. While I'd kept the dialog channel open, the general consensus was that no, the company would never sell City of Heroes complete and intact.

Then IronWolf posted the idea of buying up part of the game, but not the entire thing. This prompted me to ask my contact people, who through several discussions eventually advised me to talk to a single person, NC Soft's Business Manager Jae Soo Yoon. In addition, we had some other people who were ex-employees and ex-partners suggest the very same person.

For those who do not know Korean business methods, it is considered highly rude to directly email someone, but to instead get an introduction from a third party business associate. This meant we had to find someone who was not part of NC Soft to formally introduce us to Mr. Yoon. Fortunately, we had two people who could do just that, a former NC West employee and a former co-worker of mine who had started a media company which works with NC Soft on developing properties for the Asian market.

Introductions in place, we made the leap from US-bound people to members of the Korean firm. This was very carefully done, very slowly orchestrated. By July, we had gotten to the point that Mr. Yoon had passed us to Sangwon Chung from NC Soft's Strategic Partnership Development Team.

For those who are unfamiliar, this is the group which handles things such as partnering with an existing studio or the development of new partnerships. This is the group we have been working with since early July. It is a very slow process, and still will take a long time to conclude.

The proposal as it stands right now (this is not a final form, just the current proposal on the table) is this:

The CoH IP would be spun to its own company, to handle licensing. This company would itself license the existing engine from NCSoft for the creation of a maintenance mode, using a binary copy of the i23 server.

The existing user database and characters are not part of this arrangement at this time, nor is the source code.

An arrangement is to be made to license the trademarks to the various Plan Z projects, CoT, Valiance and H&V, to create a family connection, and to allow each to drop the “Spiritual” portion of successor. This means they can make references to the original game if desired, and to enable the expansion of partnerships. This could be expanded for any of them, should the desire be there.

An arrangement is also to be made for the Atlas Park Revival project. As part of the informal agreement we have with them, they would be given an official stamp of approval, and the CoT game build would be licensed to them, to create a kind of “CoH 1.5” and migrate people off of the classic game engine before it finally becomes unsuitable (we expect this to happen around when Windows 9 is released, due to binary compatibility). This can be done because both APR and CoT run on Unreal Engine 4.

By being its own firm, the licensing company can also pursue other avenues which were unavailable before.

Why this group?

Because we approached them like another Korean company. We respected their company culture. And most importantly, we were patient. We had periods where we heard nothing for weeks.
The group itself began as three people. It has grown, some people more connected to the inner workings than others. Some former Cryptic and Paragon employees have given us advise on things ranging from what is needed to run the old server binaries to how the Paragon Market worked.

So, why come forward now?

Back in March, we were advised to wait until after August as a show of good faith. It is now September, so here we are.

Since we could not give full details to anyone without jeopardizing the whole thing before now, a lot of misinformation, rumors, and flat out wrong ideas got out there. To correct them could have broken the request, and therefore the trust, built up. So we had to let them stir, and do minor nudges to fix when we could get away with it.

So where are we now?

Right now, still discussing terms, ideas, limits. The challenges we have been given we stepped up for and handled. Likely there will be discussions and adjustments right up until the moment the deal is signed. The whole thing may fall apart. For all we know, everything done so far has been nothing but a delaying tactic so they can say once again that they tried to work with the community to no avail. But until such time that becomes clear, we will continue forward in good faith.

They could have ignored us from day 1, but they did not. They may not operate at the pace we would like, but they are at the pace they are comfortable with. At this point, the ball is in their court.

Ultimately, it is not the dozen folk here who have been in talks with are important here, but all of you. Those who said what you wanted, what you’d hoped for, who did not give up. We’re still not there, may never make it there, but we are not even close to giving up. And whatever happens, we can do it together.

Thanks to all of you."

Another project in the works with a similar goal is called Valiance Online. It's being developed by Silverhelm Studios,and has been running a pre-alpha version on test servers. According to posts on their Facebook page and other forums, development is going well. I looked at the forums on their webpage, but it seems that it's set up mostly for developers to communicate with each other right now. The ideas and images that are being shared there and on the Facebook page make me think that this is a game that I could get into once it's in final release.

As much as I miss my City, I am looking forward to seeing how these other games and their communities will compare. Granted, nothing will ever be exactly like it was. Hopefully these new games will at least come close.

Raven is an author and cosplayer who really misses Paragon City.

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