A View from Atlas Park: Bah, Humbug!

Christmas time has come to Paragon City and with it some Christmas events. I’ve enjoyed the CoH events I’ve taken part in, but generally feel that they have tended to lack something. Halloween 2004 was great, with large groups of players gathering around doors trying to get the full set of badges. Winter 2005 was okay, but gave out way too much XP and led to some of the ugliest scenes of spawn camping I’ve ever seen in this game (plus I missed on the Cold Warrior badge due to said spawn camping, but anyway…). The Rularuu Invasion was just painful due to the overpowered nature of the Rularuu, with players dying to small groups of green-con (ie lower level) bad guys. Thus far, I think the Christmas 2005 event(s) sit higher up in the list of CoH events in terms of quality, but again, it lacks that special something.

As much as I enjoy the free jetpack, it rivals the Assault Weapon in terms of ugly design. It’s colours are bad, the music it plays just tinkles on and on and as you fly it vomits out snowflakes behind you. Sorry to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it’s not really something I’ll miss when it goes.

The “Save the Christmas Presents” mission (haven’t yet done the villain equivalent, but can’t believe they’d be too different) was a bit of a let-down as well. When I boarded the helicopter, I expected to go on a couple of missions to “save Christmas”, but no, it was just the one. The addition of indoor and outdoor mission areas was a nice touch, but the outdoor area was too small – I’d Super Leap through and apparently empty area, only to hit a blue wall. Inside, well, I could have stealthed the entire mission and had it done in half the time.

I’m still looking towards whatever Gamester is going to offer, simply because it sounds interesting. Gamester could be an interesting character, and I wonder if he / she / they are going to be like Mr Mxyzptlk (goofy trickster) or like Arcade (murderous maze builder) or a combination of the two. However, judging from the website material, he obviously had a previous job as speechwriter for the Superfriend’s version of the Riddler.

(As an update since the Gamester material is now available, it looks like Gamester is a bit of a cross between both the Halloween 2004 and Winter 2005 event in how it runs. You find presents and open them, which will give you either a Nice present or Naughty Frosties to fight.)

Still, to this point CoH hasn’t appeared to be able to capitalise on the comic tradition of large, world ending events, with heroes having to fight to bring the world back from the brink. At the end of the CoH beta, the Rikti invaded most zones in Paragon City, requiring a focused effort by heroes to stop them. This shows that Cryptic certainly has the technology to do something that spans multiple zones, and not just put a large monster in a few locations and let heroes beat them to slush.

In general, there’s also been a distinct lack of story impact behind the events. Finding out that the Winter Lord was coming before he arrived was very interesting, but he came, he went and nothing changed. It didn’t matter how many times he was beaten because being beaten was the entire point of his existance. What would be nice would be an event was held where there was the chance of success or failure in an event having some sort of overall impact on CoH. Getting some new clothes options is nice, but they really don’t mean that much in terms of memorable game play. I’d rather have an event where failure actually has a penalty.

For example: I’m hoping that the reappearance of the Reichsman is treated as more than just mission fodder. Can you imagine if it was a real, long-term event? It starts up with the Fifth Column reappearing out of nowhere and ambushing random heroes across all the zones. The Fifth Column also start fighting the Council, crashing their bases and attacking them in preference to heroes. Perhaps one or two missions are created where heroes can investigate the re-emergence of the Fifth Council, but it’s all teasers at this point.

Next, strange craft start appearing in the sky – craft that are labeled “Fifth Column”, but look very different to the equipment we are used to seeing associated with these guys (which the Council appropriated anyway). Finally, in a video-taped event (which Cryptic could create and release using the in-game engine) the Reichsman shows up and vows to take over all of Paragon City. What’s more, he can do it too. At random intervals, the Fifth Column would appear in a zone and start to take over the zone, setting up gun turrets and mobile bases. The longer they are given, the more area they take over. The longer they control an area, the more they take it over. Buildings get converted and covered in Fifth Column logos. Statues within controlled zones are all turned into statues of the Reichsman. Given enough time, the Fifth Column could completely convert a zone to their style, leading to an area that was much more hostile for heroes to enter. They would control these areas until they were driven out – something that could be given as a mission or as a Task Force. The Reichsman could appear in these controlled zones to watch his troops at work. Heroes would face a large scale battle to drive the Fifth Column out of these zones, with success “freeing” the zone from the bad guy’s influence. Until the areas were cleared, shops would be shut and the trainer would be unavailable to let players level up.

I’m not saying the above idea is the greatest in the world, but it comes from the perspective that success has to mean something, while failure also has to mean something. At the heart of the CoH / CoV game mechanic is that fighting opponents gives you influence / infamy and XP, so having events that just offer more of the same means very little in terms of a memorable game experience. An event that has a long-reaching impact – something that players could go, “hey, remember how it was before…” – would be a step in the right direction for CoH as it looks towards new things for 2006.


It was announced this week that Marvel and Cryptic have settled their lawsuit. As happens when things settle, the exact terms of the settlement are kept secret, so we don’t know what was promised to whom. However, expect Cryptic to still crack down on players attempting to recreate established intellectual property in CoH / CoV (as they should do and were doing before this lawsuit even started).

Marvel likely settled after some initial findings went against them and their strongest arguments were removed from the lawsuit. They could have kept going on what they had, but since all they really want is for Cryptic to not allow players to create Marvel IP in CoH / CoV, it probably wasn’t worth it. The other reason to settle, as I see it, is to separate CoH / CoV from the Marvel MMOG project, which is exclusive to the Xbox 360 and is to be created by Sigil Games Online (well, according to some news sources I’ve seen – it certainly doesn’t appear on Sigil’s website).

Now, as I guessimated before, I think that Marvel may see some benefit in possibly going with Cryptic to create their Xbox 360-exclusive MMOG. While Sigil has some credentials in terms of online game creation (being founded by Everquest developers… which can mean whatever you want it to mean!) it is still yet to even get its first product into the market – called Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and being paid for by Microsoft Game Studios – and isn’t scheduled to until “sometime in 2006”. As such, the Marvel MMOG would likely start development several months after Vanguard’s release, so perhaps 2007 might see something happen. That’s a long time to wait for Marvel to get a MMOG into the market, which has already been on the cards since (from memory) 2002, with not a day yet spent actually creating it.

Having a Marvel MMOG may not be important to Marvel, in which case they’ll wait. Assuming it has normal development times, this would likely see the Marvel MMOG release some time in 2009 or 2010. If it is important to Marvel to get their characters online, going with a developer who has experience creating what they want to be created (ie a superhero massively multiplayer online game) would likely see it created more quickly, with Cryptic being the prime candidate. Under this plan, Marvel gets the benefits of having an experienced development team who could tweak an existing engine to create the MMOG they want. Cryptic gets to expand their range of titles in a way that won’t likely cannibalise their existing market because it’s on a different platform and would allow more money to roll in. NCSoft would get another title to add to its list of online games. Microsoft would finally get a major MMOG for Xbox Live that has been promised for so long (hello, Citizen Zero!). Everybody could see an upside.

Of course, this trivialises the difficulty of shifting PC developers to the Xbox 360 platform, the time required to create all the content for the new Marvel MMOG and completely ignores the issue that I may just be a crank. Perhaps maybe contracts and personality differences would stop such things from happening, even if they were seriously considered. But if you did want something like that to happen, the first step would be to stop suing the company who might be making a game for you a few years down the track.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

– UnSub [email protected] 20 December 2005

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