A View from Atlas Park: “Greatly Exaggerated”

It is now nearly three months since CoH officially launched, with players possibly being inside Paragon City for around 8 months if they got into the first wave of closed beta. If CoH was a non-mmog, then this would probably be the end of its life – three months is an eternity on the shelves of your local games store and by now those ancient games will be tucked away in a corner or lying underneath newer, shinier stock. (In fact, Doom3 has reportedly gone gold, so expect to see lots of games stuffed into a corner so the Doom3 normal editions, collector’s editions and related Doom3 merchandise can be given pride of place… for about three months.)

But CoH is a massively multiplayer online game. This means that three month point is only the beginning in terms of game features, content and options. The first big update (know as Issue 1: Through the Looking Glass) is out and, despite catering to those at the high end of the security levels, has generally met with postive reaction. Future updates are planned. The membership base is reportedly expanding. CoH has also generally received favourable reports from computer-game reviewers.

Yet a certain type of thread has started to appear on the forums with increasing regularity. It’s the “CoH is dead”-thread, or versions thereof. In short, the authors of these messages say that CoH is dying or already dead. Why? Three main reasons are given – 1) that it isn’t fun anymore, 2) that their in-game friends have gone, and 3) that other games offer more – but all end on a fairly pessimistic note, declaring CoH doomed.

Which could be true. But there is a lot of evidence that points to the contrary. First off, CoH has had arguably one of the best launches of any mmog ever. Very few bugs on launch day and lots of good press came out of launch. Membership figures have reportedly hit around 200 000 players. The servers are at near-capacity during peak times. Players in-game are generally positive about CoH when I’ve spoken to them about it (which isn’t a highly objective way of gauging public opinion, but neither is scanning the forums).

CoH certainly isn’t flawless and isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But to misquote Mark Twain, the reports of CoH’s impending death are greatly exaggerated.

However, the three issues that the doomsayers raise should be examined. There is truth in some of the rants that could be considered in improving the experience CoH offers.

    [li] For those who say the game isn’t fun, well, that’s a very subjective measure. No one game (no, not even The Sims 2, despite the claims) will satisfy everybody. Personally I love the concept of building a “story” around my character from his / her “adventures” in Paragon City. CoH combat is fast-paced and exciting. I’m still having fun with it. But I also recognise that fighting the good fight is all there is to do in Paragon City. Combat won’t remain interesting forever to all players, so perhaps more needs to be offered in terms of things to do. I’m not saying that trade skills are needed (because they aren’t) but perhaps something else can be offered.

    One of CoH’s main strengths is the amount of customisation available to heroes’ costumes – perhaps this could be expanded further, with special missions giving access to limited-edition costume changes (STOP PRESSES: I’ve just seen that capes will be introduced soon and possibly unlocked through a mission. Statesman – game designer or psychic: you decide!). Or that headquarters (when implemented) will also have a lot of options available for players to choose from. I don’t know how it will work, but I would like to see those players who want something more than combat get some choices. Mini-games, anyone?

    [li] In my time in Paragon City, I’ve noticed that I rarely see the same hero twice. Sure, it’s a big city, but this can make it difficult to build any kind of relationship with other players – basically, if you don’t add a hero to your Friends list the first time you team up with them, you’ve probably missed your chance. When you do add them to your Friends list, there is also a good chance they will disappear offline at some point, never to be seen again. I’m sure that some of these players do quit CoH, but I’m also sure that many players create a new character and start again. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does leave lots of people with Friends / Supergroup lists full of deleted heroes.

    What would be nice (and also reduce the limited griefing that occurs) would be to give every player some way to track other players. One idea would be to give each player account a unique number that appears on all their hero ID’s. If you’ve played with a character for a while who then disappears, it would then be possible to find their alt further down the line. Players could also use the ID number to avoid players who have reputations for griefing, regardless of the alt they were currently using. It would certainly make player behaviour interesting once City of Villains came out (eg “Hey, that ID number matches the villain who killed me five times yesterday! NO TEAM FOR YOU!”).

    [li] Other games will always offer more or something different. I read one thread complaining that CoH wasn’t like the Spiderman 2 console games. This is a stupid comparison – Spiderman 2 is a single player game, designed to let one player be the centre of the action. CoH is a mmog, designed to let hundreds of players experience it at the same time. The scale of the games is completely different. Other threads say how World of Warcraft (WoW) offers what they want. That’s fine too – it’s a different game with a different focus. Personally, I find fantasy-genre games to be as dull as dishwater, but that’s me.

    Finally, players will often mention how they are leaving (or waiting to leave) CoH for The Next Big Thing (eg The Matrix Online, WoW, Tabula Rasa). This is the most supercilious argument of all, because until the game is released, you won’t know how it plays or even what’s in it. Instead, most unreleased mmogs (CoH included) build up player expectations about what they will have. Some of these expectations are unrealistic, while others are implicitly fed by devs until the game is launched… and then players find that their Favourite Feature (or three) was excluded from launch. I don’t know how Cryptic could improve CoH for this issue – players are always attracted to latest, shiniest thing – but the lack of information around CoV is certainly keeping player hopes alive that CoH will be able to give them exactly what they want in a game over the long term.


*”SPIDERMAN 2″ SPOILERS BELOW*

I saw “Spiderman 2” last week and really enjoyed it. It was certainly better than the first film. It did some things wrong (eg all of the women in the film are victims with no real backbone, Spiderman still doesn’t have the classic one-liners) but it also did a lot of things right. Swinging through the city was still fantastic to see, even if Spiderman did look a little too shiney.

But my favourite moments in the film are those that have the human touch. Seeing Peter Parker / Spiderman’s face as he attempts to stop the train as a mess of concentration, panic and effort; the “he’s just a kid” moment; Harry Osborn’s internal dilemma on finding out his best friend and enemy are one-and-the-same; seeing Mary Jane’s face fall as she watches Peter Parker swing away for the first time at the end of the film – all these and more gave “Spiderman 2” a bigger soul than so many other blockbuster films out this year.

Spiderman’s greatest attribute is that he lives a tragically human life as Peter Parker, full of recognisable, everyday misfortune. It was great to see some of those moments appear in the film beside the CGI and special effects. Here’s hoping that “Spiderman 3” keeps up the trend… and that Joel Schumacher is kept well away from it!

– UnSub [email protected] 21 July 2004

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