Into the Super-verse: A possible glimpse into City of Heroes 2

Oh my.

In 2010, popular video game network MTV noted that NCsoft had filed an interesting trademark for a possible City of Heroes 2. While companies file trademarks all the time without always following up on them, these legal efforts do indicate intent and options. For a community that was greatly devoted to the superhero MMORPG, the thought of a sequel was intriguing. What would it be like? How would it tie into the first game, if at all? And could Paragon Studios actually pull off developing and operating two MMOs simultaneously?

As we well know, this never came to be. Instead, the original City of Heroes was closed down in 2012 and crowdfunded spiritual successors sprang up left and right to carry on the torch. It was rightly assumed that any possible sequel was canned with Paragon Studios, and everyone pretty much forgot about it.

Except that around the time that City of Heroes’ server code resurfaced back in April, so did an interesting PDF that claimed to be a concept proposal for City of Heroes 2 from 2008. It was on Reddit for about two days before being yanked (because you can only tempt the legal deities so far), but copies were dispersed and I had time to peruse it. While I’m not going to repost the document or images from it here, I did want to share a possible glimpse into what could have been, if indeed this document is legit. Even if it isn’t, it’s interesting to consider what a sequel might have been like.

From concept to launch in four years

The alleged concept document in question begins by going through City of Heroes’ history, noticing that by 2008 it had over a million registered accounts, 13 released issues, and a then-current playerbase of 107,000 gamers with an all-time high of 165,000.

With the superhero genre heating up in both movies and TV (hilariously, the document cites Heroes as a hit example of this), the company said that it was a prime time to consider a sequel, especially since City of Heroes was a fully owned and fully controlled IP in the NCsoft family. The target date for release? Ironically, it was supposedly going to be 2012.

The mission statement for this sequel was that “City of Heroes 2 makes the player feel unique and powerful.” To accomplish this, a “Character Creator 2.0” would be created with costumes that leveled up, customizable powers (which were also starting to be introduced into City of Heroes back then), and some sort of offline progression along the lines of day jobs.

Everything is better with 2.0

In fact, much of this proposed City of Heroes 2 sounds as though it was designed to take features from the first game and run with it, such as flexible alignment, a nemesis system, and an updated mission architect. Many of these ideas obviously got incorporated into the original game between 2008 and 2012, so what sounded fresh and new back were old hat. This was intentional, as the studio wanted to experiment with features in the live game to see if they were worth porting over to the sequel.

Other ideas tossed about for the follow-up were a “console accessible” combat system, better enemy AI, destructible environments, giant monster fights, and something called “player generated epic battles.”

According to the document, about 60 developers were slated to work on the project along with additional outsourced contractors. Production was supposed to begin in 2010, with alpha and beta testing in 2011 and the launch at the end of 2012.

City of Heroes 2 will innovate on key elements to retake our title of best superhero MMO in 2012,” NCsoft wrote. The company said that integration between the two City of Heroes game would be robust and a core design element rather than creating barriers between the game.

A moot point?

One of the reasons that this PDF feels authentic to me is that it is only partially complete, with many details such as the game’s projected budget and City of Heroes’ lifetime revenue left (purposefully?) blank. There’s also a defunct link to a concept video that I would have loved to watch, but alas is not to be.

So what to make of all of this? On one hand, you could say that while interesting, this is all a moot point because it didn’t happen and won’t happen. But it does show us that, if this is true, NCsoft was throwing support behind a sequel a little over a decade ago – or at least that Paragon was trying to get NCsoft to do so. It can drive you mad with the thought of an alternate universe where not only did City of Heroes continue on but an integrated sequel came onto the market.

That said, we live in our universe, and while City of Heroes is enjoying a new life of sorts, our superhero gaming future rests in the hands with those who were inspired by this game and are doing their best to carry that vision forward.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Eliot Lefebvre and Justin Olivetti covering superhero MMORPGs, past, present, and future! Come along on patrol as Into the Super-verse avenges the night and saves the world… one column at a time.
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