Into the Super-Verse: Has Homecoming torched the plans of City of Heroes successors?

    
24
City again.

Anyone who has followed my career for a while is probably aware of the fact that I love City of Heroes. This is not a revelation or a surprise. I was writing about the game from pretty early on in my career up to the point that we finally waved goodbye to the title. This is a pretty big deal in my life. This also means that I have connections to the various people involved in the “Plan Z” titles like City of Titans and Ship of Heroes, games pitched and developed specifically with the intent of filling the space that CoH left behind when it shut down.

Except, well… that was the story back when the game did shut down. At this point, City of Heroes: Homecoming is a thing, along with an assortment of other rogue servers with smaller populations. And while this is pretty unambiguously a good thing for those of us who like the game and even just general community (I haven’t forgotten the majority of our crew running around in Paragon City, for example), I wonder if it might be a problem for these titles where the plan was and always has been to recreate the no-longer-very-defunct game.

Let’s be clear about two things. First and foremost, if it needs to be said, this is coming from a place of love rather than contempt. My place within the CoH community alone means that I’m naturally inclined to like the people trying to bring the game back in whatever form it takes, and I’ve personally met the people behind most of the “Plan Z” titles and had lovely conversations with them.

Second, though, it’s important to also note that these titles do still bear a certain amount of scrutiny just by the very nature of our job. City of Titans was Kickstarted to the tune of nearly $700,000, for example. While it’s not one of the more egregious Kickstarter crash-and-burn projects out there, it’s still in the general wheelhouse of scenarios wherein a bunch of people gave a company money on the promise of building a game.

So where is the game? And more importantly, what do the future for these titles look like? I feel like an instructive case to look at here is… oddly, Champions Online.

Bye forever!

Obviously, CO is not a project created in the wake of what happened to CoH. It is definitely a project that failed to capitalize on the moment in 2012 when that occurred, but “failing to hit the zeitgeist” is kind of the entire theme of CO, so let’s not dwell on that. But let’s also note that the game was developed specifically by some of the people who originally made CoH, the parts of the team that left with Cryptic instead of staying behind with NCsoft’s Paragon Studios. If anyone knows how to make what amounts to “more CoH,” it would have been this team.

But it is nothing like CoH.

All right, maybe that strikes you as a bit hyperbolic; both games feature superheroes and a robust costume creator and bland bulky men with stupid hats serving as the iconic face of the game. That part is pretty universal. But in terms of actual gameplay, CO is wildly different from CoH with its free-build option, as well as its build-and-spend power mechanics, its gear sets, and all the other changes it offers based on the same principles. The two titles have a big gulf between them in execution.

In some ways, this might have been a weakness for the game when it first launched because people who really enjoyed CoH weren’t immediately sure of what they were looking at with CO. (The bigger problem, of course, was that free creation was an unbalanced and unclear mess.) But the point is that regardless of which one you like better, you aren’t choosing between these two games based solely on their content.

It’s not just because CoH has CO beat in that department, although it does. It’s because the two games have very different gameplay approaches that you couldn’t mistake for one another. Especially now, if you’re playing CO, you’re doing so because it provides a gameplay experience that you simply can’t get anywhere else. It allows you to do certain things that are either difficult or impossible to replicate elsewhere.

And it’s here that we start running into problems. Because as near as I can tell, the goals of the various Plan Z games were always to make what amounted to CoH with a few coats of paint and some refinement. Which, you know… is also what all of the rogue servers are currently offering, with some powers and ideas that weren’t previously implemented.

Context can be a hell of a drug.

It's hip to be ship.

Now, when these games were initially being designed, this was in fact an eminently logical design decision to make in the first place. After all, these games were made to address the gigantic CoH-shaped hole in the marketplace. Making a game that was basically CoH with some tweaks and a more modern graphical engine was the logical design goal, with the added benefit that you didn’t need to spend quite as much time getting weighed down by some of the design details that the prior game had already figured out.

But that was then and this is now. And now, that CoH-shaped hole has been filled… by CoH itself. The game has come back in what is just shy of an official capacity, and we’re still hearing rumors that some official status is going to eventually happen from the title. This seems bizarre to me, but honestly, if NCsoft gets something for its trouble it’s functionally free money and doesn’t even have to worry about upkeep.

So what, exactly, is the marketing pitch now for the games that wanted to be CoH with slight tweaks? Because we’ve seen how well that business model works for other games promising to be X with tweaks, and those were usually much bigger projects with much bigger budgets and reaches.

The Plan Z titles were always going to be niche games, and that’s fine. A niche game is totally all right. So long as it can keep the staff paid and the server running, the only real problem comes when trying to overfill the niche. Too many games struggling to occupy the same niche leads to some of them going dark because they’re trying to fulfill a minor need that’s already been satisfied.

Sure, the cityscapes of City of Titans and Ship of Heroes look great. The player models for these games look nicely updated. The games look relatively attractive. But they’re also new and somewhat shaky projects when compared to CoH, and… well, you can actually just log in right now and play CoH if you want to. It’s a lot harder to convince people that you should jump ship from the established market leader when you’re doing 90% of what that existing game does with only a few tweaks.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but it’s hard not to be. I like the idea of these projects, I want them to do well, and I want good things to happen to the people behind them. But right now, I look at these titles and what I see are some good ideas and tweaks that are trying to serve as a replacement for something freely available… and that’s never a good sign.

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.
Advertisement

No posts to display

24
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Knight Porter

Have things changed significantly and I missed it? It feels like referring to CoH:Homecoming as something official is misleading.

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

Eliot didn’t refer to CoH Homecoming as official; here’s what he said:

“The game has come back in what is just shy of an official capacity, and we’re still hearing rumors that some official status is going to eventually happen from the title. This seems bizarre to me, but honestly, if NCsoft gets something for its trouble it’s functionally free money and doesn’t even have to worry about upkeep.”

Reader
Thomas T Gnome

I was very hopeful that CoT would come out with a true COH spiritual successor. What little they’ve given us, in all honestly, feels more like a COH/Champions Online Hybrid.

What we have so far is little more than a very basic character creation tool with more sliders than needed, with slide ranges that break the costumes available. Very disappointing.

Ship of Heroes? Haven’t followed them as closely as I, personally, just can’t get behind the setting as they’ve laid it out.

CO? Hate the art style, the stories are about on the same level as those provided by the pen and paper game publishers that it is based on. Love the Hero System for what it was, but there’s a reason that all the campaigns I’ve been in/run have made limited use of their supplements.

DCUO? Eh. It’s OK, but rather play something that’s a little more open ended than “you’re in the DC Universe, nothing outside of that concept is allowed.”

Marvel Heroes? Anyone remember that fiasco? Bleh.

I still would love to see COT as a fully developed game, but I’m not holding my breath.

Reader
Franklin Ross Allen

Let’s be real, City of Titans was never going to launch to begin with. It will never launch. CoH coming back has no impact on CoT.
Look at Vendetta Online, an MMO available on every platform except Consoles. Mac, PC, Linux, iOS, iPadOS, and Android. 4 person dev team, no Kickstarter. They made a game, in their spare time, put up a website and started charging a subscription then started porting it to everything with an easily accessable and affordable devkit.
If CoT was going to launch it would have happened already. That Kickstarter money has been squandered.

Reader
IronSalamander8 .

I’m not playing it that much as it always felt weird to play unofficially and I had years of progress, badges, and so on with my actual account so missing all that too is a mess for me.

None of the successors really grab me, even though I have a lifetime to CO and backed CoT at a low level. CO has always felt half-baked and lackluster, and all the current ones feel too much like they’re just worse versions of CoH, and while I love CoH, it can definitely use some improvements. I’d love to have an official CoH2, or at least a successor that captures that feeling of CoH while also advancing things that feel outdated.

Reader
Franklin Ross Allen

Yeah, every time I do something I had already achieved many times over in the official game I just long for having my original list of Heroes and Villians back.

Reader
Castagere Shaikura

COH is free to play. But some people may not like rogue servers. It will be interesting to see what happens. COH could get the OK from NCsoft before those games come out.

Reader
Jeremy Zharkov

I think if the finished products are available on Steam, then it would attract a whole new audience

Of course the catch is, they do seem very CoH-ish which might turn off/confuse people not familiar with CoH

Reader
Aluminum Man

The whole successor effort has been disappointing – all of them. Yes, we all heard it early on – “small team”, “doing it in their spare time/volunteers”, “MMO development takes -years-” etc. etc. While all of these are true to a degree it’s been just about 9 years since CoH (The First Incarnation) went offline. That’s a lot of years to get something done – and nothing has really gotten done. Short videos running around a cityscape, lore, and subscription-available “alpha” builds don’t get to call themselves a game.

City of Titans posts something on their FB page about once a month

Ship of Heroes last posted on theirs in March

Valiance Online FB page: last update July 2021

Heroes & Villains (remember them?) doesn’t appear to have a social media presence but the most recent post in their forum is from January

I suspect that whatever lingering energy was left with these projects was heavily impacted by the re-emergence of Paragon City. Whether that was people leaving the team, donations drying up, or a general lack of urgency once the original was playable again I think it’s undeniable that it’s had an impact.

Reader
styopa

The excessive plethora of CoHclones were bound to be fratricidal. I feared it would be so bad that they would fragment the playerbase too badly to make ANY economically viable.

I’m still not entirely convinced that Homecoming is economically self-sustaining.

The original business plan for all of them – as you said – was “CoH with a fresh coat of paint”. Well, Homecoming has delivered that. Now what’cha got?

As far as the evaporated Kickstarter money, caveat emptor. I feel nothing for people dumb/gullible enough to hand over actual money on a promise to people they didn’t know. I don’t know if there was a good faith effort to make the game or a janky scam. I genuinely don’t care. (shrug)

Reader
Roger Christie

Homecoming never has to turn on the contributions to pay the bills for more than a few hours.

Reader
styopa

Opening the occasional “GoFundMe” style with a motivated public saying “help we need to pay the bills” is, I think, something intrinsically different than long term economic viability.

AFAIK most of Homecoming is supported and run by volunteers? (But I haven’t paid attention for some time to that.) At some point the opportunity cost of their time on the project – as much as it may be a labor of love for now – may increase as well.

Reader
Hikari Kenzaki

They’ve gotten to the point that no one dev is irreplaceable. That was the point of dispensing the code to everyone.
And just to be clear, it’s not an occasional go fund me. Every month, they open up donations for monthly operating costs (no more, no less) and it funds in hours (at most).

Reader
Hikari Kenzaki

City of Heroes set the bar at a high mark. It’s why CO has never been, never can be, a true replacement for CoH. CO just doesn’t get over the bar.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a bar to jump over. It can be done.

However, you can’t just set out one day and decide “I’m going to make a video game” without at least some knowledge, skill, training, and talent.

Homecoming did not stop City of Titans or Valiance from producing anything remotely resembling a game client from 2011 to 2019. It’s an excuse no one should be making for them.

So yes, it’s a high bar to beat CoH at its own game, but that doesn’t mean its the fault of private CoH servers that Plan Z games haven’t produced a game yet.

Reader
Natalyia

I think it’s telling that of the post-shutdown projects, only Ship of Heroes has a game client they can give to someone not on the dev team and let them log in and play a game. Create a character, get powers, do some missions.

That’s a huge accomplishment, and that none of the original “Plan Z” titles have managed it means Homecoming and other non-official servers haven’t “torched” them – there’s not enough kindling there to light a fire.

Everything I’ve seen from them is stuff in dev tools or commercial editing programs. I’ve yet to see a demo (even from the teams) of someone creating an account, starting the client, logging in and playing the game – whatever of the game there would have been at that point.

Until you can do that? Give someone at MOP an installer and let them create an account and log in and play? There’s no “game” there to “torch.” There’s a collection of talented folks pursuing a dream.

That’s admirable, but it’s not a game. And until I see a Ship of Heroes level dive into any of the Plan Z projects here? I don’t believe there’s a game there for the private servers to “torch.”