The unexpected return of CoH

After reviving my new PC, I was casting about for a game to play, to take advantage of all its glorious 2019 power.

And I ended up playing a game from 2004, and it’s a game I never expected to play again—City of Heroes.

It turned out a community-run CoH server had been running stealthily for awhile now, but recent drama forced it into the open. Currently the team has moved servers (to Canada, woo), expanded their number and opened the whole thing up to the public. They are billing this version of the game Issue 26: Homecoming, incorporating the code that was on the test server and about to go live when the game development ended in August 2012, three months before shutting down entirely.

The experience of going back has been both weird and nostalgic. There are some necessary tweaks—all of the paid content has been moved to an in-game contact and is free to “buy.” Veteran Rewards essentially don’t exist. But for the most part, this is CoH as it was in 2012, with all of its improvements and similarly, all of its janky qualities faithfully preserved.

As I toodle around with new versions of old characters, I shift between the delight of playing a game I never imagined being able to play again, and being freshly irritated by its many original and questionable design decisions, like Council base maps, for example. The near-Escher design of the original office maps is worth highlighting, too. They feel like a social experiment that would end with all participants going mad and murdering each other.

At the same time, it’s still a refreshing take on the MMORPG formula. Released before WoW, it entirely ignored a lot of the familiar trappings, allowing you to take on vast groups of enemies and feel truly powerful—too powerful, in fact. The nerfs would come and this version of the game carefully preserves all of the game balance changes made over CoH’s eight year life. You can still be pretty powerful now, so it’s okay.

I have no idea how long the servers will last, so in the back of my mind I am always thinking “This could be the last chance I have to see these characters” but so far NCsoft has not applied its might in shutting it down, and efforts are underway to have them sanction an official community server. Stranger things have happened.

Finally, I will note that this unexpected appearance has definitely impacted the contributions I’ve made recently to this blog. And writing in general. Probably not a good thing. But if history repeats itself, I’ll ease up and go back to the usual excuses for not writing.

WoW Report #2

I never actually logged back in and the three day free trial expired.

This concludes my return to WoW.

I’ll next have a look when they launch the “classic” server expected this summer. With lots of grind and all the rough edges lovingly restored, this promises to be a good bludgeoning of nostalgia. I think it may be worth one month’s subscription.

WoW Report #1

Before I stopped playing WoW last time, I moved the game off the SSD and back onto my old-timey HDD. It definitely loaded faster on the SSD, but performance otherwise seemed to be about the same on the hard disk.

Tonight I logged in after many months away, the game fully patched and shiny. I then experienced some of the worst non-network related lag I’ve ever seen in the game. The framerate went from a high of 60 to as low as 18. Your framerate should never dip below legal gambling age. It was unplayable bad, which prompted me to stop playing. It’s possible the game was caching files after being moved back to the hard disk, but whatever it was, it did not leave me with a burning urge to try again.

But I will, for science!

Tomorrow.

WoW, a free weekend

This weekend World of Warcraft is free for previous players–like me!

I’ll probably poke around, but I think it will only remind me of how I hanker for a massively multiplayer game world that is like WoW, but somehow better. Less focused on combat, more focused on just doing stuff and exploring the world.

Or maybe I just want a good single player RPG.

On a semi-related note, I’ve had several dreams about City of Heroes (2004-2012) recently. This is weird because I pretty much never dream about games and nothing has happened lately to prompt me to have dreams about it. Maybe seeing Captain Marvel triggered the dreams. Maybe my brain is just weird and random.

I’ll report back on my WoW revisit after the weekend. I expect minor shenanigans at best.

My return to WoW…

Fizzled after a few weeks. I realized I hadn’t logged in for the better part of a few weeks and canceled my subscription.

Unlike days of yore, the cancellation process no longer makes you go through a series of steps that gently plead with you to change your mind. Instead, you click Cancel Subscription, get a Yes/No pop-up to confirm and that’s it.

I certainly can’t say I didn’t get plenty of enjoyment out of WoW, but one of the main attractions of MMOs for me is the early (yes, early!) character growth and exploring the world and these things have grown very stale in WoW, through a combination of the game not changing much for my playstyle and me just playing the heck out of it for nearly 14 years.

I’d like to find another game with a big world to explore, but I’m not really sure there’s one out there that would fit what I’m looking for, because I’m not even sure what I’m looking for. I’d like a game with other players around–like an MMO–but not too many to make it feel crowded. I don’t want to have to line up to kill ten bears. I don’t actually want to kill ten bears particularly, either.

I know there are online survival games and a nigh-endless sea of clones building (ho ho) on what Minecraft started, but I’m nearly as out of touch with gaming as I am with pop music.

I am old.

Maybe I’ll just start drawing more. It’s simple, kind of soothing and doesn’t require a subscription.

Mini-golfing maxi-years later: The Revenge

I thought it had been three years since I last went mini-golfing, but a quick check reveals it was in May 2012, over six years ago. Egad. I was so much younger back then. Six years, at least.

Back then Jeff and I played to a near-tie, with him edging me with a score of 61 to my 62. It was all in fun, of course, so the score doesn’t really matter.

Still, I yearned for revenge. Or to at least get a few more holes at par, managing a mere 4 of 18 last time.

And so we set off yesterday, back to Eaglequest Coquitlam. The stream was curiously a little healthier now, and there was even a small working fountain. I say this was curious because we are in the middle of a heatwave when I wouldn’t have been surprised to see everything dry as the hardpan in Death Valley. It was about 33ºC, so we were grateful for the shade trees. Fortunately, mini-golf is not exactly a high-impact workout, so the sweating mainly came from it just being really, really hot.

And good news! I managed to score par on 6 of 18 holes, proving dumb luck can count for something. Two of these were actual holes-in-one. Sure, it’s just mini-golf and I wasn’t going to win millions of dollars and then get caught in some kind of sensational scandal after, but it was still neat to watch those two balls plunk down into the cup after just one swing. Unlike Hole 14, where it took 7 swings (Jeff waited until Hole 16 for his 7-shot).

In the end I did get my revenge, with a score of 56 to Jeff’s 61. Yes, after six years away, Jeff returned to the course and got the exact same score. It’s a little weird. I improved, though I have no rational explanation for this.

But it was fun. We shot video, though Jeff is apparently a videophobe, so I only shot him playing through part of one hole. He captured my entire stellar 7-shot performance on Hole 14, though. I may post the video at some point. For now you may observe me missing on my fourth shot.

Missed by *that* much.

And the official™ scorecard:

Gaming comfort food

I was originally planning on updating my PC this spring but thanks to crypto currency miners driving the price of video cards into orbit I’ve decided to hold off and peruse my massive backlog of games for titles that will still run on my current rig, which is about four years old.

Instead I started playing Diablo 3 again. Like World of Warcraft, it acts as comfort food because it’s pretty mindless. You click, things die. You click more, more things die. You get loot. Your character gets increasingly ridiculous looking. It’s fun. Since I last placed (coincidentally four years ago) they’ve added seasons, which locks your character into a “start over” mode that gives you a few trinkets and baubles for completing various goals. I’ve completed one of nine goals. I probably won’t finish them all and I will be sad, but only a little, because there’s good clickin’ fun in the meantime.

I’m almost worried that Diablo 3 is now distracting me from my writing the same way WoW was. Don’t ask about my writing…

Steam library: [backlog joke here]

My Steam library lists 316 games. It’s actually more because several of the games are actually compilations of games. It’s probably still less than 10,000, though.

316 games is a lot of games. When I first started buying computer games for my Atari 400 back in 1982 they cost anywhere from $40-50 each. Sales were rare, so rare I seemed to have missed nearly all of them. When you paid that much for games two things happened as a result:

  • You didn’t buy a whole lot of games
  • You were very choosy about what you did buy

I once crazily indulged myself by picking up two games at the same time. It was back in 1989 and the games were Populous and SimCity (both for my Amiga).

I chose wisely that day.

But with taxes, it came to over $100. Even for someone working full-time it wasn’t exactly couch change.

Today, all of that has been blown away by Steam and other digital stores offering more games at (much) lower prices. The Steam Summer Sale is on as I type this and some of the games list for under $2. That’s 1% of what I paid for SimCity (SimCity 4 can be had for $4.99). This has made it absurdly easy to collect a giant pile of games if you exercise a little patience and wait for sales and I’ve accumulated more games than I could ever play. And I will accumulate more.

Which ones do I play? Which precious few do I actually engage in so that I can at least claim a tiny dent in that massive backlog?

None of them.

I have reached peak Steam backlog absurdity. I still play some World of Warcraft and a Mahjong on the iPad but the Steam games remain untouched. Okay, I will sometimes start up a game or two, sometimes an old classic like Titan Quest or a new title like The Long Dark. But it never lasts long. Has my attention span turned to mud? Am I paralyzed by too many choices? Do I worry that I’ll play the “wrong” game? The one that’s kind of buggy and janky, instead of the one that purrs along, doling out its rewards efficiently? Yes! Yes to all these, and more.

I don’t have a solution or grand insight to offer here but I am thinking more about it as I keep getting email reminders from Steam that 60 games on my wishlist are on sale.

(Also I’m not sure why but I’ve bold-faced the names of the games in this post, Dvorak-style. Man, that suddenly took me back to when I bought actual paper magazines, like PC Magazine.)

My favorite video games from a hundred years ago

Pong was the first popular video game. I first played it in a darkened pizza restaurant in 1974, the video screen casting an eerie blue glow on those gathered around it. I was nine years old.

And hooked.

In 1976 we got the home version of Pong. It had two control knobs built into the console. My brother used his advanced high school electronics wizardry to pry the knobs out and then attach them to longer wiring, allowing us to sit back and play while reclining on those giant weird pillows that were so popular in the 70s. It was great.

Through the mid-70s and early 80s, my love of video gaming saw me spending many an hour in video game arcades–my first full-time job was handing out quarters at an arcade. The job was about as exciting as it sounds, but it was still cool to be surrounded by the light and noise of forty arcade cabinets. My manager was less impressed when a group of teenage boys gathered around a machine one night, managed to jimmy it open, and then empty all the quarters from it. Hey, I just thought they were really into Sub-Roc 3D.

Looking back, some of my memories and recollections of arcade games include:

  • the Williams games were technically dazzling and impossible for me to play competently. These included Defender, Stargate (no relation to the movie or TV series) and Robotron 2084. I loved these games but my roll of quarters would vanish all too quickly attempting to play them. I’m pretty sure I lost a ship just pressing the one player button in Defender.
  • while I enjoyed Time Pilot, there was something almost transcendental about its sequel, the space-oriented Time Pilot 84, that really hooked me. I actually got pretty good at this one. A local laundromat in Vancouver had it and I probably spent more money on it than others did doing their laundry.
  • I never quite mastered Dragon’s Lair but could play through (the superior) Space Ace with a single quarter. It was pretty much watching a cartoon with a joystick. That sounds wrong and in a way it was.
  • A friend and I played Super Mario Bros as player vs. player since you could push or otherwise manipulate the other player into the crabs, turtles and mean ice cubes. You didn’t get points by indirectly offing the other player but in a way that made it even better.
  • I remember thinking laser disc games were not the future. I was right (fortunately). Williams had one called Star Rider that was decent, cleverly using the laser-y part as a fairly seamless background to a respectable racing game (there’s even a YouTube video).
  • The cocktail table version of Ms. Pacman was awesome. Suddenly, standing in an arcade was obsolete (several arcades started providing stools).
  • The Movieland Arcade in Vancouver was one of my regular haunts and had a row of Sega’s Daytona USA machines near the front. Racing against friends was great fun. The arcade and those Daytona USA machines are still there more than twenty years later, but the arcade always looks forlorn and empty. The sign in the window also still advertises “girlie movies” in the back. I never watched the girlie movies.
  • by the mid-80s, we reached a kind of golden age of arcades. Most games were still 25 cents, with new games sometimes being 50 cents. Graphics had improved dramatically so titles like Toobin’ still look pretty good today. Home consoles were in the pre-Playstation era, so arcades still had a place with a technically superior presentation. That would fade by the early 90s. Coincidentally I was edging toward 30 and my own interests began pulling me away.
  • a friend and I played Cyberball against the Deluise brothers. I don’t remember why they were in Vancouver at the time.
  • another friend and I would drive from Duncan to Victoria to play games like Star Rider and Crystal Castles at Xanacade. Yes, we drove nearly an hour just to play video games. Both ways, in the snow!

Video arcades still exist, mostly on the appeal of massive novelty machines that cost a lot more than a mere quarter, but like many things you adore in your youth (hello, Mad magazine), the magic has faded. Alas and such.

The lowbie experience in WoW in one screenshot (R.I.P. Guard Thomas)

Six players (including my human rogue) waiting for Guard Thomas to respawn in Elwynn Forest so we can turn in quests. He was killed by a Horde (opposing faction) player. There is no reward for killing an NPC like this, nor any challenge–you just click a button and the NPC obligingly keels over, taking several minutes to magically spring back to life. There’s also no real way to stop this from happening.

Dead Guard Thomas
Guard Thomas, we hardly knew ye.

This is the regular low level experience in World of Warcraft, an ongoing opportunity to observe sociopaths in the wild, as it were (or more accurately, their aftermath).

 

My Bejeweled addiction has been cured forever for just $2.99

EA recently updated the iOS version of Bejeweled. I bought the game awhile back and spent an unhealthy number of hours playing it. I previously chronicled that it had finally loosened its grip on me.

Thanks to the new update I’m not only free of my addiction, I’ve uninstalled the game altogether. Why? In a word: greed.

The update adds one genuine improvement: the game loads faster. However, the animations now run in a jerky manner that’s just noticeable enough to be annoying. If you read reviews of the current version you will see a number of people complaining about this.

There’s also a new game mode called Poker. It’s fairly dull, probably the weakest mode they’ve added. And you need to pay $2.99 to play it more than three times.

The price is a bit of a joke for what you get, but at least the new mode is easily ignored.

More insidiously, the update also added ads–and plenty of them. EA doesn’t care if you already paid for the game, you’re going to see the ads–unless you pay $2.99 to remove them. This is a move best described as a slimy money grab.

I didn’t remove the ads. Instead I removed the game from the iPad.

I now have more time to read at night. Thanks for being greedy, EA, you’ve helped improve my quality of life a tiny smidgen.