City of Heroes wasn't even close to the first MMORPG I ever played, but it was the first that understood that even Level 1 can feel awesome. It didn't simply let you play as a superhero. It let you feel like a superhero, hurling fire, swinging swords, controlling the minds of lesser men and more. Best of all, with a character creation system no MMORPG has ever beaten, it was your superhero. Other people might have the same powers. None would be quite like you.
As you may be aware, the Issue 14 update to City of Heroes included the Mission Architect, which opened the game to player-created missions.
As updates to fading MMOs go, a feature that rewards you for not playing stands as one of the odder ones. City of Heroes' European servers are already the wrong side of desolate - so exactly how is encouraging players to stay offline going to help? Cuts down on server costs, maybe.
Of all the MMOs in all the world, there's no happier moment for me than logging into City of Heroes after a few months away. Not into the game world - just the character selection screen. Laid out for me there is my curious history with the game, a half-dozen angelic, demonic, mutated, comical creations all of my own. No-one else in the world sees the same screen, and that never fails to excite me.
We haven't talked about City of Heroes for a while now. Even with an MMO in development stasis, that leaves whole stories untold. If you don't change the game, the players and their interactions alter. But when we're talking about a living game, which is expanding the content and providing new skills for players to experiment with, there's a whole story being left untold.
So, just shy of a year since our last visit, with their latest update ("Issue") now live, this seems as good a time as any to dust off the spandex and reintroduce the fist of justice to the malevolent mobs of Paragon City.
There are changes. I notice the first one immediately, coo at it for a few seconds, then call up an AIM window to tell John Walker about it.
I've been at many press conferences. I've seen thousands of my peers doing everything short of throwing handfuls of their own bodily fluids in the air in an E3 Microsoft press conference when it's revealed that Halo 2 will feature DUAL WIELD WEAPONS. I've seen men now powerful and senior in the world of games interrupt the gushing announcement of a new Civ game where the core Firaxis men are talking about wanting to do this for the love of the fans by loudly coughing "Bollocks - you're doing it for the money". But this is the first time I've been at a press conference in the body of an enormous robot/lizard hybrid.
We all rather enjoyed putting together Eurogamer's Top 50 Games of 2005 over the Christmas break. When we got back to work, we decided we'd send around a few quick questions to some of the developers involved and talk a little about their games, hopefully grabbing their attention before they'd had time to fall back into the rhythm of proper work. First to write back was Jack Emmert, creative director of Cryptic Studios. Cryptic's City of Heroes and City of Villains placed joint tenth in the top 50 list. You can read our comments about them in the 10-6 breakdown.