A Hero is born every minute

Written by Chris Caines

June 6, 2004 | 01:00

Tags: #city-of-heroes #coh #hero #mmo #mmporpg #soe #superhero

Companies: #ncsoft #sony

It was terrible. We were in the warehouse, tired after a long slog through all the corridors, finding hassle everywhere we went. We thought we had done everything required to finish there and yet there was one more left, somewhere. Even worse was that it was against the clock and if we couldn’t find this last one in a hurry, we would fail it.

Finally we came across him, he was caught behind some boxes and unless we’d have gone looking we would never have found him with our peripheral vision. I got ready with my haymaker whilst my team-mate charged up her sniper shot, the guy was going down. Then, as he was literally on his last legs, we saw the fatal words: Mapserver Disconnected; the servers had gone down for maintenance.

"..at the end of the day the premise is the same, you advance by going out, finding monsters and beating them insensible with the business end of a weapon."

The more astute of you will realise I am of course talking about City of Heroes; the latest Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (or MMORPG for ‘short’) released into the ether. Before you panic this isn’t going to be a thinly veiled advertising piece for CoH, in fact I’m not even going to tell you about how much fun it is pulverising bad guys in a comic-book environment. No, I want to talk about how annoying it was to be logged out of the game right as I was about to kick the arse of that last evil henchman.

I was really annoyed, and the worst part is I have absolutely no idea why. The general premise of many MMORPG’s is to run about in a fanturistic setting hacking away at digital monsters in order to gain experience (or XP, the RPG equivalent of points) to advance your character to higher and higher levels, giving you the ability to whack bigger and meaner enemies to achieve the same end result. Some games give you spells or items, others let you craft your own potions or armour, some let you become rulers of great lands... But at the end of the day the premise is the same, you advance by going out, finding monsters and beating them insensible with the business end of a weapon.

I’ve played CoH for hours and hours, fully aware of the fact that all I’m doing every minute of the game is finding bad guys, running up to them, pressing a series of keys, analysing if I’m going to die or not and moving onto the next. The worst part is, not only do I enjoy it, but I become positively rabid at the thought of getting to the next level and seeing what extra powers I can choose to let me repeat the above process ad nauseam.

When you play a First Person Shooter (FPS), you have a reason, a mission. You’re told what to do and you do it, you use skill and tactics; you die a lot. The enemies get harder as your guns get bigger, the plot is linear and your only motivation is to beat the game and kill whatever enormous bad guy is waiting at the end to tear your head off and holler victory in an alien language down your neck. Until of course, you load your save game and try again. With RPG’s (I’m getting a little tired of writing MMORPG, so I’m going to shorten it...), there is no ‘save’, there is no end. You’ve bought into the greatest work of marketing ever, you just play and play and play until you get bored and if you never get bored, you’ll keep playing.


Most, if not all RPG’s are chargeable monthly and the longer your interest is held, the more money you make for the guys who write it and all they need to do is create some more zones with bigger and weirder bad guys to keep you in the killing. Got to the highest level you can achieve in the game? No problem, Everquest for example (arguably one of the largest and most heavily played RPG’s written to date) increased the level cap, so you’ve spent maybe a year or so getting to the hallowed level fifty, now you can hack and slash your way to sixty and believe me, that ten levels will be a grind.

In a roundabout way we come back to the problem I had with it. I found myself annoyed that I couldn’t play, I found myself emotionally involved with something that is so mindless and repetitive that to all intents and purposes I should have given up in the first week once I realised what I had to look forward to (and before the CoH lot start on me, this concept can be applied to all RPG’s). But I can’t… and neither can the hundreds of thousands of other gamers all looking for that better power, stronger spell or that next level.

"You can’t help yourself, it’s almost as if there’s something physically addictive in the game, indeed Everquest is commonly referred to as Evercrack."

You may claim they’re not addictive, or can’t see why people play them in the first place. In my case, I give you a woman who hates these kind of games and is not in the slightest bit bothered in interacting with people online; my wife is now a whole level above me and I’m finding I need to feed the cats myself more often, when of course I can tear myself away from pounding on flesh eating zombies. You can’t help yourself, it’s almost as if there’s something physically addictive in the game, indeed Everquest is commonly referred to as Evercrack.

I’ll be bold and suggest there will be a time when all games will move to this model. It would be nice to think there’s a big place for solo FPS games, however as more designers realise that people are willing to pay the cost of the game over and over then more of them will move online. They are the ultimate game, they can evolve to suit the players, they have inbuilt expansion packs, it’s virtually impossible to cheat. Look how long we’ve been waiting for Doom 3 or Half-Life 2, these games should blow my nuts off when they’re released, however I can predict right now that I will play them, complete them (probably by cheating), throw them on the shelf and look for the next game which goes into the #1 spot in at my local shopping centre.

In fact, why am I still writing this column? Having just attained Hulk-like super jumping, I can bound from building to building, drop down in front of a terrified citizen and save the day by pressing 3,2,1,2,1,3 repeatedly until the city is safe from harm once more. Bliss..
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