When City of Heroes closed, it left behind a city’s worth of superhero refugees. Now, two fan projects – Heroes and Villains and The Phoenix Project – are trying to rehome them. Can two new superhero MMOs rise from the ashes?
In September 2012, City of Heroes hung up its cape. After almost ten years of heroics and villiany, NCSoft and Paragon Studios pulled the plug on the superhero MMO, plunging the ideals of heroism and freedom into darkness.
If The Incredibles taught us anything, though, it’s that superheroes aren’t very good at retiring. Not content to simply accept NCSoft’s decision to shut down Paragon City as the right one, a group of players – made up of creatively-minded and talented individuals – decided they had the technology, and they could rebuild City of Heroes themselves.
No superhero story would be complete without two allies having a difference of opinion on the correct way to dispose of the villain, and such is the case here as well. The Pheonix Project, from Missing Worlds Media, and Heroes and Villians are two separate fan projects looking to create a new game for City of Heroes players, but they originally started out as the same team, before creative differences caused them to head in different directions.
Cameron Johnson, studio director of Missing Worlds Media, cited “mainly a difference in visions of exactly how the game and the back story and lore and setting should be set up” as the reason behind the split, and seemed reluctant to expand upon that. “So we said our amicable goodbyes, and now we have The Phoenix Project in addition to Heroes and Villains, and we think there’s room for both of us out there.”
Ashes to Ashes
Amanda Brooks, of Heroes and Villains, was less diplomatic with her choice of words. “It was mostly down to a conflict of visions, or more a case of vision vs. lack of vision. When I first started off the idea of making a new home for the City of Heroes community at the start of September last year, shortly after the City of Heroes closure announcement, we had a very clear idea of what we’d need to do to create that kind of game.
“Unfortunately, as we progressed through the planning phase, it became clear that some of the people on board had quite different ideas,” added Brooks, “and were more interested in making their own game rather than a spiritual successor to City of Heroes – so eventually, to avoid conflicts from harming the effort to build a new home for the City of Heroes community, the project was divided into two separate ones.”
However, like Johnson, Brooks believes the two separate projects will not be competing with each other, as they’re aiming for different types of players. “From what I know of it, the other one [The Phoenix Project] is aiming for another type of player than Heroes and Villains, which is being designed as a game where the City of Heroes community would feel very much at home.”
But what about existing superhero MMOs? While these talented groups work on fan projects, how are they so confident that players won’t simply flock to Champions Online – a superhero MMO created by the original team behind City of Heroes – before their games are ready to be experienced? Again, Brooks doesn’t mince her words.
“Champions Online is inferior to City of Heroes in every possible way, and has been since it was first misguidedly put into production, although back then it was going to be a Marvel MMO aimed at the Xbox, until Microsoft pulled out,” says Brooks. “From its appalling art style to its clunky control and nonsensical gameplay, it was clearly designed by people who had no respect for comic books, and it limped feebly into maintenance mode some time ago.
“There’s been no massive migration to it from the City of Heroes playerbase, as City of Heroes set the bar pretty high for comic book MMOs – and with its closure, there’s now no realistic alternative, so we’re not concerned about Champions Online in any way, shape or form.”