I don’t know about you, but anyone who plays MMOs, or frequents any websites that write about MMOs may have seen some sprinklings of news regarding an old MMORPG called City of Heroes. Maybe you haven’t, but earlier this year this old game became a tremendous source of news, but how exactly did an MMO that’s been offline for the last 7 years become so newsworthy again? Let me give you the basic lowdown.
First things first, what exactly is City of Heroes? Great question. City of Heroes, or CoH as it was often referred to, was/is a Superhero MMORPG, which is Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game for the layperson. It was the first Superhero MMO on the market and it had quite a following. I played the game off and on for a few years myself, and it still remains my favorite MMO, probably ever.
The game was originally developed by Cryptic Studios (a small team would eventually break off and become Paragon Studios) and published by NCSoft and was released back in 2004. This game, like other MMOs, was very alive and came with frequent free updates from the developers to keep players engaged. These updates would feature new powersets or even updates to the story. In 2005 the game underwent a large update with an expansion called City of Villains, where you got to be the villain you always wanted to be. Then in 2010, another expansion called City of Heroes: Rogue was released that allowed players to switch sides, and even play in an alternate dimension.
Unlike many other MMOs on the market, City of Heroes was unique in the sense that you didn’t work to collect new gear, nor did you have to mindlessly grind enemy groups to level up. The primary focus of the game was to complete missions with a group of other players to subdue bad guys, and it was super addicting. I spent most of my high school days engrossed in these missions, with an array of different characters that I had created (creating new characters, before leveling old ones was referred to as ‘altitis’ and I had it bad).
Another unique feature of this MMO is that because it was so heavily influenced by comic book superheroes, the developers released a series of comics to deepen the story of the game, and the comics were even free with the monthly subscription!
On November 30th, 2012 the game was shut down after a sudden announcement previously made on August 31st of the same year. Many players were surprised, and frankly, many of the developers were as well. So the game just shut down. Despite this, the community still thrived and there were actually a few efforts to try and purchase the intellectual property from NCSoft, but unfortunately, nothing ever came of it, and eventually, the community became quiet.
Some of you may have heard of Private Servers before, maybe you haven’t, but a Private server is essentially where an individual spins up their own server and runs an emulation of an online game for people to play on, you can find them for World of Warcraft, Ragnarok Online, and the Lineage Games, but you NEVER saw one for City of Heroes which was fairly surprising and frustrating, considering they existed for games that were still live.
In my personal experience, every year I’d get to a point where I would want to log back in, yet there would be no progress on the private server font. No servers, no nothing. Eventually, a small group called S.E.G.S (Super Entity Game Server) began working on reverse engineering an emulator, not from the final version of the game, but from the original release, which has actually seen some good progress in recent days. (This is technically legal as the team is building their own code to emulate a server, as opposed to using the game’s original source code.)
Over the years some independent game developers started to work on their own spiritual successors to City of Heroes, Ship of Heroes, Valiance Online, City of Titans and Heroes and Villains to name a few. Unfortunately, the development of any of these games was slow and arduous (but some of these games have alpha releases or are nearing beta releases now).
Now let’s shoot ahead to this year. On the evening of April 15th, I was watching TV, sitting on my couch when I got a Discord notification from a small CoH chat group I was in. Someone posted a link to Reddit page, where another individual had posted a video blowing the whistle on a SECRET private server that had been running since 2013. Yes, a secret server that was referred to as the Secret Cabal of Reverse Engineers, or SCoRE for short had been running in the dark for 6 years.
Many CoH players were extremely hurt by this, as everyone had been hoping to jump back into the game again. Most of the community was concerned with how there was a private server in the first place, and also why was it secret. There were valid reasons, as it would come out, and I’ll get to that in a second, but once the information had leaked, the legions on the dark sides of the internet went to doxing (which is the practice of researching and broadcasting private or identifying information about an individual) the owner of the server until he released the code he had.
Apparently, the owner of the server, who goes by Leandro, had kept the server secret because he had been anonymously sent the server source code and binaries by someone connected to the development of the game. Basically, the original copyrighted code base from Paragon Studios themselves, so he was trying to balance on a legal highwire as it were.
Eventually, it also came out that the official City of Heroes Reddit page was being moderated by folks who were part of this secret server, and were keeping any mention of it off of the page. This, in turn, brought the trust level of the community to below zero and brought rage levels high.
After the secret server was leaked, everything moved quickly, the original news broke on Monday, April 15th, by that Saturday, the 20th people were logging into the new server and playing. A discord channel was made to consolidate users to one place, which would exceed 10,000 within the first weekend. With a Discord channel growing that large, that quickly, unfortunately, it generated a tremendous amount of drama between the server operators and the administrators of the channel causing several issues along the way.
A stream capture of me logging into the first server that was put up.
By April 22nd, the host of the new server had dumped and deleted everything, as rumors of a DMCA from NCSoft began to circulate. The server host immediately backed out, understandably, as they didn’t want any legal troubles. Unfortunately, it was later found out that the rumored DMCA was not real, and that the rumor was initially started by a small group of individuals who had some issues with the Discord administration at the time. (During this time I was, and still am, a moderator for the Discord channel, and was able to experience all of this first hand.)
Early May another server had been spun up, this was to be a set to be temporary server until an official one for the Discord could be set up. Ultimately, this temporary server turned into a permanent one which became the Homecoming cluster of servers, whom Leandro works with. This cluster of servers runs a version of what he ran on his SCoRE server that many refer to as Issue 25 or i25. To put some context on this, every time the developers released a free update they’d call it an issue, like a comic. So the first update was Issue 1, and so on and so forth. The game closed on Issue 24 or i24.
Homecoming runs a modified version of the last release of the game, which employs a variety of cosmetic and qualify-of-life changes to make the game easier to play. As a fan of how the game was intended to be played, I always felt a little dirty playing on Homecoming as it felt almost too easy. After Homecoming was spun up, a group that had been working on getting an i24 version playable finally succeeded, and the first server to run the i24 version of the game was named Rebirth.
To get technical, the primary issue between i25 and i24 is that i25 runs basically the same as it did back when the game was live. It wasn’t optimized for newer systems and utilized an absolute TON of resources to play fluidly, and since it’s a modified version of i24 it’s difficult to optimize. The team behind the i24 release, Ourodev, is continuing to work on optimizing the i24 version to run better on newer systems that will require fewer resources which will allow individuals with smaller units to run the game without issues.
So where does that leave us now? Currently, there are five larger servers running concurrently with their own player base and the game is now alive and well, and it will be for a long time in the future, which is all we really wanted anyway.
If you’re interested in creating an account and hopping into the game for yourself, you can join the official Discord to learn how, or register on the forums or just check out the website for a full set of instructions. See some screenshots from my adventures below…