Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Don't Go, Kitty, Kitty

The PC Gamer post-WoW roll-call of births and deaths I was discussing yesterday includes eleven MMORPGs I could reasonably claim to have played plus one that no-one ever did. They break down into three categories: games I took seriously, games I dabbled with and games I merely glanced at.

Of the twelve, there are two that shouldn't even be on the list in the first place: EQNext and City of Heroes. I'll get to EQN later. First, let's think about City of Heroes.

Did no-one fact-check the copy? The title of the piece is "25 MMOS that lived and died since World of Warcraft launched" but the North American launch of CoH pre-dates WoW's by a full six months. It says so right there in the article! I believe I may have played it in beta as early as late 2003.

CoH looked, on paper, like something I'd really enjoy. I've been a superhero fan since before I learned to read. My mother, in her late eighties, still occasionally complains about how she had to read those speech bubbles out loud to me when I was four years old. At the time the game was announced I was deep into EverQuest and the MMORPG genre - it looked as though it could have been made for me.

It wasn't. Not even close. What always appealed to me most about superhero comics, even as a child, was the soap opera. The fighting? Not so much. CoH, in beta at least, seemed to be nothing but an endless conveyor belt of  meaningless battles, most of them in featureless offices and warehouses or bland city lots.

I played the beta in a desultory fashion for a few weeks, on and off. It was deeply disappointing. When the game launched I didn't buy it and during its eight year run I never once considered giving it a go. For my money there has never been a good superhero MMO. DCUO is the best I've played but that's more for the glorious movement controls, the well-realised cityscapes and the housing than anything to do with the combat or the story.

When City of Heroes miraculously re-appeared earlier this year (in true superhero "I was never really dead" style, I might add) I gave it a try and enjoyed it a lot more than I had back in 2003/4. Just not enough to keep logging in after the initial rush.

Moving on from the game that shouldn't be on the list at all, we come to the ones I tried just to say I had. Chief among those is Hello Kitty Online. I played HKO maybe two or three times. I downloaded it because people insisted on using it as a pejorative in general chat in MMORPGs I did play and that irritated me.

What's not to love?

My feeling was that none of the people using the fashion-challenged feline as a stick to beat their supposed inferiors with would actually have played the game. If I wanted to be able to call them out on that I had to have some basic experience myself.

Also, I do like Hello Kitty, with whom I have a little history. I remember the first time I happened upon a display of HK merchandize in real life, in the El Corte Ingles department store in Barcelona sometime in the early '90s. I was so amazed I bought a couple of items, one of which I later gave to someone I worked with as a leaving present, when they went back to the U.S.

I can remember all of that but almost nothing about Hello Kitty Online, except that it was a lot less casual than I'd imagined. I know I used that as a deflating counter-argument in chat battles a few times, although finding Hello Kitty Online more challenging than I expected was perhaps not exactly the argument-clincher I was looking for.

Speaking of memory and its failings, this is where I offer a practical dmonstration. I thought I'd played Mythos, which is why it's in this section instead of in yesterday's post, where it should have been. Turns out, on fuirther investigation, I never played it at all.

There was a brief period when a clutch of online games using Greek and Roman mythology as a backdrop appeared at around the same time. I played at least two of them and I thought Mythos was one of those but, looking at some reviews and screenshots, it clearly wasn't.

The game I was thinking of, which I remember playing quite a few times, was Mytheon not Mythos. It's still running. You can get it on Steam. Looking at the screenshots, Mythos looks like a more interesting title. I kind of wish I'd played that instead.

Moving swiftly on, we come to games I played a fair bit, on and off, but which never made it into the majors. Minions of Mirth is almost the poster child for my personal minor leagues. (Way to go there, Bhagpuss! A mixed metaphor combining two cultural touchstones, neither of which form any part of your own immediate culture. Some kind of a record, I think. Plus now you're talking about yourself in the second person...)

Someone exploring much further into Minions of Mirth than I ever managed.
MoM was unusual in that it could be played either as a full MMORPG or as a single-player game. That seemed like a great idea back in 2005 and it still seems like one now. Wouldn't it solve all kinds of problems? And if an obscure indie like Prairie Games could do it, what's stopping the big guns?

Minions of Mirth was an EQ-inspired game with graphics that looked more dated than EQ's even in 2005. I must have played through the starting area four or five times over the years but I never really got much farther than the equivalent of Qeynos Hills. The MMORPG closed its gates a couple of years back but the single-player version is still available. I even have it installed although I doubt I'll ever play it again.

Marvel Heroes is an odd one. I played it quite a few times and read about it a lot more because several bloggers I followed seemed to be very into it indeed. For me, the game doubled down on two things I really don't like at all: the Diablo-style lootfest and the aforementioned superhero action mode.

I grew up with the Marvel characters, although I was (and remain) a DC fan at heart. Marvel Heroes seemed to me to strip away virtually everything that had made Marvel the most successful comics publisher of the late twentieth century and which went on to make it one of the most profitable and worshipped global brands of the early twenty-first.

It seemed to me like a game designed by people whose only knowledge of the characters came from a short conversation with a six-year old child. Costumes? Check! Powers? Check! Personality, motivation, backstory, depth? I dunno what those things are, mister. It was the MMORPG equivalent of smashing action figures together and shouting "Bam!", something I didn't even do when I was six years old.

The most interesting thing about Marvel Heroes for me was the bizarre way it ended. Made no sense at all. Just like the game.

Stolen from my own blog.
But then, what happened to Marvel Heroes at the end happened to Firefall time and time again, while it was still running. Was there ever a game that changed direction so many times? Or suffered so many public disputes among its developers?

I played it in a couple of its variants. It wasn't the sort of game that seemed likely to appeal to me - I'm not mad keen on shooters and I don't have a lot of time or affection for mech-suits - but a couple of bloggers kept writing interesting stories about it so I thought I'd give it a try.

I enjoyed it much more than I expected, even though I was absolutely terrible at playing it. I liked the environments and the jetpack movement. It also looked great in screenshots, which always helps, particularly since, by this time, I had a blog to put them in.

The thing about opinions on Firefall is this: they depends entirely which version the opinion-holder played. Each major revision was so radical Red5 might as well have re-marketed them as new games. I liked the version with the public quests based around thumping. That one would have made for a solid MMORPG experience, I think. When they took that out I liked it a lot less. It felt more like a single-player game the last time I logged in.

That's the last of the also-rans. looks like this is shaping up to be to be a trilogy. Part three will get to the games I played for long enough to have something of substance to say about them. Or so we may hope.

Except there's one anomaly to dispose of first. The game I mentioned at the top of the post. The one that really has no reason being on PC Gamer's list at all. Not because someone can't read a calendar but because someone apparently can't read reality.

Much though some would like to believe otherwise, EQNext never existed. There was no game, ever. All there was were some videos, a lot of concept art and a few minutes of faked gameplay put together for a convention.

Blurry and out of focus. How appropriate.

It's quite hard to dig that little fact out of the welter of "Oh noes! My beloved EQNext is no more!" eulogies that clog the filters of a google search but as Feldon explains in an incendiary demolition of the entire EQNext debacle at EQ2Wire, "The EverQuest Next “combat demo” shown at SOE Live in 2013 was entirely smoke and mirrors, with developers back at the home office “playing” NPCs."

It wasn't just the demo; the entire EQNext project was smoke and mirrors. There was no game. There never had been a game. There never would be a game. It has no place on a list of MMORPGs that lived and died because it never did either of those things. I'd say good riddance to it but even that gives its existence more credence than it deserves.

Landmark definitely did exist, though, and I'll get to it next time, along with Vanguard, Warhammer, Free Realms and Wildstar. I'll even bring my own screenshots!


  1. I'd argue that with revamped base building that CoH Homecoming has it now has the best player housing in the genre. There are tons of options and you can make your bases accessible to public. Heck, people are making whole city blocks with that and roleplayers use those!

    1. I'll have to check that out. I never thought of CoH as a building and decorating game.

  2. I have always argued that the secret world would be an awesome single player game - I was really getting into it as that until they changed it to Legends.

    1. I've heard this a few times but I don't buy it. It would, of course, work as a single player but it would lose most of what made it so strong back in the early days, namely the community-driven engagement with the puzzles and the co-operative nature of the combat. There were several points when I was stuck on fights or in areas that were too tough for me solo and someone came along and helped me get past the roadblock. There were also numerous discussions in chat over the solutions to puzzles that made the whole thing seem like a collective enterprise.

      Without that human engagement the game would be just another narrative and puzzle driven rpg. We're not really short of those but we are very starved of intelligent, thoughtful MMORPGs. Of course its a moot point now, since Funcom have abandoned both versions of the game.


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