Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Requiem for Paragon City

Yeah, I know - it's just a game. And if you can't get past that reaction, please just stop reading here and go lecture someone else about starving children or whatever it is that makes you feel all grown up.

It was the Friday before Labor Day. I was looking forward to a long weekend, and stopped to check my email one more time before I got in the car. My brother Mike described it as finding out that fifty of his friends had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. City of Heroes was being shut down.

Apparently, this was done so that the parent corporation could... well, nobody's too sure what they were trying to accomplish. It was later verified that the game was still turning a profit, and all NCsoft offered by way of justification was some weaselly corporate newspeak. The suddenly unemployed members of Paragon Studios, the people who did all the work, didn't seem to know much more than the rest of us.

But that's not really the point, is it? Despite some valiant efforts to save them, Paragon City, the Rogue Isles, and all their associated alien worlds and pocket dimensions, are going to vanish on November 30th, 2012, probably forever. I'm writing this to work my way through it, to figure out how the cancellation of one online superhero game could hurt so much. Aaand, it's an excuse to talk about Mugged Santa again and put up some nostalgic pictures that (mostly) haven't left my screenshot folder before.

I was never much into MMORPGs, or any kind of video games for that matter. I enjoy them well enough when I sit down to play them, but somehow they never stick. So, naturally, when Mike started nagging me to try out this great new super-hero game that he and Billy and Lynn had been playing, I shrugged it off with an occasional, "eh, maybe later." Eventually, he just bought another copy of the game and mailed it to me. Well, okay, the least I can do is try it out, huh?

On March 7, 2005, I created a storm summoning/gravity manipulation Controller called Ki Rin and, after a brief training mission, joined Mike and Billy in Atlas Park. I can't remember who they were playing. Maybe their established characters, Neutronium and Carabiniere, but probably new characters so we'd all be the same level. We played a few missions and then I stuck around to explore a little on my own. Before the week was over, I had created several more characters, including Sunshrike, who was to remain one of the mainstays of my ever-growing horde. And I was already pestering other friends to sign up. Somehow, this game did what the others couldn't; I was hooked.

Tom watched me play it a few times and then wanted to try it himself, so he created several characters on my account. Getting more and more into playing Broccoli Mangod (or, in this incarnation, Brocholi Mangod), and The Acting Patriot, he finally decided to create an account of his own. That only accelerated things. One of us would see the other playing and jump right on. The Hunger Strike team, full of food-based heroes inspired by Broccoli Mangod and The Angry Beet, grew, along with MYTHOS, founded by Cthulhu Boy and Song of R'lyeh. Citrus Shocker and Capt. Scrappy split off to found The Scrap Pile, and will go on scrapping until The End.

We worked our way out of Atlas Park and Galaxy City, then moved on to explore Kings Row and the deadly, shattered ruins of The Hollows. Kings Row became the source of a lot of fond memories, I guess because it was fairly easy to reach the appropriate levels (we were always creating new characters) and it was a fun area to explore, especially during the Halloween event. Broccoli Mangod refused to attack The Lost there, because he felt strongly that they were only misunderstood unfortunates, exercising their right to free assembly. In Steel Canyon, we renamed one of the ponds, "Cowards' Lake" because we always ran there to lick our wounds after starting a fight we couldn't quite finish.

During the 2006 Winter Event, when Tom realized you could almost put together a Santa suit from the costume piece prizes, he created Mugged Santa, an old (but still ripped) man in tighty-whities whose mission was to win back his uniform from the treacherous gnomes who robbed him. Starbryte, one of my earliest characters, who had been neglected for a long time and was still only second or third level, joined him, along with people we met along the way and Mike's Frost-Brand. Absurd as it may sound, this improvised plot was the basis for my short story, "Mister Blue Sky" in the POW!erful Tales anthology.

And of course, there was also City of Villains, which, as you might have guessed from the name, was the expansion that made it possible to play the bad guys. It was my birthday present from Tom that year. That was also about when Tom's co-worker Emerson joined us, and when we started our fan blog. CoV opened up new vistas, new power sets, and new inspirations (not the game term, the regular word). The tutorial was a cool prison break scene, and the starting zone was an amazing burnt-out husk of an old-timey European style city with newer sci-fi elements built over it. Port Oakes kind of reminds me of Cleveland. I will always think of Key Tower as Arachnos HQ.

I joined in villainous enterprises with The Unbeholden (Tom's creation, founded by his StalkerBeasty Boy,  who casually handed off the administrative duties to my CorruptorMistress Terror. Unbeholden is also one of my favorite group names, which will see new life in Qalidar), The Twice Born, and The Technocratic Dominion. One day during a Double XP Weekend, Zombie Lizard Moll (me), The Partying Animal (Tom), and Firetemple (Emerson) fought their way through an army of snake people and founded The Bad, The Ugly, and The Mutagenic, which, with the addition of Mike's Apocalizard and several others, would become our most active villain group.

After a while, the blog sort of faded. Kind of a pity, because we were still playing a lot, and there were several later adventures that I would enjoy revisiting. We all drifted away from the game for a while because of financial issues, and I was the only one who came back with any regularity. The games I played with strangers never engendered the same kind of spontaneous creativity as our friendly sessions, though, and the stories I came up with by myself, while fun to play out, never quite seemed worth the trouble of blogging. Here are some of the posts I really enjoy going back to. Probably nobody but me, and maybe the other people involved, will feel this way, but I'm putting it all out there anyway.
For the release of Going Rogue, they had a promotional event in which everyone who had ever had an account could play for the weekend. Mike, Tom, Lynn, and I signed on and played until our eyes bled and we collapsed over our keyboards. My character had the new demon summoning power set, naming her summoned creatures (which the character insisted were not demons, but quasi-sentient extra-temporal chaos manifestations) after my cats. There was the whole new world of Praetoria to rampage across which, sadly, I never explored much after that get-together. Also, I only have a couple of screenshots to show for the whole event. I guess I left the extra roll of film at home on that trip.

And that's what it really is - a trip. Not the drug kind, although, well, maybe sometimes, but the vacation kind. The adventure kind. Sure, the game was a way I could do things with physically distant friends and family, but it wasn't unique in that way. And it was a way to meet new people, but I do that all the time at conventions and, you know, life. Those are things I'll miss, along with the fun of just creating characters and playing the game, but what really makes it irreplaceable is that it was a unique place where we talked, explored, created, and overcame adversity together.

It's a place where I could revisit old ghosts at will. Walk around a virtual corner and, hey, do you remember when that gardvord knocked Scrappy off the bridge and he landed here, barely conscious, in the middle of a bunch of Lost? Remember when we first saw all those clockwork swarming around this ditch and had no idea what was going on? Isn't this where we were exiting from that sewer mission and that enormous muscle-man in pink underwear zipped by? Yeah, the exploration badge is up on this ledge; took me forever to find that one. And so on. It's ten or twenty of my favorite vacation spots, all full of old memories, all ready and able to embrace new memories, all crumbling into the abyss at the end of the week. That's what I'll really miss.

And flying. Flying is awesome.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Carnage Noir

The last Carnage at Lake Morey wrapped up recently. Moving was probably a good idea, because blah blah blah, but I still blah blah blah. Yeah, this has all been said very well before, and I don't really have anything to add.

After recovering from SuperFrankenSandy or whatever the part of it was called that hit Cleveland, I went in early to work so we could get out early in the afternoon and head for Syracuse to pick up Monk before the airport started to think he was a terrorist or something. The weather was drizzly. We didn't hit any of the terrifying storms we had been warned about. The worst of it seemed to be long gone. 

We picked up Monk and went to Tully's, the sports bar across from the Dark Gathering, for dinner. We then proceeded to orbit Lake Onondaga because Tom thought he could get to the motel by feeling his way through town instead of getting back on the expressway and, despite years of experience that suggested otherwise, I believed him. When we finally got there, they couldn't get to sleep, which of course meant I couldn't sleep either, because they were giggling and talking about boys well into the wee hours. Or "more wee" hours. It was already pretty late when our tour of the slums of Syracuse ended.

So yeah, more driving, more drizzle. Not much to say about it, but I guess I should blather on for a while so I'll have more room for pictures. We took a different route, cutting straight across to Brattleboro or whatever it is instead of meandering through the diagonal course that the machines always want us to take. We got to the resort and checked in. I found Andre and said hi, then Tom wanted to do laundry. We tried to go to an Indian restaurant but it was run by crazy people so it was already closed, so we ended up somewhere else. Hungry Bear or something like that. I don't remember what I ate, but the house margaritas were really good. They had a little bit of a bite like you'd get from ginger or something. I don't know what it actually was, but it worked.

After dinner, several of us from the Hungry Bear adventure moved on to Andre's Pool Room of Madness for a Call of Cthulhu game. Much of the usual crew was there, along with New Tom (who was actually much less new to Carnage than us, but I hadn't gamed with him before so he's "new" here) and Old Tom (not Bombadil, although keeping him focused was equally difficult). Instead of waiting eagerly for that lucky die roll that drives your character insane, we got to play characters who started out crazy, which was a fun twist. I got fried by a weird blaster-thing (I know what it was, but I don't want to ruin the scenario for future players) and other characters met even more awful ends, but a couple of them did escape.

I went back to the room, so that was the end of the evening for me. Old Tom stayed out to get even more wasted and, apparently, to go around belligerently asserting weird things.

I spent a lot of Friday making character sheets for Walk the Spiral. I had intended to do this Tuesday, but then there turned out to not be any electricity. So anyway, I took my laptop out to the lounge and happily concocted my pre-gens in a comfy couch by the window. I had a nice chat with an interesting Diplomacy player whose name I can't remember now. I also picked up the new Dungeon! board game from Cooper's Cave. Well, remade, anyway. It wouldn't be quite right to call it "new." Anyway, if you're near wherever Cooper's Cave Games is in the real world, I recommend going to their store.

Anyway, I finished that and a few mixed drinks, went off to print out my stuff, and then mingled for a while. I was going to play a midnight game, but I got sleepy and went to bed instead. I guess I should just quit signing up for those. Tom woke me up later for some Tom thing, but I got rid of him pretty quickly.

Got moving and made a last-minute prop for the Aqua Teen game. I was about ready to join the fray while Tom was around, so he suggested that we "go be among them." I said I'd be along shortly and he left. A little later, I searched the resort and he was nowhere to be found. Apparently by "them," he meant the beer displays at the grocery store. So anyway, I did the lunch mingling thing and then headed back to the room to get my stuff for the Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1: Black Stockings and Sippy Straws. I was kind of anxious about the day's events, so, as Monk looked on in alarm, I downed a double shot of absinthe and mixed a gamma bomb (my name for equal parts absinthe and Mountain Dew) in my water bottle for later re-fortification.

I was soon in a prime Aqua Teen-running mood, but only one person (Roy) showed up. We frantically texted for reinforcements, but were betrayed on all sides by fickle friends. Tyler even made a point of luring people away from our table, despite my desperate attempt to bribe him with uncooked beans. I even wandered upstairs and tried to recruit people.

Zach wandered by. Tom and I had adopted Zach as our Carnage son a few years back because, like all old people, we can only maintain an active lifestyle by draining the vital energy from younger companions. Naturally, I shanghaied him for my event. Still, that was only two. Normally, I cancel when there's less than four players for this game. Andre gave me another excuse by calling with a vacancy, and Tom even stopped by to mock my failure. But I got a good vibe from my two players and from various chemicals, so hell yeah, we're doin' this thing!

Roy played Meatwad, and Zach started out with Carl. I included Shake and occasionally Frylock (he was off on an Internet-generated hookup which he claimed was a science convention, but Meatwad went to find him) among the NPCs. It started off a little slow but, within ten minutes, we were playing off of each other easily and it really got going. The femme fatale, Lana, constructed earlier from garbage I found in our room, appeared and introduced assorted plot twists (although only Meatwad could hear her). Carl eventually died and was replaced by Billy Witchdoctordotcom, who resurrected Carl and pieces of Carl several times as the turkey-chicken conflict from Robofrance played out.

We managed to sustain the mood all the way to four o'clock, when Meatwad and Ultra Mega Chicken conquered the world and decided that it was time to exterminate all mammalian life. Back to the mingling, I met Scott and Petra, who apparently Tom had mistaken for me earlier. Just Petra, I mean, not the pair of them together. I hope. In celebration of the fact that I was wearing shoes with really flimsy soles, I smashed my big toe into the stairs as hard as I could and twisted it into a really fascinating new shape. Then there was dinner out somewhere with some people who all looked like giant throbbing toes, and then I got back in the room and had Tom check out the wounded digit to make sure it wasn't broken. It's good to have a medic handy.

All patched up, I headed down to the ballroom to run Walk the Spiral. Unfortunately, only Christy had signed up. She thought she could get one other person to play, but didn't sound too sure. She also looked wiped out. The other option was that we could jump in on this game with the colorful banners that had been sucking up players all day. (Note to self: get some colorful banners.) Dave from the Dark Gathering was also playing in that game, so I agreed to go that route.

It was a neat game, with runestone-based randomizing and a Norse... well, everything. I think it was called Ragnarok. I was a little put off by the murderhobo play style that some of the fans had adopted, but I didn't want to make waves. I got a little cranky towards the end just because it was taking forever and I wanted to go ice my foot, but like I said, still a fun game.

After a short break, I put my bottle of absinthe, a couple of cans of mountain dew, and a glass into my bag and  moved on to the lounge. Tom and Dan Williams were out there drinking with some other people, so I went to talk to them first. If I had known Dan would be dropping off so soon, I would have stuck around out there to catch up, but I didn't know and I was eager to make the scene at Andre's court, so I moved on after a fairly brief conversation.

Andre was preaching fire and brimstone when I arrived. The conversation eventually meandered away from politics and drifted back to more pleasant topics. After a while we went out to the porch for a toast, drifted back to the pool room, all that. Good times, but not much to talk about.

Less Important Days
And then there was Sunday and packing and driving to Syracuse to drop Monk at the airport. We stopped for lunch at a place called Stella's somewhere in the wilderness. It didn't look like much, but the food was really good. After that there was Monday and more driving and happy cats at home.