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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: The changing of the environment

Eliot Lefebvre

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If I had to make a list of video game characters I hate... well, it would take up a thousand words and then some. (Fuuka Yamagishi would be on there.) But if I just had to make a list of MMO lore characters that I hate... actually, again, it would take up a thousand words and then some. (Tyrande Whisperwind would be on there.) Still, near the top of the list would be one of my least favorite characters from the lore of any game, and appropriately enough it's City of Heroes -- because I really, really hate Statesman.

Honestly, before I even knew about his background, Statesman rubbed me the wrong way. But it was only made worse by the fact that he derived his powers from Jack Emmert's ego, thereby giving him nearly limitless everything as long as Emmert was in charge. The comics made him out to be a jerk; the game made him out to be The Best Hero In The World Ever. And through it all there was a subtle reminder that he was the real hero. Your character was great and all, but you weren't really the hero. It was Statesman.

This bothers me as both a roleplayer and a person with a clear picture of my own importance in the grand scheme of things. Despite what you may have come to think from reading me rant as if my thoughts were the most important set of neural emissions around, I don't actually possess delusions of grandeur, nor any genuine grandeur. On a good day, I make people either laugh or find out something new about a game they like, and I'm a pretty decent to the people in my life. That's the extent of my importance, and I feel no shame in that fact. Until I build an orbital laser, the people of the world just aren't going to know my name.

But you know, that's one of the reasons I like to play video games. Strapping on a sword and shield and crusading against the forces of Evil in real life is not a viable career choice. But when I step into a pretend world, yeah, I want to be the hero. Or the villain. Or at least someone important. Playing a game that is set up from the word go to prevent that outcome rubs me the wrong way, for reasons that should be obvious.

I didn't like being stuck as Sir Not-Quite-As-Good-As-Sir-Statesman. And I didn't like the fact that the designers were quite adamant about keeping players in that same spot.

But something has changed in Paragon Studios, and it was put in plain English back at NYCC. We were told that we the players would see what the difference is between existing Incarnates like Statesman and player Incarnates, with the joking caveat: "Players are better." And from everything we've seen about Issue 19, it looks as if that assertion is being backed up with a gusto. The importance of characters is undergoing a shift away from the lore figures and toward the player. Where your reward used to be that you got to brush shoulders with the big guy, now you're the real heavy-hitter.

The thing is, it's easy to look at this and think that it's something that happened overnight, when really it's a change that the game has been making in a very gradual roll. And it started with Positron, with City of Villains and the sudden jump in importance that players got to take.

Think about it. The tutorial mission in CoH is pretty lackluster -- you have to investigate an outbreak of a drug that makes everyone's eyes glow. And presumably makes the addicts more violent, or whatever. ("More violent" is pretty relative in a city with a violent crime rate higher than Washington, D.C. during a riot.) You are, essentially, taking on the tasks that the big guns are too busy to deal with. There are real crimes happening; you can handle this.

But when you start out in CoV, the reason there's a prison breakout is you. Sure, your other prisoners contain other potential Destined Ones... but the point is that Arachnos isn't just there and accidentally letting you out. You're a big deal, someone Arachnos wants to make sure is taken out of holding and put back on the streets. You've got a lot of potential. Yes, you still find yourself subservient to the big hitters in the endgame... but even there you find yourself with some wiggle room and no shortage of opportunities to take out the so-called "patrons" at the top.

You might be thinking that all of this is nice but ultimately not that consequential... until you start looking at the way that issues have been arranged with increasing frequency. In the beginning, issues were major patches. They were called issues for little reason beyond the fact that it was a cute nod to the game's four-color roots. But the trailers for Issue 19 are something different altogether. You can just see the front covers emblazoned with your character's name and a little starburst proclaiming that this is part seven (of 15) of the Praetorian Wars crossover event, and this is the issue in which your character develops fantastic new powers...

In short, we're seeing a lore shift. We've gone from a game in which the NPCs are paramount to one in which player characters are the most important figures in the game world. That's why Apex is the guy kicking off the newest task force. He's the closest you can get to a PC who is firmly grounded in the lore, because of the simply low-level operations that the first comic series focused on. He's one of us. And he needs the rest of us to step up and take care of the newest crisis, because we're better than Statesman.

That's a long time coming, but I'm glad to see it.

So I hope you all enjoyed my musings on the game's lore this week. If you did, feel free to leave a comment in the comments section, and if you didn't, well, you can still leave a comment there. Or you can send it along to, whichever you prefer. Next week, I have a few ideas, among them taking a tour through some of the better examples that Mission Architect has to offer. So if you feel like winging a few of your favorites my way, that would also be awesome.

By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.

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