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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Ruining your own birthday party

Eliot Lefebvre

There are few times when I wish that my columns came earlier or later than they did. As it stands, this column doesn't go live until at least nine of the City of Heroes servers have gone through the big Praetorian invasion event, and that's kind of disappointing on one level, because I would like to use it to warn people about what's around the corner.

Then again, at least we can all be united in disappointment. Or maybe I can be told that on every server other than Virtue, the event has been a non-stop cavalcade of roses and badges and possibly free Incarnate shards. Lots of things are possible.

If it weren't obvious already, the implementation of Wednesday's event left a bad taste in my mouth that I'm still trying to spit out several days later. And while I'd really like to say it's the sort of thing that's wholly understandable and I don't mind the technical problems that cropped up... I really can't. There's complaining about lag, and then there's complaining about an event designed to run into huge problems that ran into bigger ones.

Let's get a summary out of the way for those of you who have thus far been spared the event. I took part in Talos Island, but there were several zones under attack. Each time an alert was sounded by the GMs and development staff, I rushed to the location under attack only to hit lag so profound the world was standing still. This wasn't due to a hardware issue, mind you -- my computer was still chugging along gladly, displaying in detail all of the swirling particle effects hither and yon. No, it was due to the fact that the server was choking to death on the number of people in a single area, resulting in lag that, essentially, kneecapped the entire event.

Sure, Battle Maiden came swarming in. At least, I'm told she did -- I was informed later that she was dead, as I didn't ever actually see her flying around. I saw Black Swan on the ground, so I guess she had shown up at some point. And I saw Mother Mayhem's name over an ambulatory pile of lens flares, so we probably met her or someone like her. Mind you, all of this was with at least a solid two-minute delay on every attack -- and if that doesn't sound like much, go ahead and stare at a single point unflinchingly for two minutes straight. I'll wait.

This event was supposed to be really neat. It had every reason to be really neat. But the net result was that I was sitting there, rolling my eyes and trying to see past the actual game to the intent, which is the sort of crap that led me to drop several English classes in college. A good idea mixed with bad implementation is still just plain bad.

I don't tend to be critical of lag -- you're playing an online game with people logging in from around the world; it's going to happen from time to time. I don't tend to be critical of Paragon Studios, period -- I think Paragon has a great team with a lot of wonderful ideas, and with a few exceptions, the devs manage a complex system as well as anyone could. Unfortunately, this was just plain poorly done. And the thing was, every single step of the way, this could have been planned for.

"Instead of being a celebration of everything great about [the game], it was a reminder of every misfire and goof that's cropped up over the game's long history."

Yes, there were always going to be a lot of people getting into the event. Of course, an obvious way to alter that would be to not make each event a one-night-only three-hour thing on a given server. There is literally no finer way to assure that every single player of a given server will log in as soon as the event starts just to make sure nothing gets missed. And if you assume that the technical issues will get ironed out after a couple of nights of data, the people who were providing that data get shafted.

You could also, you know, disable area spawns of NPCs or something to that effect, both to reduce server loads and to avoid seeing citizens muttering, "Wow, Wireframe Rook took out a whole Council base by herself!" while I'm desperately hacking at a war walker's ankles.

Well, pressing a button to hack at a war walker's ankles and then waiting two minutes to see whether I connect.

Also, I realize this might be seen as sour grapes, but the reward? A note to go ahead and play this again on Freedom in several weeks. Outside of a screen pop-up during the event that says "A Winner Is Primal Earth," I can't think of a less-rewarding prize. It's like getting to the bottom of your cereal box and being rewarded with a dead rat.

The big thing is that the abstract of this even sounds both immensely cool and very fitting for a seven-year celebration. I've been really enjoying the Praetorian storyline up until this point, especially as the conflict has been set up with reasons for heroes, villains, and Praetorians all to be after Cole. This was a great opportunity to really drive the invasion home, to really get players engaged and let us all feel the immediate impact of the invasion. Instead, it managed to become less engaging than the Rikti invasions that trigger every time Lady Grey's missions are finished. Instead of being a celebration of everything great about City of Heroes that keeps us engaged after seven years, it was a reminder of every misfire and goof that's cropped up over the game's long history.

So what's to be done? At this point, unfortunately, nothing. It's unlikely that we'll get an encore, and even if we did, it's asking a lot to assume that said encore won't suffer from the exact same problems. The opportunity came and went. Maybe there was no way to compensate for the lag, and maybe it would have been there no matter what and it's foolish to think otherwise -- but even still, that would have meant the event wouldn't work from the word go.

It's a disappointment, in the end. And it could have been more.

As always, comments can be left below or mailed along to Next week is either going to be a rundown of the next archetype or something else, which will depend a lot on trying out something different for the column. (I can only hope I've earned enough good faith that such a statement doesn't fill anyone with terror.)

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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