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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Another look at Plan Z

Eliot Lefebvre

When life hands you lemons, you build a new life. Out of lemons. The metaphor is a bit tortured, but the ultimate point is still the same: When City of Heroes fans found out the game was shutting down, some decided to band together and make a new game to incorporate all of the best of CoH while not being, you know, shut down completely. It's something that I've discussed a few times now because it's a really neat idea that also has some really big potential pitfalls.

The Phoenix Project and Heroes & Villains are the two big games working at getting themselves together, and they've had about half a year to do so. Both have been moving forward, networking, and putting together everything needed to make the games actually exist. And there's good news and bad news about both, some in tandem and some separately. So despite the possibility of missing an important context clue or two, we carry on with our look at what's going well and what is... less so.

Since there aren't really photos from these games, I'll take an excuse to show off my much-missed spider.Both projects are still visible and working (that's good!)

Back when I first wrote about the Z-projects (the projects coming out of Plan Z for the Save CoH community), I noted that one of the big risks they were facing was that passion would burn itself out pretty quickly. As it turns out, even after six months, the teams are still hard at work, which bodes well for the passion side of things. It doesn't obviate the chances of burnout, but it does mean that the early possibility has come and gone, and we're still here.

More to the point, the updates we've been getting are substantial enough that they don't sound like canned reminders these projects are still going. There seems to be actual development taking place, something I'll mention again in a bit.

Both projects have supporters and detractors (that's bad)

I really don't care how many people have the acumen and chutzpah necessary to say "let's make a new game to emulate the one we lost." If there were seven Z-projects going, I'd be happy to look at all of them. The big risk comes from the fact that some people think that their chosen project is the One True Successor while the other is just a pale imitation that will never amount to anything. Tearing each other apart over disagreements is not going to bode well for either project in the long term.

It's entirely possible that one of the projects may never see the light of day, but the fact of the matter is that until one or the other asks you for your money, you have nothing to lose by giving them the benefit of a doubt. This is always going to be a pair of niche games for a niche community. We don't need to subdivide further.

Both projects have been putting out more information (that's good!)

Many, many moons ago, I opined that Carbine Studios was pretty much on life support and would never produce an actual game. I was proven entertainingly wrong about that. The reason I thought that, of course, was that there had been no news about what the team was working on in half of forever. Both Z-projects are doing their best to stay in people's minds and be visible rather than going quiet and leaving everyone to draw their own (possibly incorrect) conclusions.

Neither project has talked about meat (that's bad)

I've made fun of Pathfinder Online in the past because all of its development blogs are about a stage of development far beyond where the game actually is. There is little doubt in my mind that once the game starts getting closer to release, a lot of the plans will start falling apart. But it does show that the developers are thinking about these systems, something that we have yet to see from either Heroes & Villains or The Phoenix Project. The most visible announcements are all about screenshots and prototypes, not about how the game will actually work. (As an aside, if the answer is "just like CoH," put it back in the oven because it hasn't finished cooking yet.)

Miekael the Dawn Forge, Angel of Technology.The Phoenix Project is getting ready to launch its Kickstarter (that's good! Also bad.)

Kickstarter has become the de facto method of funding small online games, and the fact that a project is nearly ready to reach out and ask for that funding means it's further along than we might have guessed from the outside looking in. If you're not working directly with Missing Worlds Media, you are no doubt missing out on how far the game actually is; having enough material to push a campaign is a big milestone.

Of course, as I've argued before, Kickstarter's status is not as universally good as we might like it to be for MMOs, and I'm not entirely encouraged by it. Yes, this game is the very definition of a niche title, but that doesn't mean it isn't beholden to the same general pitfalls as anything else created via Kickstarter. Consider this: Massively discusses several games that have had successful Kickstarter campaigns, and one that inexplicably had two, but we have yet to discuss an MMO funded by Kickstarter that actually has launched.

So where are we?

It's hard to be sure when we have two games that haven't yet provided us with a coherent look, but we know that development is continuing and there are people working hard on these games. Several of my immediate fears have been assuaged thus far, but there are still more blanks than I'd like. But there's no reason to despair just yet.

If we could just put nastiness behind us, I think we'd be in a good spot.

Feedback is welcome down below or via mail to Next week, as early access hits for Marvel Heroes, it seems only right to talk about the game and its future.

By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre spent years in City of Heroes before the world-shattering event that destroyed his home world. But he remains as intrepid as ever, traveling to other superheroic games and dispensing his unique brand of justice... or lack thereof.

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