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'Secret' City of Heroes Emulator (massivelyop.com)
65 points by fzeroracer 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments

Oh man, city of heroes. I spent a long time reverse engineering this game when it originally came out. It had some unusually complicated networking code, IIRC. I was able to write a (the first?) client that was able to emulate some of the protocol, but eventually I sort of lost interest. It was fun to work on for a while.

I remember there was an incident once where an online acquaintance of mine got hold of the admin tool for the game. I believe he found it by tracking down one of the engineer's personal websites, which for some reason had a copy of this tool accessible on it. The tool gave you administrative access to the servers (not ssh, administrative within the game), with no other form of authentication. We had fun with it for a little while, and then eventually the engineer who's site we had taken it from joined our little IRC channel to ask us to stop using it, and we did. Fun times.

To say this has been a bit of a storm would be an understatement. People are understandably pissed off, because there's been a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Paragon Chat is led by a lot of the same people behind the private server where they admitted that they used it as cover for their fully fledged server. Additionally they've been behaving in generally scummy ways, deleting posts, taking down any references to the private server and more. On many of the City of Heroes communities they had members of the mod team seek out and delete any comments that might've even slightly hinted at the server's existence.

It's like the strangest conspiracy theory but it's over a dead MMO.

I dont understand why people are so pissed. I loved coh/cov and have been waiting for a successor for many years.

NowI find out that some people have had a successor in secret, and have been acting to keep that secret because of the near certainty that it would get legally stomped. Hard.

Why should this piss me off? Because some people are luckier than I? Because they've lied to protect this secret the way I'd wang them to if I had been in on it?

Everyone talking about this says how obvious it is that people should be angry and I just feel like I'm missing something. NCsoft is the one responsible for denying the game to everyone, and if some few have been able to get around that with some effort, that doesn't make my situation worse.

I find the article unclear: do they actually have the original server software, or have they just made their own server (with tips and data from ex-employees)?

Just to update: It's allegedly the original server code, and it's now gotten out and about so it can be found in various corners of the internet (shortly to be followed with malware-infested copycats, I'm sure)

The various sources I've seen say it's the original, albeit tweaked and modified over time.

Honestly I feel like there should be more consumer protection - particularly extending to the server side of things. It doesn't seem particularly ethical to be able to kill off entire products just by unplugging the server.

I'm not asking company to maintain the server though, that would be unfair also.

Having been part of a relatively popular game shut down, we agonised over this.

There were several reasons given, from “we might use it again in the future” and “we’ll need to be really careful about the database” I suspect there was also a case of some embarrassment, as some of the code was far worse than an outsider might imagine :-)

Ultimately we just deemed it too much effort to release it as even if you explicitly state it’s totally unsupported, people will go to really strange stalker-esque lengths to try and contact the original devs for any level of support, and we just didn’t want, nor have time to deal with that burden.

Note, my memory is a little hazy around all of the details, so I can’t quite remember all of the finer points.

I do remember that the topic would repeat in passing as an “ah, I wish we could...” for a very long time after the call was made.

indeed. I know its someone's IP, but if its going in the bin anyway cant these things be released 'as is' and leave it to communities to try and keep running if they want.

I don't understand why this kind of support of long-obsolete (and officially unavailable) multiplayer games is met with negative reaction by the copyright holders. These might be some of the most loyal fans of your game that you've ever had. How is this a danger and not an opportunity?

This is kinda why I hate copyright law the way it exists right now. Companies shouldn't be allowed to sit on and kill IP that they're not using. Especially when it's part of millions of people's culture now. Copyright law is meant to spur new development and add to the public space. Not give an iron grip for 200 years and the ability to totally destroy the things they create.

Because the copyright holders have new games that they would rather you gave them money for, instead of you playing old games without paying them.

well that's where things get a little wonky though, right? CoH was a subscription-based game, so technically these extremely loyal fans would, theoretically, still be paying the company.

The fact that companies shut down popular games due to their profit simply not being as high as projected is just stupid. (note I said profit, not income. In the case of CoH, the game was 100% making profit still when it was shut down).

It's about the time value of money.

If you give me 100, and I make a profit for you of $0.50 a year on it, it's profit right? But this other investment, investment B, makes $5/year. Which one are you going to put your money in?

Investment B every time.

The companies don't want profit, they want the MOST profit - especially because if they don't choose wisely, they'll find it difficult or impossible to seek extra financing.

COH was free to play by the end of it's life. And I'm sure people would still be playing.

I'm with you here. Seems really counter-productive to stop a community from going at it. Opens the door for future products and/or sequels.

I guess it could lead to bad marketing for the studio or original publisher if the game itself is filled with bugs that you won't fix.

It's because in theory the IP could be revived with a new title, and you don't want the new title to have to compete with the historical version.

I'm not sure that's super likely with COH, but history is full of revivals of IP that looked long dead at some point.

> you don't want the new title to have to compete with the historical version

This is so ass backwards it boggles the mind. If you want people to buy your new game, make it better and/or different than the old one! Otherwise you're wasting everyone's time, including your own.

Making inferior new products and complaining when they can't compete against superior older ones is more than a little boneheaded. If your new stuff isn't good enough, go back to the drawing board! Anything else is parasitic rent-seeking that should be viewed by all with disdain.

When you're running a franchise properly, the success of a product should only help your bottom line in the long run. If you're looking at it as a threat to new business, you made a wrong turn somewhere and you need to figure out where it was so you don't do it again.

But this is the fun of owning complete control of both products - you don't need to justify this new game as being better than the old one as the old one no longer exists! It's an amazing way to remove choice and spend less. Can you imagine if car companies could do that?

What really chokes me about CoH is there was no franchise - the world has been dead since the game shut down, expect for the cruel necromancy of Statesman in MXM.

It sounds like this isn't an emulator but rather the actual retail server software. This group has been sitting on it for 6-7 years while dishonestly encouraging emulator development publicly.

This whole thing reads like a crazy conspiracy theory that actually turned out to be true. The insidious part is that is has apparently been kept under wraps by banning leakers (and everyone associated with them) followed by gas lighting them since a lot of the top people in the community were in on it. Totally nuts.

On one hand, I can totally understand bad feelings about this. Especially with how people have been treated and the fact that people want to play the game as it was and not in a shallow imitation of itself. On the other hand, I can understand why it was kept secret. If they are not served with a C&D that means they can keep reverse engineering the code behind it, and figuring out how to pull out the resources or make their own. I hope that's what they were doing anyways, rather than just sitting on it. What an amazing opportunity to pick at a game via a private server! One would hope it would be tons easier to build an open source private server while having a working copy rather than just guessing at what kind of responses the server should send.

>Then it was hit by a Cease and Desist order by NCsoft in November 2011. The website was seized, the forums went dark, and progress completely stopped. One thing was made abundantly clear to everybody: NCsoft was not going to tolerate the development of servers for their games, even four years after they were shut down.

Why do companies do this? If they're clearly not making any more money off of it... I understand not wanting to release source (the IP could technically still be worth something), but why go after fan efforts to resurrect a service they're making $0 on? What's the business reasoning to spend lawyer money on stomping out unofficial servers?

I was never big into the traditional superheroes of Marvel and DC but I had a real soft spot for this game. They got into animation as they matured but the original walls of text from missions were pretty good reads. Heroes and villains had a lot of polish. I had to stop for a while and by the time I was ready to get back in they were shutting down. Champions Online came afterwards but the IP it was based on seemed stereotypically awful. Dr. Destroyer as the main villain? Come on. There's a project called Ship of Heroes that might be a good substitute if they make it to release.


Dr. Destroyer isn't the main villain of Champions or of Champions Online. He does have a somewhat strong arc in the central hub city of the game, that was briefly played up in one of the versions of the tutorial.

Part of the problem with the IP is more that it doesn't have a main villain or follow a central storyline. It's decades of tabletop adventures that go in all sorts of directions (some light almost parody, some power fantasies, some mixtures in between).

Paragon City of CoH/CoV had the opportunity of being designed as a singular place with a natural story flow built to roughly coincide with player level flow. Champions Online is much more a loose association of vignettes and interesting settings with less of an over-arcing story. As a player you could see some of that problem directly too in the way Cryptic kept rebalancing the levels of zones to try to offer more variety to early players, more introduction to other plot lines in the game in the idea that maybe you'd fine the one that most interested you/your player faster.

One interesting thing Champions Online attempted (and didn't quite succeed at) was letting players build their own main villain. It's a shame that the Nemesis system still takes far too many levels to unlock, because had they found ways to wrap that into even low level storytelling, that would have been a big deal. That should have been something more of the game was built around. Most people don't even realize it exists because it comes around at a very high level and is basically optional at that point.

I will be shocked if NCSOFT doesn't pursue immediate legal action. It's one thing to infringe on the copyright but the bigger story is that someone, presumably a current or previous employee, stole the entire CoH database AND made money off of it for years? They're gonna try to make an example out of this guy.

"Made money off it"? How?

Not sure if this applies in this specific case, but many private MMO servers finance their operation (and probably generate a bit of money) through selling "premium slots" and other special powers.

Well, private servers will usually do lots of stuff that an official server wouldn't. I used to play on a private Lineage 2 server where you would get things like 100x XP and gold gain for instance.

Everything is available for a price. Has anyone actually contacted NCsoft about a price? My sense is there are enough people who would contribute to a purchase, given enough organization.

Lawyers are first and foremost bureaucrats, and the primary duty of any bureaucrat is to justify their own pay. Six years or twenty, it doesn't matter. If NCsoft has a legal claim to the ip their lawyers will send a c&d. We need a digital consumer rights bill that includes the right to operate private servers for defunct games.

I think you're angry at the wrong people here. NCSoft wants to keep the IP dead - their lawyers are just there to serve that function.

But I agree, we need some way to keep these dead game alive. I can understand if there is a franchise there'd need to be considerations, but CoH is totally gone from this earth, and that's not right.

This is very clearly an issue with copyright lasting too long. I would understand if you guys didn't want this to devolve into the fifteenth thread complaining about copyright this week though.

Basically. Once the work is no longer being used to profit from, and there's no intention to renew that profit, put that puppy in the public domain.

Why is it not right? They built it, financed it, drew it, programmed it, marketed it. They own it.

If they want to smother it with a pillow, they should be able to. It is theirs; the players and fans certainly don't own it.

No, they do not own it. Copyright law gives them legal ability to profit off of it for a limited time without having to compete with people copying it. After this protection expires it is supposed to go to the public, to which it belongs. The whole point of copyright is to "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." If they want to destroy their works, then they can exist outside of the protection of the law.

Except they sold a piece of it to every person who bought the game. What right do they have to revoke the functionality of software on other people's computers when it isn't them maintaining that functionality?

They didnt put an expiration date on the box, and therefore every single City of Heroes box is currently a false advertisement and they owe everyone a full refund.

I'm sure the agreement people made to play had language about changes to the service, 100%. Lawyers dont miss this kind of stuff.

"I don't understand how online games work or terms and condition" is not the same as false advertising.

Oh I don't argue they have good legal standing. I'm arguing they're morally bankrupt scumbags.

You're right, it's their property, it's their legal right what to do with it. I just feel it's like destroying art, which they can do, but I can still be angry at. I get that it's not financially viable, but what does it cost them to release the source code years later?

It can cost millions, depending on the agreements they made and technology they leveraged to build their game.

You can't go around distributing OTHER peoples work, just to release your own. That's even worse!

And if that's the case that's understandable, but I don't believe it to be in this case.

How is that any different than "it would cost us millions in sales"?

Hell not even artists work for fre.

I'm a bit confused on what you're saying is different than that.

CoH stopped selling their product, they stopped supporting it. They have no intention of ever supporting it again. To release the source would involve no lost sales, as they do not intend to sell it again.

I absolutely say that while they intend on supporting the product in any way (even just maintenance mode), it's theirs, but once they stop using it completely and have no future intentions to ever again sell it, there's no harm in releasing it. Once the work is no longer being used by the artist, with the artist having no desire to ever use it again, why not release it?

Because people who might otherwise buy a new game, by the same people, would instead play the old one.

If you could somehow relive your favorite concert forever, rather than buy more tickets, artists would be devastated. I think their business rationale is totally sound: why not just sit on it, and people who want that same experience come to you for their new work?

Instead you'd have to pay a lot of money for lawyers and engineers to review the code, etc. That's expensive - it's not like they could just upload the whole thing to Github, no review, nothing.

Besides, the people who don't want to pay for a new game are people who you should spend zero time pleasing - they're not willing to support whatever endeavour you're embarking upon, so why spend all this time and effort putting something out there for them to enjoy? Sit on it: cost zero. Release it: Potentially costs lots, might decrease sales of current product.

It seems like a no-brainer from every perspective: as an artist, as a programmer, as a business person. I guess as a "digital artifact" it has some worth, but honestly, if it isn't enough to support the people making it, it really isn't actually worth that much (emotional attachment to games aside).

You must be the guy behind Google's product diversity strategy.

I wish, I'm sure they make a hell of a lot more than I do.

Many years ago I decided that keeping up with and being invested in games didn't make sense - stuff went microtrandaction, content released as add ons that clearly should have been part of the game, the focus is on multiplayer streamable, etc. I hate it.

So indy titles or GOG style games for me only. It cut way down on spending, toxic communities, supported artists and older digital works directly, and it's more fun (to me). Plus GOG games have no DRM!

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