February 23, 2015

Remembering Dusty Enalios

I don't remember exactly when I first logged into City of Heroes. I don't have any screenshots from those early days. My first experience was during the Closed Beta. I was in one of the last groups allowed in. I also played in the Open Beta. The character creator captured my imagination almost immediately, but the gameplay itself was lackluster, the writing was uninspired, and the archetypes were hopelessly unbalanced. The game was designed around the Tank-Damage Dealer-Healer holy trinity that has infected far too many online games. Crowd control was added in the form of "Controllers", but the class was very nearly useless and did not attract many players. The two classes that completely dominated the game in those early days were Blasters and Scrappers. A Katana/Regeneration Scrapper of middling levels could literally take on and defeat any enemy in the game, including enemies intended for multiple teams. The battle would be long, and the Scrapper would have to dodge most of the attacks, but their damage output surpassed even the fastest regenerating enemies and their /Regeneration secondary could heal faster than the enemy could deliver damage. Provided the Scrapper only took every other blow, or better yet every third blow, they would end the fight with a full or nearly full health meter.

Naturally this did not go over well with the Tanks, who were supposed to be the damage sinks that led the charge, depending on the Scrappers and Blasters to actually do the damage while the Defender debuffed the enemy and healed the Tank. Right around the time of commercial release or perhaps shortly thereafter, /Regeneration was redesigned with more powers toggled on and off, thus requiring Endurance to function. This meant the Scrapper now had to pay attention to their Endurance bar because if it fell below the requirements of the toggles, they switched off and regeneration stopped functioning. Tanks were also given a damage boost and their /Invulnerability power was given a broader spectrum of resistances. These changes, unfortunately, created a situation where teams would go into a mission and wait by the door while the Tank cleared the mission of enemies and defeated the Boss, earning everyone a nice bonus. Players like myself fled the game in droves.

I had already purchased a one year subscription. In the long run, this was always cheaper so whenever I joined a game the first thing I did was subscribe for a full year. In the case of City of Heroes, this meant that for about six months I was paying for a game that I wasn't playing, which is normally not a good thing, but turned out to be a real godsend. Cryptic Studios answer to the flood of players leaving the game was to recreate it from the ground up and add on the new version as a hold out for supervillains. After all, a world with superheroes is not much of a world if it doesn't also have supervillains. Right about this time Jack Emmert sold his ownership of the game to NC Soft, making them the sole shareholders in the game. NC Soft has done many things wrong in their quest to dominate the world of online gaming, but this time they made a move that proved to be absolutely genius: they consolidated the entire staff at Cryptic Studios into a new, wholly-owned American subsidiary called, "Paragon Studios" and gave the folks at Paragon one dictum: turn a profit.

City of Villains proved to be an enormous improvement over City of Heroes, at least in my opinion. The first thing Paragon Studios did was abandon the holy trinity of gaming. Every class in City of Villains could solo the game from beginning to end. Joining teams was possible, but never necessary. The weaker classes in City of Heroes (Defenders and Controllers) were beefed up enough so that with careful play even while playing solo they could accomplish most of the gameplay on the Heroside, but teaming up still gave them huge advantages in terms of survivability and rate of progress. A small crowd of people left the game in disgust when they learned that the Heroes would not be able to fight the Villains and the Villains would not be able to beat up ordinary civilian NPCs. The influx of new players and the return of thousands of players like myself more than made up for the loss. I did not read the NC Soft quarterly report every single quarter, but every time I did read it, Paragon Studios was turning a profit and sending money to South Korea. In several quarters, they were the only NC Soft title outside South Korea that turned a profit and sent it back to the home office. Making money inside South Korea has never been a problem for NC Soft. However, their overseas titles have never enjoyed the same level of success. City of Heroes/City of Villains was often the exception to the rule. Now that Paragon Studios has been abandoned, it seems that Wildstar is turning a profit, but I haven't checked 4thQ2014 results and there are rumors that Wildstar is struggling.

The first character I created in City of Villains is really not worth remembering. The second character, however, became an obsession. Dusty Enalios was a Technology origin Robotics/Traps Mastermind. She rose to the maximum level possible, and when it became available, she completed the tasks necessary to become an Incarnate, but never gathered enough materials to create the proper Enhancement to "activate" her Incarnate status. If I had focused exclusively on her, then I no doubt could have accomplished it, but it was always far too much fun to go off and create a new character. I did play her on the last day the servers were live, but neglected to save any screenshots from that fateful day. She finished her career creating a four story mission arc in the Mission Architect, publishing it, and then running through it two or three times. Afterwards she went outside to spend the last few minutes of the game's life interacting with the community. This morning I did a brief write up about her on a forum for a new hero game being designed and created by CoH/CoV refugees. I wanted to record it here along with a few pictures of her career.

Dusty Enalios
Mastermind, Robotic/Traps

From the time she was a small child Dusty Enalios had a penchant for two things: thievery and assembling working robots from whatever materials fell to hand. When other girls were playing with stuffed animals and nursing baby dolls, Dusty was assembling robots from blocks of wood scavenged at local construction sites held together by glue, kite strings, and cabinet hinges. She powered these wooden robots with electric motors swiped from RC toys owned by boys in the neighborhood. In elementary school teachers learned to keep a close eye on her because if they didn't, they would find her in a closet somewhere building robots from cleaning supplies.

A few days after her sixteenth birthday Dusty Enalios was arrested breaking into a local shop that specialized in items used by heroes who depended on Science and Technology to perform their good works. She shut down the alarm system, disarmed all of the stores electronic locks, and probably would have gotten away clean if a claws wielding hero hadn't stopped by to check why the store's lights were on at four in the morning. The encounter left her blind in one eye with three scars across the left side of her face and carrying a deep seated hatred for all things heroic. She was dropped into the deepest warrens of Ziggursky Penitentiary where she probably would have lived out the remainder of her days if it weren't for Arachnos.

Dusty Enalios was one of the thousands of superpowered prisoners freed during one of Arachnos early raids on the Zig. They very quickly learned to regret freeing her as she tore through the Rogue Isles building up a powerful robot army, defeating countless elite Arachnos troops, taking out half a dozen Arbiters, and eventually defeating every member of Lord Recluse's inner circle. It is rumored but cannot be proven that Dusty and Lord Recluse met on the burning shell of an alternate reality in an epic duel that left no doubt Lord Recluse had very real limits to his near omnipotence. Although she never joined the ranks of the Incarnate, there are stories told in whispered voices of gods that crossed her path and barely survived.

Dusty Enalios has not been heard from for a few years now. It is said she retired to a quite corner of Croatoa where Red Caps serve her meals, Fir Bolg guard her gates, and Witches keep her appraised of world events.

It is not certain when, but somewhere along the line she had the damage to her face repaired and her left eye replaced. Her right eye is her natural blue, but her left eye is a brilliant emerald green.

This is Dusty Enalios robbing a bank on her first day in the Rogue Isles:

This is Dusty Enalios at level 50, the maximum level in the game, with all of her robot companions:

And this is the very last screenshot I still have of her. It was taken on January 18, 2008:

With everything that is happening in the world right now, it seems silly to be posting old screenshots from a game that shut down almost three years ago. My life has changed quite a bit since I created Dusty Enalios in City of Villains back on November 9th, 2005. Our world has changed irrevocably and it seems that ever since the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the world has spiraled further and further down the path to complete, total self-destruction. I honestly do not expect our civilization to last another decade, and that is the optimist side of me. If I give him rein to run loose, the pessimist in me cannot imagine our world making it to the end of 2015 without some kind of shattering event. Perhaps a world war, perhaps a nuclear holocaust, perhaps a series of cataclysmic natural disasters. The end of the world is in the air to a degree it has not been since 1979 and the hostage crisis in Iran.

City of Heroes/City of Villains was just a game. For those who never liked it, a superhero MMORPG is epitome of foolishness in an already foolish genre. The critics are not mistaken. Nonetheless, as ISIS rises to power, as Barack Obama plays with his selfie stick, as the EU struggles to keep their banks solvent and their union intact, I find myself thinking of Dusty Enalios and all the other heroes and villains I played while the game was alive. It truly was a living, breathing community. There are even today tens of thousands of people scattered all through cyberspace who pause what they are doing almost daily to make some brief mention of "CoX" as they now call it in their Tweets, on their Facebook profile, and in pictures they post to their online art galleries. There are four distinct groups of former players, not multi-million dollar game tychoons but simple, ordinary players with lives and families of their own who are right now daily struggling to master the intricacies of computer programming and 3D CGI so they can build a replacement for the world they have lost.

City of Heroes was more than just another MMORPG. It was a breath of fresh air in a market filled to overcapacity with half-dressed elven archers, human knights, and dwarven tinkers. There will never be a shortage of games devoted to high medieval fantasy. There has only ever been one superhero game worth playing and at the height of its profitability the owners pulled the plug, abandoning ten of thousands of cash paying customers without even offering them a reasonable explanation. And that, to me, symbolizes perfectly everything that is driving the modern world along the road to self-destruction. The complete lack of common sense and empathy that would lead a company to abandon a profitable enterprise and casually discard their loyal clientele perfectly expresses the crass, callous attitudes of both princes and paupers in the modern age. True medieval Kings and Queens, for all their pomposity and arrogance, would never have treated their peasants with this level of overwhelming disdain.