Author Topic: Planning: Identifying options  (Read 29558 times)

TonyV

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Planning: Identifying options
« on: September 02, 2012, 08:17:17 PM »
Okay, so for about two days now, in addition to responding to a zillion PMs (Titan, official), Skype invites (tonyv.paragonwiki), Facebook friend requests, e-mails (tonyv@cohtitan.com), and other means of communication, I've also been working on a cohesive plan for what exactly we're going to do.

As I've said all along, my #1 goal is to make sure that City of Heroes stays up and running.  I think our immediate list of options towards that goal is limited to the following possibilities:

Convince NCsoft to change their mind

I'll be totally upfront here: This possibility is highly unlikely.  For a company to lay 80+ people off at one time, there has to be a lot of preparation.  A lot of legal and accounting hurdles have been jumped through, a lot of things like contracts terminated with Playspan (who provided the back-end of the Paragon Store) have happened, etc.  Plus, you can't just tell 80+ people, "Um... never mind..." and not expect a huge negative hit to morale, and even a measure of bitterness and anger.  At this point, I just can't imagine things simply going back to the way they were.

Having said that, however, I do think that there is a possibility that NCsoft might agree to keep the game running in some kind of maintenance mode on a skeleton crew in which there will be no development or updates at least long enough for us to come up with a plan B, most likely involving one of the options below.

Convince NCsoft to transfer the IP rights and code to us

I'm jumping from what I feel is the most unlikely scenario to what I feel is the most tantalizing scenario.  If we can convince NCsoft that leaving City of Heroes shuttered is an incredible waste of something that has both monetary and emotional value, they might be willing to sell it to us.  I've seen a lot of theories around regarding NCsoft being short on cash.  I think the situation is more complicated than that, but if they really are looking for a cash infusion, it is possible that they would be willing to part with the IP, code base, and distribution rights for a high enough dollar figure.

So what happens then?  I don't know... yet.  Options include using crowd funding and/or an interested investment partner to raise the money to start a non-profit cooperative of players to basically take over where Paragon Studios left off.  We might very well reach out to the Paragon Studios developers, artists, testers, etc. to come work with us on the game, with the offer of a financial ownership stake in it.  In short, though, we the players could own the game, ensuring that something like this never happens again, that the only reason it could ever shut down is if interest really declines to the point where we simply can't keep the servers running any longer.  Worst case scenario, even if we screw it up, we can always use the next option below as a fallback plan; once we own the assets, they'd be ours to do with as we felt best to keep the game running.

The goal would be to have the assets out of the hands of people that don't want the game running and into the hands of people that do.  We'd have to tread carefully, though, because I don't want to 1) convince NCsoft that we'd end up taking marketshare away from their other games as a competitor, or 2) do our job so well that we convince NCsoft that the assets are worth a lot more than we can pay.

Convince NCsoft to transfer the IP rights and code to another company

I've seen several suggestions, such as Riot Games, Valve, even someone like Blizzard.  These are good ideas, and if we can't get the assets ourselves, then this would definitely be worth pursuing.  City of Heroes is a profitable game, one that I think a lot of publishers would be interested in acquiring.  I think there are several good options of people to take over the game, good publishers and good studios who would salivate at the prospect of having the world's largest superhero-themed MMORPG as part of their portfolio.

Convince NCsoft to license the IP and code

The sad fact is that in today's litigious society, there's a chance that NCsoft either can't or won't want to part with the IP for certain legal reasons.  If that's the case, then perhaps the would be willing to sell us a license to use the game's IP, source code, and sell us distribution rights to the client so that they retain ownership of the assets, but we basically pay them "rent" to use them.

This isn't an ideal situation because it would still put us in the precarious position of continuing to depend on NCsoft's good will, but it has the appeal to NCsoft that it would be pure profit to them--unlike owning Paragon Studios, there would be no expenditures on their part to eat into their bottom line each month.

Through crowd funding or subscriptions, we could hire developers on a contractual basis to perform maintenance and perhaps even make steady improvements and changes to the server and client.

Reverse engineer the code

I know this might come as a surprise to some of you ;) but at the Titan Network, we have been working for years on reverse engineering the client and the communication protocols to the servers that run the game.  Before you get creeped out about using our tools such as Mids, Sentinel, etc., I assure you that we have never built any malicious code.  We all have agreed from day one that we would never use anything we discover to cheat, compromise your privacy, exploit the game, or anything like that.

Anyway, our resident hackers have made a lot of headway in working out how the servers work, and as you can imagine now, they're still at it as I type this.  I reached out to nemerle a little earlier, and our reverse engineering lead is going to contact him regarding any opportunities to combine efforts.

Having said all of that, this really is a last resort.  I don't want to understate the fact that reverse engineering something like this game is very, very hard.  Even if we're successful and had all of the protocols and information we need, actually implementing replacements is also hard.  Also, there's the little matter of legal issues.  If we don't have rights to the IP and art and design assets, we obviously can't just start running City of Heroes again on our own servers, lest we get sued out of existence.  I've seen some messages and posts essentially saying, "You could run it out of another country where the laws don't cover such-and-such..." but we really desperately want to avoid playing legal games like that.  Long story short, if we go this route, the City of Heroes you're used to will probably not be close to the same City of Heroes we're able to produce.  It would be like looking at a road map of a city you've never been to.  You'd recognize the elements--highways, interstates, railroads, bridges, rivers, etc., but that hometown El Super Mexicano would be gone.

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So those, in a nutshell, are the options we're currently working on pursuing.  Some of them I obviously like more than others.  Some of them would entail a lot more work than just the two days I've put into it so far, and believe me, I'm working on it.  I've also gotten a lot of really good ideas, suggestions, and feedback from the community.  I haven't responded to all of it yet because I really am getting slammed with messages while I'm trying to work on stuff (but don't stop!), so if you don't hear from me right away, that doesn't mean that I haven't read what you've written, it just means that I want to get out another post or respond to someone who sent me a message earlier than you did, or there's some other pressing matter I'm dropping everything for.  But do keep sending me stuff, because it is making my radar and influencing the directions we're going in!

Golden Girl

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2012, 10:25:06 PM »
Another option, "Plan Z", is probably the last resort - a new player funded and run superhero MMO, built to follow the design goals of the original, and with a new IP that's as close to the current IP as possible without alerting lawyers.
This would be making everything from scratch.
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Empyrean

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2012, 10:58:37 PM »
I don't know how realistic this is, but is it possible that a company would be interested in buying or licencing the rights to CoX and then developing a CoX 2 based on the same content but a new graphics engine.  One downside to that--other than it might be TOTAL pie in the sky--is that it might end up looking like spastic moving plastic dolls like Champions and DCUO.  One of the things I LOVE about CoX is that it actually looks like comic book art and the movement feels real.

Golden Girl

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2012, 11:18:42 PM »
Graphics-wise, all we're really missing are player and NPC avatars with more polygons to make more curves, less straight lines, and fingers, dynamic shadows and ambient occulsion on mission maps,  and dynamic lighting for power effects.
Tech-wise, there's a bit more a new engine would need - asymetrical costume parts, costume parts with more than 2 color options, destructable environments, picking up and throwing objects, super speed up walls and over the surface of water, animated hair and faces,  multi-cape rigs and so on.
Animation--wise, there's no need for major changes - the animatiosn are already fluid and dramatic - the only changes might be more general ones, like allowing running and using powers at the same time, if a gameplay decsion was made to remove the concept of rooting form the game, for example - or power use while swimming/underwater was required.
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TonyV

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2012, 11:39:44 PM »
I think that's a good long-term goal, but practically speaking, a new game engine takes years to develop.  Logistically speaking, even taking an existing game engine and licensing it would be extraordinarily hard to do and would take on the order of magnitude of probably a year or more under ideal circumstances.  I'm not ruling it out, but as Golden Girl says, I'm really keeping that in my back pocket as a plan Z, as it would probably be prohibitively expensive and by the time it's finished, people would be like, "City of Whats?"  Plus, for all of its warts, the existing game engine does have over ten years of enhancements and advances built into it.  It might be obscenely complicated, but it has proven very reliable.

I think that if we get to that point, the path would go something like: NCsoft agrees to let go of the IP and code, we or some other company keeps the game running for a few more years while building up enough funding to create a new engine, a team works for a few more years after that to actually create the engine, and sometime around 2015 or 2018, we'd have a new unencumbered engine powering CoH.

jacknomind

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2012, 11:46:18 PM »
Even if we can get only the IP but not the engine, we have something worth investing in.

By which I mean, something we can entice investors with.

Golden Girl

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2012, 12:08:55 AM »
We might not need to build a new engine from scratch - a version of the unreal engine could be used, for example, which would cut down development time on CoH2 a lot.
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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2012, 02:36:38 AM »
The current CoH engine is years old, and it's a spaghetti tangle right now. But carrying that engine on would be more cost effective than making a new one, even if it's a mutant engine of Unreal or Unity, we don't really have the years or money at our disposal. Just about any addition or modification to the game, even slight, will take a month, with a cohesive community team; and getting a good team is going to take time, but it can be done.

I think the best case scenario is a community owned project, which will still cost allot of money to run, but that money will be distributed across thousands of players. However, organizing all that will take allot of effort, we might be better off just founding our own company and try inviting some of the old dev team back so we can get working on CoX reincarnated faster. I really wouldn't trust most other companies to do it justice like a community founded company could, especially Blizzard/Activision.

Golden Girl

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2012, 02:53:19 AM »
The current CoH engine is years old, and it's a spaghetti tangle right now. But carrying that engine on would be more cost effective than making a new one, even if it's a mutant engine of Unreal or Unity, we don't really have the years or money at our disposal. Just about any addition or modification to the game, even slight, will take a month, with a cohesive community team; and getting a good team is going to take time, but it can be done.

If we can get some of the devs onboard, then we wouldn't need as much time to figure out how the engine works.

Quote
I think the best case scenario is a community owned project, which will still cost allot of money to run, but that money will be distributed across thousands of players. However, organizing all that will take allot of effort, we might be better off just founding our own company and try inviting some of the old dev team back so we can get working on CoX reincarnated faster. I really wouldn't trust most other companies to do it justice like a community founded company could, especially Blizzard/Activision.

Seccuring the IP is still vital for any CoH2, unless we want the extra time and effort of putting togther a new IP.
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QuantumHero

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2012, 03:57:50 AM »
Its hard to know exactly how to plan our "rise from the ashes" until we know what rights and data can be salvaged.

So what is COH?

COH is our community...number one priority is to make sure hold the community together and that we get contact info from as many players as possible.

After tha we have the most essential aspects of our interface and lore.

The NPC groups and general settings could technically be replaced but it would help to maintain the same feel if we still had the right to use all those things.

An AE and/or Ouroboros-like settng could be used to access player created mission and any intact content we are able to salvage if we are unable to maintain a full static world.

My husband also suggested using google earth to map real cities and use them for new content if needed.  I like the idea...but would also love some of the zones we've all dreamed of...historical zones, water, moon, etc.  Honestly what I care most about is having this game live...existing zones,recreated maps, or new content doesn't really matter.

Next we have th engine...it would b great to get everything (and there may still be an issue with cryptic ownership as well?).  If we can get the whole thing that would be fantastic but we would rise omehow without it...I know we would.

I've seen what modding communites can do with other games so I have a lot of faith in us...and marketing/writing experiance :)

As for the player data it would befantastc to get but I actually asked the players on justice earlier today if tey would care about restarted toons...and got a resounding answer...the game continueing to exist and the community continuin to exist are what matters.


This game is special...I am a female gamer and proud.  In my time playing (since beta) my husband and I have met so many other couples who also play...and have made some real life friends

Edit because my cat walked on the keyboard and caused an early post.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2012, 04:11:35 AM by QuantumHero »
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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2012, 04:11:59 AM »
I'm not sure I care about a "Reverse Engineer The Code" option.  It'll never be a legal solution, and will be relegated to a few die-hards torrenting around a homemade, hacky server and the final version of the client.  It might help keep a little of the momentum going, but at what cost?

I'm very excited by the "License the IP and code to us" option.  The idea of a community-owned MMO, that isn't held to the corporate demands of people who don't care, and often have impenetrable motives is extremely appealing.  I think it's time to see that happen, however it comes about.

I realize "writing our own" would be an incredible task... but this community has shown itself to be an incredible group of people.  If we had to come up with our own story, our own place, and our own game, we could.  Yes, it might take years, but what if we did it?  Didn't some of this community cheer Cryptic on through years of development, setbacks, and lateness?

I think it's perhaps a less attractive option to many people than "Save COH!" but I don't think a new, community-owned game should be ruled out.  Dynamic cloud-based hosting and operations are possible and only going to get cheaper; by the time a game is ready to be run on the large scale, perhaps that initial investment of a server farm will be moot, and we can ramp it up or down as needed.  I have no doubt that we could write one.  If all else fails, I think it's something to consider and discuss seriously.

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2012, 04:33:49 AM »
I am wondering if perhaps contacting Gabe and Tycho over at Penny Arcade at some point might be a good idea. They're both gamers and advocates for gamers, and a link on their front page has been known to generate enough interest to explode sites with traffic. Any thoughts?

TonyV

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2012, 04:41:55 AM »
I'm not sure I care about a "Reverse Engineer The Code" option.  It'll never be a legal solution, and will be relegated to a few die-hards torrenting around a homemade, hacky server and the final version of the client.  It might help keep a little of the momentum going, but at what cost?

This option might be viable if we can acquire the IP rights to City of Heroes but not the software.  We could rebuild the server and use the IP rights to populate it with the characters, missions, stories, etc. that everyone is familiar with.  It would be a mostly transparent process, though it would probably take a while to get everything working on the back end.

I'm very excited by the "License the IP and code to us" option.  The idea of a community-owned MMO, that isn't held to the corporate demands of people who don't care, and often have impenetrable motives is extremely appealing.  I think it's time to see that happen, however it comes about.

I realize "writing our own" would be an incredible task... but this community has shown itself to be an incredible group of people.  If we had to come up with our own story, our own place, and our own game, we could.  Yes, it might take years, but what if we did it?  Didn't some of this community cheer Cryptic on through years of development, setbacks, and lateness?

I agree!  I've been saying for years that I wish they would incorporate more user-generated content into the canon of the game.  The usual response to that is two-fold: 1) user-generated content is usually not that good, and 2) there are legal ownership issues.  My response to those has always been: 1) I agree, but some of it is very good, and these gems should make it into the game, and 2) those are easily enough worked around with just a little bit of paperwork and motivation.

If it comes to the point where we have to create our content, either as new IP or as add-on content to IP we acquire, if we have control of the game, I would most certainly be open to user contributions to the game canon.  There are just too many talented and creative members of our community to bypass the goldmine of resources we'd have at our disposal.

I think it's perhaps a less attractive option to many people than "Save COH!" but I don't think a new, community-owned game should be ruled out.  Dynamic cloud-based hosting and operations are possible and only going to get cheaper; by the time a game is ready to be run on the large scale, perhaps that initial investment of a server farm will be moot, and we can ramp it up or down as needed.  I have no doubt that we could write one.  If all else fails, I think it's something to consider and discuss seriously.

Guy and Codewalker would have to be the ones handling this.  It's certainly not being ruled out, but new games are very expensive and very time-consuming to develop from scratch.  City of Heroes began development in 2001 and wasn't released until the middle of 2004.  If we absolutely, positively cannot work anything out and come to an impasse, I might be up for considering a crowd funded campaign to build a "spiritual successor" to City of Heroes.

TonyV

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2012, 04:42:35 AM »
I am wondering if perhaps contacting Gabe and Tycho over at Penny Arcade at some point might be a good idea. They're both gamers and advocates for gamers, and a link on their front page has been known to generate enough interest to explode sites with traffic. Any thoughts?

Absolutely, contacting notable personalities and the media is not just on the radar, it is in the pipeline.  Stay tuned.  ;)

Sleepykitty

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #14 on: September 03, 2012, 06:26:46 AM »
o.o on increased user content.. while great, I suspect we'd run into the same problem paragon had with it.. to exploitable.. course, the community would have the manpower to actually have ppl go through and review bits before adding them too... but we'd likely need a whole new editing tool that works offline to allow ppl to build those missions and submit them..

Finding a new parent studio.. >_< pls not Blizzard.. pls pls pls not them... Valve would be great... even netdevil would be better than Blizzard/Activision... once activision has you in their hooks....

>.> and google earth.. I seem to recall ppl doing mods with it in minecraft to map worlds.. why haven't we done that yet for paragon and the islands.... not sure dumping actual cities into the game would be good though.. probably massive legal issues with landmarks and certain buildings.. and this is sounding a bit like stuff for the pipedreams page rather than possible options for going forward one..
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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #15 on: September 03, 2012, 07:36:31 AM »
all of this sounds fantastic as a gameplan, i fear we may not really hear anything of this until after the holiday weekend, and IMO the anxiety/tension of what the answers are from the big name places is what i worry about

until we start to hear feedback from the publicity campaign its gonna be difficult to determine what the next step will be

Sleepykitty

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #16 on: September 03, 2012, 07:49:32 AM »
<.< its a holiday weekend, no one's there but the server staff and whats left of the GMs. We just have to be patient and do what we can right now.


o.o course, you can always plot crazy stuff... anyone tried getting the minecrafter's support? how about promising Steven Colbert the presidency in CoH land if he gives the drive air time? brain wash ppl with viral videos? >_> yeah.. I need sleep..
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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #17 on: September 03, 2012, 08:50:23 AM »
I don't think I live anywhere near any of the NCSoft buildings, but I was wondering if there was anyone planning some kind of peaceful demonstration? Perhaps have a large group of the CoH community show up at an office? Dressed in costumes? Holding up signs like the ones characters hold up with ;emote? I know if I had anywhere NCSoft related to go to out here in Ohio I'd jump on that in a heartbeat. Even if I was the only guy out there. Though I'd certainly hope I wouldn't be the only guy. That might not put a good amount of weight on the message.

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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2012, 12:14:06 PM »
Whatever happens, I think it would be best to make the effort as open source as legally permissible, in order to prevent the very same thing from happening again.

<.< Look at what NCsoft did to Auto Assault, Dungeon Runners, Exteel, Tabula Rasa, et al. They not only kill projects but also bury them. We knew this could've happen to us at any time (regardless of whatever deals they had with Cryptic). It would not be out of character for NCsoft to turn hostile on Titan with their legal muscles (they did the same to people who tried to RE Tabula Rasa after its demise). If our only course of action turned out to be RE or licencing the IP/codebase, it would put us back to square one, at best.

With an open project, the community is the project. That would also make even non-CoH players more likely to contribute.
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Re: Planning: Identifying options
« Reply #19 on: September 03, 2012, 01:08:24 PM »
Hi TonyV, et. al.,

First off, Tony...thanks for doing this and organizing/coordinating. It's a huge undertaking. I'm on board.

Secondly, I do find some appeal to Tony's suggestion here:

"Convince NCsoft to license the IP and code

The sad fact is that in today's litigious society, there's a chance that NCsoft either can't or won't want to part with the IP for certain legal reasons.  If that's the case, then perhaps the would be willing to sell us a license to use the game's IP, source code, and sell us distribution rights to the client so that they retain ownership of the assets, but we basically pay them "rent" to use them.

This isn't an ideal situation because it would still put us in the precarious position of continuing to depend on NCsoft's good will, but it has the appeal to NCsoft that it would be pure profit to them--unlike owning Paragon Studios, there would be no expenditures on their part to eat into their bottom line each month.

Through crowd funding or subscriptions, we could hire developers on a contractual basis to perform maintenance and perhaps even make steady improvements and changes to the server and client.
"

Yes, we'd have to depend on NCsoft's good will, but if there was some type of contract or "lease" if you will... then perhaps that would buy us time.

Also, it does sound like a win-win. NCsoft would be gaining profit and we'd keep our beloved City of Heroes/Villains.

There are thousands of us heroes and villains who roam the streets of Paragon City. As Tony has mentioned in other posts, with those numbers come hundreds (if not thousands) of professions, skills, and areas of expertise. Lawyers, public relations managers, advertisers, journalists. We got 'em all! Although I'm a school teacher, so I may not bring much to this scenario, I'll do what I can. Certainly, with all these expert secret identities, we can pool together and create something out of nothing. A 'Project Phoenix' if you will.

If only the NCSoft powers-that-be would just think about even accepting an invitation to an open dialogue...that would be tremendous!