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Community News:  City of Heroes source code release news

3:00 PM EDT April 19th 2019…

That was when it happened, a miracle of heroic proportions. 5 days later is when I heard the news and my heart skipped a beat. The City of Heroes source code was dropped, not a reworked code, not new homegrown emulator code, it is the ORIGINAL game code. Let that sink in for just a minute, process it. Did your heart skip a beat too? Did you just experience a roller coaster of emotions like I did? If so, soon we can return home brothers and sisters! If not, its okay, soon you can discover why this is so huge for us.

 

 

City of Heroes was shut down for no apparent reason on November 30th 2012. The game was successful here in the west, maintaining profitability, but it is believed NCSoft shut it down due to poor reception in the Korean market. Petitions to save the game and numerous other attempts were everywhere. All fell on deaf ears.

 

 

Fast forward to today, City of Heroes still has a rabid fan base, numerous spiritual successors are in development, and there are more than a few groups working on an emulator. The release of the source code will accelerate these emulators by leaps and bounds, no longer are they reverse engineering scraps of code and writing new stuff from scratch, now they have the original source code to work with. Instead of taking years to get an emulated game we can get the real deal in a much shorter time.

 

 

Now to be fair the source code drop did not include Mission Arcs, other game content, or the character database. But the player and NPC databases are one and the same, and is currently being scrubbed and sifted through and will be dropped once that process is finished. everything that is currently missing is being worked on getting ready for release. Stay patient, and keep the faith alive, soon we will be in paragon city together again! Why am I so sure of this? Because there has been a secret CoH server running and in development for the last 6 years! Not only that but the Titan network is still working on trying to get a legal server running!On to the leaked secret server; it was outed by Destroyer stroyer, AKA Doc Boy, who says his real name is Brian. It was leaked in a video he posted to youtube which has since been taken down. He claimed to have been invited to the private server after dumping game screenshots to reddit, and claims the server was running for 6 years with the game’s original code and player character data. He also claims the devs had access to personal info, and was kept secret until now with ban threats and NDAs. Due to this leak of the secret SCORE (Secret Cabal of Reverse Engineers) COH server Leandro Pardini, the lead dev on said server, confirms the server’s existence and spoke out about numerous accusations made by Doc Boy and the need for the secrecy in the first place. Here is the complete statement –

 

The Secret Cabal of Reverse Engineers
Before I talk about City of Heroes, I need to go back in time a little bit. It has been over six years since the shutdown, so a lot of people either forgot or never knew how the server project started. And for that, I need to talk about another game.

When NCsoft closed Tabula Rasa in 2007, a group of devoted players banded together to code a server for it. It was called Infinite Rasa and it developed things in the open, with a project website and forum. The overall architecture was being discussed publicly and there was a buggy server that allowed players to log in and run around the initial area.

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.

When City of Heroes closed in November 2012, this was very fresh in my mind. Instead of trying to develop a server out in the open to suffer the same fate as Infinite Rasa, the efforts to revive City of Heroes focused on trying to acquire the IP from NCsoft through various means, with any server development being held in secret.

And here is the irony of the entire situation: the fact that a City of Heroes server is being developed in secret is not a secret. If you search for the phrase “Secret Cabal of Reverse Engineers” in Google, the very first result is a post from 2013, in which a player is explicitly saying that the server development efforts “might want to stay as low as possible”.

 

So that is what SCORE did. It utilized closed forums with, closed access. Invite only; initially only for developers, though eventually expanded to friends and family of anyone who had access. Accepting an invitation to the project involved a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and anyone who breached it had their access revoked. Over the years, multiple people who weren’t happy with how fast the project was moving or wanted it made public were removed. For the most part this was not an issue, because the community at large, at the time, understood that this was a secret project, a backup if everything else failed. That seems to no longer be the case.

 

 

There are currently calls to make SCORE public because of the extra exposure; the reason given is that, after six years, NCsoft surely wouldn’t care. But Infinite Rasa also thought they were safe after four years. This is not a mistake you make twice.

 

I believe that the reason this particular NDA breach gained so much traction when others didn’t has to do with the community evolving over time. Many people no longer remember that efforts to acquire the IP were ongoing at the time, and so server development was agreed to happen underground. It is possible that a lot of people that played City of Heroes while they were teenagers, and never engaged with the community at the time, are now adults who never knew about it in the first place.

 

 

Now, I need to address the connections, or lack thereof, between SCORE and other projects that have become entangled in this dramatic reveal.

 

Super Entity Game Server

The Super Entity Game Server project already existed back in 2012 when the City of Heroes servers were shut down, and their goal is to implement a fully playable server that connects to the original release client from 2004. At the time there was a lot of discussion about contributing to SEGS rather than starting a separate project, but the fact that SEGS uses the original release client, while SCORE targeted the latest beta client from 2012, makes both projects fundamentally incompatible. The projects are separate, and as far as I am aware, none of the lead developers or community managers ever accepted an invite to participate in SCORE.

SEGS has been given as a reason why the secrecy behind SCORE is unwarranted. After all, they have been operating for ten years now, and have not received any Cease and Desist orders by NCsoft. It should be noted that SEGS has not yet released anything to the level of what Infinite Rasa had: working weapons and enemies, though limited to just the starting area. It’s also possible that using the original release client makes them a less appealing target. In either case, they are certainly braver and more willing to take risks than I am, and I really hope that it works out for them. While my attempts to contribute to SEGS were extremely limited mainly due to my own lack of familiarity and patience with their programming framework, I still am cheering for their success and I hope that, if this whole situation attracts attention to them, it’s only in the form of new developers seeking to contribute their skills to the project.

 

The Titan Network

While the initial recruitment for SCORE happened on the Titan Network forums, the project was split off as soon as possible. Because of the then-ongoing efforts to acquire the City of Heroes IP from NCsoft, the owner for the site did not want a server development project to jeopardize the negotiations, and has on multiple occasions disavowed the server project completely, although discussion of SCORE are still allowed as far as I know. This might seem overzealous, but it is perfectly understandable; the Titan Network aims to be a hub for the City of Heroes community and their many projects, and being linked to a specific underground project introduces a liability that could cause them to be shut down as well.

Once it was clear that acquiring the IP was not going to happen, the Titan Network created a project where all the user data is held on the players’ own computers and the game processes are distributed among players. This is a brilliant idea, as it means that there’s no server to shut down; Paragon Chat operates on a standard, open source chat client. I collaborated on this project’s early days, but again, the goals are too different for the projects to be merged into a single thing. And because of the difficulty in properly implementing a distributed server, I recommend that anyone with the development skills to contribute to a City of Heroes server project joins SEGS instead.

 

Paragon Studios

This is where things get less pleasant. This last NDA breach has had some malicious elements to it, probably to inflate the claims and make it feel more dramatic than it is. While I won’t deny that some former Paragon Studios developers are aware of SCORE and have provided helpful tips in the past, this should not be shocking to anyone who has been around the community long enough; I have seen some former Paragon Studios developers in the Discord server for SEGS as well. Under no circumstances should there be fingers pointed at them; anything they shared was done so with the tacit understanding that it would not endanger their current or future employment. I am very happy to take the heat over this entire situation, even though I think it has been overblown. Leave them out of it.

There is one specific rumor that needs outright debunking, though: at no point did I, or anyone else I know, receive a database containing player names, emails, birth dates, payment information, or any other personally identifiable information. Not only would this have been a massive breach of privacy, but that is not information that a game server would ever need to operate, and so it would have been completely pointless to share.

 

Reddit

The person behind the current NDA breach cites Reddit moderators being too quick to remove all mentions of any private server, except for their two stickies for SEGS and Paragon Chat. While this again might seem overzealous, it really isn’t. Reddit as a whole does not tolerate when a forum triggers legal complaints; very recently, the subreddit where piracy is discussed had to delete 10 years of archived discussions to prevent being shut down. There are also the very valid concerns that malicious actors would post links to City of Heroes servers that turn out to be scams which infect the player’s computer with malware or stealing payment information. Reddit offers no accountability regarding who posts anything, and so it should be heavily policed to guarantee a safe environment. If this feels like censorship, you are always free to start your own subreddit. I do not moderate the City of Heroes subreddit, the Titan Network or any Facebook group.

 

Trust and Feelings

This is a difficult thing to address, because nobody likes feeling lied to, even by omission. At the same time, operating under an NDA comes with some rules that are well understood. The fact that we’re talking about a server project for a game while the company that owns the IP is still active and used aspects of the IP very recently for Master X Master makes things more complicated.

My approach to enforcing the NDA has always been to not reply to any public posts that revealed details about SCORE, and just contact the specific party to have the information taken down. Others have gone as far as to call them liars or crazy, which goes against my wishes. I do apologize for anyone who was on the receiving end of verbal abuse due to this situation.

Back in 2012, the City of Heroes community agreed that SCORE would operate in secret until we had something ready for release. The fact that nearly nothing has been released six years later is probably part of the reason why this attracted so much attention; the community has shifted and changed, and not many remember how the project began. I am sure a lot of people are curious to know how much progress has been done; however, with SEGS having regular and interesting releases, it feels quite unfair to come out of nowhere and steal their thunder with a progress report on something that is hidden by design.

Unless and until we are certain that a Cease and Desist order is no longer a threat, the NDA regarding SCORE development will remain in full effect. For most people this will seem like a moot point since most of the community are aware of it, but keep in mind, that is also how we started. Until then, support SEGS! They are very close to a new release and I will be very disappointed if the ghost of SCORE overshadows their accomplishments.”

 

That is a lot to take in. Many people are understandably angry that this server existed in secret for so long with no way to play other than an invite. Now it remains to be seen how this will affect the future of the SCORE server and other projects now that the source code has been dropped by the people over at SCORE and how this all might affect the attempts by the city of titans folks to get a legit community server running with NCSoft approval. As of the time of this article a new public test server was launched with 14000 registered users and over 2000 active players, the servers current cap.

 

 

We’ll bring you more news as we hear it
~Darsch


April 27th, 2019 by Darsch
This entry was posted on Saturday, April 27th, 2019 at 9:16 pm and is filed under Gaming, General, Massive Multiplayer Online, Multiplatform, PC, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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