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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
Posted in Gaming, General, Massive Multiplayer Online, Multiplatform, PC, Technology | No Comments »

Movie Review: Shazam

We all have a superhero inside us, it just takes a bit of magic to bring it out. In Billy Batson’s case, by shouting out one word – SHAZAM. – this streetwise fourteen-year-old foster kid can turn into the grown-up superhero Shazam.

 

 

After almost 20 years in the making, Shazam probably felt like the film that was never going to happen; Since the early 2000s, the project has struggled to come to fruition, but this Spring it became the seventh instalment in the DC Extended Universe with director David F. Sandberg at the helm. According to IMDB, Shazam has grossed over $300 million worldwide so far, a respectable sum in just three weeks.

 

We begin in 1974 in New York, where a young Thaddeus Sivana is in a car with his father and brother. During an argument, Sivana is transported to a temple known as the Rock of Eternity, where he meets Shazam, an ancient wizard looking for a champion to replace him as the last living member of the Council of Seven Wizards. In the search for someone pure of heart, Sivana proves to be tempted by the Eye of Sin displayed in the temple, which has previously proven to be dangerous. As a result, Shazam rejects him back to his own life. In the shock and mania of his experience, the family car is involved in a car crash, leaving his father with life-changing injuries and his brother blaming Young Sivana for the incident.

 

 

In present-day Philadelphia, foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is struggling to settle in his new foster home. He’s trying to find his biological mother who he was separated from at a funfair as a child, so is reluctant to accept his new family’s hospitality. Whilst running from the bullies who attacked his foster brother, Freddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy ends up on a subway train that takes him to Shazam. In desperation for an heir, he chooses Billy to take his power and his name, transforming the fourteen-year-old into a fully grown man who looks suspiciously like Zachary Levi. With his new persona, Billy and Freddie bond over their love of superheroes to train and experiment with the powers that come with his new name of Shazam.

 

Meanwhile, a now Doctor Sivana (Mark Strong) returns to the Rock of Eternity after a lifetime of research to steal the Eye of Sin, using it to seek revenge on his family and take on Shazam to obtain his power just as any respectable villain would.

 

 

For me, the humour in this genre is not unusual anymore, though it is certainly refreshing for DC as it’s presented in a way that feels natural not only for the characters but also the actors. Levi and Grazer have a great on-screen rapport and have proven in previous roles to both be excellent comedy actors. I hope in particular that fans of action-comedy series Chuck are not disappointed as Levi’s Shazam shares similarity with Chuck’s frantic, yet charming, personality as a tech wiz turned CIA agent.

 

On paper, Shazam doesn’t sound like it could translate to the big screen as well as the rest of it’s DC counterparts, but it’s proven me wrong. It doesn’t offer the serious, dark plots or the edgy characters we’ve come to love from DC, but if anything I think that has worked to Shazam’s advantage.  It’s taken what we loved about Deadpool (especially Deadpool 2) and marketed for a wider audience so that those who find superhero films either too intense or overly complicated will hopefully feel less alienated. It’s not going to suit everyone, but hey, neither did Ben Affleck as Batman.

 

 

The action scenes are strong, which according to Editor Michael Aller, were difficult sequences to work on. The plot twists are not exactly groundbreaking, but no less satisfying to watch.

 

 

I really enjoyed the film and it gets a 9/10 from me.


April 27th, 2019 by Gemma
Posted in General, Movie Review | No Comments »

Multiplatform Game Review: Vaporum by Fatbot Games

Vaporum is a grid-based dungeon crawler RPG in an original steampunk setting, inspired by old-school classics of the genre. Stranded in the middle of an ocean, in front of a gigantic tower, the hero has to find out what the place is, what happened there, and most importantly, who he is.

 

 

Vaporum is developed by Fatbot Games and originally released on PC in 2017. Key Features of the game include: First person real-time combat, Puzzles and level-wide objectives, Gadget-based RPG system, Lots of exploration, loot, plenty of character customization, a mysterious storyline filled with secrets, fully voiced main characters, and an Immersive steampunk setting.

 

Combat in Vaporum takes place in real time. Each enemy type has a distinctive set of strengths and weaknesses, and various kinds of attacks and defense mechanisms, so you have to employ different tactics to beat each one. A Lot of time is spent fighting progressively more difficult enemies on a grid based movement system which limits you to simple left, right, forward, and backwards movement and 90 degree turns. This leads to you being able to hit an enemy, step backwards and force a melee-only enemy to step forwards so you can hit it again and move before it can hit you, effectively killing it. This is simple versus a single enemy, but much more daunting versus multiple enemies and mastery of the tile based grid movement system is a must as jarring as it is. Combat is quick and lethal with little opportunity for healing. If you get backed into a corner, it easily becomes a situation of standing there taking turns hitting each other until one of you are dead. The gadget based system is more accurately a steampunk version of spells and is very fun and satisfying to use to defeat enemies.

 

 

The movement system is jarring at times and clunky. It did give me motion sickness due to the way the character moves. The character’s head bobs down and then looks back up after each move, and turning is a sudden start then stop that can disorient you. It must be stated this is one of only two titles to ever give me motion sickness, and even with developer help I was not able to prevent it; only limit it by turning off the options for headbob, screen shake effects, and idle camera animation. The head bob while moving was still there as was the up-down motion of the character breathing, but this did help to somewhat mitigate the motion sickness.

 

 

Most mechanics in Vaporum are very simple. However, combining these mechanics creates intriguing puzzles and level-wide objectives where you have to use both your wits and reflexes. While most puzzles and riddles are contained in a single room, progression objectives can span an entire level or even multiple levels. The puzzles themselves can consist of finding the button, moving crates in set patterns and triggering pressure plates in a specific order, with later levels adding lethal traps and teleporters. While solving the puzzles feels rewarding, it is a double edged sword as completing the puzzles are required for progression, but it is very frustrating when you get stuck on one, and they quickly become monotonous and boring at that point.

 

 

The games graphics and Audio are top-notch and perfect for a steampunk title and really help to immerse you into the game world. The voice acting is pretty good for the most part with only a couple lines of dialogue that felt off. The story is good even though it is set up with the stereotypical woke up with amnesia trope. The controls on the other hand make it clear this was a title ported over from the pc, and while clumsy and clunky and frustratingly annoying at first, once you learn and memorize them they no longer present as much of an issue.

 

Check out the video version of this review here –

 

Or check out Lone’s stream of the XBox One version –

 

For more info on the game, head over to the Vaporum website.

 

I give the game a solid 5 out of 10, it stands good on its own merits, but as a port it feels lacking in the quality of life department.

~Darsch

 

[Here Darsch reviews the PlayStation 4 Port of Vaporum, released early April 2019, also on XBox One and Nintendo Switch. ~Lone]


April 25th, 2019 by Darsch
Posted in Game Review, Gaming, General, Multiplatform, Nintendo, PC, Playstation, Xbox | No Comments »

PC Early Access First Look: Satisfactory from Coffee Stain Studios

Satisfactory is a first-person open-world factory building game with a dash of exploration and combat. Pioneering for FICSIT Incorporated means charting and exploiting an alien planet, battling alien lifeforms, creating multi-story factories, entering conveyor belt heaven, automating vehicles, and researching new technologies.

 

 

Satisfactory is satisfying and out now in Early Access from Coffee Stain studios, the same studio responsible for “Sanctum” and “Goat Simulator”.

 

Satisfactory is a survival game about exploring an alien planet, taking its resources and building massive factories. It is one part survival and exploration game and one part factory sim. The game is satisfying to say the least.

 

 

I decided to choose the first starting area offered of the three biomes, a grass land with plenty of flat land to build on and a decent amount of resources but long distances of travel.

 

The other two biomes were a lush forest with plenty of biomass (used to make power and fuel) but few building opportunities and a rocky desert with a mix of the two but little biomass.

 

 

The game launched into early access with –
• 6 tiers full of milestones that unlocks machines, resources, equipment and vehicles
• 3 different starting areas/biomes on a large handcrafted world (30km2)
• Vehicles with automation capabilities
• Equipment and weapons
• Alien creatures
• Multiplayer

 

With the following coming as the game reaches full release:
• The rest of the FICSIT milestones and tiers
• More machines, resources, vehicles, equipment and weapons
• Improvements on core gameplay, systems, UI/UX, Quality of Life
• Iterate on world, exploration, landmarks, rewards and creatures
• Full narrative
• More optimization
• Dedicated server support
• Mod support

 

 

My first game session started out as many survival games, stranded alone somewhere with nothing and you have to gather resources and craft what you need as you go.

 

After about 30 to 45 minutes I had the start of an automated factory going. After two hours though, I had miners set up gathering an endless supply of copper and iron ore, feeding it onto conveyor belts and into my smelters & to be turned into ingots, then further down the assembly line they would be turned into other building resources I needed to further automate things.

 

 

The game has a simple gameplay loop that is easy for me to lose my self in and it can be relaxing while trying to solve logistic problems such as how to get resources from point A, at the top of a mountain, to point B far below and away the most efficient way possible. This is the core of the game.

 

It takes time to get really built up, two days in and I am still working on getting my factory running and unlocking milestones, this games progression system. Milestone can be thought of as levels with in each tier that give you blueprints and upgrades. it is very simple and helps to give the player guidance towards what to while building the factory.

 

 

If I had to rate the game in its current early access state I would give it a 5 out of 10, but, as it’s an early access title and many features, such as the narrative & several tiers of upgrades and buildings, are simply are not in yet and early access is expected to last at least a year.

 

Check out my first look preview video below for a better idea –

 

Satisfactory is one to watch for gamers interested in this style of game or newcomers looking for something different but fun.

 

Want to play youtself and support the developer in Early Access, or just wishlist for later, head over to the Epic Game Store page or the games website


April 5th, 2019 by Darsch
Posted in Gaming, General, PC, Real Time Strategy | No Comments »

Netflix TV Review: The Umbrella Academy: Season 1

A disbanded group of superheroes reunites after their adoptive father, who trained them to save the world, dies.

 

 

I will be the first to hold my hands up and say that seeing the trailer to The Umbrella Academy initially left me feeling a bit cold. The opening to the trailer left me expecting a terrible mix of Harry Potter and Slaughterhouse Rulez (the latter being one of the worst films I’ve ever seen). I was proven wrong by several people who personally recommended it to me, plus the improved second half of the trailer sold it for me. Based on the comics books of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, the adaptation was originally planned as a film in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2017 when the project was approved for a television series by Netflix.

 

 

We begin in 1989, when on the 1st October, 43 women from all over the world gave birth, but none of them experienced a pregnancy prior to this day. At the news of this phenomenon, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), an eccentric billionaire, made it his mission to adopt as many of the babies as he could. In the end, he formed a family of seven children who he raised as an elite group of superheroes. We’re introduced to the siblings in the present day as they discover that their father has died, which is where we quickly learn that his funeral is not only the reunion of the brothers and sisters, but the beginning of many questions for both the characters and the viewer about who he really was and how he died.

 

 

The timeline goes back and forth as we understand the dysfunctional family within The Umbrella Academy from youth to present day, teasing at the individual tales of the people only known to their father by numbers rather than names. One (Luther (Tom Hopper)) has super strength, Two (Diego (David Castañeda)) can control the trajectory of thrown objects, Three (Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman)) can turn lies into reality, Four (Klaus (Robert Sheehan)) can talk to the dead and Five (known as Five or The Boy (Aidan Gallagher)) can time travel. Five’s power is significant to the story and he has foreseen that the end of the world is days away. Six (Ben (Justin H. Min)) is deceased and we know very little about him other than Klaus can still communicate with him beyond the grave. Finally, Seven (Vanya (Ellen Page)) appears to have no power. Her father’s continuous reminders of this and encouraged isolation from her siblings leaves her as a shadow compared to them. Little does she know, that she has more to give than anyone… and more to take way for that matter.

 

 

The casting is strong, featuring familiar faces such as Ellen Page and Tom Hopper to name a few. Other than occasional rusty combat scene, no one disappoints.  Even Mary J. Blige as Cha-cha, an assassin sent to find Number Five is a nice surprise as she proves to be a capable actress in yet another genre.

 

 

At ten episodes, it’s certainly not a big commitment, but in all honesty, I believe the story could have been told in eight or nine if it shortened some of the many flashbacks, such as the tragic life and times of Leonard Peabody and why he’s so invested in Vanya. Having said that, if these things are rushed, maybe we would be left with too many unnecessary questions. The finale was a tad far-fetched (but when was the apocalypse ever anything other than far-fetched?) and I didn’t feel quite as invested in it as I hoped, but it’s still worth watching for the explosive CGI and that punchy soundtrack to pull it all together like any superhero production should. Without completely ruining it for you, season two is certainly an option if Number Five’s got anything to do with it. It would also help if Netflix gives a second season the unconfirmed (but likely) green light.

 

 

Sometimes the superhero genre can be isolating, bringing a world to the screen just for the people that appreciate their comic book origins. It’s totally understandable; the fanbase are some of the most loyal, enthusiastic followers you can find, so they should be valued and shown gratitude with strong storytelling and attention to detail. The Umbrella Academy however is a welcomed exception for people like me, who with minimal experience of comic books, felt included and informed throughout the series. The plot was understandable despite the several branches to it and the general strangeness of the situation they’re in, so if you’re looking for a refreshing take on superheroes that offers a more inclusive approach, The Umbrella Academy might just work for you. It’s not perfect, but the show is about flaws and how despite them, we can overcome, so it’s good enough for me.

 

 

Check out the trailer, see what you think –

 

Umbrella Academy Is a New Class of Superhero Story and a solid 8 out of 10

~Gemma


March 14th, 2019 by Gemma
Posted in General, Movie Review | No Comments »

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