As a matter of fact, I *am* colicky today and I *would* like a pacifier, thank you.

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One of the various things Wednesday and I intended to do this summer was go to the San Diego Comic Convention.

We had all the stars lining up to make that a go. We were newlyweds, whose marriage was bound up with comics in ways few can claim or hope. We had industry friends in the CGI and compositing industry offer to make us their guests, which meant we could get in through the front door without having to pay a cent. One of my coolest friends from my salad days in Upstate New York lives in the San Diego area and likely could have been hit up for couch space for us to crash. Essentially, we could have done San Diego, seen lots of folks and things we had always wanted to, and in general enjoy the convention for the cost of plane tickets and food.

And we just couldn't do it.

Which is not a complaint or a cry for help. We're doing just fine. But between a number of expenses ranging from immigration (including another $1,010 going to the federal government for the right to let them consider letting us stay married now that they've let us become married), medical (I have recurrent medical expenses and needed some high end testing done), dental (stupid teeth), automotive (apparently, brakes are important) and mundane (oddly, marriage doesn't change the fact that you have to eat on a regular basis, and we're short-sighted enough to still want Satellite Television), we just couldn't justify spending the money to fly to the West Coast just a few weeks after going to Las Vegas and actually having... you know, a wedding. We would have to see about next year.

As it works out, we missed... well, from all the various accounts I read, the absolute Apex of San Diego Comic Cons -- the Ur-Con, which forever shall be held up as an exemplar of the type. People had monumentally good times, across the spectrum. Just about everyone was there, and there is video evidence in various places that Jonathan Frakes and Avery Brooks serenaded and sang songs with some of the very cool people all over the freakin' place. Regrets? Oh yeah, I've got a few.

And, it meant I missed out on the Con Exclusive Giveaway for City of Heroes.

I've missed out on CoH swag before. I live on the East Coast, which means that I don't have opportunities to swing by the conventions they typically show at. And that's never bothered me -- whether or not I got one of the capes they were giving out one year had zero impact on... well, anything in my life. I don't begrudge swag.

But, well... this year's swag was different. This year, the swag was an add-on for your account. This year, the exclusive was a chance to actually alter your gameplay experience. This year the swag was a code that let you add a Freakshow Tank "temporary costume" to your characters, similar to the temporary costumes that we were given at Halloween. Only this time, it wasn't temporary. It was permanent.

This has led, as so many of these things do, to people losing their shit. The two positions are, essentially, "there should be a way for people who didn't get to go to San Diego to get this ability" and "this was an exclusive perk for SDCC attendees and there's no reason anyone else should get access to it."

The latter crowd has a darn good point. The Freakshow Tank Costume ability doesn't grant any benefits in gameplay terms. Freakshow don't mistake you for an ally when you're wearing it. You don't get a massive superstrength attack or the ability to hurl balls of electricity when you're wearing it. This doesn't even look like your character with Freakshow Components added to him or her. This is just the ability to look like a stock Freak Tank on command. This isn't even custom costume parts -- you can't add the giant sledgehammer hand Freak Tanks sport to your character's hand, for example. This is a purely cosmetic, extremely minor ability. Getting upset because you can't look like a Freak Tank is just silly.

The problem is, there is more to this than a question of gameplay benefit. There is also gameplay experience -- and that is a more complicated issue.

Gameplay Experience refers to exactly what it sounds like -- the experience someone who sits down to play City of Heroes has. It covers everything -- it covers the tactical game and attendant gameplay. It covers dancing in Pocket D. It covers the invention system and the auction houses and the storylines. It covers the interactions players have with each other in the game. It covers Supergroups and chat channels. And yes, it covers Role Playing.

This giveaway power in fact changes the gameplay experience for the person who gets it, in potentially the most significant way for any RPG -- the person with the power has more options than the person without it.

Not sure how? Well, consider the various character concepts:

  • A Renegade Freakshow Tank who becomes a hero (or a freelancer)
  • A person changed by a hostile Meat Doctor into a reluctant Freakshow Tank, looking for the chance to become human again.
  • A knockoff/stolen Tank design being used by a freelancer.
  • A member of a splinter faction of Freakshow who, as with lots of the factions, mostly beat up other Freaks when they see them.
  • A person temporarily or permanently mind-switched into a Tank's body.

And many others, of course.

For those who play City of Heroes in part to work on character concept or character design, for those who actually role-play instead of just treating the game tactically, for those who like the chance to practice subversion, the ability to put on a Freak's skin opens up a lot of opportunities and options that don't otherwise exist in the game. Sure, you might be able to put together a reasonable knockoff for at least generic Freakshow, but that isn't the same thing.

That's the real crux of the debate, if you get right down to it. For most people who didn't (or couldn't) attend San Diego Comic Con, this was simply something they couldn't choose to have, either out of money or timing. For every other perk available for City of Heroes, you could either get the perk regardless of location through something like preordering (jn the case of the prestige sprints or the Arachnos helmets), being patient (both the sprints and the helmets become available through Veterans' Rewards, as do other custom powers), or money (people who bought the Good v. Evil edition, for example, get some bonus powers. Other players had the option of paying a nominal fee and getting those same powers. Similarly, the Wedding Costume Pack is available for cash). In the case of the Tank costume power, players could either attend San Diego Comic Con, know someone who attended and ask them to get them one of the cards, or do without.

Is there really a demand, you may ask? Well, if one looks at the central resource for checking on Geek demand -- eBay, naturally -- one sees that all of the SDCC code cards that have shown up there have sold or are selling for more than two hundred dollars apiece. Compare that with the swag from other years -- like the exclusive SDCC posters from earlier years going for a whopping nine bucks -- you can see the distinction. Whether for roleplay reasons, the sense of completion, the coolness factor or pure geek I MUST HAVE IT, people out there are willing to pay big bucks for the chance to make their characters look just like a Freakshow Tank.

On my side, I admit it. I would really really really like to have one of these cards. And I'm kicking myself -- not just because we could have gone to San Diego and then I would have one, and not just because Weds could have gotten one too and turned that into a $200 reduction in our trip expenses, but because I conservatively knew twenty non-CoH players going to SDCC and I think any one of them would have gladly hit up the NCSoft booth on my behalf, but I didn't pay close enough attention to the City of Heroes site to learn about all of this until after it was too late. So in every way I blew it. I do not deserve Freakshow.

At the same time, it seems weird to me. If people are willing to drop $200 on one of these codes, it seems very strange that NCSoft isn't letting those people buy one for $10 or $15 in their store, a la the Wedding Pack. If they charged ten bucks a hit, that becomes free money for them. If 500 people are nuts enough to pay that, then they have a sudden $5,000 surge in revenue. Not too shabby. If 5,000 did it, that's, like, a coworker's yearly salary paid for. And giving out swag in San Diego that other players would have to spend $10 to get still seems pretty old cool to me.

But, it's unlikely they'll do that. At this point, putting Freakshow Tank powers up for sale would be interpreted by the folks who *got* the SDCC codes as reducing the exclusivity of their swag. And they'd be right. too. It wouldn't be exclusive any more, by definition.

So. I entered the sweepstakes to get one of 10 codes from Massively.com along with thirteen hundred other folks. And while they haven't announced the names of the winners as yet, the fact that I don't have e-mail sitting in my mailbox declaring me a winner makes me suspect I haven't, in fact, won. Simply put, there ain't no Tank for me and, barring the Tanks appearing as a Vet Reward down the line there's not going to be one. Like listening to a live rendition of "Ain't Misbehavin'" sung by Jonathan Frakes and the chance to buy Avery Brooks a drink, the Freakshow Tank code is just another thing that happened at this year's SDCC that I missed out on.

I am hopeful, though, that this will turn into the ability to pay for some 'costume power' packs for various CoH NPC factions down the line. That could be really cool.

And then... there's this announcement on the homepage. There's another exclusive costume power up for grabs. This time, it's a Paragon Police Department hardsuit power, and it'll be available to attendees of both the Leipzig Games Convention in Germany and the Penny Arcade Expo. Exclusively.

Now, I used to live in Seattle. I have friends there. I could crash on someone's floor there. I'd love to show Weds the city.

But A) there's still that silly thing about plane tickets (and having seen $200 SDCC codes on eBay, the chances are very very low that the PAX codes will bring that kind of cash in. People know that trick), B) that's the weekend right before the start of school, and so we're killer busy down here and I don't have any chance of going away then, and C) going to a con that costs $30 a day on top of travel and food entirely to get a costume code is at best nuts. I'm not nearly enough of a gamer to make that trek.

And unlike San Diego, I don't have a pile of friends going to PAX. I don't know (as far as I know) anyone who's going to PAX. (Well, okay, I've had some brief contact with Gabe and Tycho in the past, and I understand they're probably going to go for a day or two, but I don't exactly know them and besides, I suspect they'd have other folks interested in their PAX codes) so I can't get a friend to score a code for me. My chance to get the Hardsuit costume power is essentially nil.

And that's frustrating, because it would be cool, it would open up options, it would improve my gameplay experience, and I would totally drop ten or twenty bucks to get one if I could.

But, wanting something doesn't mean getting it, now or ever. I just wish NCSoft were thinking a little more broadly than "how can we generate buzz at our booth this year."

(It's also frustrating that I did have friends going to Gencon this year, but unlike their competitors NCSoft didn't decide to hit that con this year. DAMN YOU MAX POWERS!)

14 Comments

I'll be at PAX and, provided I can get one of the codes, have no problem passing it on to you.

I'll be at PAX too. I'll keep an eye out.

Sorry you couldn't make ComicCon, Eric. (I couldn't either. ConnectiCon was tight enough on the checkbook, and I could drive to that.) Hopefully you'll be able to do it next year... think of it as prepping for a One Year Anniversary Honeymoon. =^-^=

Rob H.

My biggest complaint is that the CoH/NCSoft people seem to do a lot of West Coast events, but I've yet to see them do an East Coast show. There are people I know in Florida that would love a chance to meet and greet (MegaCon in 09, cough) but can't afford all these trips to San Diego or Seattle.

Jim and Paradox -- thanks! I appreciate it!

(This is why I qualified "I don't know anyone going to PAX" with "as far as I know." ;)

Don't know about them appearing on the East Coast but they've been in the Midwest before, having done both GenCon and Origins. I'd not be surprised if they've done Dragon*Con (Atlanta) as well. Beyond that I really don't know. I'm not surprised they focus on the West Coast, it's a cheaper, easier trip for them. An eastern con has to be pretty big to justify the trip, beyond the big three, not sure what else there is.

Just a tangent question, anyone ever tried to make a CoH superhero based off of Freakazoid?

As one of those bastards who actually got a code at SDCC, I can attest that the Freak Tank power's a toggle. It gets knocked out every time you get stunned-- which, ironically, makes it a bitch to keep up while you're fighting Freaks. You end up retoggling it until you say "the heck with this" and shut it off.

It wouldn't really be that great for roleplaying permanent concepts involving Freak Tanks, like forced conversions, as it won't stay up in a fight. It's mostly good for *really* frightening rank newbies in Outbreak.

Even though you don't know me at all, I will also be at PAX. Barring an insane line, I will be happy to pick up a code.

I don't remember seeing them at d*con, but i'll look as wel.

mostly it's the wolf and age of conan that dominate the floor, and i expect to see a stargate worlds both as well.

and also, if i see that they have city of heros swag, i will also pick it up foryou.
I don't play mmo's anymore, but i understand the appeal.

Hey Eric,

You don't know me, but I went to GenCon and thought I'd comment on the Champions Online presence there.

For starters, Cryptic Studios clearly made GenCon a priority for their marketing push. The company was listed as a Contributing Sponsor for the con itself (which means they didn't spend as much money as WotC or the other co-sponsor, but they were up there). In addition, there were Champions Online ads seemingly everywhere: small poster-sized stickers on doors, pizza-pan-sized stickers on the floor, and even those series of cut stickers that, when assembled on a stairway, look like a vertical billboard to folks standing on the floor and looking toward the stairs.

Cryptic also had a number of demo machines with the game actually running. It was just a single 'zone'; a sort of WestWorld setting where all the NPCs appeared to be robots, and you had to play the demo character loaded on that box (though it appeared that all the demo characters were in fact occupying the same 'zone'). That's par for the course for a public showing so far in advance of the actual release date, so no penalty marks here (though it would have been nice to have had at least a peek at the character generator).

You could go into a 'power selection' screen and change some of the powers for the character on your demo box, but that opened more questions than it answered -- though one of the marketing guys at the booth seemed convinced that Cryptic's goal was to bring as much of the Champions experience to MMOG players as possible, the actual power selection screen looked like a nested list of powers, most of which required prerequisite powers in order to 'unlock'.

The look of the figures is much more of a 'drawn' look than the figures in City of Heroes, which you'd expect might make the hardware requirements a bit less stringent, but in fact the opposite is true -- since the 'drawn' characters are still being rendered as three-dimensional, they require mucho polygons to get a smooth 'drawn' look, which means your box that barely runs Vista is probably not going to run this game particularly well.

Controls were...odd. They had keyboards for people who wanted to use them, and the basic WASD controls seemed to be set up for movement, but there was no 'shortcut card' showing the keyboard commands, because every station also contained a Playstation-style controller, and the marketing guys seemed to be under some Menton-induced compulsion to demonstrate how much easier it was to control your hero using the PS controller rather than the keyboard. Cryptic has always planned the game to be console-playable, according to the marketing guys, so it makes sense to let the PC crowd know in advance that you won't be 'gimped' if you choose to use a PS controller.

Lastly, all of the posters and other marketing material included Defender's face whenever it was feasible; it was on the posters and stickers, for instance, but not on some of the smaller tschotchkes like plastic bags and the like. Jack Emmert gave a couple of talks at GenCon, one of which was specifically about Champions Online, though he also participated in a round-table on being a game developer. Visiting one of these discussions, I was struck by how much the face of Defender resembled Emmert, right down to Emmert's whitish hair. Yes, I'm perfectly serious about this.

Read into all of this what you will; my personal belief is that I'll likely try the thing out when it's released just to say I gave it a fair shot, but I'd be surprised, if things stay the way they seem to be going right now, if I stuck with the game for very long.

Hey Eric,

You don't know me, but I went to GenCon and thought I'd comment on the Champions Online presence there.

For starters, Cryptic Studios clearly made GenCon a priority for their marketing push. The company was listed as a Contributing Sponsor for the con itself (which means they didn't spend as much money as WotC or the other co-sponsor, but they were up there). In addition, there were Champions Online ads seemingly everywhere: small poster-sized stickers on doors, pizza-pan-sized stickers on the floor, and even those series of cut stickers that, when assembled on a stairway, look like a vertical billboard to folks standing on the floor and looking toward the stairs.

Cryptic also had a number of demo machines with the game actually running. It was just a single 'zone'; a sort of WestWorld setting where all the NPCs appeared to be robots, and you had to play the demo character loaded on that box (though it appeared that all the demo characters were in fact occupying the same 'zone'). That's par for the course for a public showing so far in advance of the actual release date, so no penalty marks here (though it would have been nice to have had at least a peek at the character generator).

You could go into a 'power selection' screen and change some of the powers for the character on your demo box, but that opened more questions than it answered -- though one of the marketing guys at the booth seemed convinced that Cryptic's goal was to bring as much of the Champions experience to MMOG players as possible, the actual power selection screen looked like a nested list of powers, most of which required prerequisite powers in order to 'unlock'.

The look of the figures is much more of a 'drawn' look than the figures in City of Heroes, which you'd expect might make the hardware requirements a bit less stringent, but in fact the opposite is true -- since the 'drawn' characters are still being rendered as three-dimensional, they require mucho polygons to get a smooth 'drawn' look, which means your box that barely runs Vista is probably not going to run this game particularly well.

Controls were...odd. They had keyboards for people who wanted to use them, and the basic WASD controls seemed to be set up for movement, but there was no 'shortcut card' showing the keyboard commands, because every station also contained a Playstation-style controller, and the marketing guys seemed to be under some Menton-induced compulsion to demonstrate how much easier it was to control your hero using the PS controller rather than the keyboard. Cryptic has always planned the game to be console-playable, according to the marketing guys, so it makes sense to let the PC crowd know in advance that you won't be 'gimped' if you choose to use a PS controller.

Lastly, all of the posters and other marketing material included Defender's face whenever it was feasible; it was on the posters and stickers, for instance, but not on some of the smaller tschotchkes like plastic bags and the like. Jack Emmert gave a couple of talks at GenCon, one of which was specifically about Champions Online, though he also participated in a round-table on being a game developer. Visiting one of these discussions, I was struck by how much the face of Defender resembled Emmert, right down to Emmert's whitish hair. Yes, I'm perfectly serious about this.

Read into all of this what you will; my personal belief is that I'll likely try the thing out when it's released just to say I gave it a fair shot, but I'd be surprised, if things stay the way they seem to be going right now, if I stuck with the game for very long.

Actually, Eric, I wouldn't say this was the apex of SDCC. I had fun, but it was also frequently frustrating. And security was power tripping like whoa. Plus, every year it gets harder to arrange (hotels, and now pre-registrations, sell out almost immediately, especially since they eliminated on-site registration). I don't know if I'll be going back in the forseeable future.

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