Back in 2004, a new MMO titled City of Heroes, by publisher NCSoft, was launched. The game became a massive fan favorite, spawning two expansion packs and 24 major updates, before the servers were officially shut down in November of 2012, despite massive protests and fan campaigns to make the games servers public.
For years, several fan projects have been attempting to revive City of Heroes, most notably the Super Entity Game Server (SEGS), to a spiritual successor with Ship of Heroes. Yet, for six years, City of Heroes lived on, in secret, thanks to a private emulated server that was running off of the games original servers. This means that any player who played City of Heroes as it existed back in 2012 could potentially resurrect their lost heroes and play the game normally.
The existence of this server was so secret, it was a long-standing rumor by members of City of Heroes fanbase, and until now, was considered a myth.
That all changed thanks to a YouTube video posted by a man named Brian, going by the handle Destroyer Stroyer. In his 34-minute long video (which has since been unlisted) Brian speculates that several people acquired the original code of City of Heroes by an employee at Paragon Studios, the development team behind the game during the time of its closure. That source code had them running the game in secret for over six years.
According to Brian, a project called SCORE (Secret Cabal of Reverse Engineers) had created a fully-function version of City of Heroes, with around 3,000 total players – many of which are friends and family of the SCORE development team – with others being invited secretly. Those who joined would be vetted by a group of admins, and ask those players to not reveal the server.
Brian admits he was uneasy about the project, mostly because it was being hidden from the larger City of Heroes community. “At least for me, playing the game and not being able to share the game, was not fun,” he said in his video. Brian would decide to leak the server’s existence online, while at the same time accusing several members of the City of Heroes community, including subreddit moderators, for being complicit in the SCORE cover-up.
Brian also accused the SCORE team of having access to databases that contained sensitive player information, such as payment details, home addresses, and more, though this is mostly based on Brian’s speculation on how SCORE received the games code.
Another leaker on Facebook, going by the name Destiny Virtue, posted a lengthy discussion regarding SCORE that seemed to corroborate the details in Brian’s video (the post has since been deleted, but screenshots of it still exist). Destiny Virtue also claimed that other emulator projects, such as the Paragon Chat were created as ‘smokescreens’ to distract the general public from SCORE.
The massive backlash would lead one of SCORE’s lead developers, Leandro Pardini, to break their silence and write a prepared statement on the website MassivelyOP.
The reasons for the secrecy, according to Leandro, were simple. Prior to his work on SCORE, he was a member of another private server project that was hoping to resurrect another NCSoft MMO, Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa, which NCSoft shut down in 2009. In 2011, NCSoft would issue a cease and desist order to the private server project, effectively shutting it down for good.
To avoid the same problem with NCSoft, Leandro and other members of Score, upon hearing that City of Heroes would be shut down in 2012, decided to keep the entire project secret as to not attract attention.
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.
It should be noted that some game companies do not usually go after fans attempting to revive dedicated servers too long lost MMOs as long as they don’t get too popular. Private servers for titles like Ultima Online still exist today, though some companies like NCSoft and even Blizzard have been more protective of their IP, especially with the announcement of WoW Classic on Blizzard’s part. Other companies have publicly embraced fan projects. In 2015, Daybreak games officially sanctioned the Everquest private server project, titled Project 1999. Project 1999 is a fully non-profit, fan based project, and with a full endorsement from Daybreak Games, has continued to thrive to this day.
Leandro goes on to point out that the game would utilize closed forums with close access, and would ask those who accept an invitation to the project to a verbal non-disclosure agreement (NDA), meaning anyone who breached it would have their access revoked. Leandro also admits that many people working on the SCORE project were not happy with how slow the project was moving, and anyone who wished it to be made public were removed from the private servers, which to Leandro was an understanding of the community at large as the SCORE project was seen as a backup plan over other efforts to acquire the rights from NCSoft.
Most of his statement specifically calls out other fan projects and emulators, as well as the claims made by Brian regarding his YouTube video. Per Leandro, he admits that he was a moderator on the City of Heroes Subreddit at one point, creating an account to set up automated rules so that posts discussing private servers would require approval from the mod team, and occasionally checked the queue for posts and comments requiring moderator input. “Saying that I ‘ran the subreddit’ is a massive stretch,” stated Leandro, answering questions from PC Gamer. “Being a moderator requires a lot of time and attention that I just don’t have.”
Leandro also notes that the other emulator projects are completely independent from SCORE, and flatly denies the claims made by Brian over having access to sensitive player information.
“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.”
Several groups, such as SEGS, have released their own videos and statements in response to the SCORE fallout. SEGS corroborates the information by Leandro, stating that their project to revive City of Heroes is to rebuild the game from scratch, which has been done in the open for the public to see.
SCORE has since been faced with monstrous backlash from the City of Heroes Community, who feel the secret server was not justified. Many on the City of Heroes subreddit have expressed anger towards SCORE, while another Reddit thread has called for the source code of City of Heroes to be made public for the purposes of Game Preservation, just in case NCSoft goes after SCORE. Other members of the community have expressed doubts over whether their passion for the game can continue with the community divided, while others have resorted to death threats against Leandro.
For his part, Leandro has acknowledged the backlash SCORE’s secrecy and divisiveness in the community but has confirmed that SCORE will continue to work in secret until the threat of a cease and desist letter is no longer possible. He also points to the work done by SEGS, and asks the community to continue to support them, as they are much closer to a new release and deserve more appreciation.
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.
It is unclear what the fate of SCORE will be, though it will be returning to the shadows after this whole ordeal. As for City of Heroes and the wider community, the debate over the actions of SCORE will continue to be relevant for years to come, as SEGS and other fan projects come closer to completion and it shines another light on the issues of game preservation with online games.
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