April 12th, 2006


My Current Favorite Detail from City of Villains: Vahzilok Corp

I mentioned the other day how amazing it was to upgrade from a model 5200 video card to a model 6600, that the difference it made in playing City of Villains was as profound as the difference it made in the real world when I got my first pair of glasses. After many days of exploring the Etoile Islands with my new "glasses," some of my favorite details remain the same, and they're the best example of why I'm not embarrassed, as a literary science fiction fan, to be playing this tights-and-fights game.

The relevant part of the vast backstory to the game is that in 1930, two tomb-robbers found and broke open an ancient alien techno-magical artifact that had been siphoning off and storing up human ability (magical, athletic, scientific, and so on) for at least three thousand years since the last time when it was opened. These two got hosed down hard with the escaping power and became immortal, nearly indestructible, and their generation's greatest super-hero (The Statesman, as he calls himself now) and super-villain (Lord Recluse, as he calls himself now). In the 1960s, Lord Recluse took over an island nation in the North Atlantic near Bermuda called the Etoile Islands on behalf of a group calling themselves Arachnos. Arachnos' politics are a blend of Technocracy and hard-core Social Darwinism. They believe that those who can rule best are entitled to rule, are destined to rule lesser human beings. They believe that you can best prove your worth to rule by seizing and holding power, preferably through corporate, financial, magical, or technological means, any one of which demonstrates best your fitness to rule over others.

Much more recently than that, a neurosurgeon in Paragon City (Providence), Rhode Island named Dr. Vahzilok convinced himself that if he operated with few enough moral and ethical constraints, it was within his power to conquer death once and for all. He convinced himself that future generations of immortal human beings would forgive him any crime that he committed in our present, and has been sending his surgical staff and hired thugs out to loot mortuaries and graveyards, and to kidnap or kill the living, in order to provide him with a steady supply of human parts for his research. In game terms, the Vahzilok henchmen and reanimated corpses are among the weakest super-villains that heroes can fight in City of Heroes, and at approximately level 20 (of 50) he is the lowest level, weakest full Arch-Villain that groups of player characters can go, conquer, and (very briefly) send to be imprisoned in the (hapless, helpless) Ziggursky State Penitentiary.

Ah, but in the Etoile Islands, Dr. Vahzilok isn't seen as a monster -- he's seen as a pillar of the scientific community, or more or less so. An absent pillar of the community, for the most part; his current research requires lots of dead super-hero parts, and those are best harvested in the City of Heroes, so he devotes most of his personal attention to his criminal enterprises in Rhode Island. However, if your graphics card is high resolution enough to read the fine print on the billboards, and to notice various other signage, you realize though that this hasn't stopped him from sending his proxies over to register as a legal corporation in the Etoile Islands, the Vahzilok Corporation. Vahzilok Corp runs at least five distinct chains of business, each with its own distinct brand name. The Facemaker chain of boutiques sells plastic surgery and (using technology stolen from Icon in Paragon City) a line of clothing capable of surviving super-villain wear and tear. The Tan and Grow chain of tanning salons also offers experimental mutagenic and super-scientific upgrades alongside the more conventional spa treatments. Happy Corpse Mortuary Overflow Services handles corpse pickup and storage services to the local smaller funeral homes and mortuaries. Spare Hearts Organ Removal Services has billboards in the poorest parts of the islands, presumably brokering the sale of your deceased loved ones' organs to hospitals in the Etoile Islands. And I don't even want to know what the nightlife is like at The Bonesaw nightclub. The resulting ads are side-splittingly hilarious.

This is not to say that everything that the Vahzilok Corporation does is approved of and legal in the Etoile Islands. Remember, to prove your worth to Lord Recluse, you must not only conquer part of the Etoile Islands, you must rule over it, that is to say you must govern it. Unlike in the City of Heroes, you hardly ever see Vahzilok's reapers kidnapping and murdering people for their parts. You do see a few re-animated corpses on the streets of the town of Cap au Diable, and the local NPC cops use them for target practice, killing them on sight. (Actually opening fire and blowing them up, as opposed that universe's Mafia, The Family, who operate openly as a branch of the government and whose loan sharks' collection agents operate with full legal powers, or most of the other super-powered criminals, who we see the cops routinely arresting, shaking down, questioning, and/or non-fatally beating.) So while the Paragon Police Department cowers in terror and runs away if they see even the weakest and most inexperienced of Dr. Vahzilok's goons or creations in the City of Heroes, on the island in the City of Villains where the Vahzilok Corporation operates, The Family has swept his thugs completely off of the streets of their half of the island and the evil Dr. Aeon has very nearly done so with his half.

What's their secret? Well, since being an evil super-genius is legal in the Rogue Islands, aka the City of Villains, aka the Etoile Islands, the cops have access to much more impressive weaponry. But more importantly, when it comes to zombie-making evil geniuses, instead of following the blanket prohibition you see in the USA, the Etoile Islands pursue a police of harm reduction. Pretty funny, eh?

(BTW, MMPORG.com is sponsoring a free 14-day trial of City of Villains ... and the Aeon University Cheerleaders are always recruiting on the Virtue server.)