MMO Coverage

Select an MMO...

Even More MMOs...

Close this window
Archive

Canceled MMOGs: Games We'll Miss Most

Updated Wed, Nov 17, 2010 by borticus

Memories of them sneak up on us. They haunt our dreams and resurface during conversations with our fellow gamers. Tales of our exploits in long-forgotten worlds creep into our minds and color our impressions of our modern adventures, even though the settings and worlds we compare them to no longer exist.

It's happened to any gamer that's been around for more than a couple of years. Perhaps you received a beta invite or got to watch over a friend's shoulder as he played a hot new title he just bought. Somehow, you learned about these promising new MMOGs, tried them, loved them, and then watched in agony as the servers were shut down and the virtual worlds your avatars inhabited suffered cataclysmic destruction.

When the dust settles, all you have left to cherish is the memories you made while toiling away for the next bit of XP, or the next shiny piece of loot. I feel your pain. Today we take a look at some MMOGs of the past that were filled to the brim with potential but were cut off before they had the chance to live up to it. Worlds that may never live again, but live forever in our minds and hearts.

tabula rasa title

TABULA RASA

lord britishTabula Rasa was the brain-child of the famous (or infamous?) Richard “Lord British” Garriott and from very early on was intended to be the ultimate genre-defining MMOG against which all future and past titles would be compared. From the beginning stages of the project, all the minds behind Tabula Rasa were hellbent on forging this game into the ultimate end-all, be-all utopia project. To help them meet this goal, NCsoft brought in star developers and designers from across the industry that combined to form an all-star team that hasn't been seen before or since. The combined experience of this team included hundreds of years of game development and design, and more than a dozen blockbuster titles (including Wing Commander, Ultima Online and Lineage).

What could possibly go wrong?

According to a revealing and candid interview with Garriott at GDC in 2006, the team itself and its excess of experience and knowledge was the core defining reason for the pains that Tabula Rasa had been feeling during development up until that point. The phrase “too many chefs, and not enough cooks” was used, implying that each superstar on this dream team of developers had their own unique and infallible notions about the direction and choices that should be made for the project. The disagreements and lack of a unified vision eventually boiled over into a complete restructure of the development team on Tabula Rasa.

In 2003, two years after development began, the game underwent a complete overhaul of personnel and assets:  20% of the original dev team was replaced, 75% of the code had to be re-written, and the art assets were recreated entirely to match the new, more unified game vision.  At the price of two full years of hard work, Garriott and NCsoft gambled that this reboot would get the game back on track to being the major contender they originally hoped it would be.

Burn!

Tabula Rasa finally launched in 2007 after an extensive period of open beta. Despite receiving strong review ratings from most major gaming sites, the population levels of TR's servers never managed to meet the projections needed to keep the project profitable. Many ultimately place blame on the lengthy open beta period, claiming that NCsoft opened the doors to the title too early in its development cycle and turned off potential customers by allowing them to experience a buggy, glitchy and unfinished version of the game that eventually shipped.

The game itself was a marvel, however. It blended real-time shooter action with RPG elements in amazing and seamless ways, making players feel both in control of their environment and yet still able to benefit from the classic stat, gear and skill progression available in other MMOGs. The entire world of Tabula Rasa was also embroiled in an amazing conflict that shifted with player interaction and offered battlefield mechanics to drive the fast-paced action. Many reviewers commented on the pacing and immersion of the world, stating that it caused them to completely forget the fact that they were earning experience and advancing their character – they were simply drawn in by the world, and were fighting for the sake of winning, and not just advancing.

junk bin

ncsoft logoIf Tabula Rasa had been a success, it's possible that the entire MMOG genre may have been a very different place today. As it currently stands, we're on the cusp of launching into a new wave of action-driven MMOGs such as TERA Online and DC Universe Online. Had Garriott's dream become a reality, these games would already find themselves behind the curve, as the “click+hotkeys” standard would have been shattered years earlier.

TR didn't only suffer on the development and marketing side however. At the end of its lifespan, it also became embroiled in legal disputes that resulted in Garriott suing NCsoft for $24million due to wrongful termination.

Tabula Rasa just couldn't get a break, I tell ya.

News from around the 'Net