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