What Happened To... (Part 3)
Not every lost MMOG of the past is gone forever. In todayÂs edition,
IÂll be looking at a few titles that may have fallen off the radar, but
arenÂt necessarily out of the running. Although their current fates may
be pinned to nothing more than hopes and promises, each of these games
are still clinging to the few fans they have left and dreaming of
Chronicles of Spellborn
Imagine a world encased in solid stone where, when you peer into the sky, all you see is the unfeeling rockface of your worldÂs gigantic prison. This is the world of Spellborn. Originally developed by Spellborn International and later taken over by Acclaim, the Chronicles of Spellborn promised a few intriguing features that had many MMOG fans considering it as a candidate for Âthe next big thing.Â
The gameÂs generic fantasy feel was familiar enough to warrant mild speculation, but it was really the combat system that drove imaginations wild. It featured a unique combination of manual targeting (such as those seen in first-person-shooters) and the familiar hotkeys of standard MMOG fare, which joined forces to create a series of mechanics that have not been seen before or since in a published MMOG. Additionally, CoS included a robust customization interface that allowed players to tailor every detail of their avatar, including their actual visible equipment. Upgrades to your equipment would be later obtained via sigils and "bodyslots" which had no effect on your appearance, allowing all players to appear exactly as they wanted to from the day their avatar was born into the game world.
Sadly, these innovative features did not override the blandness of the title as a whole. After its initial UK release in 2008 (2009 in US), reviews ranged from lukewarm to cold, often mentioning a bland color palette and a lack of depth in quest design, as well as the lack of key PvP features that were supposed to make up the bulk of the gameÂs high-end content.
But it wasnÂt just the content that garnered such a lack of enthusiasm. The game itself was released as a free-to-play title (supported by microtransactions) with the promise that it would eventually be re-launched as a full-featured title. However, shortly after this release, the client download, then the patcher, then the client itself all slowly ceased to function as stand-alone applications, requiring 3rd-party workarounds and "hacks" to keep them operating. All bug reports and additional correspondence to the developers and customer service departments went completely unanswered, leaving players feeling abandoned.
In June of 2009, just 3 months after the US release, Spellborn Works announced their bankruptcy, and just two months later it was made public that the servers would be taken offline at the end of that month. During this period of time the operation of the title was sold off to Playdom, who almost immediately sold it to Disney, leaving none of the original staff available to support the title, or its players.
To most, this series of unfortunate events would have foretold the final doom, but Acclaim spoke out about the title just before closing their doors, claiming that Chronicles of Spellborn would be re-launched by a still-unnamed publisher at some point in 2011. Time will tell if this mystery publisher will be up to launching such a risky project, but many hope to once more adventure under the stoney dome of SpellbornÂs world.
Until the eventual re-launch, you can learn more about the stories of this title, as told by a former community manager at Acclaim. His blog (www.thehistorian.org) is an ongoing tale of the behind-the-scenes events, told from his perspective, leading up to the downfall of his former employer.
Despite its name, which implies a generic fantasy setting, there is nothing generic about the gameplay mechanics featured in the world of Darkfall. From skill-based advancement, to full-loot PvP, territory ownership and city sieges, Darkfall promised to be a PvPerÂs paradise, and a world teeming with rich player-driven interaction and conflict of every type imaginable.
With a list of features like that, it is entirely understandable that Darkfall gathered a faithful fan base long before its eventual release became a reality. So rabid were these fans that most of them held on despite the enormous delays Darkfall suffered during its development cycle.
Developers Aventurine SA announced beta signups in 2005, but the proposed beta test never took place. Darkfall showed up as an invitation-only press demo at E3 2006, where it received mixed reviews that ran from panning it as a complete failure to enthusiastic encouragement for an eventual release. It was another six months before any beta updates were given, claiming that a small external beta was now in operation (what many developers now refer to as Âfriends & family betaÂ). Then another delay, as a beta date of Âsummer of 2007Â was offered in May of that year. But as summer came to a close, Aventurine officially announced that no public beta would begin until a publisher for Darkfall had been secured.
Finally, almost 3 full years after the first beta sign-ups were posted, Aventurine announced that a publisher had been found. At this point, the game was considered feature-ready for release, but it was almost another full year before Darkfall released to the European public in January of 2009.
Along the way, Darkfall began to gain a reputation as being an MMOG equivalent to the infamous Duke Nukem Forever -- a highly-anticipated feature-rich title that would never see the light of day. Funny how the future unfolds, isnÂt it?
Darkfall, despite disappearing from most folksÂ radar during these massive delays, the game finally launched in the first half of 2009 and is currently alive and active and even offers a free 14-day trial for prospective players. According to recent forum activity, server population is fairly low, however, which can lead to frustration in a game that is so PvP-centric at its core. But if youÂre seeking a more dangerous, and some might even say hardcore experience, you canÂt go wrong by downloading the trial.
Maybe the current MMOG scene just isnÂt your style. Maybe youÂre more of a shooter fan. Then maybe, just maybe, Huxley is the game you should keep an eye on. Combining the persistent character advancement and social areas of an MMOG with the fast-paced combat of a FPS, developer Webzen Games Inc. sought to follow in the footsteps of games like Neocron and PlanetSide, and make a name for itself in the under-populated and under-appreciated subgenre of the MMOFPS.
Inspired very loosely by Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, players are fighting for their survival in a post-apocalyptic future of our modern planet Earth. The planet, and the human race itself, have been changed dramatically by a series of natural disasters, resulting in the emergence of a worldwide culture that vies for dominance through combat.
Despite calling itself an MMOG, the adventuring side of Huxley is arguably nothing more than a series of individually-spawned instances and skirmishes. ItÂs a stretch of the imagination to call supporting 64 players on a map by the name ÂmassiveÂ when other modern games can boast supporting several thousand simultaneous players in a similar region. But only the adventuring maps have such limitations - Huxley does have cities that are said to support numbers ranging in the thousands, but these cities are little more than a graphical matchmaking system for spawning instances and a place to upgrade your equipment.
If all of these mechanics sound intriguing, I would encourage you to keep an eye on the developerÂs website, located at Webzen.com. The game enjoyed a modest success after launching on the social gaming site ijji.com in 2009, but was recently removed from that site. NHN USA (proprietors of ijji) made an announcement just last month that Webzen would be self-hosting the game from now on, but it has yet to show up on the games list on their website. While several fear this could mean a quiet death for Huxley, hope still remains that it will resurface under WebzenÂs rule and once again be available for the enjoyment of frag lovers around the world.
... and so much more!
As we continue these strolls through the archives of our MMOG past, we continue to stumble across more and more stories of games and developers that struggled to break into this difficult industry, or are perhaps even still struggling as we speak. ItÂs an amazing journey that IÂm thrilled to be taking, and invite you to continue at my side. If thereÂs a title youÂve been wondering ÂWhat Happened To...Â feel free to leave a comment. Premium Members at Ten Ton Hammer can also join the ongoing discussion on this topic already underway in our forum. Perhaps together, we can even dig up enough interest to resurrect a few of these forgotten worlds.