What Happened To... (Part 4)

In the fourth and final installment of “What Happened To...” we’ll take a look at a perpetually re-launching phenomenon, and a game-changing up-and-comer.
In the fourth and final installment of “What Happened To...” we’ll take a look at a perpetually re-launching phenomenon, and a game-changing up-and-comer. But first I’ll be digging into the details of a game that just might be considered the perfect example of how to fail at launching an MMOG.

DnL Logo

Dark & Light

Development of Dark & Light originally began in 2002 by NPCube, and publisher Farlan Entertainment announced a prospective release date of 2003 shortly thereafter. This was not the first outlandish promise that would come from this team, and far from the last that would be met. The features list for DnL still reads like a wishlist for any MMOG and includes features that have to this day never been successfully executed in any title.

dnl-dragon-flightBut such fantastic claims were DnL’s bread and butter during the bumpy development cycle. Promises of mounted dragon flight and a massive seamless world to explore created so much hype that even after repeated major delays and a lack of beta announcements, the launch of their official forums is said to have resulted in more than 500,000 registered users over the first week it was live.

The hype they’d built up could not overpower the failure that the game turned out to be, however. Upon the launch in 2006, the servers and client were each so unstable and bug-ridden as to render it largely unplayable. The few brave reviewers that risked frustration and repeated crashing to render judgement on the title universally rated it poorly, citing primarily the instability and bugs, but also the complete lack of more than half of the promised features that caused players to buy into the title to begin with. And as if the technical and gameplay glitches weren’t enough to frustrate the average gamer, billing errors were also a common occurrence.

The situation was so bad, and received so much negative press, that Farlan Entertainment publicly announced in April 2006 that any existing subscribers would be receiving 90 days of free game time. Included with this announcement was the public admission that, “Farlan Entertainment now acknowledges that the game was released prematurely due to pressure from its investors and from the gaming community.”

Way to blame your players, Farlan. Thumbs up!

Despite receiving a steady string of bad press, and suffering badly from server instability throughout its entire run, DnL managed to limp along and remain in operation until 2008, but then it all came crashing down. A lawsuit against NPCube was filed by virtual terrain engine developer VWorld, claiming "software counterfeit, non-respect of the right to credit and paternity, unfair competition and parasitism." In a startling turn of events, NPCube actually had the gumption to counter-sue on the grounds of “unfair competition and damage to NPCube’s reputation” but this counter-suit would get them nowhere, since it was later discovered that they actually had used VWorld’s terrain generation software to create much of the world of DnL. The resulting financial damages incurred in the ruling against NPCube caused them to be unable to support further operation of the DnL servers, and in mid-2008 the servers came down and the game quietly ceased to operate. No announcements, no refunds.

In retrospect, maybe it was unwise to bank on a game being developed by a company located on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean...

Approximately two years have passed, and most DnL followers have given up hope on ever hearing from this apparently-deceased title again. But it seems that the few who have hung onto their memories and hopes are about to be rewarded. Chinese developer Snail Game recently announced at the 2010ChinaJoy event that Dark and Light would be joining their future line up of games, though with a drastically improved look as well as significant technical improvements. No launch date is currently available, and there is no word on international availability outside of China.

dnl dragon battle


A Tale in the Desert

We now explore a truly unique title in the world of MMOGs. Despite being announced by developer eGenesis almost a decade ago, A Tale In The Desert remains a project that is truly one-of-a-kind, and has never been successfully copied. Actually more of a sociological experiment than a game, this title features an evolving online society based on player-voted laws and player-created tests and trials, as well as (brace yourself...) a total lack of combat of any type.

atitd promoBased on those features alone, it’s easy to see how this game could become something of a cult phenomenon within its own niche market. But in addition to these unique aspects, ATitD also shuts down every 6-18 months, and relaunches again with a fresh world filled with newly improved graphics, gameplay, and entirely new stories, tests and trials to experience. This act of closure and re-launch has confused many outsiders into wondering whether or not the game is active, dead, re-published, re-born, dead and gone, a private emulator, or any number of other options at any given point in time. But, I can confirm that the currently-active ATitD is the same title as originally released (yet improved with each relaunch) and still in the hands of the original developers.

Another of the unique features of this title is that the eGenesis’ president Andrew Tepper takes an active role in shaping the online society, playing as an NPC named “Pharoah” in a type of community interaction unprecedented in the modern MMOG scene.

It’s not as grandiose as the features above may make it sound, however. eGenesis is an ‘indie’ developer company with very little financial backing, and no prior programming or development experience before they began the ATitD project in 2000. The lack of polish and subpar graphics are frequently a stumbling block for new players, and the game seems to have a following of only a few thousand devotees.

atitd scenery

Yet, the game (or experiment?) lives on. August of this year marked the beginning of the “Fifth Telling” (or fifth reset/re-launch) and the game appears to be getting a stronger following based on their publicly available site statistics. Perhaps this is another sign that the gaming industry is maturing into a world where indie projects like Minecraft, Neverdaunt and the famous “Humble Indie Bundle” are not the only independent projects capable of capturing the hearts of their audiences.

A Tale in the Desert offers a free client download (for PC, MacOS and Linux) that includes 24 hours of free game time before you will be asked to pay a monthly fee to continue your adventures in Egypt’s newest, and oldest, online society.

Agency Logo

The Agency

In the world of MMOGs, the RPG is undeniably king. There is no finer example of this than the juggernaut that is World of Warcraft, but even that title came into the genre riding the coattails of the original 3D MMORPG, EverQuest. And now, Sony Online Entertainment, the publishers of the game that arguably created the entire MMOG phenomenon, is attempting to break existing stigmas around the often-derided sub-genre of the MMOFPS and finally created a title in that category that is worthy of the “AAA” moniker.

agency paragonThe Agency has been under development at SOE’s Seattle Studios since 2007, and has already been shown off as playable and stable as both a PvE and PvP experience. Originally scheduled for a 2010 release, the title was recently put on an indefinite delay for the purposes of content development. SOE seems confident enough in the title that they’ve begun to take an approach of “it’s done when it’s done” (*timestamp 19:05) and is now estimating the release as some time in mid-2011. This delay has many fans worried however, as the game is already earning a reputation as being a “covert” project, with very few announcements and little press activity coming to the surface. It would be all-too-easy for the project to quietly slip away into obscurity at this point, and never heard from again.

But each time the title has surfaced, however infrequently that has been, it's had a big impact. At E3 in 2008, 2009 and 2010, demos were shown that left reporters across the MMOG industry raving about their hopes for this title. The gameplay we’ve seen so far leans very heavily on its FPS roots, with the MMO portion of its category taking a backseat to the shooter-driven action. In fact, some might even argue that calling this game ‘massive’ is a very liberal interpretation of the term, since public areas are said to support only 50-100 players, with PvE missions and PvP skirmishes having caps much lower (4 and 24 respectively, at this time). We’ll have to see how the game handles social integration on a larger scale before making the final call, but so far this title is shaping up to be FPS first, MMO second.

This point was nailed home during a developer interview which contained the quote, “a headshot is a headshot,” implying that character advancement will, in the long run, matter less than actual player skill.

I personally hold out hope that this game lands in a timely manner, and lives up to the promises and hype that it has earned so far. After my disappointment with Planetside, SOE’s former MMOFPS project, I’ve always had a soft spot this type of game, and I hold on to hope that it will one day boast a title that will cement the sub-genre’s place in the MMOG industry as a whole. As such, 2011 can’t get here fast enough.

Agency gameplay

... and so many more!

Unfortunately, this brings us to the end of the “What Happened To...” series of articles, here at Ten Ton Hammer. We hope you’ve enjoyed these trips down Memory Lane, even if this particular avenue is lined with cemeteries and junkyards filled with the leavings of an industry that shows no mercy to those attempting to enter it. Hopefully those treading these paths in the future may learn a lesson or two from those that came before. As a wise man once said, “those that do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Probably as a poorly rendered MMOG played on a glitchy server, that costs too much on a monthly basis.

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