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.
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/91702"> style="font-style: italic;">Tabula 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 style="font-style: italic;">Wing Commander, style="font-style: italic;">Ultima Online and style="font-style: italic;">Lineage).
What could possibly go wrong?
According to a href="http://pc.gamespy.com/pc/tabula-rasa/698217p2.html"
target="_top">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 style="font-style: italic;">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
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. href="http://www.brighthub.com/video-games/mmo/articles/28629.aspx?p=2"
target="_top">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
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.
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/91710">If style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">TERA Online and style="font-style: italic;">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 href="http://kotaku.com/5241911/richard-garriott-suing-ncsoft-for-24000000"
target="_top">Garriott suing NCsoft for $24million due to
just couldn't get a break, I tell ya.
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/91704"> style="font-style: italic;">Tabula Rasa was not
NCsoft's first foray into the cancellation of a high-profile
action-driven MMOG. In 2007, they'd put their publishing might behind
NetDevil's car-based action MMOG, Auto
Assault. The game featured high-octane destruction in a
post-apocalyptic future, complete with physics-enabled debris and
destructible terrain and buildings.
And it was FUN!
But... it was not deep. In fact, it was about as shallow as an online
game could possibly get, and suffered from a serious lack of content.
Not to mention grouping difficulties and control issues. Top all this
off with an out-of-car experience that felt shoe-horned and kludged
together at the last second, and you had yourself a recipe for
disaster. A game that would be fun to play for only a few hours. If it
But BOY would you have fun destroying shanty towns and running over
pedestrians in those few hours!
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/91705">Up until style="font-style: italic;">Auto Assault,
NetDevil had only published one other game of note the mildly
successful niche MMOG,
Jumpgate. Many speculated that with the closure and
cancellation of AA, the company would soon vanish. href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/51644" target="_top">NetDevil
surprised us all, however, by diversifying instead of shrinking.
They soon acquired the rights to a LEGO MMOG (which would become style="font-style: italic;"> LEGO Universe),
and put plans in motion to create a sequel to Jumpgate. It was also not
long before they'd acquired the rights to publish a Marvel superhero
game (Super Hero Squad
When later target="_top">asked about the closure of style="font-style: italic;">Auto Assault,
NetDevil co-founder Scott Brown said, I would never turn off a game. I
would do what I would need to do to make the game support itself, but
why turn it off? Especially when there are people that love your
game? NetDevil attempted to acquire the rights to style="font-style: italic;">Auto Assault after
its closure, but was unable to come to an agreement with NCsoft.
But it was sure fun while it lasted!
Vrooooooooommmmmmmmm..... **squeel, CRASH!**
ALL POINTS BULLETIN
In today's world of MMOGs, we really can't talk about cancellations
without bringing up RealTime Worlds' style="font-style: italic;">All Points Bulletin.
It has become perhaps the most shining example of how to overstep
yourself in this business, assuming you'd already won the gold medal
before the race had been run.
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/82744/preview"> style="width: 318px; height: 254px;" alt="apb_customization2"
APB's most shining feature was undeniably the free form avatar
customization it offered, which was so robust and limitless that it
puts even the critically-acclaimed character creation systems of City
of Heroes and Champions Online to shame. Perhaps that made it all so
much more infuriating when folks in beta realized that every mechanic
and system outside of this customization was complete garbage by
The game suffered from an incredible lack of content that it seemed
ready to accept, putting the onus on the players to engage in PvP
conflicts as a form of infinite content. But the PvP engagements
themselves had little purpose, as well as being riddled with bugs,
glitches and imbalances. The mechanics of driving a car in the game a
core mechanic to the overall gameplay were cited in nearly every
review as being clunky and difficult to control effectively.
alt="apb in action"
true downfall of this game, according to the myriad of post-mortem
articles that have cropped up in the past few months, came directly
from RealTime World's management teams. Some say it was a lack of a
solid direction and unified vision, others simply feel the company
started acting too big for its britches. Perhaps the most
well-respected and thorough examination of APB's difficulties comes to
us courtesy of ex-APB employee Luke Halliwell's personal blog (readable
here in 3 installments: href="http://lukehalliwell.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/where-realtime-worlds-went-wrong/"
target="_top">3). To summarize: It's a
classic example of thinking like a big successful multi-million dollar
company when they, in fact, weren't. After raising $100 million for the
development of APB, we forgot to tell ourselves that the investment
was just a small step towards success, not to be confused with success
now circulate that APB may be purchased and re-opened under
new management but nothing has yet been confirmed.
mission Turbine, should you choose to accept it, is to craft a
successful next-generation sequel to your successful and wildly popular
first-generation MMOG, Asheron's
Oh, and develop and publish both simultaneously while not losing the
profitability of either.
And while you're at it, re-acquire the rights and operations of both of
these worlds from Microsoft so that you are solely responsible for the
financial burden of your success or failure.
turns out, Turbine Entertainment was not up to the task at the time.
Though they have since established themselves as one of the largest and
most successful developers and publishers in the modern MMOG market,
they are not without a rocky history.
Calling the launch of Asheron's
Call 2 rough would be a massive understatement. Both
server and client crashes were common, balance issues were drastically
out of whack, and players were discovering exploits on a daily basis.
The server instability was so rampant that most players found
themselves unable to communicate with each other reliably for the four
months of live gameplay. And the exploitation of bugs was so widespread
that Turbine made an official statement that called for exploiters to
not be vilified by other players, and instead claimed that bugs and
exploits, if found, were the sole responsibility of the developers and
players should not be penalized for benefiting from them.
All of these factors set the tone of the rest of the game's brief
tenure in the MMOG field. Massive nerfs become common, swinging the
pendulum of balance wide with each patch and causing player outcry with
each swing. Among the communities of AC2, fans of original Asheron's
Call publicly pulled their support from the sequel and subscription
numbers dropped steadily.
In a last-ditch effort to save the title, Turbine pushed forward with
publishing an expansion pack for the game in 2005. After retail sales
of the expansion failed to revitalize the dwindling player base, a
cancellation notice was given just months after the expansion pack was
Jonathan Hanna, Turbine's Director of Public Relations had this to say href="http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm/setview/features/loadFeature/208/gameID/1/page/1"
target="_top">in an interview after the game's demise:
One of the key lessons that we learned is the customer perception of
sequels in the MMO space. They end up splitting your community more so
than growing it. So they are counterproductive, unlike sequels in other
game genres where they can be really successful.
I have a feeling that the folks at SOE, publishers and developers of style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest and style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest 2, may
disagree with that statement despite how logical it may sound on the
Really, what it all comes back to is href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/51644" target="_top">another
quote from NetDevil's Scott Brown: The reality is that good
games just succeed. Meaning that if a game has failed, it is because
it just wasn't good enough.
True though that might be, it's also just as true that a game doesn't
have to be the absolute paragon of gaming to be an adored addition to
the MMOG landscape. Even for all their lumps, each of the above titles
has (or had) a significant fanbase ready to continue paying
subscription fees even if they were insufficient to support further
content development. And each of those fans now goes about their lives
dreaming about the days they will never get to relive, and the worlds
they were forced to leave behind.
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