While not exactly a super-secret of the MMO industry, rumours have circled around about a Deadlands MMO for a while now. This project has really been under the radar while other more widely known secret MMO projects have been getting the spotlight, probably because so little is known about Deadlands. However, a lot of information exists that would strongly indicate that this project exists and will probably be announced in the near-ish future. Here's the relevant info:
- In November 2006 Shane Hensley, then lead / senior writer on City of Villains (and maybe City of Heroes too) left Cryptic Studios to work "on a project VERY near and dear to his heart" that was MMO related. Hensley also is the founder and president of Great White Games / Pinnacle Entertainment Group and developed a number of pen-and-paper RPGs including Deadlands.
- In his excitement on leaving Cryptic to start down this path, Hensley confirmed that he was going off to work on a Deadlands MMO. The context in that post is ambiguous because the original linking post has been scrubbed, but the other post made it clear that a Deadlands MMO was on the way. It seemed like a press release was due any day to formally announce DeadlandsO (hmm, DeadO? ;-)...
- ... and then silence for almost two years. There doesn't appear to be a clear picture at this point regarding what happened during this time. The best explanation to the delays appears to be Hensley's comment that, "I've since learned not to talk about the project for fear of jinxing it, but suffice to say I'm in the desert for a reason..."
- However, recent news shows signs of the Deadlands MMO revival. Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment (CME) - currently working on the Stargate Worlds MMO - started up a subsidiary in April 2008 named FireSky to self-publish their titles and to also publish work from other CME-related studios. One of these studios is Superstition Studios (founded in August 2007), where Hensley was appointed as head developer in May 2008.
- The information released about Superstition Studios is vague, but talks about it's secret title as being "the Lost Dutchman's Mine [...] only without being lost", that it is an "award winning-IP" based on "an established gaming property", that it will "knock your boots off". All of that fits DeadO.
- When asked about it, Hensley has confirmed that Superstition is "working [...] on one of my IPs". Deadlands is probably the best known IP that Hensley has, although PEG has a number of others (including extentions / variations of Deadlands in different times / genres).
- Even Superstition's logo would seem to clearly point to a Deadlands MMO:
The logo of Superstition Studios: A dark moon and desert-style cliffs fits a dark western MMO well
So, why is Deadlands interesting as a MMO property? First off, Deadlands is a 'dark western' theme, with gunslingers fighting it out against the undead and shamans going up against alchemists to see who comes off best. It is something different, something darker, than is seen in a lot of MMOs today. Secondly, given Hensley's background, I don't think he is looking to make WoW in leather chaps. Although I'm sure he would love the subscriber numbers of WoW, it is unlikely he'd want to develop yet another diku / level grind MMO given the differences he created for the pen-and-paper game mechanic. Finally, given that Hensley owns the Deadlands IP and is leading up the development team on the MMO, you could be assured of a faithful adaption, or as faithful as is possible in converting pen-and-paper RPGs into MMOs.
However, there is a risk here in that CME is an independent studio who is in the process of launching its first major title in Stargate Worlds. The recent launch history of new MMOs isn't exactly littered with incredible successes from established MMO studios, so for a new and unproven MMO studio to try to launch a new title is always going to be a challenge. Whether or not there will be a Deadlands MMO heavily depends on the performance of Stargate Worlds. A successful Stargate Worlds launch that attracts a solid audience would smooth the path for DeadO; a rocky and ignoble start for Stargate Worlds could easily see DeadO pushed back or even put on the dreaded 'hiatus'.
Although I've got very little interest in Stargate Worlds, I certainly hope it does well because I would love to see DeadO arrive on the MMO scene. DeadO would bring a bit more weird to the current MMO genre - something that it sorely needs.
As for the announcement - looking at the information available from the Penny Arcade Expo, it doesn't look like CME is going, so I don't think we'd hear about DeadO until 2009. However, when Stargate Worlds is looking in the bag and about to launch, I wouldn't be surprised if DeadO is announced as the follow-up title to keep people interested in what CME / FireSky is up to. So I expect to see the DeadO announcement early 2009.
Here's hoping, anyway!