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The Way Back Machine

By Jon Wood on January 29, 2011 | General Articles | Comments

The Way Back Machine

We’re starting a new weekend tradition here at MMORPG.com. After realizing that we have a huge library of material built up over the years, and an audience that brings in new readers all the time, we thought it might be fun to jump into our TARDIS / ship flung around the sun / way back machine / transporter accident, head back in time and re-visit some of our old articles. Were we right? Were we wrong? Does it still hold up today? Were we completely full of it?

This week, we’re going to reach back to our very first edition of “the list” that saw yours truly, Managing Editor Jon Wood, cover five MMOs that went through development but were never launched. It should be noted that I worked on one of them (WISH) and that another is now being re-developed for a new release. Well, on with the show:

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Today [April 14th, 2009], trapped in a sadistic bout of nostalgia, we take a look at what we consider to be the Top 5 of these games. Highly anticipated by their fans and yet left squarely on the design room floors:

#5 - Perpetual Entertainment's Star Trek Online

This would-have-been game in development takes the fifth spot on our top five list, not because it wasn't highly anticipated, or because it flew low on the radars of MMO fans, but because the property itself was picked up after the game's cancellation. Regardless of Perpetual's decision, Star Trek Online is likely to see store shelves... it just won't be the game that its original designers at Perpetual Entertainment envisioned.

The news hit back in September of 2004 that the San Francisco-based development studio had landed the license to what is without a doubt one of the two biggest and best known science fiction franchises of all time.

As development on the game moved on, troubles with the development company behind the game began to mount and speculation began to grow about the future of the Trek MMO, or lack thereof.

The first sign were the numerous reports of layoffs at the company. Second came the cancellation of the company's other MMO, an original IP game called Gods & Heroes, reportedly to focus on the Trek game was announced on October 9th of 2007. Next, we had the rather quiet transfer of ownership from Perpetual Entertainment to a company called P2. Throw in a lawsuit filed against the company by its own PR company, and we're given a glimpse behind the reasons that on January 14th of 2008, the announcement came down that development had ceased on the project. This news was followed closely by reports that another Bay Area developer (later revealed to be Cryptic Studios) had acquired the license.

Final Thoughts

People didn't stop heavily criticizing Perpetual's game after Executive Producer Daron Stinnett told MMORPG.com that he wasn't making a game for Trekkers, but making a great MMO. Taken out of context, this sounded like the company was planning to just throw a Star Trek skin on a WoW clone. Personally, I think he just meant they were trying to make a good MMO, but what do I know? In the end, STO is probably better off where it is than where it was.

#4 WISH

WISH, a game in development from the now defunct Mutable Realms, promised big things to the MMO community and was suddenly cancelled in January of 2005.

It billed itself as the first UMMORPG (Ultra Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), meaning that it was supposed to be a single server, single zone, fantasy-based MMORPG.

Game mechanics-wise, WISH had a lot of concepts moving in its favor:

Open world, single server, single shard: WISH was supposed to be the fantasy game that did away with multiple servers and zones in a game. The world was supposed to be seamless and for everyone.

Skill-based advancement system: No levels and rigid class structure here. Instead, the game's advancement was base don doing. You want to improve your sword skill? Go swing the sucker around for a bit. Want to learn to cast magic? Practice makes perfect.

A great pathing system: many people who actually had a chance to play WISH applauded its impressive pathing system.

Live Content: The idea behind this feature was to have developers act as GMs, providing unique and interactive experiences for the game's players on a regular basis. While this didn't replace your standard array of quests, it was meant to supplement them and give the story the feeling of being alive, interactive and changeable through player actions.

It wasn't all roses and sunshine though, the main complaint that people had with this game was that it was based on a point and click navigation system. Despite numerous and repeated complaints from fans the developers insisted that the point and click system was crucial to the game's single shard, single world technology.

Then, without warning or a great deal of explanation, the game's official website announced that the project, and all of its lofty goals, would be shut down permanently.

Final Thoughts

Live Content... What a great concept; have a bunch of developers live, in the world, giving players individual attention and providing interactive stories 24 / 7. Great in concept, difficult to actually implement. In fact, a lot of this game's core concepts would have played well with today's MMO audience that wants sandbox skill based games.

#3 Gods & Heroes

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your subscriptions! Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising was the original IP MMO that the folks at the ill-fated Perpetual Entertainment were working on. Announced on March 9th, 2005, the game was supposed to have been the company's flagship, followed then by the massive IP MMO Star Trek Online. Unfortunately, like the empire that the game was built to replicate, it crumbled.

The premise was certainly both interesting and unique. While the game was set in Ancient Rome, theirs was a Rome where mythology was fact.Your character? The long lost son or daughter of the gods, set about to claim your destiny and your birthright.

The game's classes were pulled straight from the history books: Soldier, Gladiator, Mystic, Priest, Scout and Nomad. The game's real selling point though was its minion system.

Minions, we were told, would give your character more versatility. They were supposed to be an entourage of NPCs that could travel with your character. Playing a Soldier and need some healing support? Get a Priest minion. Players would have had some control of the minions in much the same way that pet classes control their pets in most MMOs.

Unfortunately Gods & Heroes, already in its beta testing phase, was the first casualty of Perpetual Entertainment's descent. On October 9th 2007, the company announced that it was putting the game on "indefinite hold" in favour of spending its resources on Star Trek Online.

Final Thoughts

The cancellation of any game isn't fun for the fans or the developers, but the cancellation of a game in beta can be downright devastating. Gods & Heroes was a near-complete game (obviously with its share of problems). I will, however, remember the time that I played a hands-on with the game and watched as a titan-like giant picked my character up, threw him to the ground and stomped him like a cigarette.

#2 Imperator

Imagine a parallel universe where Rome never fell and advanced not only to the modern day, but beyond, moving on to spread its empire across the stars. Now, imagine this in the guise of an MMORPG. This, my friends, would have been the game from Mythic Entertainment (Pre-EA) known as Imperator.

Originally announced in 2002, this ambitiously premised MMO would have been the first successor to Mythic's Dark Age of Camelot. Unlike its predecessor, Imperator was supposed to turn away from the company's RvR roots and focus more on a PvE background.

In terms of game mechanics, some may be surprised to note that Imperator was designed to use a skill-based advancement system rather than the typical level-by-level MMO fare. Space combat wasn't going to be a part of the game as is the case in so many science fiction themed MMOs currently on the market and in development. Instead, the game would focus on the people, the story and the setting.

On July 13th of 2005, Mythic published a press release announcing the postponement of Imperator. CEO Mark Jacobs cited the game's failure to meet a triple-A standard. Employees, we were told, had been shifted to Dark Age of Camelot and the company's recently announced Warhammer MMO project. The game would never see its scheduled 2006 release date.

Final Thoughts

From all accounts, Mark Jacobs seemed pretty personally invested in this particular project. It was ambitious and I personally would have liked to see what Mythic could do with a PvE-centric title. One thing to remember about this game though is that it has never officially, technically been cancelled. Instead, the game remains "postponed", so we may yet see the interstellar expansion of the roman empire in some form.

Also, come on, it was Romans... it was Space... it was Sci-Fi. Romans with big freaking space guns.

#1 Ultima X

Ultima Online is well recognized by many as the father of the modern MMORPG, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the idea of making a second game in the franchise has been kicked around a few times.

The first time, it was Ultima Online 2 or Ultima Worlds Online: Origins. When an announcement was made in 2001 that Electronic Arts was putting an end to the game, thoughts of an Ultima sequel were pushed to the backburner Until August 22nd, 2003 when EA and Origin announced that they would be making Ultima X: Odyssey. Here's what the original announcement press release had to say about the game:

"Powered by the latest version of the Unreal Engine and based on the renowned Ultima(TM) single-player role-playing series, UXO will enable players to create personalized legacies in a massive new online world and will be one of the first of its kind to offer private areas on demand within the game."

Ultima X would have been the first Ultima game to be developed without Lord British Richard Garriott at the helm.

EA announced the cancellation of the game on June 30th 2004, stating that they felt that they needed to focus their resources on the game that started it all, Ultima Online.

Final Thoughts

With Ultima Online still trudging along (now under the Mythic banner) after more than ten years, at least it can be said that when EA announced that they were throwing their full support behind Ultima Online, they must have meant it.