free realms

Official Site: Free Realms (Wikipedia)
Studio: SOE, now Daybreak Game Company
Launch Date: April 28, 2009
Sunset Date: March 31, 2014
Genre: Kid-Friendly Fantasy Themepark
Business Model: Hybrid F2P (Optional Sub, Cash Shop)
Platform: PC, PS3, Mac

The Game Archaeologist: SOE’s The Agency

The graveyard of Sony Online Entertainment and Daybreak Game Company is certainly full enough to be considered a threat if there was ever a zombie uprising among MMORPGs. From PlanetSide to Free Realms, there are plenty of live games that were disposed of in this grim fictional burial ground. But there are also those stillborn titles that never had the change to make or break in a live environment. EverQuest Next might be the most fresh in our minds, but go back a handful of years and you might have seen players lamenting the loss of a different promising SOE game: The Agency.

The Agency seems like a natural fit for the studio’s focus on first-person shooters and a willingness to branch out from strictly fantasy territory. Instead of dragons or stormtroopers, players in this game were to face off against terrorist organizations and dastardly spy agencies, all in the pursuit of living out the ultimate James Bond fantasy.

But instead of sitting on our desktop, The Agency exists only in a forgotten corner of this imaginary cemetery. Today, let us tenderly brush off its worn tombstone and remember what we can about this canceled spy shooter.

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Massively Overthinking: The City of Heroes Master X Master debacle

On Tuesday, NCsoft announced that it plans to introduce Statesman, from the long-sunsetted City of Heroes, as a playable character in its MOBA, Master x Master.

Complications ensued, as anyone familiar with the history of MMORPGs can probably imagine.

For this week’s Overthinking, I asked our team of writers — both those who loved CoH and those who never much played it — what they think about the whole ordeal. Are gamers right to be angry? What exactly is NCsoft thinking? Have we seen the end of any hope of the game being resurrected or sold, or should we infer just the opposite?

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Free Realms Sunrise emulator vows to bring back some of the fun

Were you there when they turned the lights out on Free Realms? The title went dark on this family-friendly MMORPG back in March 2014, but some fans have held a torch for it ever since. A few are going further than that by attempting to resurrect the game in an emulator for PC, though it’s unlikely that Daybreak has given its blessing.

Last December, Free Realms Sunrise announced that it was trying to bring back the MMO in some way, shape, or form: “Our developers have been working on this project for countless hours trying their best to make this a reality and get Free Realms back into your hands. While before we were unsure if it was possible, we believe now that with a enough time and effort, we can bring back a decent portion of the game. We unfortunately can’t guarantee that everything that was in the original game will become available. However, there is still a lot of discovery to be had. This is only the beginning.”

Things have progressed since then to the pre-alpha point.

Did you play Free Realms in its day? Would you give an emulator a go?

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Five reasons behind the failure of Hero’s Song

In July of 2015, MMORPG fans were stunned to hear that John Smedley was stepping down from his post as president of Daybreak. After all, he had been in the captain’s chair at Verant, SOE, and now Daybreak for nearly two decades, helming the company as it handled some of the most influential MMOs of the early generation, including EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies. Fans were curious to know both what happened and what Smedley was planning to do next.

They didn’t have to wait long for the latter. A month later, Smedley announced that he was starting up his own studio to work on a new game. Using his industry contacts and years of experience in game development, Smedley pulled together a solid team to craft Hero’s Song, an online fantasy survival game that would provide huge, customizable worlds. The team went into a flurry of activity, putting out dev blogs, holding fundraisers, and pushing early access out the door.

Yet by the end of 2016, the project was dead, refunds were being distributed to backers, and Smedley’s studio was dissolved. So what happened? Why did Hero’s Song fail when it had so much going for it? Now that a couple of months have passed, it might be time to step back and perform a post-mortem on this fascinating and doomed game. I posit that there are five key reasons why we’re not right now playing Hero’s Song and anticipating its official launch by the end of the year. Hindsight is 20-20, after all, so what could Smedley have done different?

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EverQuesting: Welcome to the Daybreak family, LOTRO and DDO

Sometimes there’s news that just makes you go, “Huh?” At times it happens because said information makes no sense whatsoever; other times it surprises you so thoroughly you have no words as you look around wondering where on earth it came from. Last week we got smacked with the latter. Turbine’s announcement that Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online were breaking off under a new independent studio wasn’t so far-fetched, especially with Turbine’s professed focus on turning into a mobile studio. I heard that and didn’t really bat an eye, I just nodded my head and thought, sure, that makes sense. What was a jaw-dropping surprise was the announcement that Daybreak would be the new publisher. Who ever would have envisioned Norrath and Middle-earth (and Eberron!) becoming family, romping together in the same backyard and sharing a swingset? You never thought they would actually meet. No, we certainly didn’t see that coming.

But once I had a moment to digest the news and think about it (and after we finished with a few jokes, like Justin’s query on whether we should combine our columns to make EverLording), it made sense. And I can see it as a good thing for both parties. (Talking about the pairing of companies, not the columns!) Standing Stone Games and Daybreak both stand to benefit here, meaning their games benefit. Thankfully I don’t see any cross-pollination between the IPs, but I do see two studios growing and see two games continuing on instead of being shut down.

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The Game Archaeologist: Six Halloween holidays from buried MMOs

There are two things to know about Halloween and MMOs. The first is that just about every online game in the known universe puts on a festival or seasonal promotion of some sort, because devs can’t resist the urge to indulge in a return to their childhoods. The second is that pretty much every said event involves some sort of pumpkin-headed scarecrow, because that is apparently the mascot of the holiday now.

Oh, and one more thing to know? Not every MMO Halloween returns from years past due to the sinister and often premature demise of the game. When an MMO goes down, it takes all of its holidays with it, leaving players with only memories of seasonal activities in those games.

In the interest of preserving the efforts that the developers poured into these events and the fondness that some players had for them, today we’re going to take a tour through six holidays from, ahem, buried MMOs.

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Wizardry Online to sunset in Japan

Hardcore perma-death MMORPG Wizardry Online just can’t catch a break: MMO Culture reports today that the game is shutting down in Japan, five years after its launch there.

Over in the west, the game ran just a year and a half under SOE’s pre-Daybreak MMO umbrella; it was shut down here almost exactly two years ago along with Vanguard, Free Realms, and Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures (though there were rumors last year that Suba Games might try to revive it).

Gamepot, the Japanese publisher, says its version will close in December thanks to poor “market conditions.”

Source: Gamepot via MMO Culture

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The Soapbox: Sharing MMORPGs with my kids

“Dad, can I pilot your ship tonight?”

I turn around to see my seven-year-old son giving me Bambi eyes with his hands clasped because, somewhere along the line, he realized that being ultra-cute got him what he wanted about 70% of the time. Plus, he only has a short while before that wears off and he becomes a belching, sweaty teen.

He was talking about Star Trek Online, although my kids never call games by their proper names. STO is “that space pilot game” and World of Warcraft is “the kill bad guys game,” both of which are far superior titles than the originals, I think you’d agree. I had let him fly my starship once and it got him hooked, mostly because it wasn’t super-fast and twitchy but forgiving and simple to maneuver. Now I get pestered at odd hours to help him further his Starfleet career, even though he has yet to see a single episode of the show.

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Perfect Ten: MMORPGs with distinct visual styles

Given the choice, I am always going to pick a game with stylized graphics over realistic ones. This is for many reasons; it’s partly because “realistic” so frequently means “bland and filtered over with brown” and partly because a game with realistic graphics is much more likely to look bad in a decade than one with stylized models. But first and foremost, it’s just because I like to be able to look at a screenshot and say that it came from a very specific game, that it couldn’t be mixed up with any other title.

There are a lot of games that wind up looking… well, pretty close to one another. But these games all have a style that’s distinctly their own, a sense of composition and design that keeps even the most generic shots from these games from looking interchangeable. And it doesn’t hurt that all of them are drop-dead gorgeous, to boot.

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Perfect Ten: The final minutes of beloved MMORPGs

“This is how the world ends,” T S Eliot wrote in his famous poem, “not with a bang, but with a whimper.”

That might well describe the concluding moment of any number of MMORPGs that were closed down over the years. From the death of an exceedingly popular title to the demise of a ghost town, those last seconds are pretty much all the same: “Connection to server lost” followed by silence forever.

But what happens before that fatal conclusion is of interest to us today, for it is in the final minutes of MMOs that the community rages, dances, mourns, and celebrates in various ways. Today we’re going to take a trip back in time to the end of 10 MMOs — and what it looked like to the players who were there.

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Perfect Ten: Most notable console MMORPGs to date

It used to be that hunting for a console MMORPG was one of the most fruitless endeavors known to gamers. The PC was where it was at, dating all the way back to the birth of MUDs back in the 1980s. For decades, console gamers could only look on in envy as their PC comrades enjoyed persistent worlds, massive multiplayer, and online events.

The scene, of course, has radically changed, particularly over the past five years. Now studios are downright eager to tap into the console market with their online titles, and in some cases these MMOs have proven to be much more successful on those platforms than their PC version counterparts.

While a full list of every console MMO to date would far exceed a top 10 list, I thought it was worthy of drawing out the most notable titles that have existed to date on video game consoles. Some of these are long extinguished, some are famous disappintments, while others are flourishing even today. What would you pick for this list? Let us know in the comments!

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Massively Opinionated: Which MMO would be the most innovative if launched today?

MMO players are always concerned about innovation. Who doesn’t want his game to be the latest and greatest? Inspired by two of our Patreon supporters, Duane and Viking, this week’s Opinionated panel discusses innovation and its application in the realm of MMORPGs.

On this episode, host Larry Everett has invited two veteran MMO pundits to the debate: Troy Blackburn from Gamebreaker and Jason Winter from MMOBomb.

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Massively Overthinking: The MMO innovation we long for (or do we?)

This week’s Massively Overthinking topic comes from Kickstarter donor BigMikeyOcho, who wants to talk innovation:

“Sometimes when I play MMOs, I get the feeling that I’m just performing the same tasks as other MMOs, just with a new covering. What innovations would you like to see to prevent that ‘same as all the others’ feeling?”

I posed BigMikeyOcho’s question to the Massively writers and our July guest!

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