One of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about is Operation Unthinkable. For those of you who don’t feel like clicking the link, it was essentially Winston Churchill’s plan to start World War III right as World War II ended, except this time with the Allies against the Soviet Union and with re-armed German soldiers as shock troops. I’m glossing quite a bit, but the point is that the whole plan was always nuts and weird, and it would have made for a very different world than the one we actually live in.
But then, that’s just me. I like to speculate about what could have been but wasn’t, even if it never had a particularly big chance of happening. So here are 10 possible versions of games that never were – some that did launch, some that didn’t, and none of them things that we’ll ever get to play for better or for worse. But it’s still fun to speculate, hmm?
1. The original version of Final Fantasy XIV
It’s not an obscure secret that I really like Final Fantasy XIV. It’s a favorite, and it’s a perfect example of how to take a whole bunch of old tropes and practices and make them amusing again. The original version, while it also had some brilliant concepts behind it, was also a mess and a half and not all that fun much of the time. But I still wonder – and I’m always going to wonder – what that game would have looked like with more time.
People have mined out additional skill lines hidden in the game that were originally meant for inclusion. There was more stuff for the Primal Titan hidden in the game’s files. The story was going somewhere, there were plans for what was to be done with the airship stands hidden throughout the zones and other locations of note. Something was planned, and Naoki Yoshida has all but said that he completely abandoned those plans in favor of what we have now.
So what would it have looked like? Would it have been better than what we have now? I don’t know about the former and I can almost conclusively say “no” for the latter, but still, I’d love to find out.
2. City of Heroes, year 10
Oh, you don’t really want to hear me go on about this, and it comes closest to me breaking my self-imposed rules for this column inasmuch as this is something I could at least start to predict and had played. This isn’t an alternate route development could have gone down, it’s just a game that was shut down. But what we know about the game’s Issue 24 is pretty cool, and I honestly do wonder what we would have seen during another year of the game’s life, even if it got shut down immediately after that.
3. Champions Online with a budget
It’s no secret that Champions Online is in an uncomfortable spot – it has no players, so it has no money to make new content, so no players join because there’s no new content, so it has no money, on and on. But oh, the dreams of a time when the game was new and could actually have made its money back and gone live with regular updates, big updates, the sort of updates that Star Trek Online has seen over its lifespan to polish and fix the game as a whole.
You can say that you would never have liked the game, and maybe it was never going to be your cup of tea, yes, but let’s remember that superhero films started making insane amounts of bank not too long after Champions Online launched and faltered. Would it have pushed through to success if it had launched just a little bit later? I don’t know, but boy, the possibility is bracing.
4. Guild Wars post-Utopia
In my mind, for reasons I cannot adequately explain, I often forget that Guild Wars: Eye of the North didn’t so much replace Guild Wars: Utopia as it served as a last hurrah before Guild Wars 2. And that’s fine. But the truth is, after years of thought, I’m honestly not sure if I like Guild Wars 2 more than I like the original Guild Wars, and part of me wonders what the game would look like if we had in fact gotten Utopia and then moved beyond.
Maybe we would have just gotten shutdowns or maintenance modes in a couple of years, I don’t know. I do know that Guild Wars was one of the few series that had entire expansions not focusing on Standard European Fantasy as a hing, and I know that Utopia‘s mesoamerican inspiration still looks unique years later. Maybe I just want Vabbi back. I can’t say. Maybe lots of things.
5. Perpetual’s Star Trek Online
I also really like Star Trek Online as it is, so perhaps this is just me nitpicking needlessly. But considering the size and scope of the core franchise, I’d love to hop universes and see what another group’s take on the franchise and the game mechanics would have looked like. Even if we don’t really know enough to say for sure what this entry could have been.
6. World of Warcraft without Cataclysm
Were there original plans for World of Warcraft‘s Mount Hyjal? For what players would find in Uldum? Is it possible to go back to a world without so many zones devoted to making pop cultural references that were dated a year before launch, including an otherwise compelling story in Westfall choked with CSI nods?
It’s worth noting here that I really dislike CSI.
Cataclysm is without a doubt my least favorite expansion for the game, without discussing whether or not it’s the worst expansion. I totally get the idea that the old world in the game needed an overhaul, but it’s possible – I would say even probable – that this reached too far in the remake direction. And I’ll always wonder what the game would look like if someone in the design office had spoken up against this sort of rewrite, if things looked different, if we could have been exploring Mists of Pandaria after Northrend or something similar. Cataclysm feels like ascended fanfic being added to the game, and I’d love to see what would happen if it wasn’t there.
7. Project Copernicus
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a pretty fascinating game with a kind of boring story. The actual game was fun, though. So tell me, what would it have looked like as an MMO? Would it have been great? Stupid? Boring?
I don’t know, and you don’t know either, and our odds of seeing this project ever actually exist are nil. But even if there’s no timeline wherein a release could happen, boy, I would like to play the game just to see what it would have been like.
8. Warhammer Online with another year before launch
Here’s another corner case, because I’m leery of saying “oh, if the studio had just had more time” as a defense for games that had issues. It is quite possible that Warhammer Online coming out a year later would still be subject to the same cut features, the same features not technically cut but implemented in the dumbest possible fashion (oh, you kill collectors, you), the same bugs and glitches and poor balance. It is very possible – probable, even – that the game’s issues ran deeper than that, and while the delay of launch would have meant that we had all classes in at launch, another year wouldn’t fix everything.
But oh, wouldn’t it be fun to know one way or the other?
9. WildStar’s original combat system
I can’t actually point to a single point of divergence with WildStar, but I often feel as if the game took a sharp left turn at some point in development. That may simply be idealism talking, but I feel like there’s an underlying great sandpark there that got layered and intertwined with an obnoxiously chest-pounding hardcore game that watered out the elements I found to be most fun. My proof of this? Changes in marketing and overall feel over time, which is a highly scientific way to make that call, I know.
Thus, I wonder. I wonder if we had never moved over to action combat we would have a game that launched without all of that “hardcore!” nonsense that felt so at odds with the “play what you want” tagline. Maybe they were always super-intertwined and it’s just perception that shifted, but I’d love to find out.
10. Original Tabula Rasa
When Tabula Rasa was first announced I was knee-deep in Final Fantasy XI, a game whose memories I keep fresh to pre-emptively kill any bit of meandering affection I might have for the good old days. Even if you could conclusively prove to me that group finders, structured content, and solo options kill puppies, I would not trade them for going back to the days of sitting in Jeuno and praying for a group that didn’t exist just so I could maybe get a level on Dragoon.
I’m a cat person anyway.
The original marketing for Tabula Rasa sounded like it was too good to be true. Sure, it was a shared online world, but the story you went through and experienced was far more presonal and private. It was about you and the friends you brought along with you, and the game wasn’t aimed at the sort of huge group stuff that made FFXI a chore to play. I was very excited for that version of the game.
What we actually got was very different, but part of me wonders what the world would look like with that original design. I mean, if you think about it, it would have basically been Richard Garriott designing Star Wars: The Old Republic without any of that IP’s baggage. Would it have been great? Silly? Pointless? Who knows, but it would have been something very different, and I wonder how different games would look if that was the game we had.