Perfect Ten: Ten MMO futures that never were

    
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We're all NPCs now.

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?

What would this have been?

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.

If I could turn back time.

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.

My name is might have been.

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?

Party like a rock star.

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.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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SexyKingJesus
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SexyKingJesus

APB if RTW not went bankrupt

syberghost
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syberghost

mysecretid PurpleCopper they were in the middle of an F2P conversion when they shut down.

http://www.cinemablend.com/games/Warhammer-Online-Shutting-Down-Free-Play-Switch-Cancelled-59203.html

syberghost
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syberghost

mysecretid in the license transfer, Cryptic got all the PE code, hardware, etc. with the right to use it. Literally the ONLY thing they were able to actually get any use out of was concept art. The code was a joke; a mockup that could only run on one PC.

mysecretid
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mysecretid

PurpleCopper 
I heard that Warhammer Online never went free-to-play because of the specifics of the license deal with Games Workshop. Who knows if this is true? The internet likes to make things up, I hear. :-)

Cheers,

mysecretid
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mysecretid

@Theo54

Here are the screenshots I was referencing.

There are actually a fair number of screens released by Perpetual Entertainment during its time with the Trek license, but these later screenshots were the only ones I recall being explicitly taken from inside the game engine — the rest were typically concept art or graphical mock-ups meant as illustration.

While not entirely dissimilar from what Cryptic finally produced, if you look closely, you can see certain cartoonish (snail aliens) and simplistic elements (“super boots”) in place which did not, personally, fill me with hope.

Perhaps they would’ve tightened it all up prior to release? We’ll never know.

syberghost
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syberghost

Tethyss I haven’t played a thing by them since. I deleted my Guild Wars install, and I won’t even participate in their betas. The instant they sell the CoH IP to somebody, I buy Guild Wars 2 and play the hell out of it.

Jehenna88
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Jehenna88

Urgh .. Champions online. I’m a massive comic book fan and loved City of Heroes (RIP) …. But this game just pushed all the wrong buttons. At a time when comics had gotten darker, and more mature – something borne out by the stupendous success of all those movies – this game dived headlong into silver age ‘bam’ ‘zap’ ‘Kapow’ silliness. It was a superhero game made by people who had never read comics, and had only a bumbling grasp of the genre. Instead of a comic book game … they made a cartoon. It deserves its fate. 

Warhammer. Ah I liked this game soo much. But class balance did it for me. I played a Shadow Warrior – supposed ranged DPS, with the stabby arrow-firing pew pew pew. 

Finally put it down when I was PvPing, after suffering innumerably failures to make the class workable, when I tried to unload on an orc tank. Had him bang to rights, no escape from my most powerful attacks, roots and snares. 

He shrugged them off and two-shot me.

mysecretid
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mysecretid

salidar
I remember the original dev lead (the infamous Bill Roper) getting rather defensive when people were generally not thrilled with the “outline effect” on the game graphics, which Mr. Roper claimed was a means of making Champions Online look “more like a comic book”.

They quickly added an on/off toggle for the outline effect (which is still in the game options today), but as you suggest, it wasn’t merely the outline, but the art style of the entire game which left my friends and I scratching our heads.

We were hoping for Champions 2.0, and what we got was a smaller, less ambitious game, with less to do, and a campy look and feel which took far too long to shake off.

Someone claimed once that Champions Online was made quickly, and with limited funds, after Cryptic’s deal to make a Marvel Comics superhero game feel through. Ostensibly, Cryptic was looking for a way to use and market the development assets they already had in hand,.

I have no idea whether any of these claims are true, but it might explain a lot if they were.

My opinions, anyway. Yours may vary, and that’s cool.

Cheers,

DoctorOverlord
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DoctorOverlord

Some very interesting ‘What If’ scenarios!  

In particular, Warhammer Online was quite ironic since they publicly admitted to finding a bug that was the cause of terrible lag the game a full year after launch.  They also really needed more testing of their city siege system as well.  But I think the issues went deeper.  Cutting down from three capital cities to one, the inability to decide whether they wanted or didn’t want WAR to interfere with DOACs RvR, the horrible, horrible zone design and quest writing.  An extra year wouldn’t have helped with any of those. 

I think Wildstar would have had the most chance to change it’s fate with the alternate reality choices.   Ah well.

EpicViking
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EpicViking

I kinda miss Champions Online, i got a lifetime sub of that, and i log in a few times a year to see how its progressed, but that game has been dead for awhile now, and all these added currencies just killed it for me. They tried to do a Neverwinter of it, but tacking it onto the game instead of having it added from the start, clearly Neverwinter does it better.