The Game Archaeologist: Hero101, the lost KingsIsle superhero MMO


You do get the sense that KingsIsle once had very grand plans for what is called its “101 Universe.” After Wizard101 came out to great acclaim in 2008, a flurry of plans went into action to expand the world of the Spiral to other titles and genres. Unfortunately, Wizard101’s follow-up Pirate101 was a mere shadow of its older sibling in terms of reception.

That didn’t stop KingsIsle from at least working on a third MMORPG, which brings us to our subject for the day. The studio stepped away from wizards and pirates to tackle a third genre quite popular with kids and grown-ups alike: superheroes. Hero101, as it was to be called, sought to do for comic books as Wizard101 did for Harry Potter — but alas, it was never meant to be.

In May 2012, the same year that Pirate101 released, KingsIsle officially began development of a third MMO that would let players step into the role of a super-powered individual in Nexus City who would fight against aliens. It was described as a “AAA family-friendly” title that was different than the MMOs KingsIsle had previously released.

Jeff Haskell (who is now at Dimensional Ink Games) was tapped to be the senior game designer, James Leary became the associate creative designer, and Chris Douglas handled the initial concept and environmental art. Reportedly, there was a “giant team” assigned to work on what was internally called Superhero101 or Heroes.

In Hero101, players would’ve picked one established class, including the Psychic, Speedster, Vigilante, Cryomancer, Pyromancer, and Titan. Players would pick up new powers or abilities, such as improved speed or telekenesis, as they progressed.

From what little information we know about the game, Hero101 was at least initially basing its combat around a turn-based format, much as Wizard101 did. Presumably, you would use powers and talents instead of cards for your turn, but the format looked very similar.

The world, which was rumored to be more Earth-like than elsewhere in the Spiral, had a number of locations already charted. These included the various locales of Nexus City (such as Bright Shores and Electric Avenue), training facilities, Walden Wood, and an underground realm.

In December 2014, after two years of development, KingsIsle (now bereft of J. Todd Coleman, who left in 2013) made the decision to shift its resources away from making large-scale MMORPGs and more toward cheap mobile titles. This brought the work on Hero101 to a screeching halt.

While KingsIsle never announced or confirmed the existence of the Hero101 project, some of its developers leaked videos and images about the MMO in the years since. At least one voice actor for the game put Hero101 on her resume (which has since been edited to omit the reference).

An unnamed former employee said that Hero101 was “practically finished” (with about 60 zones in total) when it was shelved along with a MOBA that KingsIsle was developing. Other sources say that the last build of the game was still pretty bare-bones, lacking many expected MMO features.

Strangely enough, assets from Hero101 were repurposed for Wizard101. This means that if you explore that MMO’s Nimbus Citadel or The Old One’s lab, you’ll be adventuring amid the futuristic art that was created for Hero101.

Thanks to YouTubers Froggys and Atmoplex for their great videos on this topic!

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to 2004! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.
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