If all goes well, later this year we will finally be treated to an actual Harry Potter MMORPG in the form of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. While that will be a mobile ARG in the vein of Pokemon Go, it will still be a big step into the online space that MMO fans have been craving for nearly two decades now.
Obviously, Harry Potter continues to be a mammoth franchise for J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., and Electronic Arts, which has handled the video game license over the years. While there have been single-player Harry Potter titles, especially on consoles, no MMORPG emerged even at the height of the IP craze that swallowed up Star Trek, Star Wars, Warhammer, and more. So why not?
The truth is that Harry Potter Online almost did happen. Its brief existence and development isn’t too well-known, even today, but the wasted potential has always tantalized me with what could have been. Using a time-turner, we will go back to the late 1990s today and peek in on a possible future that came to fruition.
If we judged MMOs by their numbers alone — and I’m not suggesting we do so — then the original Lineage would be the crowing rooster strutting about the hen house. It’s also been one of those games that I’ve always intellectually acknowledged was a huge hit for some reason but never gave much attention. I think it’s because, contrary to many western MMOs, Lineage is primarily an Asian phenomenon. That doesn’t mean it should be shunned, of course, but just that it may be difficult to understand when you’re on the outside of it.
So let’s back up the memory truck to September 1998, when a then-fledgling NCsoft rolled out a Diablo-style isometric MMO and struck virtual gold in South Korea. At the time, gaming rooms were becoming a huge thing in the country. A recession had hit, giving people a lot of time with nothing to do, and the government was rapidly expanding the broadband network. In the face of this perfect storm, titles like StarCraft and Lineage became overnight household fixtures — and remained so for decades to come.
Even if you haven’t played Lineage and you don’t know anyone who does, trust me: Millions and millions of players have. As former Senior Producer Chris Mahnken once said, “Lineage keeps going because it’s just plain fun.”
While the heady days of Ultima Online’s dominant position over the industry are long gone, the MMORPG continues to operate and expand, and many players have fond memories of the unique experience that game offered. In fact, some titles like Legends of Aria and (obviously) Shroud of the Avatar are doing their best to claim the unofficial title of “Ultima Online spiritual successor” in the hopes of reuniting veteran MMO players with the special qualities that made this game great.
These aren’t the first games to try to grasp the holy grail of an Ultima Online sequel. There were actually two such projects that went into heavy production in the late 1990s and early 2000s — both ending with premature cancellation and frustration on the part of developers and fans.
The second of these, Ultima X Odyssey, I covered a while back. Today, we’re going to take a look at the first MMO that attempted to mix the Ultima Online formula with a few new twists. Ultima Worlds Online Origin might not be as well-known (or as well-titled), but its history is just as fascinating as UXO’s.
February 28th, 2009, was a dark day for MMO players, as crowds flocked to Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa in the hopes of hitting level 50 and seeing the return to Earth before the game was closed forever.
YouTuber GaminGHD said that he remembered it “like it was yesterday,” and in a new retrospective, he recalls the final hours of Tabula Rasa while sharing the many screenshots he took on a European server. He said that seeing the players swarm into the battle was a “beautiful sight” that was nevertheless bittersweet.
We’ve shared this video of the last day of Tabula Rasa with you after the jump along with a bonus interview with Garriott that explains why the MMO was mishandled and ultimately canned by NCsoft.
So this is an unusual situation for me: I’ve never
actually played a game for Choose My Adventure
that I’ve disliked this much.
Those of you who have followed my writing for a while know that I’ve played some games I didn’t much like before, but that’s different. Lord of the Rings Online and Black Desert, for example, are games that were not my cup of tea but still had obvious merits I could praise. I’ve played games that I dislike or ones that deserved more criticism than praise when I played them (Ryzom, TERA, the beta period of The Elder Scrolls Online), but still had positive sides. (And in the last case, ESO turned itself around quite well and earned plenty of kudos from me.) Heck, I played Scarlet Blade with as open a mind as I could possibly have.
But not so DC Universe Online. No, this game deserves a pretty thorough drubbing. I can understand why it has fans, but it’s still just not a good game. I can only hope it’s an outlier rather than the norm on Daybreak’s overall catalog, because… wow. This is not fun.
Barreling toward this month’s Release 44, Shroud of the Avatar is (ahem) fleshing out its Elven population with better models and even female models. Elf-lovers need not soil their breeches in excitement, as these are (for now) solely NPC models and nothing that players can take out on the town for mailbox dancing.
In addition to polishing the Jaanaford scene and reworking the Boreas boss model, the team has activated a nearly month-long trial of the game. That means that now through July 26th, you’ll be able to test-drive Lord British’s newest fantasy realm.
Do not go gentle into that good night forever,
Old MMOs should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the server.
Now that I’ve well and truly butchered a classic poem, I’ll turn the funeral proceedings over to Ralph the Wonder Llama, who has these kind words to say about the recently deceased: “Well, at least it’s finally official. Rest in peace, Firefall. You will be missed. Ares 35, signing off.”
Is it just me, or is anyone else getting Tabula Rasa flashbacks?
Your favorite game is going to die. I wrote about that. Some games are never even going to get to launching in the first place, unfortunately. But then there are these titles: games that went the distance when it came to development, marketing, promotion, testing… but somehow didn’t quite manage to stick the landing past that. These are the games that, in Transformers terms, are the hi-then-die cast of the MMO space.
That doesn’t always mean the games are bad, mind you. Some of these games were great fun. But through a combination of business model issues, publisher issues, player population, and just general weirdness, these titles couldn’t make it to a year and a half in the wild. Heck, some of them couldn’t even make it to a year and a quarter. And if you want to peruse this list and wonder why all of these titles are gone but Alganon is somehow still operating… well, we’re just as confused as you are.
MMORPG blogger and MOP commenter Isarii (@ethanmacfie) recently published an excellent video positing that the MMO industry is facing a “massive identity crisis.”
“The MMO genre has sort of walked away from the things that made it unique and has faced an identity crisis since then as MMOs have reinvented themselves as these big giant titles trying to appeal to as many people as possible,” he argues. “As a result, you end up with MMOs that try to do things that smaller scale games tend to do better while not doing any of the things that make MMOs themselves unique.”
The whole video is worth a look-and-listen as he pins down what exactly does make MMOs unique and which MMOs have excelled as actual MMOs (protip: It’s everything from EVE to SWG to WoW, so don’t think this is about subgenre elitism at all). What do you think? Is Isarii right? Is the genre facing an identity crisis? And how do we solve it? That’s what our writers will be debating in this week’s Massively Overthinking.
We’ve been speaking with NCsoft West
off the record this week, agitating for publicly printable answers on the Master X Master decision to implement City of Heroes characters
(to the loud outrage of disgruntled City of Heroes
players). But apparently we won’t have to, as some of the answers have been published today.
Lorehound quotes NCsoft MXM Brand Manager Sean Orlikowski as saying that adding Statesman to the MOBA was his personal “passion project for the last two years.”
“I saw it as a way to incorporate a character from a beloved title into our universe. Myself and the producer for MXM were both big fans of City of Heroes (I was more on the CoV side, myself) and we worked together to make sure we got his skills, look, and even his VO right since he’d only ever been voiced for a single sentence of a single trailer in the past. The bottom line for me was that nearly all of NCSOFT’s properties were being represented in the game; Aion, Blade & Soul, Lineage II, WildStar, Guild Wars 2, even Death Knight from the original Lineage MMO are in the game. I wanted the West to have proper representation, so we started brainstorming ideas for Western characters to add to Rytlock and Mondo Zax who were already in development. I made the argument for Statesman because the MXM universe offered a way he could be prominent again, and the rest is history.”
Have you had a chance to pick up and read Richard Garriott’s memoirs yet? Whether or not you have, you might want to check out this interview that the Shroud of the Avatar creator did on his life adventures to date.
Speaking of the in-development MMO, the interviewer pointed out some of the bad reviews that Shroud of the Avatar has garnered so far and asked if the project might not be going as hoped. Garriott replied by saying, “I don’t think so at all. We’ve had naysayers since the beginning. But I think what you’re seeing is a side effect from open development from day one […] Everything was pretty hunky dory until we went up on Steam. Then we found a different type of customer who hadn’t been with us from the beginning. They see that the game looks unfinished, unpolished, with only a few weapons and an obtuse UI and we get a backlash.”
Garriott said that Shroud of the Avatar should officially launch by the middle of 2017.
Ralph the Wonder Llama kicks off today’s community screenshot gallery with a salute to the late, great Tabula Rasa.
“Yes, Tabula Rasa ended up being rushed to market, and many of its features were pretty rough around the edges when the game first released, but this was 2008! Can you imagine what Tabula Rasa would have been like if it had survived and gotten a couple of expansions under its belt? The mind boggles. Here’s a shot of my Grenadier at Foreas Base, taken just a few days before shutdown. You can’t really tell with the helmet on, but I’m pretty sure my character is crying.”
On that happy note, let’s see what else you all have cooked up for us today!
When you’ve lived a life as wacky and full as Ultima creator Richard Garriott, it only stands to reason that you’d probably want to share your stories and lessons with those who aren’t multi-millionaire game designers.
Garriott’s new memoir, Explore/Create, hit the bookshelves this week. The book is co-written by David Fisher and talks about Garriott’s many real-world adventures and his experiences in the games industry. In the book he also talks about how he connected his various interests to game creation, such as his fascination with languages that fed into Tabula Rasa.
In an interview, the Shroud of the Avatar creator said that he and other ex-Origin employees such as Chris Roberts and Warren Spector, still stay in touch and have shared elements between their projects to connect their game worlds. “We all support each other and love each other. Maybe us old Originites might find a way to get back together,” he said.