We continue looking at games that, for one reason or another, were canned at various stages of development. Whether you actively played and enjoyed them or couldn’t care less about their collapse, every failed title meant fewer opportunities and choice for players, as well as a loss to the gaming industry in general. Refer to Part I, if you haven’t already done so, and follow along for more entries.
Another Richard Garriot game, albeit canned by a different publisher. Tabula Rasa took what was at the time a fresh concept of mixing elements of a third-person shooter with traditional MMORPG gameplay. Coupled with a comprehensive Sci-Fi setting and a flexible career system, it is easy to see why gamers talk about the loss of the title to this day.
Despite having all those exciting features, the game was just not polished enough at release. According to the developers and the fanbase, if Tabula Rasa was given enough time to shape up and roll out a few expansions, it could realize more of it’s potential and subscriber numbers would rapidly increase. This, however, was not enough for the publisher NCSoft, which claimed that the game was not profitable and worth keeping from a business point of view. Tabula Rasa was estimated to cost $106 million but only made just over $5 million and clearly, the executives were not pleased. On 28 February of 2009, the game got the axe after customers enjoyed some time with it free of charge.
Middle Earth Online
Believe it or not, Turbine wasn’t the only developer willing to create an MMO based on the famous books by Tolkien. A company called Sierra On-Line had one such game in the making in 1998. Not much has been revealed since the title was only a year into development when the project was quietly shut down. The information we do have includes tidbits like plans to allow players to take on the roles of monsters, experiments with permanent death, detailed crafting systems and a more sandbox-like experience than the game we play today (LotRO).
Sierra’s approach to designing an MMO seems vastly different to that of Turbine’s, and that is what made Middle Earth Online so appealing. It could have been such a distinctive experience, and it would be immensely interesting to compare the two titles side by side.
I wanted to at least mention the most recent loss to the genre – All Points Bulletin. Only recently, Realtime Worlds seemed to be hard at work on a combat overhaul for APB, as well as their latest project, a social 3d platform called ‘Project MyWorld.’ Thus, it came as a big surprise when the company’s financial troubles were revealed to the public eye. With so much time, money and development effort put into the game, it is a shame to see it disappear and become just another missed opportunity. While APB did have its share of flaws, developers weren’t afraid to make it different and provide an experience that challenged the conventions of a very risk-averse genre.
Sometimes, I wonder whether these games will ever get another chance to capture the minds and wallets of gamers. No company would simply cancel a potentially profitable project without having a solid pretext to do so. As such, it is unlikely we will see any of these titles come back without a major design overhaul at least, and the chances of that happening are slim to none.