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The Perfect Ten: MMOs that died in development hell


If you know me, you probably know that I have a weird fascination with alternate history. You know, the daydreams of historians when they're not rewriting the past to suit the latest trends. "What if?" my mind wonders, especially when it comes to MMOs.

You see, for every game that actually makes it to launch, there are several that die gasping and alone in the bowels of development hell. Sure, many of these are pathetic creatures that didn't really stand a chance anyway, but there are some that could have made an impact on the industry if they had reached release and been halfway decent. We'll never know what a world would look like with these games in them, but we can always muse, "What if?"

Continuing Perfect Ten's recent dark streak, here are 10 MMOs that died in development hell; it's to our eternal loss that we'll never get to play them.

The Perfect Ten MMOs that died in development hell
1. True Fantasy Live

What it was: an Xbox "killer app" that would bring a top-notch original MMO to the platform. It featured gorgeous cel-shaded visuals, evolving characters, personalized crafting, and dinosaur mounts. Microsoft hoped that voice chat over Xbox Live would provide a natural way for players to communicate.

What happened: Microsoft and the developer, Level 5, kept clashing over various issues, and it quickly became apparent that Level 5 was in over its head on many of the technical challenges of building an MMO.

2. Ultima X: Odyssey

What it was: the second and much better-looking attempt at an Ultima Online sequel. Ultima X Odyssey attempted to return to the series' roots by featuring a playable Avatar who would make tough moral choices during quests that would appeal to one of the game's many virtues. UXO was decently promoted, and development progressed to the point where there was at least a playable build.

What happened: EA once again got cold feet on the idea of a UO sequel and pulled the plug just months before World of Warcraft came out. EA's decision was probably prompted by the failure to relocate the UXO team from Texas to California, after which the publisher just said, "Screw it," and washed its hands of the project.

The Perfect Ten MMOs that died in development hell
3. Mythica

What it was: a Norse fantasy epic where players were competing to join the pantheon of gods. It was said to have the option to switch back and forth between multiplayer and single-player modes, although how this would have worked is a little fuzzy.

What happened: Microsoft freaked out about creating and running an MMO, doing an about-face on the project in early 2004. Having Mythic Entertainment suing Microsoft over the similar name probably didn't help, either.

4. Jumpgate Evolution

What it was: a sequel to the space-faring Jumpgate. Jumpgate Evolution focused on twitch-based combat among the stars (both PvE and PvP), with players choosing a nation to fight for while attempting to conquer sectors of the galaxy.

What happened: Delays, delays, and more delays. JGE kept delaying for so long that Codemasters actually filed a lawsuit because it was invested in the game's development. Ultimately, JGE became vaporware when developer NetDevil crashed and burned in 2011.

The Perfect Ten MMOs that died in development hell
5. Stellar Dawn

What it was: a science-fiction browser-based MMO with a strong emphasis on exploration by developer Jagex. It was originally developed under the name MechScape, but Jagex decided to scrap that project and start anew with Stellar Dawn (although presumably it carried over some of MechScape's ideas).

What happened: Jagex was loath to talk about Stellar Dawn for years, releasing barely any information about the title. Eventually the studio decided to suspend development in 2012 in favor of focusing on its other properties.

6. Project Copernicus

What it was: a highly ambitious free-to-play fantasy title that had a single-player prequel (Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning) and a "dream team" that included Todd McFarlane and R.A. Salvatore.

What happened: 38 Studios happened. And we still don't know what the name of this game would've been, which has made for many sleepless nights for me.

The Perfect Ten MMOs that died in development hell
7. Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online

What it was: a big-budget rendition of the incredibly popular Warhammer 40,000 universe. Guns, huge swords, battle mechs, and a gritty atmosphere -- what more could you want?

What happened: THQ went bankrupt, fired pretty much everyone involved with the project, and said it was turning DMO into a single-player game before fleeing into the night.

8. Stargate Worlds

What it was: a ranged-shooter MMO set in the early era of Stargate SG-1. A rich IP with a geeky fanbase seemed like a formula for a sleeper hit and maybe something more.

What happened: Seeing a brief glimpse of the game on the TV show was the closest fans would ever come to playing it. Stargate Worlds never could attract enough funding, and eventually Cheyanne Mountain Entertainment was forced to file for bankruptcy. [Update: As a few players pointed out, there actually was a beta, so some folks did get one-on-one time with the title.]

The Perfect Ten MMOs that died in development hell
9. Imperator Online

What it was: Mythic's follow-up to Dark Age of Camelot in the form of an alternate history sci-fi MMO that featured space Romans and space Mayans. Seriously. It kind of sounded awesome.

What happened: The studio canceled development in 2005, publically stating that it wasn't meeting Mythic's standards. However, the decision may have also been influenced by its acquisition of the Warhammer license.

10. Halo

What it was: Well, duh, it was a Halo MMO. It was like the Holy Grail of IPs. If this could be pulled off, then it would've crashed the world economy because everyone would just stay home and play.

What happened: After some time in internal development, the game was axed by Microsoft. The company wanted to go after a more casual gaming market instead. I just think Microsoft is a big pansy when it comes to the thought of MMOs. Go back home, Microsoft; you're not tall enough for this ride.

So those are 10 titles that could have been contenders... but weren't. If you could pick one of these and magically bring it to release, which would it be?

Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

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