The Game That Never Was: Project Copernicus
To start, let's go back to 2006, when 38 Studios (initially named Green Monster Games) was founded in Maynard, Massachusetts. They began work on several different projects at once, only one to see the light of day.
That project was, of course, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the game I reviewed a few months ago. It was mildly successful, and the graphics and gameplay seemed like a promising start. Unfortunately, after moving their headquarters to Providence, Rhode Island, the whole studio shut down. There wasn't any money to continue paying the workers at the studio, and even today, the company is still in debt, despite officially closing their doors in 2012.
However, one of the games that was in production, and is still being maintained, has become noticed. At first, not much had been known about the game. What was known was that it had been planned to be an MMORPG, and it was code named Copernicus.
Though some bits and pieces of information of the game had been shown over time, much like teasers, fans never really saw anything concrete. What had been seen were pictures and videos of the environment. In fact, one of the only videos, if not THE only video, being circulated at the time was simply a fly by of all the different landscapes the game had. Judging by just this video alone, it looked to be a very expansive game, and absolutely gorgeous. The game was set to launch in June 2013, but obviously never did.
Peeks of the Game
Beautiful yet vague, the trailer had me wishing I could see more, and after a little digging, my wish was granted. The good people over at NBC did a story about the game. Turns out, despite the studio being defunct, the game was not. There was, and still is, a man who goes to the otherwise abandoned headquarters in Rhode Island, and maintains the game and its servers - more on that in a minute. They also released a trailer that would have been used to promote the game, which you can (and should) check out here.
Looks pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, still kinda vague. Something that might be kind of obvious, but might also be confusing, is that they use "Kingdoms of Amalur", before they give the name of the MMO. Judging by some of the other game names that were sold to other companies after the studios' doors closed, it's safe to assume that this would have been the running title of the franchise, similar to franchise games like The Legend of Zelda.
Another clue the two could be related is the mention of the Well of Souls in the trailer. For those of you who have played Reckoning, I think we're on the same page as to where I'm going with this. For anyone who hasn't played, the Well of Souls is pretty important in the game. Basically, you start out dead. Bummer. The Well of Souls brings you back to life, by putting your soul back into your body. It's a vital part of the game. The fact that the Well was to be recycled and used again in the MMO suggests that it may have been there for the same purpose, a starting point on the player's adventure.
...a former employee of 38 Studios got their message out, insisting that in the last couple months...the game was very fun.
Despite this game being Schilling's intended masterpiece, he went on to be interviewed, and admitted that Project Copernicus wasn't actually any fun, since none of the workers were playing it in the office, and blamed a lagging combat system. However, a former employee of 38 Studios got their message out, insisting that in the last couple months before the studio closed, the game was very fun. The former employee also stated that the only reason no one played it in the office had been because of the difficulty to find a server that wasn't reserved for demos.
They went on to talk about the similarities between Project Copernicus and WoW. The statement issued is very interesting and maybe the most in-depth look at the game yet. If you wanna take a look, feel free. In the last line, the worker says,
When Curt said that the game was not fun, and that we were not playing the game, it was not for lack of trying to play and the last time we all played it we enjoyed it thoroughly. If we had the last nine months we needed to finish, it most certainly would have been at the very least entertaining, if not downright fun.
Selling Off The Studio
After the studio was shut down due to financial problems, many of the game ideas were sold off to other companies, excluding Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, due to it already being completed and selling fairly well, and Project Copernicus, a game that many, including Sony Online Entertainment, thought to be gorgeous but far too expensive to be worth taking over. The studio closed its doors, never to see the light of day.
However, Project Copernicus still remains, and is still being run and maintained to this day. How is that possible? Meet Jeff Easley, the last employee of 38 Studios, and the sole person behind maintaining the servers for this gorgeous MMO until a buyer is found.
It is a shame that the studio is now defunct, and that such a wonderful and promising game is likely to never make it to the market. Even SOE's president, John Smedley found the game to be too risky to persue. He admitted that Curt Schilling had approached him numerous times to buy the game.
This is a business where risks are large. We had enough balls in the air. More risk was too much for us. I also felt that too much was spent... but the quality was undeniable. It was gorgeous. It had smart people working on it. It was just too expensive is all.
Although many companies seem to have the same viewpoint as Smedley, I will keep my fingers crossed that someday, this game will be picked up and given the attention and work it deserves to become a truly amazing game. For now, it sits collecting dust, the game that never was.