MMOs are supposed to be the never-ending story. When one bucks that trend - when it concludes - it becomes something else entirely. In hindsight, is it still the same looped search for short-term personal rewards that it began as (and that its peers remain to be), or does it become a complete experience, more akin to a traditional game?
We already knew troubled sci-fi MMORPG Tabula Rasa (the "Richard Garriot's" was dropped when Big Beard jumped ship from the project last year) was to shut down in early 2009. What we didn't know is whether it would go with a bang, a whimper, or just the click-BZZZzzzzzzt of a central server being switched off. In the end, the Saturday just gone revealed it to be a little of all three.
The end to all things was spectacular, but certainly not happy. An odd way, perhaps, to thank those players who did stick with the game until the bitter end, but then can you really blame the developers who put years into creating the thing for wearing their unhappy hearts on their sleeves. While there had been speculation that the end-game (for once, that curious portmanteau is apt) would involve a triumphant return to Earth for the human exiles that played TR's protagonists, the harsh reality was a deadly assault by developer-controlled elite baddies. Any and everyone formed part of a desperate last stand that was doomed to end in the tragedy of mutually assured destruction.
For some reason, I'm having a bit of a lip-quiver moment about this. The couple of weeks I spent in TR were fine, but I couldn't say it was never a game I respected. Too ordinary, too unambitious, too confused. Yet people lived and played there on a daily basis, and now their home has been demolished. It can't be a nice feeling, no matter how epic that final fight was. I respect them for staying the course, and can only hope TR's short history feels like a complete experience for them. By all accounts, the devs have made the last couple of months good'uns, with a steady stream of new content and a renewed energy thanks to making the game free for its twilight hours. Farewell then, young game. You have, at least, achieved one thing most other MMOs do not: to end.
Here's the team's final words, from the official site (and note the rather bittersweet call to "join the fight" on the top right of that page):
As we return to Earth, our adventure comes to an end. Thank you to all who have supported us for the last few years! We hope you have enjoyed your journey through the galaxy and that the next worlds you visit will be filled with excitement and fun.
We’d like to extend a special thanks to our community - fansite administrators, forum administrators, and friends - for it is your passion and commitment that drives us to keep creating new and unique games. With every ending comes a new beginning, a clean slate, and a new story to be written. Thank you from all of us on the Tabula Rasa team, past and present.
Youtube provides a rather different, but thoroughly mordern eulogy: footage from those frantic final minutes. Out of context, it's difficult to tell what's happening or the sense of occasion to it, but it's a least a demonstration of the scale of this apocalypse: