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29May/090

Shadowbane: The slow, painful death – and rebirth?

Of course, it is no secret that the end is nigh for Shadowbane. In fact this time; it died twice!

The initial news of the demise of Shadowbane was posted on the Ubi news feed for Shadowbane on April 17, 2009, stating that the end of life for the game was slated for May 1, 2009. This caused a big stir in the community, but the guillotine had been set to chop the head off of possibly the best MMO in history. Rants, raves and pleadings started ensuing on the Ubi forums.

On April 30, 2009, in what has to be one of the funniest, least thought out plans Ubi has ever bungled; and believe me, they have had a great deal of bungling in their life - Ubi stayed the execution of Shadowbane and increased it's lifespan to July 1, 2009. I must admit - I laughed so hard when I saw that, knowing that everyone in the Shadowbane world had given away everything they owned, and Ubi, of course, did not think of this when publishing the extension. Enter the news posting on May 5, 2009 in which Ubi catered to the whining masses and reverted the servers back to April 17, 2009.

Of course, everyone and their dog, or, at least, those that played Shadowbane, knows that the end is coming July 1, 2009. There will be no extra time to play this time. It will be the end of life for the MMO that chugged along saying "I think I can".

For me, this is actually sad news. I enjoyed Shadowbane: a lot. The problem is, however, with the aging graphics and sound effects being destroyed by even free for life MMOs that sell items on the side and the popularity of World of Warcraft and other pay to play games, Shadowbane either needed a massive face lift or sequel or simply suffer the consequences and be thrown into the depth of gaming obscurity.

I will say, however, that at it's core, Shadowbane by any stretch of the imagination pales any MMO out there in head to head comparison. The game itself is not just Massively Multiplayer - it is simply massive. On the surface, Shadowbane was a mere grind and collect game of uber rock-paper-scissors where the characters with the best gear and the most planned characters won the day. Seasoned players, however, knew that it was much more than this. You had to be a skilled player; no matter how strong your character was and what gear you wore, if you sucked as a player, you died a quick death. So much for rock-paper-scissors. Now we have to add the political element in the game. This was no mere sign over your toons head saying "I am in this guild", each guild, or, at least, guild worth any merit, was stationed in a custom built city and each city was in a nation. Wars between nations would ensue and setting up a bane (war) between them, was a highly tactical event. The banes themselves were fantastic as we participated with hundreds of players in oft times expertly orchestrated fights against enemy cities and nations.

I will back track a bit to the cities themselves. You couldn't just plop down a city anywhere. There was a finite amount of space per province, and you needed resources to keep the cities alive. To do this you needed to mine and set up a taxation structure within the city and nation in order to survive; as well as rely on your population to turn in donations and the like. Every single building block takes time, money and resources to build. I think the best part of Shadowbane was the camaraderie that came from creating guilds, cities and nations where everyone had to pull their weight, at least a little bit, or your town simply would not work. What was even more impressive, save the guards in the cities and mines, and the NPC trainers, bankers and salesmen; ever single person belonging to a city was a living, breathing person. Without the players, the city and nation would not last a day.

So that, in a nutshell, is what Shadowbane is all about to the SB newbies or those that have never heard of Shadowbane before. It is a highly PvP centric game which features full on political structuring and is, or I should say was, the greatest MMO of all time - the only things really missing were instances and quests, but we made up our own on the way anyway.

Now that you know what Shadowbane was, let's take a look at the future of the game and the purpose of this article. While it may seem to most that Shadowbane itself is dead, there is some glimmer of hope for the engine.

How can a dead game be saved?

There are several options which I will discuss here. The first two options are the most promising, and the last one is probably the worst case scenario for Shadowbane's future, save an entire extinction.

Ubi has, in the past, taken extremely popular games - or, I should say, games with a cult-like following - and turned them over to the open source world. The prime example here would be Myst Online, incidentally another project I am highly anticipating to see released. This would be the best possible outcome for Shadowbane. It would allow people to create their own game servers and expand upon the game itself. If the client were also offered to the open source, we would probably see a face lift and countless feature improvements in the game. It has the potential to not only re-invent Shadowbane, but give the game a new lease on life. The naysayers in the world believe this may cripple the Shadowbane world since any yutz could create a server and the players would be spread all over different servers versus playing all in one place. I have to disagree with said pessimists. This is true, but only to an extent. The fact of the matter is that not any old yutz could create a server. It is not only an administrative nightmare to stave away the bad guys, but it is also expensive to make sure people can play without getting lag bombed every three seconds. An open source Shadowbane would be ideal. At first, we would see sporadic servers bouncing up and down every day, but only the true, dedicated people in the world of Shadowbane would deal with the expense and administration headaches and we would probably dwindle down to a handful or two of good servers. This is really no different than the original logic of Shadowbane which gave the player an option as to what world and game style they wanted to play. Instead of simply spread between worlds, we are spread between servers.

The next best bet comes from a place called ShadowbaneEmulator.com (henceforth SBE). This project proposes to create their own server side adapted to the existing client by reverse engineering sniffed packets. On May 8, 2009 SBE announced that the had decrypted the communication between the true Shadowbane servers and the client, giving the project a near two month window in order to discover the secrets lurking behind the scenes of Shadowbane, and create a workable database structure and serving mechanism between the client and a new server. Many projects of this nature exist, perhaps the most notable being MaNGOS, which allow the world to have access to games like World of Warcraft, without paying the hefty monthly fees. Again, naysayers believe this will result in a fractured community, but game communities such as NaxpServer (now NaxpGaming) which have their own base of thousands of players are proving the pessimists wrong. The problem I foresee on this side is that the SBE community has been around since 2006. They have had plenty of time to work on an emulated server architecture in that time. They have claimed that they did not want to harm the true Shadowbane community by creating an emulator, however I believe this was simply a statement that said: "We can't pull this off." No offense to you guys over at SBE; truly I do hope that you can and will prove me wrong, but I think that project may be destined for the "too little, too late" pile. In my opinion, SBE should have had a decrypted network hash before even spending money on the domain name, not waiting until the last few days to gather the vital information that is needed to create a copy of the database. I truly wish Shadowbane Emulator the best of luck, and with the demise of true Shadowbane, perhaps the coders in the game's community will step up to bat and start working frantically on an emulation server. I would have placed this as the first best savior to Shadowbane, were it that some sort of architecture had been privately developed at this stage, but considering network decryption has only been recently worked, my faith must remain fickle.

The third case, and worst case in my opinion (in fact I might prefer to see the game die completely over this option), is that AeriaGames is supposedly in discussion with UbiSoft to acquire the Shadowbane IP. This would essentially turn Shadowbane into yet another "free" game, where only those that pay for quality gear and the like survive. I am sorry, but I really hope it does not come to this. For me it would essentially be exactly the same as if Shadowbane died altogether. It simply would not be any fun anymore.

While Ubi did make a good effort at saving Shadowbane from the chronicles of strife by placing in game advertisements for Dell, the gamble, obviously, did not pay off. In a perfect world, Ubi would simply hand the game over to the community and say "Here you go guys! You've played, you've made the game what it is today, and you shall continue to do so by your own hand.". I don't foresee this happening. I remain doubtful, but optimistic on the emulated server front. Finally, unless Aeria Games simply uses Shadowbane as a vehicle to fuel it's other titles, Shadowbane is a lost cause in their hands.

My final words on this article will be to Ashen Temper and Wolf Pack Studios, and subsequently Stray Bullet Games - thanks for the years of fun ladies and gents! Your first born, or at least best child, may be dead, but it will not be forgotten any time soon!

-=[V]=-

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