What happens when an MMORPG shuts down? Well, it probably lives on through pirate servers. But what happens officially? It vanishes. After EA pulled the plug on Warhammer Online last Thursday, former lead client engineer Andrew Meggs has idly proposed an alternative: turning on a debug feature which lets the game run offline so the world lives on forever, albeit without anyone else in it.
"Our medium has been an ephemeral one. Each generation of hardware succeeds the last, and the ability to play back old games is lost even more than it was with old celluloid. Nothing disappears as completely as an online game, where a central server is essential to running the game at all. But for at least part of Warhammer Online, it doesn't have to be that way," Meggs wrote in a blog post (via Rock, Paper, Shotgun).
Meggs lets slip that every single "internal-only developer build" of the Warhammer Online client he saw had a simple option to run the game without a server in an empty single-player mode.
There were no login or character selection screens. There were no NPCs or other players. There was no gameplay of any kind. It was just you and the entire world spread out before you. You could fly around like Superman, or teleport anywhere at will. You could watch the sun rise and set over Altdorf, and see the smoke rise from fires forever burning. And you could see the thousands upon thousands of hours of work and craftsmanship that went into creating a world that has now been unplugged.
Should someone at EA see to making this real, Meggs says, it could live on "double-clickable museum exhibiting much of what WAR was, so it won't be forgotten completely."
It won't, of course. Part of the reason the game's shutting down is the lapse of its Warhammer license from Games Workshop, and even if it were not, well, it's hardly likely now, is it?