The controversial Project M, a fan effort to make Super Smash Bros. Brawl more like Super Smash Bros. Melee, has ceased development after six years. The developers are reportedly turning their focus to a mysterious "new venture".
"We realise that this will come as a shock to many of our fans," wrote the development team on the Project M website yesterday. "Please, forgive us."
The website for Project M has been stripped bare, download links and all.
Project M was "controversial" because it was never sanctioned by Nintendo. I mean, the whole endeavour basically says "hey, the last game was better." The company never responded to Kotaku's requests for comment about Project M.
The project started when Super Smash Bros. Brawl was released for the Wii in 2008, as fans wrestled with the changes made by designer Masahiro Sakurai and the rest of the development team. There were complaints about slowing the game down, removing elements of skill and replacing them with chance, and others. Project M began as a way to modify one of the series' most popular characters, Falco, but the response from fans turned it into a full game mod.
In the years since, they have added countless new characters — including fan favourites Mewtwo and Roy — added new stages, and slowly tweaked the game.
It's one thing to make a mod, it's another for said mod to be played in national Smash tournaments and attract more than three million downloads over its lifetime. That was enough to grab the attention of Nintendo, even if the company never really publicly acknowledged how it felt, one way or the other.
Well, that's not totally true! If you even mentioned the phrase "Project M" on the Miiverse for 3DS or Wii U, it could apparently result in a ban. Yikes.
Despite the Miiverse restrictions, Nintendo never actually delivered a cease and desist to Project M, which allowed development to fruitfully continue over six years. And though Project M is dead, that's not because Nintendo intervened.
To clarify: We weren't contacted, issued a C&D, threatened or had legal action taken against us in any way, but we want it to stay that way.
— Video Game Attorney (@MrRyanMorrison) December 2, 2015
That doesn't mean it didn't run into problems elsewhere, however. For a while, Project M could be fully streamed on Twitch, but that was slowly squeezed out.
It's a complicated issue for Nintendo. The people supporting Project M are hardcore fans, the kinds of people who keep the community going in-between new games, but it's a mod that can't be played without doing some Wii trickery.
In a sense, by not issuing a cease and desist, Nintendo was allowing Project M to carry on, but their message was clear: watch yourself. It's why the team was so careful about what characters it would add to Project M, aka nothing brand-new:
First and foremost as a game mod, we are still under certain legal obligations and restrictions. To stay in Nintendo's good graces and to avoid attracting Cease & Desist letters from 3rd party companies, we are limiting our choice of new characters to those that Nintendo has already licensed for inclusion in Brawl. In other words, that restricts us to characters that already appear in the game in some way, such as trophies, assists, or stickers. Additionally, to avoid appearing as competition to Smash U/3DS sales in Nintendo's eyes, we do not have any plans to try to "back port" any new Smash 4 characters to Project M.
It worked, too, but all good things must come to an end. Six years is a long time.
"We started a journey born out of our shared love for competitive fighting games," the team said in its farewell. "Eventually, the electrifying passion that coursed through us arced out and drew in more people until our small circle of friends grew into a team, and that team grew into an international community. Project M and its community have grown larger than any of us ever anticipated, and it's truly heartwarming to see all of the unforgettable connections and friendships that have been forged through this project."
The community's response has been, unsurprisingly, full of sadness, but there's a resolve to keep Project M alive by continuing to play and support it. This includes Jacob "Alpharad" Rabon, a popular Smash player on YouTube.
"Without Project M," said Rabon, "I would have never started making videos on YouTube. Nor would I have several of the great friends I have now. This game means a lot to me; I'm sad to see it go. But the game will only die if we let it."
Omni, a central member of the Smash community, has previously dished harsh words at Project M fans, calling them "a bunch of spoiled brats who think it's ok to live in la-la land and infringe on copyrights from major corporations".
That said, Omni has praised the way the Project M community has been "passionate", "strong", and did something "amazing". He encouraged them to keep their heads up, and find new ways to keep Project M alive in the days ahead.
It's unclear when we'll hear about this "new venture" from some of the Project M developers, but hopefully it's sooner, rather than later.