The Game Archaeologist: Saga of Ryzom

Every so often I get requests to cover such-and-such game in this column. These are often incredibly obscure titles, even to me, and when I get them they go into a queue along with my other wish list topics. One title’s popped up enough in the request space that I knew I had to tackle it before too long, and that game is Saga of Ryzom (or just Ryzom if you’re being informal, and we are).

Ryzom is an incredibly odd sandbox that’s been on my radar for two reasons. The first is that it was a beloved title by one of our former Massively colleagues, and the second is that this game had struggled to survive over the years as it switched hands, business models, and presumably alternate dimensions. In September, the game will have been operating in one form or another for 12 years, which makes it a candidate for investigation.

What is Ryzom, how did it come to be, and can you really own and run a copy of it yourself? We’ll answer these questions and more today!

Creation of a living world

To truly start at the beginning of Ryzom’s story, you have to go back to the founding of French independent game studio Nevrax in 2000. The studio and team came together with an ambitious vision to create a different type of MMORPG from scratch. A pilot game called Snowballs was created that year to show off ideas and tech to investors for the funding that Nevrax desperately needed.

The team of 50 employees continued its work by making its own game engine, NeL (Nevrax Libraries), by 2002. The engine itself was made to be open source, although the game that the studio had in mind was not. This MMO, which would initially be called The Saga of Ryzom, had lofty goals that included the community at every step.

Ryzom is like a symphony with its three major forces: the composer, the conductor and the orchestra,” said Nevrax CEO David Cohen Corval in 2004. “We (the team that is Nevrax) are the composers (since we imagined, designed and built the game), and we will also share the conductor’s responsibility with the publishers (who will operate the game). The players will be the orchestra who give life to the symphony. Players are therefore not expected to remain a passive audience (with no grip on the world or the ongoing story). On the contrary, Ryzom is an invitation to those who want to plunge themselves deeper into heroic
adventures, and take an active part in a saga designed to be larger than life.”

Player testing in this strange new world commenced in May 2004 with plans to launch the game the following month. However, Nevrax decided to slightly delay the launch until the fall due to tester feedback. Over the summer, 70,000 players would dip into Ryzom to see what it held.

The North American and European launch of Saga of Ryzom went forward in September 2004 — and was largely ignored by most of the gaming community apart from a dedicated player core.

Undeterred by low numbers, Nevrax went ahead with work on the game’s first expansion, The Ryzom Ring, for October 2006. The expansion’s selling feature was a set of tools that allowed players to create and run their own in-game scenarios. In effect, this turned players into classic tabletop dungeon masters.

“Our hope for The Ryzom Ring is that it will bring back the power to the players,” said Corval in 2006. “The Ryzom Ring will empower individuals to create their own adventures and lands and to share them. The only true limitations will be their own imaginations.”

With a name change to Ryzom and plans to eventually branch out into multiple worlds across an alien galaxy, this MMO looked as though it had a clear path to its future. Yet like many plans, these were to be dashed on the rocks of reality.

The sandiest sandbox on the beach

If you can scrounge up a Ryzom fan — and they do exist, I assure you — you’ll soon be assailed by passionate evangelism about what makes this game great. That might seem weird, considering how small a niche it’s occupied, but the feature set doesn’t lie.

Ryzom’s beautiful art style is only the first step into what makes this game fascinating. The concept is that players start out the game as refugees on the planet Atys in the year 2525. As either a member of the Matis, Tryker, Zoraïs, or Fyros race, players would explore this large and dangerous planet (which was really a giant tree in space) and carve out their own destiny.

The game certainly checked off a lot of boxes on the sandbox wish list. There was an incredibly deep harvesting and crafting system, a heavy emphasis on roleplay, deep lore, player housing, GM events, dynamic invasions, and a world that could be shaped and changed based on character actions. Customization extended so far as to allow players to build their own skills out of “bricks” through the Modular Action System. By mix-and-matching different effects and costs, players could create skills to match their gameplay.  In fact, Ryzom lacks character levels, preferring instead to give players freedom to grind and and all skills up that they desired.

The world didn’t sit still for player intervention, either. Ryzom featured four seasons and weather patterns that were not only visually cosmetic but had implications on gameplay. The native fauna each had their own special programming that sent them roaming in herds to graze or hunting in packs for unlucky prey.

Open source for an open world

By late 2006, Ryzom was definitely in trouble. The game wasn’t pulling in enough interest and money, and as a result, Nevrax closed up shop and the game went into the possession of a liquidator by November.

The community, rightfully fearful that it was going to lose the MMO for good, launched a “Free Ryzom” campaign to buy the assets and make the game completely free. It was an early example of crowdfunding at work, although unfortunately the campaign fell short of the donations needed to obtain the game.

Happily, Ryzom’s story didn’t end there, although it got pretty crazy. Following the failed campaign, Ryzom’s assets were sold to Gameforge AG in December 2006. The German company created Gameforge France to run Ryzom, a grand venture that lasted less than a year before it went belly-up. Ryzom returned to the liquidator by October 2007 and the game’s closure looked certain.

Another sale, and Ryzom fell into the hands of Cyprus-based Winch Gate. Winch Gate turned the game servers back on in August 2008. A freemium model was later instituted, allowing players to enjoy the game for free, although they couldn’t progress past a level 125 skill cap without subscribing.

Winch Gate made the bold move to fully release the source code of the game in May 2010, making Ryzom one of the very few MMOs that anyone can pick up and operate: “By freeing Ryzom code, Winch Gate is transforming the MMORPG marketplace and is setting a precedent for how gaming software should evolve — in freedom. The source code released totals over two million lines of source code and over 20,000 high quality textures and thousands of 3D objects.”

This meant that while Ryzom would continue to operate as a commercial game, fans had the option to experiment with the open source client, server, and media on the side. There were obvious limitations, such as not allowing the commercial world to be downloaded or unofficial clients connecting to Winch Gate’s servers.

To this day, Winch Gate continues to operate the main Ryzom server. To cut costs and make significant changes to the core game, the company peformed a server merge and full wipe in September 2012. Allegedly, Ryzom had racked up 500,000 players total by 2012, making it not an insignificant game of the past two decades.

Have you played or do you continue to play Ryzom? Let us know your experiences and favorite aspects in the comments!

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.
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47 Comments on "The Game Archaeologist: Saga of Ryzom"

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MichaelBriel
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MichaelBriel

I played since beta until 2 years after release and when I recently had a dissapointing experience in another mmorpg I decided to go back and have another look – right in time for it to come to steam, as it turns out. :)

The game is indeed unique in many aspects when compared to other mmorpgs – either you *really* like it, because of that, or you really don’t – which is fair enough. If you’ve never played it then I would suggest giving it a try, because *if* you’re in the first group of people – and you never know until you try – then Ryzom is AMAZING. :) And with the f2p until you level to 125 you have more than enough time to get a good look at the game without paying.

MoonriseAzalee
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MoonriseAzalee

Bunzi – when the yubos come up and sniff, looking up at the toon , it’s so cute. I always felt bad for killing the non swarm/non attack ones. Sometimes while out and about and I see some clopper or whatever attacking a yubo I go kill the clopper just because it feels like the right thing to do :D

MoonriseAzalee
Guest
MoonriseAzalee

Lord Zorvan When I got to mainland, Fairhave (Tryker) I went to the Fairhaven Welcomer, and got started on Missions. Agreed they are less directed than Silan, and I had to search the wiki to find locations of some of the correct level creatures I had to find, but for me it feels more ‘real’ or immersive because it really feels like  youve been tossed out onto your own. I was told though by people in advance to stay in Silan and improve my levels in as many areas as possible before leaving. So upping my fight/magic experience and then using the points to upgrade so that once I left I had more of a chance. It’s defnitely not the ‘power through and level up’ like WoW is – but for a lot of people it’s that that makes it more enjoyable.

MoonriseAzalee
Guest
MoonriseAzalee

MassivelyMacD I’m not sure if by ‘main’ you mean mainland? I think it’s harder to accomplish some things once you leave Silan and go to the mainland, but I’ve always been a solo player until just recently. Even with a self heal of only 5, I keep myself alive and kill/loot Kitin without too much trouble. One thing I think is a problem is that people go from mission to mission without trying to level up their skills and so are faced with predators and such above their own level. I stayed in Silan until I was a minimum 20 in everything and 40+ in some other things and then ventured out into the rest of the world. Going out into the forest and killing things, using those points to upgrade your skills etc.. it really doesn’t take long and prepares you for taking on the rest of the journey as a solo.

MoonriseAzalee
Guest
MoonriseAzalee

Ironwu Ryzom isn’t the only non jumping game I’ve played and the only time it really bothered me was when trying to get up certain embankments (which werent meant to be accessible anyhow) – but there are no sticks and such that block the path when you run, not that I’ve ever  noticed. Maybe because in rl i don’t jump much when running nor jump to avoid things I just never really thought about it :D 
Maybe when you played things were different, but I can run about Fairhaven for 5 hours and not be blocked by anything on the ground.

MoonriseAzalee
Guest
MoonriseAzalee

Felladin It’s on Steam now too. The player base has expanded a lot since i started playing it.

MoonriseAzalee
Guest
MoonriseAzalee

ZenDadaist oddly I thought it was one of the best crafting systems out there.  Usually crafting isn’t my thing but in Ryzom I actually enjoy it.

Lord Zorvan
Guest
Lord Zorvan

Screenslave Lord Zorvan No, there’s a big difference between a sandbox and a litterbox. Ryzom is nothng but an experiment to see exactly how little development you can do to a game in 12+ years and still get people to pay.

Screenslave
Guest
Screenslave

Lord Zorvan No Quests, No Direction, No Goals.  Its a Sandbox.  If you prefer the Themepark model then OK Ryzom is not for you.

The idea of a sandbox is open play, make your own fun, explore.  You have to think a bit to come up with fun things to do but that’s OK.  Build a campfire on the shore of a lake and watch the sunset.

One recent diversion was to build your campfire on a small island filled with high level nasties.  A team of 3 would use 2 to distract the nasties by getting them to chase them all over the area while the 3rd member had 20 seconds to build a campfire.  Very dangerous, very stupid thing to do and an afternoon of helpless laughter.

scathson
Guest
scathson

OMG!
The gathering system
Had a couple notebooks filled with time of day, season and weather and all those locations for holy crap tons of different materials and grades
Wish I had time for that sort of thing now

trewq
Guest
trewq

Phubarrh Three things.
One, the L key lights up a radius for you.
Two, time passes ten times faster on Atys; each in-game hour is only six minutes of realtime. 

Three, the graphics include a Gamma slider which I had to toy with in order to navigate Prime Roots where there is no sky.

Placio
Guest
Placio

Ryzom is not based on finding powerful new objects. So if that’s what defines dynamic to you, then you won’t be happy on Atys. Aside from mobs that respond to weather and seasonal changes, there are two additional factions that are at least partially playable because of player involvement, one nation is rewriting it’s Constituion, and we just ran a trade route that was abandoned since the last Kitin invasion- all due to player involvement.

ErikMalkavian
Guest
ErikMalkavian

There’s no DYNAMIC WORLD!! I had to tell that jackass BittyMcloud to mind his own business and stop trying to squelch questions about the game..  That expecting someone to find a powerful game changing artifact is riduculous.  Then why have a dynamic world jackass.
You can see the thread that I asked the very same question and found out it was a dead ass world with Bitty delusional ass trying to paint a different picture..http://app.ryzom.com/app_forum/index.php?page=topic/view/19424/9&PHPSESSID=mj1e0u3bmnrrutdrt2m58s8lu0

In other words.. DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE!

VioletDagger
Guest
VioletDagger

Well, i really hope more people join the game. This game won’t die, ever. It’s already open source and even when new people are uncommon i see they slowly coming. Imo, Ryzom is almost the best game, with some more features and better graphics it would beat all other mmos.

VioletDagger
Guest
VioletDagger

Placio makes really good picks.

VioletDagger
Guest
VioletDagger

Felladin You can download it too. At ryzom.com

BittyMacOd
Guest
BittyMacOd

blueimpact Screenslave

AnthonyPassmore
Guest
AnthonyPassmore

The resource gathering and crafting were the best parts! So many ways to make an item. And each material you collected could change the properties of a weapon drastically. It made me want to go hunt out various creatures to see how their parts could help my character.
Sorry to hear you didn’t like the gathering system.

blueimpact
Guest
blueimpact

Screenslave Eh, downloading it because it still looks interesting to me. I avoid poll and popularity like the plague.

It’s what made me go back to World of Warcraft after considering it garbage after the release. I’m almost absolutely at odds with popular opinion because I hate a lot of new features in games post-Allods cash shop fiasco.

To your credit, it’s the sandbox community specifically, which needs a different mental calculus. But mark my words, it too shall be corrupted under the might of Deathw–the general public.

Do you have any opinion on healing lifestyles in Ryzom? I’m a healing slave since Ragnarok Online and I just. I can play any class and love stealth classes, but I gotta have my healing love.

Screenslave
Guest
Screenslave

blueimpact 12 years on and Ryzom is still going . . . and came second in Best Sandbox poll again this year

ZenDadaist
Guest
ZenDadaist

The resource gathering system I encountered when I gave it a go many years back put me off the whole thing so much that I walked away never to return after only 2 weeks. Pity because the environment was excellent.

DPandaren
Guest
DPandaren

Screenslave Because the only games that have jumping is Assassin’s Creed comparable.

Felladin
Guest
Felladin

I actually got a physical beta disc for the original game, but my machine (and connection) couldn’t run it, so I never really started playing it. Started Guild Wars 1 instead, but during different moves I’ve stumbled upon the disc (now long gone) and thought about the game. Didn’t know it was up and running still.

Placio
Guest
Placio

Don’t forget to ask me for a free q50 gremlin pick when you come to the mainland!

Krissvalnor
Guest
Krissvalnor

aaaan all that talk made me redownload and reinstall the game :p

Screenslave
Guest
Screenslave

It is true, Ryzom has many unique features.  It is also true that it is not for everyone.  The learning curve is steep-ish and this puts off (weeds out) a lot of casual gamers and the point and shoot crowd.  The game is all the better for it.  

Some of those features:
– No Guns – although range weapons come in later levels they are mostly used for PvP
– Open Skill Tree so you don’t have to chose between eg Fighter or Mage; you can level all skills with one toon
– PvP is entirely consensual 
– The ability to create / modify and fine tune all actions is a powerful feature which gives flexibility and subtlety to foraging, crafting, melee and magic
– Weather and seasons affect the availability of forageable materials and the movement and position of herds and predators
– the crafting system is complex and sufficient in and of itself to absorb many hundreds of hours of gameplay

It is often said that one of the best things about Ryzom is the community.  Other games force the noob to compete with higher level players – not so in Ryzom.  You can expect help at any level from other players online (or even offline via a webchat service).

It is a sandbox game so you don’t have quests although there are missions for faction fame, money etc.

A quote from Ryzom’s Forum posts :- ‘Other games give you a cookie just for turning up.  Ryzom takes your cookie, eats it in front of you and slaps you around for not bringing a cookie for everyone’.

blueimpact
Guest
blueimpact

I avoided this back in the day because it just didn’t look like a title that could stick around. Didn’t help that it came out during the peak of F2P churnouts, so fogged opinion of everything at the time. 

Guess I’ll try it.

Phubarrh
Guest
Phubarrh

I tried the game out back in 2006, but had the ill luck of continually logging in on its night cycle, which pretty much displayed as pitch black for me.  Not the proper foot to start a new player out on!  I had plenty of other titles to distract me otherwise, so Ryzom was quickly set aside.  (Of course, dark nights are de rigueur for today’s survival titles as well…I recently bought ARK, stumbled through darkness for half an hour or so, and promptly went back to playing ESO.)

Screenslave
Guest
Screenslave

MassivelyMacD Can’t do a single main thing on your own?  I played for 5 years mainly solo and I have mastered more than one skill.  You can heal yourself if you use the Self Heal spell ( basic stuff this).  Yes a big part of the game is teaming with other players but it is most definitely doable solo.

Screenslave
Guest
Screenslave

Ironwu OK no jumping – why is this a problem? Ryzom is not Assassins Creed.  
Collision detection – even the smallest stick?  Simply not true.

Move on.

Ironwu
Guest
Ironwu

SoR had a really great set of ideas for moving MMO gameplay in a new and unique direction.  Sadly, it was killed out of the gate by astoundingly poor design decisions in some areas.
For example, they launched the game with no ability to ‘jump’ your character.  This, in and of itself, would not have been a show-stopper.  However, they also put into the game full collision with every object in the game.  This meant that the smallest stick on the ground would stop your forward motion cold.
Now for sure, some folks could overlook this (and the host of other gaffs).  But, I could not (nor could the vast majority of players).  Thus, I moved on and never went back; other games completely eclipsed SoR, despite its good ideas.  
To bad.

MassivelyMacD
Guest
MassivelyMacD

Best harvesting and crafting I have come across in any MMO to date, wonderful rich world (not only day/night, but meaningful weather and seasons as well) flocks migrate, predators and prey interact on their own, no classes, great memories…

Where this title failed IMO is that you cannot do a single thing on main on your own. You cannot target yourself and thus you cannot heal yourself (other than a very small selfheal with a long cooldown). Therfore you must almost always seek a group/team. And that makes it so tedious not only for newcomers, but also for players who are in a guild, since you have to align to what others are doing, you might not even be able to harvest on your own.

BTW: this game is niche, yes, but in here in europe it is not so unknown/exotic as in the US, it seems to me (happens with a lot of other titles as well, Dofus anyone?). Maybe we don’t focus that much on big titles only, I don’t know.

CastagereShaikura
Guest
CastagereShaikura

I play it off and on. Its really a very different game. I don’t see alot of this generation of mmo players liking the slow pace of it. You have to stay in the starter area for a very long time or you will be useless in the other areas. And the NA client has lag and crashing issues that the player base just has to deal with. The game has very little hand holding but the small community is one of the best.

actionist
Guest
actionist

Ok now you prompted me to download and install again. I loved the starter island, honestly the whole thing is a top five all time mmo experience. The community, the action builder, the behavior of mobs, it’s just kind of amazing. Still.
I had a similar feeling of abruptness when getting to the main game, but the problem is probably with me for not being a part of the community as much as this game dictates. I’m going to give that another go.

Grimmtooth
Guest
Grimmtooth

I played it for a bit. I loved the classless story bricks system but once you get off starter island it did throw you in the deep end. 
Difficult to imposible to survive in the world soloing while in always low pop. 
Hell simple gathering can kill you not from wandering mobs but by taking damage directly from the gathering nodes.

In the short time I did play I saw many things in the game (mob AI, ‘leveling’ system, Crafting system) that are done far better than many of the big AAA titles on the market today.

Lord Zorvan
Guest
Lord Zorvan

The biggest problem with Ryzom was ( and still is ) it misleads new players via the starter island. Players enjoy the tutorials and the questlines, and then when they leave the island they got dumped in “sandboxland”, with no quests ( outside of directionless and quickly monotonous “faction quests” to unlock respawn points ( gates ), no direction, no goals.
It’s why I’ve always favored a “sandpark” over a “sandbox”. It’s nice to be able to just run in any direction and go wild. But sometimes, you need a direction to go in. Sometimes you want to complete an epic questline. Whereas WoW was the ultimate “themepark”, Ryzom was the ultimate “sandbox”, and that’s what hurt it more than anything.

Hurbster
Guest
Hurbster

I have my boxed copy somewhere. Loved it. Only personal circumstances stopped me from carrying on. Enjoyed the seasonal hunts, the beauty and the terror of the Prime Roots and of course the varying treks for resources and then blowing yourself up while mining them.

The en masse runs from capital to capital to buy teleport tickets were exhilarating, and when the barbers shop and the very first quest were patched in..

AnthonyPassmore
Guest
AnthonyPassmore

The Saga of Ryzom was years ahead of its time with its features. Which is a shame that it never got a proper chance. For its time, the graphics and sounds were second to none. It was really like avatar before James Cameron. I’m about 60% sure James Cameron got the idea of Avatar from playing Ryzom :p
If the game were to get a graphical and mechanical overhall/adjustment I’d say it would have a very solid chance in today’s market.
The game has features that have not been seen until Camelot Unchained and black desert online which we are now falsely considering revolutionary for the genre.
Damn it. I’m Going Back To Play Ryzom.

Mystyrys
Guest
Mystyrys

I played it at beta and have dipped in again a few times over the years but my friends and guilds were always in other games so I never stayed with it for long. Despite that, it was a very interesting game and different in features than all the other things I was playing. I still have it installed and keep meaning to go back.

Bunzi
Guest
Bunzi

My favorite thing about the game is how believable the mobs are. I’ve never played an MMO where a lowbie “noob fodder” monster actually came to examine my character like an actual curious animal might.

Denice J Cook
Guest
Denice J Cook

I miss that game.  I had a level 120 Matis tank there, but you could sub-class too, and actually create all your own spells with combinations of different damage types, reach ranges, spell qualities, etc.  The harvesting and world systems were actually phenomenal too, once you got off the newbie island at level 20 or so; Ryzom is a much deeper game even than Black Desert Online.

You know, I should go back.

Filur
Guest
Filur

This was my first MMO. I played some of the betas. It was certainly unique, I felt the world a bit too “french” or avant-garde.
It is strange that no one else seems to have “copied” the skill system, where you could configure if you attack should do long range but less power or other way around. Also gathering skill could be configured.

Bhagpuss
Guest
Bhagpuss

I played it in beta and liked it but there was a lot going on in the
MMO world in 2004 so I didn’t buy it when it launched. I’ve been back a
couple of times since and enjoyed the beautiful world, which looks far
better even now than any MMO made in 2004 ought to look, as well as the
unusual gameplay. I often think of giving it yet another run but…so
many games…

Krissvalnor
Guest
Krissvalnor

I played Ryzom or a couple years after launch and loved this game very much, the setting was unsual, the ability building and deep, complex gathering system were engaging and the roleplay community (at least on the french server) was absolutely amazing, with big weekly RP/PvP events and lots of, smaller RP, events.

I think one of the problems Ryzom faced was that it launched merely a few months before WoW launch and it completely killed the game’s potential as people flocked to WoW (to my great despair to this day).

Ryzom is the example of an MMO that deserved better than what it got and that could have been an amazing game without such a huge competition right after its launch.

Dezmo
Guest
Dezmo

Correction please:  “freedom to grind and and all skills up ” Paragraph 11 I think.  Also I played it for a bit, It was interesting.

Pandalulz
Guest
Pandalulz

I remember trying out the original beta, thinking it was a good start and I’d come back after it launched… and then apparently forgot to because WoW.  And that was pretty much my entire experience with Ryzom.  So it goes.

DeviateFish
Guest
DeviateFish

I played Ryzom a bit a long time ago, after watching Beau Hindman play it. I love how it has seasons, and how the world is basically a rootball.

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