earth and beyond

Official Site: Earth & Beyond
Studio: Westwood Studios/Electronic Arts
Launch Date: September 24, 2002
Sunset Date: September 22, 2004
Genre: Sci-Fi Sandbox
Business Model: Subscription
Platform: PC

The Game Archaeologist: Earth and Beyond

Personally, I prefer science fiction over fantasy nine times out of ten, even though most of the MMOs that grace my desktop are fantasy games. Sci-fi has had an awfully difficult time making headway into the field of MMOs, with plenty of underperforming or canceled titles littering the way. I’ve heard it explained that the fantasy genre is easier for the common person to grasp because it uses elements of our past — primarily the medieval period — to provide a familiar baseline, whereas sci-fi’s futuristic setting requires world-building from scratch.

Whatever the case may be, Earth & Beyond never really caught on the way that EVE Online did just a couple of years later, and its miniscule population was not enough for Electronic Arts to keep it running. But between 2002 and 2004, Earth & Beyond reached for the stars and gave its own spin on how a space-faring MMO could work. Let’s take a look today at what made Earth & Beyond unique, what it gave the industry, and how it may help upcoming space MMOs avoid a similar fate.

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Perfect Ten: MMORPGs that help you get your spaceship on

Sometimes even the most die-hard MMORPG player finds him or herself a little tired of constantly looking at the back of a head and a running butt. We yearn to slip the surly bonds of the world to explore the cosmos in our very own rocket ship to see what is out there. E.T., are you taking house calls? Can we hang for a little while? I brought Reese’s Pieces!

Getting this experience isn’t quite as easy as, say, finding an MMO that caters to the dragon-slaying crowd. It’s well-known that sci-fi MMORPGs are in the minority, and only a fraction of those center around or contain some element of space flight and combat. However, over the years we’ve seen online games here and there allow us to live out our fantasies of being a space jockey, whether in the form of a trader, a fighter pilot, or an explorer.

Today, let’s look at 10 MMOs, past and present, that helped us get our spaceship on!

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The Game Archaeologist: Wing Commander Online and Privateer Online

In late 2012, former Wing Commander developer-slash-movie director Chris Roberts emerged from a decade of obscurity to ask for help to fund his vision of a massive, engaging space sim for a modern audience. Fans opened up their wallets and started pouring unprecedented amounts of money into the project, which Roberts called Star Citizen.

I don’t have to explain to you the subsequent rise of this $138M+ budget title, the vast expansion of its scope, the debate over its viability, and the fanatical following that fans have for this “under construction” sim. Even if it can’t be Wing Commander in name, gamers reasoned as they plunked down their money, it could be the Wing Commander MMO in spirit.

Interestingly enough, there was another, older effort made to bring the well-known franchise to the MMO table back in the late ’90s. A pair of projects, Wing Commander Online and Privateer Online, promised the thrills of the hit space saga with the expanse of the online gaming world. What happened and why aren’t we playing one of these games today? Find out on this exciting episode of The Game Archaeologist!

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Perfect Ten: MMORPGs with vehicle avatars

When you take a step back and look at the broad MMO genre, you see some common threads that run through most games. One of these is that pretty much every character we control is a humanoid, albeit in many shapes, sizes, and ear configurations. This makes sense, as we ourselves are human and have the easiest time strongly identifying with an avatar that correlates to our own bodies.

Yet there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, and I’m not just speaking of fantasy races that give you four legs instead of two or two heads instead of one. Some MMOs plop you into a nuts-and-bolts vehicle as your primary avatar, encouraging you to bond with this hunk of soulless machine over the course of incredible adventures.

Today we’re going to count down — or count up, or count sideways — through 10 MMORPGs that stuffed your brain into a machine and then encouraged you to live your new life as a ship, car, or very violent automatic can opener.

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Working As Intended: The MMOs we lost in 2015

It’s become tradition to fare well the MMOs that sunsetted in the preceding year, but that wasn’t always the case. At the beginning of 2015, in saying goodbye to 2014’s sunsetted games, I tried to put that into perspective.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about how Vanguard’s early stumbles foreshadowed the changing MMORPG industry. In January 2007, when Vanguard lurched its way to launch, the genre was barely a decade old; it was booming, and it had never suffered hardship on a massive scale. In the west, we’d seen only three “major” MMOs sunset (Motor City Online, Earth and Beyond, and Asheron’s Call 2), and only one MMO, Anarchy Online, had “gone F2P,” though we hadn’t yet thought to call it yet because it was such a rare and new thing. In fact, it wasn’t until 2008’s first big wave of AAA, post-World of Warcraft MMOs launched and mostly flopped that MMORPG players gave much thought to the future of the genre and how WoW had reshaped (and possibly broken) it. Maybe not even then.

In 2016 and in 2015, sunsets are increasingly common, a result of market oversaturation, business model struggles, and changing gamer tastes and investment options. Let’s revisit the games we lost in 2015 and consider what their sunsets portend for the year ahead.
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Listen to a Star Wars Galaxies and Earth & Beyond ‘post-mortem’

If you’re looking for a blast to the past of science fiction MMOs, then clear your schedule for an hour of enlightening talk by industry vets Raph Koster and Chris Klug.

Koster and Klug compare their experiences and approaches with working on Star Wars Galaxies and Earth & Beyond, respectively, in an older panel from 2004 called SciFi MMPs: Lessons Learned. In the talk, the two discuss key game mechanics and how they forged new ideas in the burgeoning MMO space.

Koster posted a link to the lecture on his blog along with a series of slides that were used for the SWG portion of the talk. While the panel was recorded while both games were operating, Koster says that he considers it “the closest thing to a post-mortem for Star Wars Galaxies or Earth & Beyond out there.”

[Source: SciFi MMPs: Lessons Learned]

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