When we moved over here to Massively Overpowered, some of us transplanted our long-running columns to the new space. I perhaps felt most devastated that I was going to lose all of the Game Archaeologist articles that I had painstakingly researched over the years. So my mission with this space became two-fold: to rescue and update my older columns while continuing to add more articles to this series on classic MMOs and proto-MMOs.
I’ve been pleased with the results so far because TGA is a series that I really don’t want to see vanish. As MMORPG fans, we should consider it important to remember and learn about these older titles and to expand our knowledge past the more popular and well-known games of yesteryear.
Now that we have quite a catalogue of Game Archaeologist columns, I thought it would be helpful to end the year by gifting this handy guide to you that organizes and compiles our continuing look at the history of the genre. Enjoy!
The use of the word “toon” to describe MMORPG characters is a contentious one, with fans divided over its annoyance or acceptance. But when it came to one MMORPG, it was nothing but proper terminology to call all characters just this.
Toontown Online was one of those “kiddie MMOs” that you probably ignored unless you happen to fall within its demographical clutches back in the day. While it lasted for about a decade, the game’s operation would be notable for its repeated transformation and uncertain status.
With a silly, cartoon-like look and theme, this MMO attempted to bring a levity to a genre that was often marinating in deep fantasy lore and statistical theorycrafting. But when you wanted to eschew dragon fighting for slapstick pie throwing, there was no better game out there. Let’s take a look!
Motherboard has a fun-slash-depressing piece out this week on an unnamed hacker who claims he’s been cheating at MMORPGs to make a living for almost two decades.
Prior to his recent Def Con hacking conference talk, the hacker dubbed “Manfred” seemingly demoed via video a hack performed in WildStar, one he used to help him accrue nearly 400 trillion gold, which he then allegedly sold to players through various black markets. He argues he wasn’t hacking — he was providing a service by “finding unintended features in the protocol.”
At least some of his claims don’t even seem particularly outlandish, especially if you’ve been around in MMORPGs for a long time and have an understanding of how rampant duping and RMT markets have been over the last 20 years. Manfred claims he got his start in Ultima Online illegally deleting other players’ houses and selling his own on Ebay, funding his days in college. Since then, Motherboard says, he cheated and duped his way through the “wild west” of Lineage 2, Shadowbane, Final Fantasy XI, Dark Age of Camelot, Lord of The Rings Online, RIFT, Age of Conan, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Guild Wars 2.
As Ashes of Creation takes aim at the $3M line for its Kickstarter campaign, Intrepid Studios announced that it has made several significant hires to its development team, some of which come from the Daybreak fold.
The hires include Lead Economic Designer Rocco Scandizzo (Psyop Games), Lead Programmer Kevin McPherson (EverQuest, PlanetSide, Vanguard, and Shadowbane), Lead Technical Designer Akil Hooper (EverQuest II, Fallout: New Vegas), Senior Character Artist Mat Broome (H1Z1, DCUO, PlanetSide 2, EverQuest), and Alex Khudoliy (Amazon).
Another interesting announcement is that Intrepid is partnering with Panopticon Labs to develop fraud detection and prevention tools for the game to make it as secure as possible.
Ashes of Creation devs will be on hand this evening at 6:00 p.m. EDT for a final Kickstarter livestream. The team also posted a brief video showing some of the winter effects in the different game environments, which you can watch below.
When it comes to text-based MMOs created in the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, the sheer number of them would blot out the sky. There are certainly more multi-user dungeons (MUDs) than I’ve ever been able to get a handle on when I’ve tried creating lists of the most important to know, but I will say that there are a few that seem to pop up more than others. The original MUD1, created by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw, was certainly a watershed moment for online roleplaying games. Learning about DikuMUD is pretty essential, considering its impact on graphical MMORPGs that we still play today.
But there’s another title that often goes unnoticed, unless you keep an eye out for it. It’s a MUD that keeps popping up when you look into the history of the MMORPG genre, one with ties to key players and design concepts that are still active today.
It’s the MUD that shaped the MMO industry, and it was called Sceptre of Goth.
In Crowfall’s November Q&A “is all about Big World,” Design Lead Thomas Blair declares, kicking off the episode alongside Creative Director J. Todd Coleman. The pair discuss ore deposit drops, factional assignments, Ranger skills, and multiple character creation, but one that leaped out at me was the question about regulating strongholds — that is, how you keep people out of your territory.
It turns out that it depends entirely on the worlds we’re talking about — and it’s inspired by city systems in Shadowbane. Players in the eternal kingdoms and open worlds will be able to make use of kill-on-sight lists to block individuals and guilds from entering cities. Faction-based worlds will automatically block the opposing faction from access. In fact, in the eternal kingdoms, players will even be able to flag areas safe, though that’s not something most of the game will inherit.
There’s also a long section on the big world as promised; ArtCraft has reiterated that this chunk of testing is a foundational test rather than a playest, and while it’s the closest thing to the game’s vision to date, the right mentality for a “rough experience” while testing is a requirement. Invites are in the thousands now, so maybe check your inbox, and then skim the whole update below.
If you’ve been keeping an eye on Crowfall’s recent crafting updates and are wondering how exactly everything fits together in the PvP-centric MMORPG, then this week’s updated crafting and economy FAQ is going to be a big help for both a big picture view and the wee details.
“Our vision is a player-driven economy where the best items in the game are created by other players — not from farming monsters,” says ArtCraft. “Crafting is a central part of the player-driven economy in Crowfall. Open-ended economic systems are tough to design. The closest model to ours is probably EVE Online, though you can see our design is built on ideas that originally surfaced in early MMOs like Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies and Shadowbane.”
Check out the whole FAQ for a clearer picture on how materials, harvesting, quarries, factories, transportation, supply-and-demand, recipes, sub-components, interdependence, salvaging, mass-production, and player-run shops all work together to make the crafting ecosystem go ’round. And in case you’re tempted to reject Crowfall’s claim to a crafting crown, recall that the game does indeed include item decay.
If I asked you what a Mage is in an MMORPG, what would you say? Some cloth-wearing gal who lugs around a long staff and flings fireballs (or other elemental chunks) at bad guys. What about Rogues? Stealthy sneaks with twin daggers and lightning-fast attacks. Warriors? Big lugs with shields and swords larger than most compact cars. Fantasy class tropes are so ingrained that even developers seem powerless to go against them.
But there always seems to be this weird exception when it comes to Druids. A Druid in one MMO isn’t quite the same as one in a different game. Sure, there are usually some common threads — most notably an attunement to and use of nature — but each team has more freedom to interpret and design the Druid concept how it likes.
I thought it would be fun today to riffle through some of the current and past MMOs that have boasted a Druidic class (if not always in name) and see where the similarities and end and the wild notions begin.
One of the neat aspects of Crowfall’s archetypes is how the team is scouting a wider range of fantasy races for its inspiration. Move over, centaurs; this week, the spotlight is all on the minotaur Myrmidon. This newest archetype will soon join the game’s pre-alpha roster, bringing the class total to seven.
Of course, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the devs decided to bring Shadowbane’s minotaur into their newest project. On Worthplaying, J. Todd Coleman said that Crowfall represents the ultimate do-over for him: “Shadowbane was one of the earliest attempts to create a dynamic world, a simulation of reality where the players drive the history and create the stories. It didn’t work as well as we would have liked, for a handful of design and technical reasons, but I never lost that dream. Crowfall offers me another chance to build it.”
Anyone on the MassivelyOP team will probably tell you that I won’t shut up about Chronicles of Elyria. There’s so much to like about the game Soulbound Studios wants to build! Like many of you, I backed the game, and I’ve been literally battling to keep myself from donating $500 max to the Kickstarter; so far, I’ve backed at only the $40 tier, and I’ve never gone over $35 for any Kickstarter in the past. I don’t easily part with my money, especially for a game in development. While Elyria has a lot going for it, I’ve noticed recently that the developers and some fans might have gotten a little over excited since hitting their funding goal, and I’ve seen people comment about pulling out their funds because of this. The team recently released some answers to some good questions on Reddit, but some answers still feel a bit too optimistic. Maybe it’s time we bring things back down to Earth.
After talking with Mark Jacobs the other week about the difficulty of balancing Camelot Unchained’s 30 classes, it got my mind thinking of MMOs that don’t merely stop with a half-dozen or so classes in their roster. It seems like having a wide array of class choices used to be in vogue early on in the industry but has since been abandoned for a smaller field of archetypes that are easier to manage.
Me? I love choices, particularly with classes. My interest in a game gets a shot in the arm if I have a lot of prospects for alts — the more, the better. So I started drawing up a list of MMOs with large class rosters and decided to make it into a full-blown column.
For the purpose of today’s list, I’m not counting skill-based MMOs (which could be considered as hosting infinite classes). Also, for games that allow a measure of mix-and-matching between classes, I’m counting only the actual classes or powersets available, not the total number of permutations that could be created by their merging. So which MMO has enough classes to satisfy your appetite?
A reader named Rogbarz emailed us toward the end of last year, lamenting the fact that we have a lot of upcoming indie games seemingly aping one facet of early Ultima Online or Shadowbane, but not a lot of games on the way emulating the genre’s themeparks. “Write about the need for a new MMO that brings back classic raiding, dungeons, the way older MMOs like World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and Final Fantasy used to and still do,” he commanded. “I think people do want a new MMO like this, but nothing is coming out.”
I suspect that the modern distinterest in new themeparks specifically has a lot to do with how much time and money they require to produce (and maintain), which isn’t something that’s happening in this current economic climate, but it’s probably a very good thing for the existing themeparks. What say you? Where are all the MMO themeparks? Which upcoming one (or older one) have you got your eye on?
Way back when I used to haunt the corridors of Gamestop and had yet to shun the place due to its stinky evil, I remember being enticed with these fancy-pantsy “MMORPG” boxes when I’d see them on the shelf. I must have picked up Shadowbane a dozen or so times to check out the blurbs on the back, mentally weighing whether or not this would be the one to introduce me to online gaming, but ultimately it was not to be.
It’s probably for the best, considering that Shadowbane was primarily PvP and I’m a PvE guy at heart. Plus, the title never really took off the way that publisher Ubisoft had hoped, spending most of its six years of operation lurking in the background of the MMO industry instead of sharing the spotlight.
But still, six years! That’s not the worst run we’ve ever seen from an MMO. Considering that its creator has gone on to make Crowfall with some of the same ideas, it’s as timely as ever to take a look back at Shadowbane and what it brought to the table.