the game archaeologist

Justin Olivetti is Massively Overpowered’s resident Game Archaeologist; he never lets a good old game stay buried. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]

The Game Archaeologist: SOE’s The Agency

The graveyard of Sony Online Entertainment and Daybreak Game Company is certainly full enough to be considered a threat if there was ever a zombie uprising among MMORPGs. From PlanetSide to Free Realms, there are plenty of live games that were disposed of in this grim fictional burial ground. But there are also those stillborn titles that never had the change to make or break in a live environment. EverQuest Next might be the most fresh in our minds, but go back a handful of years and you might have seen players lamenting the loss of a different promising SOE game: The Agency.

The Agency seems like a natural fit for the studio’s focus on first-person shooters and a willingness to branch out from strictly fantasy territory. Instead of dragons or stormtroopers, players in this game were to face off against terrorist organizations and dastardly spy agencies, all in the pursuit of living out the ultimate James Bond fantasy.

But instead of sitting on our desktop, The Agency exists only in a forgotten corner of this imaginary cemetery. Today, let us tenderly brush off its worn tombstone and remember what we can about this canceled spy shooter.

Read more

The Game Archaeologist: Rubies of Eventide

I can’t say that Rubies of Eventide has been on my radar, like, ever. And yet practically every time I’ve asked for suggestions of a game to cover in this column, it seems like someone pipes up asking that Rubies gets a little publicity. That tells me that there’s some underground love for this title.

There are two things that separate Rubies of Eventide from the rest of the MMO pack and make it a fascinating case study. The first is that it’s one of the very few MUDs that was transformed into a graphical MMO while retaining its roots in old-school play. The second is that it had an absolutely ridiculous number of playable classes — 104, to be precise. Some days I really miss the era when game designers would aspire to reach these incredible numbers.

Faced with the prospect of an early death, Rubies of Eventide miraculously survived and ran for six interesting years. Let’s take a look at a MUD-turned-MMO this week, shall we?

Read more

The Game Archaeologist: How DikuMUD shaped modern MMOs

Even though there are hundreds and thousands of MMOs spanning several decades, only a small handful were so incredibly influential that they changed the course of development for games from then on out. DikuMUD is one of these games, and it is responsible for more of what you experience in your current MMOs than you even know.

Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone knows what DikuMUD is or how it shaped the MMOs that came out after it. You might have seen it used as a pejorative in enough comments that you know it is loathed by many gamers, but I find that there are varying degrees of ignorance about DikuMUD in the community. What is it, exactly? Why is it just the worst? And is it really the worst if we like the games that can point to this text-based MMO as a key ancestor?

Today we’re going to dispel the mystery and myths of DikuMUD to lay it out there as it was and is today.

Read more

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.

Read more

The Game Archaeologist: Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds

I confess that I have a particular fascination for MMOs that came into existence in the 1990s. It’s not only the fact that I was oblivious to them at the time (er, wild college days?) but that practically each and every one of them were true pioneers in their own fashion. And while your standard MMO fan might think that there were only three such games in that decade (four, if they are gracious and include Meridian 59), the truth is that there were far more online games at the time, particularly if you looked over to the east.

Today we are going to look at one of the most important MMOs to emerge from that time period, Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds. Its influence was primarily centered in the Korean gaming community while being vastly downplayed in North America. Still, here’s a successful MMO that not only beat Ultima Online out of the door by a year but has since won a Guinness World Record for longevity!

Read more

The Game Archaeologist: Hero’s Journey

Fiction writers know well of Joseph Campbell’s identification and outline of the monomyth, or “hero’s journey,” in many stories. The 12-step process starts with a sympathetic hero in an ordinary world who then goes on a coming-of-age adventure into a special world where he or she finds a mentor, meets allies, goes through tests, succeeds in an ordeal, and is ultimately transformed into a more powerful and skilled person.

From Lord of the Rings to Star Wars, the monomyth is clear and active. Even with the similar structure across scads of stories, we love it and eat it up. There’s something about this journey that appeals to us, perhaps because we can imagine ourselves going on such an adventure. It’s also why MMORPGs are so gripping, giving us a chance to experience the monomyth first-hand.

In 1999, one MMO decided that it would embrace this formula and called itself, simply, Hero’s Journey. What started with high aspirations eventually fell into a decade of development hell, which ironically took fans on a journey to failure, not success. Today we’re going to look back at Simutronics’ graphical MMO and imagine what could have been.

Read more

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!

Read more

Don’t miss The Game Archaeologist’s histories of Asheron’s Call

The impending loss of Asheron’s Call — and Asheron’s Call 2 again — hit the MMORPG community pretty hard when the sunsets were announced yesterday, even though a lot of us saw it coming. The late reveal that WB/Turbine won’t be releasing the servers to the community was salt in the wound… powdered quartz in the vitae, if you will.

We thought those of you feeling all the feels might like a trip down memory lane — thankfully, our very own Game Archaeologist can help. Justin’s penned several long-form pieces over the last year covering the history of the venerable franchise. Enjoy, and remember.

The Game Archaeologist: Asheron’s Call - It's hard being the youngest child -- you get the hand-me-downs, suffer through swirlies by older siblings, and eventually develop such a neurosis that it requires seven different brands of…
The Game Archaeologist: Asheron’s Call 2 - MMO sequels are funny animals. Sequels (along with prequels and "reimaginings") are ingrained into the entertainment industry so deep that it makes sense that MMO studios would follow suit. And…

Comment

The Game Archaeologist: A talk with the man behind EQOA’s revival project

This past week we reported on an ongoing attempt by a small group of faithful EverQuest Online Adventure fans to bring back the MMO on both the PlayStation 2 and PC. The odds are long and the difficulty high, but the passion is there for a game that these players used to enjoy.

Is it possible? Could this console entry in the EverQuest franchise ever see an actual revival, even in emulator form? Stranger things have happened.

Jeremy, one of the leaders behind the EQOA Revival project, reached out to me with a desire to talk about what made this game so special to him and why it deserves a second run nearly a half-decade after it was shut down by SOE. Ever curious what playing a console EverQuest was like? Read on!

Read more

The Game Archaeologist: EA’s Majestic

“This is not a game. Or is it?”

Conspiracy theories and paranoia were hot with pop culture in the 1990s, largely thanks to movies like The Net and TV shows like the X-Files, which had the tagline of “I want to believe.” With the rise of the internet during the decade and the fantastic leaps and bounds technology had been making, people were not only experiencing new ways to play games but also growing suspicious that these tools could have a sinister side.

It was into this niche that EA stepped to create an ambitious $20 million project that would fuse massively multiplayer interactivity, the growing variety of technological mediums, and conspiracy theories together. The project was Majestic, an alternate reality game (ARG) that would be the most expensive and highest profile attempt to date. It generated great amounts of interest and publicity, had a promising start, and then flared out hard by the end of 2001.

Considering how ARGs and MMOs have crossed paths since, most recently with The Secret World and Overwatch, I wanted to revisit an attempt to develop a game that would run parallel in many ways with the industry that we love today.

Read more

The Game Archaeologist: Mark Jacobs on Mythic’s early online games, part 2

We’re back with our second part of an interview retrospective of Mythic Entertainment’s early online games with CSE’s Mark Jacobs. Last week, we talked about the formation of Mythic, its roster of titles during the 1990s, and how titles like Aliens Online and Silent Death Online helped to push the studio toward its full-fledged development in the MMORPG genre.

Today, Jacobs will take us through a discussion of the challenges awaiting studios trying to make online games in that early era, the communities that formed around Mythic’s titles, and how one MUD called Darkness Falls would be the catalyst that set off Dark Age of Camelot.

Read more

The Game Archaeologist: Mark Jacobs on Mythic’s early online games, part 1

When you bring up the name “Mythic Entertainment,” chances are that most gamers are going to immediately think of the studio’s two major MMOs, Warhammer Online and Dark Age of Camelot. Perhaps Imperator Online might come into the conversation, perhaps not. But what is fascinating to me is that Mythic had a lot more than a pair of MMOs under its belt.

Since the formation of the studio in the mid-1990s, Mythic’s team developed well over a dozen titles, many of which featured online multiplayer and other elements that would eventually lead into the company releasing DAoC to widespread acclaim in 2001. I’ve been curious what these older titles were like and how they contributed to the formation of Mythic’s MMOs, and so rather than get all of my information from second-hand sources, I went straight to City State Entertainment’s Mark Jacobs to ask him about games like Aliens Online, Spellbinder, and Darkness Falls. Considering that the man is still working on spiritual successors to the games he was involved with decades ago, I thought it would be great to get his perspective.

Read more

The Game Archaeologist: Six Halloween holidays from buried MMOs

There are two things to know about Halloween and MMOs. The first is that just about every online game in the known universe puts on a festival or seasonal promotion of some sort, because devs can’t resist the urge to indulge in a return to their childhoods. The second is that pretty much every said event involves some sort of pumpkin-headed scarecrow, because that is apparently the mascot of the holiday now.

Oh, and one more thing to know? Not every MMO Halloween returns from years past due to the sinister and often premature demise of the game. When an MMO goes down, it takes all of its holidays with it, leaving players with only memories of seasonal activities in those games.

In the interest of preserving the efforts that the developers poured into these events and the fondness that some players had for them, today we’re going to take a tour through six holidays from, ahem, buried MMOs.

Read more

1 2 3 5