Recently we had an interesting question come in from reader and Patron Rasmus Praestholm, who asked me to do a little investigating: “What (if anything of substance) exists in the MMO field that’s not only free, but open source? The topic of open source came up briefly in a recent column, where Ryzom was noted to have gone open source at some point. But have any serious efforts actually gotten anywhere starting out as open source?”
As some graphical MMORPGs pass the two-decade mark in video game history and are being either cancelled or retired to maintenance mode, it’s an increasingly important topic when it comes to keeping these games alive. Not only that, the question of open source MMOs involves the community in continued development, with the studio handing over the keys to an aging car to see what can be done by resourceful fans.
But has anything much been done with open source projects in the realm of MMORPGs? Is this something that we should be demanding more of as online gaming starts using more accessible platforms such as SpatialOS? Let’s dig a bit into this topic and see what we turn up.
It is sometimes hard to know how far back to go when chronicling the history of early MMOs and their ancestors. After all, this column has looked at several titles (such as Habitat and Neverwinter Nights) that do not fit the modern definition of an MMORPG yet were bound in blood to the genre nonetheless.
So if today’s game seems to be somewhat tenuously related to our favorite hobby, I beg your forgiveness in advance. However, I do feel that it is pertinent to our exploration of this wonderful genre. The game in question is Maze War, and it holds an admiral uniform’s worth of medals depicting firsts in the infant genre of video games. Most importantly for us, Maze War was the first graphical video game to be networked and allow players to interact and fight each other. You can see why that may tie in to our current situation.
While the game itself certainly never attained the complexity of modern shooters or RPGs, its innovation and pioneering certainly make it worthy of examination. So let’s dust it off and get to it!
The Dreamcast was a brief but shining aberration in the gaming world. Coming along years after Sega had fallen out of its position as a top-runner in the console market, it represented the company’s last-ditch attempt to reclaim its former glory. While it failed to succeed in that respect and ultimately closed up shop in 2001 (ending Sega’s interest in the console market), the Dreamcast became a gaming cult favorite responsible for some of the most innovative titles ever made. Games like Jet Grind Radio, Space Channel 5, and Shenmue have remained fan favorites long after the Dreamcast’s demise, which shows the legacy that these dev teams left behind.
But perhaps the Dreamcast’s greatest gift to the gaming world wasn’t crazy taxis or space dancing but a surprisingly forward-looking approach to online gaming. In 2000, the Dreamcast took the first steps to bringing an online console RPG to market, and while it wasn’t a true MMO, it certainly paved the way for titles like EverQuest Online Adventures and Final Fantasy XI.
It was bold, it was addictive, and it was gosh-darned gorgeous. Ladies and gentlemen: Phantasy Star Online.
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.
It seems that it really wasn’t too long ago that I was filling in the time between night classes by boning up on video game news. I was drinking up all of the hot up-and-comers, such as Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, when I caught word that the maker of Diablo was trying to do the same thing again, only more online, in 3-D, and with a cool modern-day/futuristic/horror vibe.
There’s no better way to put it than to say that from the start, Hellgate: London looked all kinds of cool. Oh sure, you can scoff now with your perfect 20/20 hindsight, but I’m betting that more than a few of you thought the same with me around that time. Diablo but with guns and an online persistence — how could we not be intrigued? One of my most vivid memories was being torn between the idea of buying a lifetime subscription deal for $150 or not (again, this was before the free-to-play era, but also before the era of us spending the same money on alpha access. I’m just saying that you can’t judge me.).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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…
The Game Archaeologist talks to the Asheron’s Call super-fan - A little while back, I received a rather passionate email from Massively OP reader Diego regarding Asheron's Call. He had quite a lot to say about the game's current and…