The impact of Myst’s launch in 1993 was akin to an atomic bomb going off in the PC gaming world. The leap forward in graphical fidelity (aided by the large storage capacity of a CD-ROM and all of the full-motion video and gorgeous images tucked into it) captured gamers’ imaginations and made this adventure title the best-selling PC game of all time, at least for several years. Brothers Robyn and Rand Miller’s story about a stranger who had to solve puzzles through a good-looking (if deserted) landscape was devilishly difficult, yet that challenge kept players coming back for months and even years.
The Myst franchise surged forward at that point, with several sequels, remakes, and ports selling like hotcakes through the final game’s release in 2005. Yet something interesting happened along the way when an offshoot of the series — Uru: Ages Beyond Myst — evolved into an MMO. With a focus on multiplayer exploration and puzzle-solving instead of non-stop combat, it may be one of the very few MMOs out there that eschews fighting for brainpower.
It’s an oddity, no doubt, and despite it being an incredibly niche title, it has fascinated me enough to pull me into a research rabbit hole. So let’s take a look at Myst Online: Uru Live!
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!
Aztecs. Chronomancers. Mounts. Halberds. Golems. Dual wielding.
These are all but a hint of what a fourth Guild Wars campaign could have been, a campaign that was under development in the mid-2000s but was scrapped by 2007. Replacing it was the expansion Guild Wars: Eye of the North and the workings of a super-secret sequel to the game (which you’ve probably never heard of). It was the forgotten campaign, swept under a rug while it was still under the rug.
But what if, in some alternative timeline, ArenaNet had gone ahead with this campaign? What if it had become an established part of the Guild Wars legacy, as familiar to us today as Nightfall and Factions?
What if Guild Wars Utopia had lived?
First of all, “wish” is one of those words that ends up looking dang strange the more you focus on it. Wish, wish, wish, wish. It’s just a bunch of meaningless lines and squiggles to me now.
Anyway, what’s up for today’s topic? We’re going to look at another MMO that didn’t make it to the starting gate even with some genuine enthusiasm and hype surrounding it, and that game is wrrrshhsish. Wish. That game is Wish.
While memories of this never-launched title have faded with time, Wish is still remembered for two things: a truly audacious feature set that promised the world and an abrupt, bizarre end that seemed to come out of nowhere. What made this MMO so special and why did it die so young? Our very own Game Archaeologist is on the scene with a special report.
In 1994, a science-fiction movie called Stargate took the idea of alien portals that allowed people to travel instantaneously across the universe and turned it into a modest success. The notion (and box office gross) was sufficiently interesting enough to be reworked into a hit television series that then became a major franchise.
Stargate SG-1 ran from 1997 to 2007, and was soon spun off into Stargate Infinity (2002-2003), Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009), Stargate Universe (2009-2011), and a pair of direct-to-DVD sequels in 2008. Books, video games, amusement park rides, and even a pinball machine spawned from this series, which by the mid-2000s had a sizable crop of very loyal fans.
So why not an MMORPG? The popularity of the IP would help bolster interest in the game, and the idea of hopping across the galaxy to different planets went hand-in-hand with the virtual world setup of MMOs. In 2006, at the height of Stargate’s fame, work began on such a game — work that would soon enough lead to ruin and heartbreak. This game was Stargate Worlds.
A colony founded through a magical nexus, Meridian 59 had it all going on — until, that is, the portal to the colony collapsed and it was left to fend for itself. Monsters swarmed over the land, politics split the community into factions, and adventurers were called to rise up and become the heroes that were desperately needed. And all it took was $10.95 a month and an internet connection.
Welcome to 1996 and one of the very first graphical MMOs to hit the scene. Meridian 59 may not have been one of the biggest games in the genre, but it was arguably one of the most important, the John Adams to World of Warcraft’s Abraham Lincoln.
While bigger titles have toppled and fallen, Meridian 59 defied the odds to continue to operate even today. This week we’re going to look at this fascinating title and how it helped to pioneer the graphical MMO industry back when the world wide web was still a newfangled toy to the public.
“You’re in the middle of a vast hall stretching out of sight to the east and west. Strange shadows play across the high vaulted ceiling. The floor is set with smooth rectangular stones. The walls feel slightly cold to the touch, and damp with condensation. A copper plaque, slightly green with age, is set into one wall.”
Old-school gamers are probably quite familiar with text adventure paragraphs such as the one above. Emerging from the ’70s, text adventure games offered computer players a way to explore detailed virtual worlds before technology advanced enough to substitute words with graphics. Searching locations, picking up items, solving puzzles, discovering mysteries, and advancing to new areas kept many adventure gamers playing long into the night.
While most adventure games were static and home to only one player at a time, one college student in 1988 decided to change the rules and make a title that would be a living, breathing beast. He called it Monster.
An endless ocean of words, a tsunami of thoughts, and a riptide of fan devotion has flooded the gaming world about World of Warcraft ever since the title launched to critical and popular acclaim in November 2004. Chances are that most of the people reading this article have played it at one time or the other (and the few that haven’t will certainly boast of that fact in the comments below).
But while the explosion of WoW’s population, the infamous Corrupted Blood plague, the expansions, the conventions, the pop culture references, and the plunge of its subscriber base over the past year are all well-known and -documented, what I don’t hear most people talking about is what the game was like before it launched. Oh, fans were certainly tracking it, especially throughout 2003 and 2004, but how the game began, what factors went into its design, and the drama of its beta program are all receding into distant memory.
Today I want to share with you a list of ten strange, interesting, and illuminating pre-launch facts about World of Warcraft. What was this game like before it took the MMO genre by storm?
If you’re among the legions of Trekkies, then you are almost certainly aware of Cryptic Studios’ Star Trek Online. Since early 2010, players have boldly gone where no one has gone before in this MMO that blends spaceship battles, ground combat, and faithful tie-ins to the long-running franchise. Star Trek Online appears to be thriving following a free-to-play adaptation and two expansions, and some see it as the only official continuation of the TV series right now.
But what players encounter in Star Trek Online is not what it originally started out as. You may or may not know that STO began development under Perpetual Entertainment, which handled the game for several years until it went bankrupt and passed the license and art assets to Cryptic.
It’s another tantalizing historical “what if?” scenario to think about what this game would look like if Perpetual had taken it to launch and beyond. But what did this version of Star Trek Online look like? Let’s investigate.
As graphical MMOs took off in the 1990s with the advent of games like Neverwinter Nights, The Realm, and Ultima Online, many of them did so with the help of gaming service providers. It might be hard to imagine today, but back before the web was ubiquitous, people who wanted to go online usually did so through a specific service provider that functioned as both a gatekeeper to the internet and a purveyor of specific games and programs — some of which were completely exclusive to those companies. Console players might understand these best by thinking of them as similar to how Xbox Live and the PSN operates.
Thus, if you wanted to access, say, The Shadow of Yserbius in the early ’90s, your only recourse was to sign up for Sierra On-Line and pay a monthly membership fee (as well as a possible additional game fee) to that provider. Slow speeds, primitive (or no) graphics, and hourly costs were the norm and made it difficult for these services to gain mainstream traction.
Over the span of a decade-and-a-half, these companies jostled for supremacy and customers, even as their whole existence was eventually rendered moot by the reshaping of the online culture and the loosening of internet restrictions concerning for-profit ventures. By the 2000s, PC service providers had largely disappeared, leaving most MMOs to be accessed by specific clients. Today we’re going to blitz through a list of some of the big names of these gaming service providers and the online titles that they used to draw in fans.
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 yet these types of games — with their ever-growing nature and heavy involvement with loyal playerbases — are not always conducive to such projects. More often than not, a sequel to an online game becomes its predecessor’s main competition, which is not a desirable outcome for the studio.
Perhaps back in the early 2000s, studios simply didn’t know better. There’s good evidence that the typical “hit video games need a sequel” mindset ran rampant across the industry, from the multiple attempts at Ultima Online 2 to the release of the don’t-call-it-a-sequel sequel of EverQuest II. Perhaps developers didn’t realize that MMO players didn’t necessarily want to be uprooted and moved to a new game every few years.
While sequels, spin-offs and remakes are still present, the genre learned a hard lesson with Asheron’s Call 2: Fallen Kings in the first half of the decade. Asheron’s Call was a minor success for Microsoft and Turbine, and a sequel — with vastly improved graphics and deeper gameplay — seemed like a logical next step. Unfortunately, it was a Greek tragedy in the making, destined for a short but memorable life in our world.
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 horse tranquilizers to make it through the day. Not that I would actually know, being an oldest child and all. But I suppose it would be a hard-knock life.
In effect, Asheron’s Call was the youngest of the three MMO siblings that comprised the first major graphical MMO generation. Ultima Online, the big brother, had prestige and legacy behind it, while middle child EverQuest quickly became the most popular at school. And then there was Asheron’s Call, poking its head on the scene in late 1999 as a cooperative project between developer Turbine and publisher Microsoft. While AC never got the recognition of Ultima Online nor the numbers of EverQuest, this scrappy title became a cult favorite and endures even to this day, albeit in maintenance mode.
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.