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 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 troubled state, and he was hoping that I would write up a piece on it as a result.

Instead, I invited him to sit down and talk about the game, especially considering that he was a long-time player of Asheron’s Call, a beta tester for both AC titles, and involved in the fan site community. At the core of the discussion was his opinion that Asheron’s Call was Turbine’s greatest creation and the studio’s hope for a return to MMO excellence.

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The Game Archaeologist: The Shadow of Yserbius

Really, I blame my parents for not being filthy rich.

If they had been, we could’ve afforded the $130/month unlimited subscription fee to the ImagiNation Network (INN) back in the early ’90s. Just think! All of the gaming, the socializing, and the roleplaying that I could handle — for such a low price! I mean, sure, there were hourly options, but who’d want to play for a mere five hours a month?

So instead of becoming part of a growing online community, I had to be content with my SNES and copy of Chrono Trigger — hard times, indeed. Sometimes I think how my life would’ve been different if we had subscribed to Sierra’s colorful online world because I would’ve had a chance to get in on one of the first graphical MMOs: The Shadow of Yserbius.

It was a step forward in graphic quality from the text-only MUDs of the day but perhaps a step backward from the complexity that many MUDs brought to the table. Still, for a few shining years, it entranced thousands who lined up to delve dungeons deeply alongside their friends (and a couple of complete strangers with odor disorders).

Today we’re going to take a quick peek at one of the first MMOs that stepped into the realm of lush color and animations and see what made The Shadow of Yserbius so endearing.

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The Game Archaeologist: Five eye-opening videos about the MMORPG genre

When it comes to tracking down history for MMOs, I’ve found that there are an array of sources at hand that have preserved (unwittingly or not) the past for us to discover today. It might be the news articles from long-running game sites, scans of magazine articles, old Usenet files, and especially interviews from those involved in the making and running of early titles.

Another great source, of course, is YouTube. If you’re ever curious about how a long-dead MMORPG looked and played while it was operational, you need only pull up archived videos to see them in action. Once in a while I’ll stumble over interesting videos that reshape how I’ve envisioned the decades during which developers and gaming pioneers formed what we now enjoy, and today I want to share five of those videos with you.

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The Game Archaeologist: Puzzle Pirates

Up until this point in my life, Puzzle Pirates has always been that “Oh yeah, that actually exists!” game to me. Even when I do lists of pirates in MMOs, this title slips right off of my radar. Maybe it’s because Puzzle Pirates doesn’t make waves (har!) these days, or maybe it’s been around for so very long.

I think that part of Puzzle Pirates’ forgettable nature is that it doesn’t exactly scream “MMO.” I mean, its combat is more cerebral than anything else, it’s all cutesy and stuff, and even its name suggests a casual flash title than anything deep and substantive.

Yet I have friends with a long and abiding love for this game, people who always chide me when I forget it. So to peer pressure I bow: It’s high past time that we gave Puzzle Pirates its due as part of the MMO genre. Avast, ye landlubbers, and swab those peepers: We be goin’ to sea!

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The Game Archaeologist: Myst Online Uru Live

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!

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The Game Archaeologist: Saga of Ryzom

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!

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The Game Archaeologist: Guild Wars Utopia

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?

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The Game Archaeologist: The Wish that wasn’t

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.

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The Game Archaeologist: The sad saga of Stargate Worlds

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.

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The Game Archaeologist: Meridian 59

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.

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The Game Archaeologist: 1988’s Monster

“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.

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The Game Archaeologist: Ten strange pre-release facts about World of Warcraft

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?

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The Game Archaeologist: Perpetual’s Star Trek Online

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.

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