In my years of coverage of MMO soundtrack music in this column and on Battle Bards, I've clearly observed that there are games that are well-known and admired for their music. Most often, these are from popular MMORPGs -- your World of Warcrafts, your Guild Wars 2s, and so on. Popular game plus good music equals widespread recognition.
Yet as I've pointed out in the past, there are plenty of terrific scores and individual music tracks from lesser-known MMO soundtracks that don't get the attention they deserve, usually because of a fan's unfamiliarity with a title. That's not your fault; few people are as crazy as me when it comes to trying to track down MMO tunes and building a comprehensive library. It's only slightly frustrating to see these game scores go overlooked because nobody really thought to listen to them in the first place.
So I'm viewing today's column as an exercise in education, to share what I've learned in my journeys and discoveries of MMORPG soundtracks. I present here for your listening pleasure six pretty great tunes from MMOs you've probably never played.
I suppose there will always be a special place in my heart for Lord of the Rings Online
. Not only is it one of my most-played MMOs, but covering Turbine's
title was my first task when I landed a position at Massively-that-was. For years I played, loved, and wrote about
this incredible vision for Middle-earth, and even today I sporadically return to see how the journey to the heart of Mordor is progressing.
So it's with keen interest this week that I turn my attention to LOTRO's lesser-known predecessor: Middle-earth Online. Known to some but not to all, Turbine wasn't the first MMO studio to take a crack at Tolkien's license -- no, for that we have to travel back to 1998 and revisit Sierra On-Line. It was this company that had a brief but memorable run designing Middle-earth Online, also known as "What if LOTRO had permadeath?"
It's a fascinating glimpse into an entirely different approach to the IP, and even though it died a fairly early death, it's important to be remembered. Frodo lives!
I'll admit that I have a particular fondness for older video game music. I still scour the archives of NES and Genesis libraries for catchy tracks, listen through Amiga and Commodore 64 playlists, and seek out MIDI tunes that trigger memories of great PC adventures. There's a charm in the simplicity and cruder sound hardware that is, for me, a welcome change of pace from the modern pitch-perfect orchestral scores.
Today we're going to hop into a musical time machine and travel back to the 1990s to listen to what MMORPGs sounded like back then. The soundtracks, when present, weren't as pervasive or as (ahem) instrumental to setting the mood, but even back then you could see some passion and skill being poured into the occasional score.
Maybe these won't all be masterpieces to your ear, but they should provide some insight into what gamers back then heard as they were exploring these magical new MMOs for the first time.
Interestingly enough, there are a few types of video game music that don't often pop up in MMORPGs for various reasons. One of these are victory fanfares or mission completion tunes, for obvious reasons. While your standard game might congratulate you for completing a level or winning a single battle, MMOs tend to give you a brief pat on the back for a job well done and send you on to the next task.
Yet this isn't to say that MMORPGs are completely devoid of victory themes. Every so often I come across one, usually from non-standard titles. I kind of wish we'd get more victory fanfares, to be honest, perhaps after downing a boss or winning a battle by the skin of our teeth.
Prepare to get pumped up and celebrate your mighty accomplishments as we herald them with these themes!
This week in MMO crowdfunding news, Shroud of the Avatar broke $8 million in crowdfunding thanks in part to a crazy telethon in which Portalarium's Richard Garriott donated his hair to the cause. Alpha testing is on the horizon; in the game's latest newsletter, we were treated to a video and images of several in-progress areas as well as promises that the game's release schedule is forthcoming.
We also took a look at City of Titans' character modeling, alien life in Elite: Dangerous, Star Citizen's most dangerous elevators, The Realm creator's remake GoFundMe, and a little-known crowdfunded indie whose lead dev vanished... and then resurfaced. And were you planning on returning to the Warhammer universe? Eternal Crusade will be closing down its backer packages when it launches on Steam early access later this month.
Read on for more on what's up with MMO crowdfunding this week.
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 veterans might be familiar with The Realm (also known as The Realm Online), which was one of the first class of graphical online RPGs. While it's been trucking along since 1996, creator Stephen Nichols accused the current owners of letting The Realm lapse into "deep neglect" and wants to remake the game for modern sensibilities.
"2016 marks the 20-year anniversary of The Realm Online," Nichols posted. "If you're like me, you miss seeing the game thrive and grow as you know it can. I think it's time for a remake of this internet classic with a fresh coat of paint and updated technology. Perhaps you agree. Yes, it's time for a Realm remake, and I'm gonna make it happen."
No MMO can be in the spotlight eternally. Even some of the biggest names out there -- your World of Warcrafts, your Guild Wars 2s, your Star Stables -- wax and wane in the amount of press and attention they get depending on what they're doing and how well their PR department is functioning.
It doesn't take much for a title to fall off of practically everyone's radar. In some cases it's merely a matter of passing time and slipping popularity, but in others it's just that the game or its marketing team hasn't done anything of note in a long, long time. So that's when you get MMOs that, when mentioned, cause the listener to cock an eyebrow and say, "Huh. That's still around?"
Today we're going to look at 10 such titles -- not to demean them or laugh at some misfortune but to call attention to MMOs that are still humming along even though they're not headlining news or ripping up Steam charts.
Out of all of the MMOs that I've played over the years, I must have spent the most time in Lord of the Rings Online's wonderfully realized vision of J.R.R. Tolkien's world. An early magazine article in 2007 intrigued me with the mention of a "low-fantasy" MMO that skewed more to realism than the cartoony World of Warcraft. By the time the head start period had finished, I was in love with the Shire, Hobbits, and ordering my Lore-master's raven to peck the eyes out of goblins.
Yet the MMO that I've played and enjoyed was a title born in the grave of a previous effort to bring Lord of the Rings to MMOs: Middle-earth Online. Turbine wasn't the first MMO studio to take a crack at Tolkien's license. No, for that we have to travel back to 1998 and revisit Sierra On-Line. It was this company that had a brief but memorable run designing Middle-earth Online with features such as permadeath. It's a fascinating glimpse into an entirely different approach to the IP, and even though it fizzled out due to a number of factors, I think it's important it be remembered. Frodo lives!