three rings

Studio known primarily for Spiral Knights and Puzzle Pirates.

Perfect Ten: MMORPGs that walk on the weird side

In third grade, my teacher sent home a report card with the note that “Justin is wonderfully strange.” Ever since then, I never found the terms “strange” or “weird” to be pejorative but rather a signpost pointing the way to interesting paths less traveled.

To be weird is to deviate from the safe and predictable and instead venture into the wild and woolly lands of the imagination. When it comes to MMORPGs, I feel that more devs would love for their games to be more strange while the risk-averse studios (and their publishers) pull hard to keep traditional tropes in play.

Still, every once in a while a game comes out that walk on the weird side. These MMOs don’t usually boast universal appeal, large numbers, or even great respect, but they do offer vivid imagination, hidden qualities, and a certain uniqueness that is rarely found elsewhere. Today, we will celebrate the wonderfully strange in online gaming with these 10 titles.

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The Game Archaeologist: Middle-earth Online

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!

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Jukebox Heroes: MMO victory fanfares

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!

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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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Spiral Knights, Puzzle Pirates to be preserved by former devs’ new company

Fans of tiny older MMORPGs on the verge of extinction have cause for a bit of celebration this spring: A new patch to five-year-old Spiral Knights this week that updated branding to a new company appears to be the work of Grey Havens, a new company dedicated to preserving old games.

Spiral Knights/Puzzle Pirates Community Manager Eurydice told players back in April that the game had been handed over to Grey Havens, “a group of former Three Rings employees who have come together to keep the games and communities we love alive and happy.” Grey Havens’ official site explains, “Grey Havens operates games created by Three Rings Design back in the glorious first decade of the new millennium. Rather than allow those games to disappear forever, we have assembled a doughty crew to keep them operational for as long as we can.”

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Jukebox Heroes: Six forgettable MMOs with unforgettable soundtracks

I have often thought it grossly unfair that a video game soundtrack is linked, for better and for worse, with the popularity of the game in which it appears. Sure, music is a crucial part of the experience and in many ways emblematic of it, but only recognizing an OST because the game has hit it big is a burr in my saddle.

Let me put it plainly: There are terrific MMOs with terrific soundtracks. There are great MMOs with subpar soundtracks. There are plenty of terrible MMOs with what I can only assume is a serial killer’s recording of chalkboard scrapings for a score. And — in light of today’s topic — there are quite a few incredibly good soundtracks that came from MMOs that are somewhat forgettable.

Maybe these games are far past their prime or only really took root in a certain region, but I keep coming across titles that have surprisingly robust soundtracks that get (pardon Rodney Dangerfield) no respect, no respect at all. Today I want to share with you six scores I’ve unearthed from games that have been all but forgotten by the modern MMO community.

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