I was a wide-eyed, naive kid when I first stepped into Ultima Online in 1997, and as it turns out, the developers were too.
That’s my takeaway from reading through the Ultima Online chunk of Raph Koster’s new book, Postmortems. Koster, as any dedicated MMORPG fan will recall, went by “Designer Dragon” back then as the creative lead on the game. Having come from a MUD background, he and his wife Kristin Koster were instrumental in shaping Richard Garriott’s seminal MMORPG and therefore the genre as we know it.
Koster kindly sent us a preprint of the book, unwittingly robbing himself of $35, as I was going to buy it anyway, and it’s massive, folks: over 700 pages spanning three decades and the majority of the online games Koster’s worked on during his long tenure in the gaming industry. Some of those games are definitely of more interest to our readers on Massively OP, in particular Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. It’s the Ultima Online chapters I aim to cover today.
It’s true that we lost a lot of MMOs in 2016 — bigger and more important ones than in 2014 and 2015. 2017, however, has been a different sort of beast. The list is long, and while it’s painful for those whose games are gone, the genre didn’t lose many major MMOs this past year. And that startles me.
Marvel Heroes was surely the most dramatic of all the sunsets, given that it shut down early without notice. Earlier in the year, we saw Daybreak put an end to Landmark after less than a year of live operation, while Turbine let the Asheron’s Call franchise go, Firefall formally closed, Club Penguin’s sunset broke the internet, and NCsoft called it quits with Master X Master. A number of other MMOs simply halted development – Perpetuum, Sword Coast Legends, and SkySaga being the most prominent of those. And on a more positive note, there were a few sunsetted MMOs that were revivified, including Otherland, Uncharted Waters Online, and RaiderZ.
Farewell, old friends.
Pretty much everyone assumed that back when Guild Wars 2
planned out mounts, it did so with its cash shop in mind. The game is already not-so-jokingly known as “Fashion Wars,” so it’s got a playerbase primed and ready to splash out for sparkly mounts, especially cosmetic upgrades to what is very likely the best mount system in any MMORPG to date
. The first set of mount cosmetics arrived for Halloween
, a whole pack of skelly skins that players could buy directly. The second set, however, has now landed with a new sales scheme, and it’s caused significant controversy just as anticipated.
As we explained yesterday, ArenaNet has added 30 new mount skins to the game, but instead of selling them directly, the studio is selling them in a hybrid sort of lockbox: You buy one of the mount licenses, which unlocks one mount skin on your account that you don’t already have. You always get a mount skin, and you never get repeats, potentially all the way up to 30 licenses for 30 skins.
Unless you get the one you want sooner. That’s a big unless.
I’ve spent a chunk of the last week moving through the first part of Guild Wars 2’s Path of Fire, finishing up the Crystal Oasis zone into which a character is deposited right off the airship. Obviously, it’s far too early to give a formal stamp of approval until I’m fully through it, but so far, I’m pleased with my purchase. Very pleased. I’m already pretty sure the expansion is update-of-the-year material for the genre. But it’ll take a few months to see how it fully meshes with the existing game, and while the same was true with Heart of Thorns, my urge to stop writing and go back into Elona for the next zone as I type this already tells me that PoF has delivered on at least its basic promises.
So while we let the community savor the game until a fully informed consensus is reached, I wanted to dash off some quick thoughts based on this first week of midcore casual play. Consider it a top 5, bottom 5 list as we dig into the very best additions to the game – and the things that still annoy me.
The spring season always sees a deluge of MMORPG birthday celebrations: Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes, Allods Online, Free Realms last week and TERA and EVE Online this week. Lost in the din, however, is Guild Wars — classic Guild Wars, ArenaNet’s original MMO, which released in 2005 against World of Warcraft, performed brilliantly, and let up only once Guild Wars 2 itself was underway. Even though it’s now clinging to life in a permanent sort of maintenance mode, I still consider it one of the best MMORPGs ever made, in spite of the fact that it’s missing several things I’d normally consider vital for an MMO. And in this week’s video edition of my Working As Intended column, I’m going to tell you why.
Yesterday, NCsoft took the lid off a secret
it’s clearly been working on for a while: The company means to introduce a notorious and well-known City of Heroes
NPC as one of the characters in its upcoming MOBA, Master x Master
Here’s the thing. Master x Master is actually pretty well-liked around here. The writers we’ve sent to test it out the past few years came away thinking it was an excellent hybrid PvE MOBA with a lot of MMO elements, a genuinely good entry to the market and something we’re happy to cover. So I don’t think anyone wishes it, specifically, harm.
But NCsoft? I don’t know who told you this was a good idea. It’s really not a good idea.
The Elder Scrolls Online
‘s wildly anticipated Homestead patch
has rolled out today, introducing housing for the first time for the MMORPG. But it’ll be far from a first for the franchise, which has been well-known for its housing systems for over two decades. In today’s video installment of Working As Intended
, we’re taking a trip back through my (often gloriously overmodded) installs of Daggerfall
, and then ESO
itself to reminisce about just how far the series’ housing content has come. Bring your own silt strider!
Westworld has emerged this fall as the geek obsession TV show, a gunslinger’s LOST about which people can’t stop talking and theorizing and debating. Don’t worry; Massively OP is not suddenly becoming an entertainment website, but I hope you’ll indulge me for a round of Westworld in this edition of Working As Intended because in every episode of the show, I see the MMORPG genre: our players, our proclivities, and our many, many problems.
And that’s by design. The show’s premise is that in some sci-fi near-future, wealthy people are able to pay their way into an elaborate, real-world themepark, where corporate gamemasters and engineers and designers control high-functioning human-like robots (“hosts”) in an Old West setting to create whatever roleplaying or entertainment environment the guests are seeking. The players can interact with the robots in extremely realistic ways, from playing cards and having sex to going on scripted quest adventures — and even murder.
Minor spoilers follow, though I’ll avoid the big ones since the season’s but half over. Let’s talk about Westworld’s MMORPG trappings.
Wanna feel old? Three years ago, I wrote a Second Wind piece for Massively-that-was on Ultima Online, which had recently been turned over to Broadsword and was celebrating its 16th birthday. “The ‘old things suck’ snobs can scoff all they want,” I concluded, “but feature for feature, UO surpasses far too many modern games to be ignored.”
Now the game has just turned 19, and I’m back in the grand-daddy of MMORPGs poking around for the readers who’ve requested another look and listen. I’d call it a third wind, but for me, it’s probably more like my 103rd wind, as I’ve gone back so many times I’ve lost count. This round, I’m going to give a little tour of some of my favorite features, like housing, runebooks, boats, and combat, plus talk about some basic mechanics and highlight cool community hot spots on Atlantic, then wind down with some opinions on UO’s place in the genre and the lessons we can learn from its long and glorious sandbox development history even here in 2016. Enjoy!
Last week, a clever Massively OP commenter, SC_Deadline, neatly summed up the ongoing Nostalrius emulator shutdown as Blizzard “bust[ing] up someone’s nostalgia party,” which stuck with me all weekend as I mulled over how to approach this piece. I sympathize with emulator players, of course; I’ve been tooling around on emulators since the earliest days of Ultima Online’s, and the Star Wars Galaxies emulation community kept me sane after my favorite MMORPG of all time was ripped from the internet and replaced with a themepark. I’ll forever champion emulation communities from the angle of historical preservation even as I know that much of what they do falls within the dark shadow of the law.
And you know what? I sleep fine at night. I can accept that part of myself that gives zero fucks whether SWGEmu, for example, infringes on copyrights, as long as I can still have my droid shop on Tatooine.
I can also accept that my fun will come to a halt the day the copyright holder puts its foot down, and while I’m sure it will hurt like hell, I won’t proclaim I’m entitled to intellectual property that was never mine to begin with.
What’s impossible for me to accept is this ugly and pervasive idea that people who play emulators are hopelessly mired in some irrepressible, unflattering “nostalgia.”
I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that this past weekend was a strange one in the MMORPG community, when gamers across the wide expanse of MMO worlds came together to collectively mourn, fear, rage, and regroup after a day that shook the foundation of the genre.
Daybreak, itself one of the founding studios of MMORPGs, finally admitted what many gamers already believed: that EverQuest Next, one of the few inbound classically inspired Western AAA MMORPGs and heir to the venerable EverQuest franchise, had been canceled after so many months of stalled development and media stonewalling.
And just a few hours later, we confirmed reports that dozens upon dozens of WildStar’s developers had been unceremoniously sacked in the wake of the cancellation of the game’s Chinese launch, which we’d presumed was one of Carbine’s last hopes for shifting WildStar’s downward trajectory. Even now, rumors contradicting NCsoft’s confidence in the game persist as gossip of a planned sunset seeps out.
Given how many letters we received this weekend on this subject, and having had a few days to think it over myself, I have a few words I’d like to impart about the fate of our beloved MMORPG genre.
If you’ve listened to Massively’s staff and readers talk about Star Wars Galaxies a little bit, you might come away with the impression that the now-sunsetted, pre-WoW Star Wars sandbox was perfection in every way — that classic SWG was all fun, all the time, with no bugs and no problems, and that all MMORPGs should aspire to be it in its entirety.
The thing about superfans is that no one knows the games better than we do… and no one knows their problems as we do, and in fact we could all probably fill volumes with gripes about our very favorite games. But is there a point to going on at length about design and development errors made in an old dead game? I say there is. Better learn from old mistakes than repeat them, right?
That’s what I’d like to do in this edition of Working As Intended. Star Wars Galaxies is, in my estimation, the best MMORPG ever made, at least so far, but it had some serious problems I’d like the future best MMORPGs ever made to avoid – and I’m not just talking about the low-hanging fruit of the NGE.
It’s become tradition to fare well the MMOs that sunsetted in the preceding year, but that wasn’t always the case. At the beginning of 2015, in saying goodbye to 2014’s sunsetted games, I tried to put that into perspective.
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about how Vanguard’s early stumbles foreshadowed the changing MMORPG industry. In January 2007, when Vanguard lurched its way to launch, the genre was barely a decade old; it was booming, and it had never suffered hardship on a massive scale. In the west, we’d seen only three “major” MMOs sunset (Motor City Online, Earth and Beyond, and Asheron’s Call 2), and only one MMO, Anarchy Online, had “gone F2P,” though we hadn’t yet thought to call it yet because it was such a rare and new thing. In fact, it wasn’t until 2008’s first big wave of AAA, post-World of Warcraft MMOs launched and mostly flopped that MMORPG players gave much thought to the future of the genre and how WoW had reshaped (and possibly broken) it. Maybe not even then.
In 2016 and in 2015, sunsets are increasingly common, a result of market oversaturation, business model struggles, and changing gamer tastes and investment options. Let’s revisit the games we lost in 2015 and consider what their sunsets portend for the year ahead.