Tracing the lineage of the modern MMORPG

    
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Do you ever wonder where the MMORPG was born? If you said, “The internet, duh,” you’re technically correct but also a huge smartass. But it turns out that its birthplace can be narrowed down even further to the English county of Essex, according to a fascinating write-up over at gaming blog Later Levels. The post refers to psychologist-slash-games-researcher Dr. Pete Etchells’s new book Lost in a Good Game, in which Etchells traces the MMORPG’s lineage back to the University of Essex circa nearly four decades ago, where Computer Society members Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle created the text-based Multi-User Dungeon.

Hosted on “a giant DEC PDP-10 mainframe” at the university, MUD soon attracted the attention of “hobbyists and hackers” who caught wind of its existence and began connecting from outside the university. As word spread, MUD caught the attention of the press as well as other programmers, spawning an entire genre that bears its name. It’s a fascinating story that’s worth a read for any would-be MMO historian or anyone curious to know how the genre that is Massively OP’s raison d’être came to be. If that sounds up your alley, be sure to click on over to Later Levels and check it out.

Source: Later Levels

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Robert Mann

Technically this is merely the computer-based lineage. The first known (as far as I know, maybe somebody else has another bit of info) social arts which lead toward the eventual design of make-believe/role-based entertainment were around in eastern or middle eastern cultures prior to 500 B.C. (Earliest I have seen with evidence was 700s B.C.)

I… find the idea that only the computer based portions are relevant to be rather off, but to each their own.

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Mewmew

The original MUD was not an MMORPG, it was a MORPG. There’s a distinction with that first M “massively” missing. Even when they did connect it to the Internet and outside their own systems I don’t think the second M would be added. I assume that it would take a lot more people to get that second M than they had playing in those early days.

I understand that there were text games with hundreds of people playing them at once by the late 80s from University, Library and Government connections most of the world didn’t know existed. But in the early 80s I thought the players and connections were fairly sparse and that second M wouldn’t come into being at that time.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

While the original MUD is no longer around, one if the latter versions is still running and playable. Don’t remember the URL off hand, but Google can find it.

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rafael12104

Good article Matt. Thanks!

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nomadmorlock9

I find it hard to believe that this didn’t happen all over the place around the same time.

Table top games like D&D were huge at the same time pc development was taking off. Seems like a natural progression. I know my friends and I were talking about this when our exciting Xmas presents were a TI994a with a voice synthesizer and TRS-80 Model III.

I think perhaps they just have better documentation.

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Paragon Lost

Good ole Trash 80. Ah the memories.

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rafael12104

Yeah. Amazing what we would put up with back then. Lol.

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Paragon Lost

Time to break out the cassette deck drive and play some Trek! ;)

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rafael12104

Right! It was a cassette! Heh.

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rafael12104

I was poking around computers a little before that time too. Me and my Commodore 64 and later Amiga. Great systems, btw, so far ahead of their time… And my circle of nerds was talking about it too. Parsers were all the rage and a multiplayer element seemed imminent.

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Paragon Lost

The Commodore Amiga is what made me fall in love with computers. What an awesome system years ahead of it’s time. (sigh) Until that system I just dealt with computers because they allowed me to do what I needed to do. Didn’t love them though until that system.

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Schmidt.Capela

IMHO, two reasons.

First, connectivity was too rare and expensive outside academia, so games exploring connected, shared worlds didn’t have any chance of commercial success, which is the reason the original “online” multiplayer games were developed as student projects and hosted in college systems.

Second, since the genre first appeared in academia, the first games — and, often, their source code — were shared far and wide, resulting in an absurdly rapid development speed that nonetheless can trace its roots to a single place.

On the other hand, the development of offline computer RPGs did indeed happen all over the place. In the US, for example, Richard Garriott had been developing computer RPGs since 1974, and first published one of them in 1979 (in a first run that mostly ended in failure, but paved the way for a very successful second run led by an actual publisher that sold over 30K copies, a huge number for the time).

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xpsync

Actually my theory is that it can be narrowed down to about 13.8 billion years ago when a big bang took place yet that’s not really what that little spec was which is thought to have exploded (really? from nothing, please), no, the big bang is really what we wonder is on the other side of a black hole, so after a unthinkable large massive star went supernova, here we are, so wasn’t really a “big bang” lol this is where we are the other side of a massive black hole, yes we are in a “black hole” if that’s what you want to call it.

Four decades ago? that seems crazy but yea.

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rafael12104

I just watched a documentary on black holes not too long ago. So, this makes a lot of sense to me. Heh.