The Game Archaeologist: Super-early versions of MMORPG websites

    
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The Game Archaeologist: Super-early versions of MMORPG websites

One of the absolute best things the internet ever generated has been the Internet Wayback Machine. Through this site, snapshots of millions of websites have been taken over the years to preserve them even if they went defunct or changed over time. It’s a massive boon to online historians, including me, who want to revisit older times or look up information that has since been taken offline elsewhere.

For a fun change of pace, today I wanted to take a look at super-early editions of various MMORPG websites to see what they looked like at the start of their journeys. Be warned: There’s a massive amount of nostalgia coming at you with this column, especially if you were around for the start of these titles back in the day.

Middle-earth Online (1998)

The fetal child who would eventually grow and be born as Lord of the Rings Online was officially announced via website back on September 22nd, 1998. While the pictures are broken on the Wayback Machine (as they often are), you can read fascinating glimpses of early development history, such as the making of the Shire and Bree, and see a mention of the 1999 studio move to Seattle that ultimately spelled disaster for the project.

Learn more about this fascinating chapter of Middle-earth history in a previous Game Archaeologist column and as part of the overall LOTRO timeline.

World of Warcraft (2001)

The earliest snapshot of World of Warcraft dates back to September 2001, a little over three years before the game even released. “Rich in legend and filled with adventure, the World of Warcraft awaits,” Blizzard posted. “For the first time, players experience the lands of Azeroth from a new, in-depth perspective. As heroes, they explore familiar battlefields, discover new lands and take on epic quests and challenges in Blizzard’s massively multiplayer, on-line, role-playing game.” Ooh, I got chills.

The website did launch chock-full of content, including screenshot galleries, a FAQ, a lore journal, forums, and gameplay videos. I wish I could go back in time and let all of the visitors know what a wait they’d be in for the game’s launch.

Star Wars Galaxies (2001)

Here’s another blast from the past: The November 2001 edition of Star Wars Galaxies’ website. “Welcome to the official site for Star Wars Galaxies,” SOE posted. “This LucasArts Entertainment Company and Sony Online Entertainment venture is set to launch in 2002 as a series of massively multiplayer online games. Thousands of people will participate in a virtual recreation of the Star Wars universe during the turbulent Galactic Civil War.”

Wait, a “series?” Indeed. In the game’s early FAQ, the team wrote, “We intend on releasing multiple titles under the Star Wars Galaxies line.” The Jedi section of the FAQ is also pretty interesting reading, especially considering what eventually happened with this class.

Guild Wars 2 (2010)

This is a much more recent entry for this list, but still, it’s closer to the beginning of Guild Wars 2’s march toward launch a couple of years later. There’s a lot more consistency in the format and style to what we have today, but it’s still pretty cool to go back and read those old one posts about the “Manifesto,” the Hall of Monuments, and the first trailer reveal back in August 2009.

Ultima Online (1997)

Hoo boy, this one is a trip, not just to an early look at a game, but a whole different era entirely. The Ultima Online site from days of yore contains references to Netscape, 16-bit color SVGA graphics, bulletin boards, and “under construction” notices.

There’s even a reference to the much-touted wildlife system: “Other elements of the game constantly evolve — a functioning virtual ecology drives monsters to roam in search of food if it’s scarce, and world events are inter-related through a closed economic system and limited resources.” That… did not work out as well as they had hoped.

Star Trek Online (2006)

Before there was Cryptic’s Star Trek Online, there was Perpetual’s vision of the game — a vision that can still be glimpsed through this early iteration of the website. I always liked the logo for this version, by the way.

Read MOP’s history of this doomed project and then scour the old website to learn more about STO’s Galaxy-class starships (“the truth is, in order to make this ship into a living, breathing, functioning MMO city, we needed to answer the questions the show didn’t”), space travel (“our design challenge was how to turn the empty space in-between destinations into an environment that is exciting and will capture notion of space exploration”), and combat (“we want players to really feel like they are living out scenes from an episode or movie”).

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.

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Alexus Yanova

Ohh, I don’t even remember WoW site looking like this, though I think I only started playing in last beta before it released.

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Minimalistway

It was a different era and i think the web was better back then, as for the Internet Archive, i donate to them whenever possible, the website is full of content, researching anything means using it, beside i use it to watch free movies.

Yangers
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Yangers

I am still waiting for Stargate Worlds:

http://web.archive.org/web/20060408154747/http://www.stargateworlds.com/

I still think this would have made, or would make, a great game.

It practically writes itself. Random ass worlds and exploration that basically would never end.

Oh well.

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Ironwu

I don’t understand it either. I am thinking the IP must be locked up tight by some entity that won’t let anything be done with it for some unfathomable reason. Or perhaps there are multiple entities involved and one or more of them won’t play ball with the others. Who knows. Would have made an astoundingly good lobby based multiplayer, or even a hybrid MMO. Oh well.

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Castagere Shaikura

I remember the game magazines with their Earth & Beyond spreads. Man those were the days. It was just so cool. Me and my friends were so hooked. And they release the character creation download tool so you could make characters and ship designs to import into the game when it was released.

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Jack Pipsam

I like the old WoW site, looked moody.

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Louie

I miss the old SWG/SOE website where they would feature really impressively decorated homes and player spotlights. I miss those and it’s a bummer they’re completely gone now.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

An Uncle of mine has these crazy old gaming magazines. Well, they seem crazy old to me anyway. They’re actually pretty interesting to poke through once and a while. The advertisements are hilarious as well :D

One I was looking at has an article before the original EverQuest was released when it was still in development. There were numerous things they wanted to add from the article that were never done.

I remember they talked about having people send them Guild Emblems to add to the game and being all excited about it, something that as far as I know didn’t happen. That does happen these days but is still fairly rare.

Also it’s funny to read them going gaga over the graphics and these simple things that weren’t so simple at the time.

Hmm I wonder if I could see if he still has those magazines if it would be legal to scan some of them or not. Those articles from when the graphical net was young have some interesting stuff in them.

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Michael18

Your uncle is a lucky man for sharing his gaming hobby with his niece!

I tried my best with my niece but it didn’t stick. At least she likes fantasy and sci-fi :)

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Michael18

Oh, and speaking of crazy old magazines. I’m not 100% sure, but this might have been the first issue of a gaming magazine I have ever called my own (still lying around in some box in the attic):

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Jim Bergevin Jr

There’s a site that used to have every issue of Computer Gaming World. Don’t know if you can still download the PDF files, but you can find it here: http://www.cgwmuseum.org/

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Jim Bergevin Jr

There is a site called Computer Gaming World Museum that scanned every issue of the magazine up to the point it became Games for Windows. It looks like you can still download the PDFs.

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Cymek

We are not “pre-determining” whether a character can become a Jedi or not. Also, being “hardcore” is not a qualifier used in becoming a Jedi. Our system is designed to allow the casual player, as well as the hardcore player, the opportunity to become a Jedi.

As far as I know, it was literally the worst grind in MMO history if you weren’t an early unlocker who only had to do like 6 professions. The profession grind unlock system was the laziest and easily most disappointing system I’ve seen for such a high profile feature.

JonBuck
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JonBuck

Way back when I found out that in order to become a Jedi I had to become a Hairdresser.

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Ironwu

I am surprised that Allakhazam was overlooked. And, EQTrader. While not officially the MMO’s websites, they were absolutely essential for anyone actually playing DAoC or EQ1. There were others, of course. But all the current MMO sites owe everything to these early, and very effective, sites. Oh, and EQMaps! How soon we forget.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

Yeah, not overlooked, just not studio websites for games.

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Michael18

But a great idea for a future Game Archaeologist article!

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Ironwu

Well, to be fair, while the article implied studio websites because that is all that were selected, what is actually stated is “MMORPG” websites. And certainly Allakhazam, EQTrader, and EQMaps were most certainly MMORPG websites as that is all they covered. :)

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Arktouros

My old Ultima Online guild actually “hacked” the Ultima Online OSI website. By “hacked” I of course mean they gave guild leaders access to the website FTP to upload guild information and never restricted access. So the guild leader replaced the UO logo with a picture of Lord British’s head on a pike and blood everywhere and a message letting people know we “wuz here.” They took it all in stride and no harm done. Kinda sad I didn’t save an article for it, cause only could find the search results below as a link.

As for the wildlife system, I’ve actually seen Garriot talk about that and basically it was the players fault. So like they balanced the system so wolves would prey on deer and so on and so forth but what would happen is players would come in and slaughter all the wolves so then too many deer would be spawned or players would kill all the deers and then too many wolves would spawn it was all a big mess.

However I’ll say that system set the potential for what I see possible in MMOs with things like the Cove Orc Fort spawn. The dynamic spawn event where the Cove Orc Fort would overflow and reach as far as Vesper along the coast basically set expectations that games simply have failed to ever meet since.

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