The Game Archaeologist: The Wonderful World of Eamon

    
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As we’ve long since established, 1980’s MUD1 was the official kick-off of the MMORPG genre, bringing online players together to adventure through persistent worlds for glory and glitter. But this text-based MMO didn’t exist in a vacuum; there were projects before and after that explored what this genre could be.

One of those projects came out during the same year as MUD1. As with Trubshaw and Bartle’s creation, this title too was a text-based RPG. The key difference was that this game wasn’t about bringing many players to a single world — but rather bringing many worlds to a single player.

This is the story of The Wonderful World of Eamon.

It’s always helpful to remember that as graphical MMOs spawned from text-based MMOs, text-based MMOs emerged from the popular trend of text-based adventure games of the ’70s and ’80s. One such admirer of these adventure games (and not just a bit of D&D gaming!) was a computer programmer named Donald Brown, who decided to take the concept a little further by creating a text role-playing game called The Wonderful World of Eamon for the Apple II during his time at Drake University.

The name? It was randomly chosen from a dictionary appendix.

Eamon introduced players to a generally upbeat fantasy realm where almost anything could happen. Brown said that the world could get unpredictable: “The ‘normal’ world of Eamon is a rough, bruising, swords-and-sorcery society where the standard job is fighting black knights and dragons. However, at times reality shifts and you may find yourself facing Billy the Kid or Darth Vader!”

Like adventure games, Eamon allowed players to move between “rooms” in the game world to observe and interact with items and characters. But Eamon also adopted RPG elements, such as combat, stats, weapons, magic, and gold to spend. The player’s character was also persistent, retaining progress and acquisitions between adventures (which wasn’t a feature you’d take for granted back then!).

Brown drummed up interest in Eamon with an article that he wrote for Recreational Computing in the summer of 1980. In it, he encouraged computing clubs to freely share the game among members.

The original version released for free to the public in 1980 contained eight adventures crafted by Brown — but he wasn’t content to stop there. In fact, the genius of Eamon was that it was designed to be completely modular. Brown intended for other creators to come up with their own adventures and add them to the program, passing them along to others afterward. So while Eamon began with just eight adventures, it soon snowballed as scores of additional quest chains were incorporated into its world.

With this design, players who had no access to a modem could still encounter the works of other players. The best of these shareware adventures became “official” mods to the game, incorporated with the latest build of the ever-growing client. While the first adventure was written in late 1979, additional stories were designed over the next four decades! In fact, the latest adventure, Malleus Maleficarum, is the game’s 277th official module and was added back in April of 2020.

Eamon’s existence on the Apple II limited it from a broader release in the early ’80s, a situation that changed in 1985 when someone created a PC version. A growing community of gamers banded together with newsletters and clubs, all while other versions of the game were adapted to different operating systems and platforms.

While Eamon isn’t an MMO, it’s an early example of how games were starting to trend in that direction. The title’s persistent progress, desire to provide a way to connect remote players, and its inclusion of player-created content are all hallmarks of modern MMO design.

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to 2004! 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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Peregrine Falcon

Wow I love seeing this here! I played quite a few Eamon adventures as a kid on the family’s Apple IIe . Glad to see it remembered here.