If viewed from a certain perspective, it could be assumed that Wolverine was the cause of trouble that he ran into. Trouble seems to follow him like murder followed Jessica Fletcher. This is the way I’m starting to feel about my character in Elder Scrolls Online. Everywhere he goes, trouble and death seem to follow. In fact, with as many people who have died around my character in ESO, I’m surprised that there is anyone left on the continent of Tamriel at all.
MUD stands for “multi-user dungeon.” MUDs are typically characterized as text-based proto-MMORPGs.
Most studios would be overjoyed to have pioneered one significant advancement in video game history, but then again, most studios aren’t Kesmai. While it’s not a household name today, it’s reasonable to say that without the heavy lifting and backbreaking coding that this company shouldered in the ’80s and ’90s, the MMO genre would’ve turned out very different indeed.
Previously in this space, we met two enterprising designers named Kelton Flinn and John Taylor who recognized that multiplayer was the name of the future and put their careers on the line to see an idea through to completion. That idea was Island of Kesmai, an ancestor of the modern MMO that used crude ASCII graphics and CompuServe’s network to provide an interactive, cooperative online roleplaying experience. It wasn’t the first MMO, but it was the first one published commercially, and sometimes that makes all the difference.
Flinn and Taylor’s Kesmai didn’t stop with being the first to bring MMOs to the big time, however. Flush with cash and success, Kesmai turned its attention to the next big multiplayer challenge: 3-D graphics and real-time combat. Unlike the fantasy land of Island of Kesmai, this title would take to the skies in aerial dogfighting and prove even more popular than the team’s previous project.
The release of Raph Koster’s monster book of game essays, Postmortems, was of high interest to Bree and me for different reasons. For her, it was because Koster was a creative driving force behind two of her favorite games, Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. For me, it’d because Koster shares my passion for MMO history and has some unique stories touching on topics that no one has heard before.
So I combed through his collection of essays to see what I could find out on two topics of interest to me: MUDs and the elusive Privateer Online. Chances are that many of you reading have never touched a text-based multi-user dungeon, and none of us save Koster and his coworkers, ever got to even peek at Privateer Online.
Here’s a few quotes that popped out at me, and if you’re interested and have $35 to drop on a Kindle version, you can read Koster’s full collection of essays in Postmortems.
You just couldn’t resist the bunny post, could you? The bunnies were there and your mind goes, “Aww, fluffy little hoppity hoppers!” and now you’re reading a post on Chronicles of Elyria. No, no, don’t leave, you might as well finish it while you’re here.
Anyway, the world of Chronicles of Elyria is coming together as the team prepares for the pre-alpha test. First up for this month’s efforts was getting the chat interface working for the VoxElyria client. “Chat in Chronicles of Elyria is a more complex beast than you might find in your typical MMO,” said the team.
The developers also worked on creating a stable and well-performing hardware platform and fleshing out the world with those adorable bunnies, shrubberies, oxen, and various bits of lore.
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.
Raph Koster is certainly a well-known name in the MMORPG industry who has spent his career working on titles such as Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Metaplace, and Crowfall. But did you know that he is also a prolific writer as well? Koster has posted many intriguing behind-the-scenes and industry discussion essays on his blog, and now he’s compiled those and many other new ones for a book that he’s titled Postmortems: Selected Essays Volume One.
Postmortems is due out later this June, and it contains plenty of stories that should intrigue fans and historical buffs of the MMO genre. “It’s not a memoir or tell-all; the focus is on game design and game history,” Koster said. “There’s still nowhere near enough material out there in print covering things like the history and evolution of online worlds (MUDs especially), in-depth dives into decisions made in games by the people who made them, and detailed breakdowns of how they worked.”
Debuting in 1996, The Realm Online (or, as it is sometimes shortened, The Realm) became one of the first online RPGs to overlay graphics on top of its MUD core. The game’s flat 2-D graphics were simplistic, even for the time, but the novelty of the massively multiplayer environment sparked enough curiosity among players to keep it populated and running for 22 years now.
It’s no secret that The Realm has fallen into near-obscurity, particularly with the current owners performing little in the way of development or promotion. Emerging from the emulator scene, Jordan Neville and a group of fellow IT geeks took it upon themselves to help The Realm experience the rebirth that it sorely needed.
This is coming to a head with June’s re-launch of The Realm Online, a new and improved version of the classic MMORPG that will run in parallel with the older and largely abandoned edition. We sat down with Neville to talk about the challenges and delights of giving The Realm another shot at life — and why you may want to check it out for yourself.
When it comes to notable years in the MMORPG genre’s history, 2008 stands out as one of the most significant. World of Warcraft’s debut onto the scene in 2004 caused an upheaval in ways far too numerous to go into detail here. Suffice to say that its overwhelming popularity drew the attention of game designers who looked at the staggering numbers of players and found themselves envious of the potential to grab a slice of that money pie.
Many projects went into high gear following WoW’s launch, with plenty of them trying to copy the formula and structure that Blizzard established in the hopes of making it at least partially as big as that game. So-called WoW clones began to pepper the market and there was a sense that gamers were ready to move on from World of Warcraft to the next generation of MMOs. In many players’ minds, this would be either 2008’s Age of Conan or Warhammer Online, two big-budget MMOs with strong IPs that carried a lot of the weight of expectation.
Little did anyone realize that 2008 represented a bubble that was about to burst on the industry and the WoW clones that followed — including Warhammer Online. Today, we’re going to take a look at “bears, bears, bears,” the high hopes of Mythic Entertainment, and how WAR became a casaulty on its own battlefield.
Here is some exciting news for Chronicles of Elyria’s fans: The project is nearing its first alpha phase as the dev team lays down the foundation for VoxElyria. This will be the graphical MUD that will allow players to test the MMO’s systems with very basic graphics.
The team worked up a new blog post to talk about the various tasks that it is undertaking to get the game ready for 0.5.0. These tasks include developing proximity chat, working up a voting system for maps, procedurally generating the world, and figuring out a lot of the behind-the-scenes technical issues to make the gameplay smooth.
“With the impending pre-alpha release, Chronicles of Elyria will finally be growing up,” a Soulbound Studios dev said. “We’re going to be transitioning from having dozens of players able to be in the world at once … to thousands! To ensure that we’re able to scale effectively, I will be working more on our scalability, load balancing, and other platform solutions to make sure we’re ready to go.”
Massively OP reader Steve wants us to revisit the Daily Grind on making death more meaningful without making it more annoying. His letter was long, so let me paraphrase a bit:
“It feels to me like underlying point was, ‘MMOs are too easy, so how do we make them harder?’ The question of video game difficulty is something that is seldom ever tackled head-on, as it tends to draw out a somewhat vocal minority. There are so many worthy topics about how people define difficulty, twitch skills vs. depth, easy vs. hard, difficulty vs. accessibility, easy vs. engaging, shallowness vs. depth, and so on. These are things I’d love to really see discussed more online, and very few sites will actually touch it. But I think that MOP’s community is overall mature enough to actually have some discussions about this without it devolving into a fist fight.”
I’m sure you’ll prove him right! Right, guys? Guys? So let’s talk about MMO difficulty in this week’s Massively Overthinking. What do we really mean when we talk about “difficulty” in MMORPGs? Are games easier than they used to be, and if so, is there something studios should do to change that?
We’ve all been there. We’re playing our favorite MMORPG and then self-appointed professors of game history start arguing in world chat about firsts — usually, which MMO was considered to be the “first.”
As much as we all like to feel and be right about something, the truth is that history is messy and often ill-defined, even history as recent as that of video games. If you go looking for clear-cut facts and definitions, you might end up with an assortment of maybes, possiblys, and who knowses.
So when it comes to “firsts” in MMOs, there’s a lot of debate over, well, pretty much everything. One thing that I have noticed while covering The Game Archaeologist for many years now is that studios do love claiming to be first in various aspects. Whether or not these firsts are legitimate or can be challenged is debatable, but I thought it would be interesting to compile these claims into a list for your enjoyment and future world chat arguments.
Back in the ancient era of 2016, we pointed you toward a 14-year-old text-based MMORPG called Torn (formerly Torn City). The title gave players the opportunity to be virtual thugs engaging in a life of glamorous crime.
The browser game is surprisingly popular for a text-based MMO, with over 20,000 users logging in each day and a total player count of two million. That count should go up when Torn arrives on Android devices next month.
The cross-platform MMO will launch on Android May 8th. Maybe this will lure you in to the racket: “In Torn, you’ll rise through the ranks of Torn City’s criminal underworld as you form alliances with players worldwide, trade for better resources and take part in a wealth of gang-related activities, such as heists and robberies.”
Once asked what he thought was the most innovative MMO from the last decade, Dr. Richard Bartle, the creator of MUD, gave a succinct answer: “A Tale in the Desert. Note that ‘innovative’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘successful.'”
Right there is the crux of A Tale in the Desert’s unique position in the MMO industry. Instead of storming down a path well-traveled, it took a machete and made its own trail — a trail down which few have followed. It is an “odd duck” of a game, skewing as far away from combat as possible to focus instead on crafting and politics. Even though its focus pegged it as an eternally niche game, the MMO proved that constant fighting isn’t the only thing that can draw an online community together.