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The Game Archaeologist

The Game Archaeologist: Six more MMOs that never made it to launch

Culture, Events (Real-World), MMO Industry, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

valve
It's always possible to be surprised with reveals of older MMOs, even after years of writing this column. For example, I had never heard that Valve was initially working on an MMO called Prospero in the late '90s before we posted on it a couple of weeks ago. It's crazy to me that parts of what could have been a groundbreaking online title were then repurposed for Half-Life and Portal. It's not necessarily bad how things turned out, mind you, but I do get lost wondering what might have been.

From time to time here on The Game Archaeologist, I like to turn our attention to MMOs-that-never-were: titles that died before launch thanks to funding shortfalls, studio collapses, or corporate bungling. We've covered titles like Wish, Ultima X, and Middle-earth Online, but today I want to catch up on several titles that have been haunting my list for a while now. So strap in as you get a six-pack of MMOs that were never released!

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The Game Archaeologist: Kingdom of Drakkar

Fantasy, Business Models, Culture, Game Mechanics, Interviews, MMO Industry, Free-to-Play, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

drakkar
You'd think that by now I would be running out of older MMOs and their kin to cover, but I just keep discovering more. Some of those discoveries are helped by Massively readers, who have urged me from time to time to investigate certain games. One such commenter, Space Cobra, has been after me for quite a while (as in years) to do a write-up about Kingdom of Drakkar, and I finally caved. Here you go, good buddy!

Kingdom of Drakkar, also known as Drakkar or Kingdom of Drakkar II, is a really odd duck in the MMO history books. While being very small potatoes for the industry as a whole throughout its entire lifespan, it's notable for an extraordinary long run (it began in the 1980s, people!) that's traversed through several format changes and handlers. I've seen it described, somewhat unkindly, as a "shoddier Ultima Online," but I think that is a surface judgment that doesn't take the effort to get to know the game or its legacy. There must be something to this game if it's been around for three decades, yes? Let's find out!

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The Game Archaeologist: World War II Online

Historical, MMO Industry, Opinion, MMOFPS, The Game Archaeologist

ww2 online
The 1990s saw the rise of flight simulators that thrived on detailed, complicated controls and handling. Such games threw out accessibility and casual-friendliness for stark-raving realism, and a certain subset of gamers really thrived on them. I tried my hand at a couple and found myself breathing rapidly when pouring through keyboard charts and doing basic algebra just to get a plane off of the ground. Not for me, I said then.

I don't think there's ever stopped being absurdly complex video games that aim for immersion through detailed realism, even though that appeals to only the fringe of the fringe. Some people have their gaming standards set exactly that high and no lower, and some devs refuse to water down their visions just to sell more box units. For these people, Cornered Rat Software (CRS) created World War II Online, an overly ambitious MMOFPS that stumbled out of the gate in 2001 but has gamely soldiered on since then. Over a decade now an epic war has been raging for control over a continent, and it's been up to the fiercely loyal fans to keep the fight going.

Today we're going to take a look at the guts 'n' glory of this project to both praise its complexity and curse it for the same thing. If nothing else, it was a game that could only have arisen from the early landscape of 3-D MMOs, and for that it warrants our attention.

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The Game Archaeologist: Tales from Neverwinter Nights' Arelith

Fantasy, Culture, Interviews, Free-to-Play, The Game Archaeologist

NWN
Back in May, I touched on the fascinating field of Neverwinter Nights' persistent worlds (PWs). I never expected it to draw so much attention, least of all from the folks still running these communities. But it did, and I was contacted by one of the player developers of Arelith, Mark "Artos" Friebus.

Artos and his colleagues wanted to share more about the history and makeup of this 12-year-old server and why, in 2014, they're still as crazy about doing it as ever. If you want an insider's point of view as to what goes on in a persistent world -- and perhaps are open to be tempted to roll a character on one of them -- then stay tuned for the fascinating tale of Arelith.

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The Game Archaeologist: The persistent worlds of Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2

Fantasy, Culture, Free-to-Play, The Game Archaeologist, Player-Generated Content

NWN
At the end of next month, dozens of online worlds will flicker and vanish with the flip of a switch. It's a online apocalypse the likes of which we have not seen in quite some time, although you might be forgiven for not having heard of it before now.

When GameSpy Technology goes offline on May 31st, dozens of EA games that relied on the platform for multiplayer functionality will lose their online components by June 30th. Because of this, Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 will find that their persistent player-made and -run worlds are in danger. For over a decade now, players have poured creative energies and roleplaying enthusiasm into these micro-MMOs. Could an era be about to end?

Fortunately, players are already swinging into action to work around the shutdown, keeping their worlds alive and detached from GameSpy's umbilical cord. I see this event as a wake-up call for people like yours truly who are acquainted primarily with BioWare and Obsidian's single-player offerings and are ignorant of the larger Neverwinter Nights community out there. Let's take a look at this engrossing online realm and how it came to be.

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The Game Archaeologist: The silent world of Tibia

Fantasy, MMO Industry, Free-to-Play, The Game Archaeologist

If I were to tell you that there's a Western MMO out there that's as old as Ultima Online and yet still has a half-million players, would you believe me? Heck, I wouldn't believe me even if I came back from the future of having written this article to talk to the past version of me who had yet to start it! But that's Tibia for you: a weird underdog of an MMO that's cruised underneath most players' radars for over a decade and a half.

From its origins as a student project, Tibia jumped in the unexplored waters of the early MMO era and dog paddled for all its worth. This 17-year-old title remains one of the very few active MMOs from the '90s and one of only a handful that stubbornly stuck to a 2-D graphics format even as 3-D swept the gaming genre. And trust me, those aren't even the most interesting facts about it!

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The Game Archaeologist: The danger of expecting lightning to strike twice

City of Heroes, Opinion, Champions Online, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous, Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen, Shroud of the Avatar, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen

It's no secret that many of the more successful Kickstarter projects over the past few years have heavily capitalized on player nostalgia, brand names, and former dev gods who are back for another round. The formula for drawing in the big bucks seems to be the following: Take something players hugely loved back in the day, dangle the concept of a sequel (spiritual or otherwise), and promise some measure of iterative improvement.

I once wrote about how we really can't go back again to recreate a particular game experience because it was usually a confluence of several factors that were related to where the industry was then and where you were then. I'm not saying that there isn't value to retro gaming, playing classic MMOs, or involving the past in future development! But there is a danger in how we as gamers become so beholden to our nostalgia that we dare lightning to strike twice -- and we're paying big bucks to see that happen.

But can we? Will it?

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The Game Archaeologist: Myst Online: Uru Live

Fantasy, Free-to-Play, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

Myst Online
The impact of Myst in 1993 was akin to an atomic bomb going off in the PC gaming world. The leap forward in graphical fidelity (aided by the large storage capacity of a CD-ROM and all of the full-motion video and gorgeous images tucked into it) captured gamers' imaginations and made this adventure title the best-selling PC game of all time, at least for several years. Brothers Robyn and Rand Miller's story about a stranger who had to solve puzzles through a good-looking (if deserted) landscape was devilishly difficult, yet that challenge kept players coming back for months and even years.

The Myst franchise surged forward at that point, with several sequels, remakes, and ports selling like hotcakes through the final game's release in 2005. Yet something interesting happened along the way when an offshoot of the series -- Uru: Ages Beyond Myst -- evolved into an MMO. With a focus on multiplayer exploration and puzzle-solving instead of non-stop combat, it may be one of the very few MMOs out there that eschews fighting for brainpower.

It's an oddity, no doubt, and despite it being an incredibly niche title, it has fascinated me enough to pull me into a research rabbit hole. So let's take a look at Myst Online: Uru Live!

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The Game Archaeologist: Ultima Online field report

Fantasy, Interviews, Opinion, Ultima Online, The Game Archaeologist, Subscription

UO
A recent Daily Grind here on Massively asked about what games readers think deserve more coverage on the site. That's a loaded question, of course, but the answers were still very interesting to me, especially the desire from some of you to read more about older games.

Even though I've looked at the history and development of classic MMOs, I don't often know what's going on inside of them right now. With insular communities and a dearth of news being put forth by the studio, the only way that I can think of to find out the real skinny is to ask those who do still love and play these games regularly.

So that's when the idea for a "field report" series on Game Archaeologist came forth. Every so often I'm going to track down players of classic MMOs and see what's happening in them and their communities from these first-hand perspectives. Today we've got Dimitri and Common Sense from Ultima Online, who graciously took the time to answer my questions.

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The Game Archaeologist: The care and feeding of older MMOs

Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest, Guild Wars, Meridian 59, MMO Industry, Opinion, Ultima Online, Vanguard, Free Realms, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous, Sunsets

When an MMO has reached a certain age and dwindled to a certain player population, what do you do with it? Do you put it out to pasture, nurture it, or put it down?

With some of our older graphical MMOs approaching their 20th anniversaries, the question of what studios should do with aging titles is becoming very important. It's not just important for the games in question but as a precedent to the population of games that will one day become just as old.

Lately we've seen different studios act on this topic in a wide variety of ways, all of which I find fascinating. Some of these games have seen tragic ends, while others may be entering into the enjoyable golden years. If nothing else, it's shown me that there isn't just one set answer for this and that some devs are hoping to do the right thing by their companies and their players.

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The Game Archaeologist: Is Turbine working on Asheron's Call 3?

Fantasy, Asheron's Call, Opinion, The Game Archaeologist

Asheron's Call
If you look at the list of major MMO studios, it seems as though many of them have something new in the works or recently launched a title. Sequels and sandboxes are the trendy topics of the time, garnering attention and enthusiasm from the community.

And then there's Turbine. As a fan of the "powered by fans" studio and an avid player of Lord of the Rings Online, I have always kept my eye on these Bostonians. While Turbine helped lead the charge on free-to-play adaptations and has kept DDO and LotRO hopping with expansions, its last major MMO launch was 2008. The only known new game that's in the works over there is the Infinite Crisis MOBA.

Or is it? What if there's another project that's being kept on the down-low, one that could be a comeback attempt to propel Turbine back into the community spotlight? What if Turbine is working on Asheron's Call 3? I have scant proof that this is so but plenty of suspicion and speculation as to why it may be the case. Plus, the possibility stirs the imagination.

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The Game Archaeologist: The rise, fall, and rescue of Vanguard

Fantasy, MMO Industry, Vanguard, Free-to-Play, The Game Archaeologist

Vanguard
I have been wanting to do an article on the whole saga (small pun intended) of Vanguard for some time, and now that Brad McQuaid has returned with plans to make what appears to be a very similar game, I need no more prompting to do it.

The significance of Vanguard's development, release, ongoing drama, and its recent mild renaissance is of great interest not just to game historians but to everyone who plays MMOs, period. What happened with this game caused a huge fallout in the industry, and we are still feeling some of its effects even today. As our own Bree put it in her blog, "Vanguard's implosion was a big deal at the time and marked the beginning of the post-WoW destruction of the industry that hobbled Age of Conan and Warhammer Online a few years later."

While the crash and burn of Vanguard was a very well-known tale several years ago, I'm wondering if in 2014 there might be many who are quite unfamiliar with what happened to this unassuming SOE game eight years ago. Let me put on my old fogey glasses and we shall begin!

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The Game Archaeologist: A brief history of roguelikes

Fantasy, MMO Industry, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous, Diablo III

Rogue
As with adventure games, it appears as though the mobile market has triggered a resurgence in the popularity of roguelikes with both developers and players. I've been stumbling over them left and right for a while now (I'm quite fond of FTL, which takes the roguelike into space), and every time I can't help but think of how this genre is almost the antithesis of an MMO.

Instead of persistent worlds rich in lore, roguelikes favor randomized dungeon crawls with little or no story. Instead of immortal characters that grow with a player over months and years, roguelikes feature permadeath around every corner. Yet there's love for both in many gamers' hearts and perhaps even a few similarities that help to transcend differences.

I find roguelikes fascinating because they are so hardcore, they yank me out of my comfy little leveling bubble, and they force me to use my brains for something more than figuring out whether it's time to use the "2" key once more. So what the heck, let's take a quick trip through roguelikes this week and see where -- if at all -- they connect with MMOs.

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The Game Archaeologist: Four efforts to preserve dead MMOs

Galleries, Video, EverQuest, MMO Industry, Warhammer Online, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

WAR
As I type this, we are now living in a post-Warhammer Online world. You can probably tell by all of the rampant looting, devastating earthquakes, and heart-rending sobs coming from your neighbors' homes. For me, it's a strange thought that this game simply isn't there at all any more -- and there's no way to go back and play it, ever.

Or is there?

When it comes to MMO sunsets, there are varying degrees of death. Sometimes a closure isn't as final and complete as we might assume, and between the passion of developers and those of fans, we're able to revisit these games long after their expiration date. For a writer who is keenly interested in preserving MMO history, these efforts are of great interest.

So today we're going to look at four ways that people are trying their hardest to preserve dead MMOs -- and even let you play them once more. And I'm going to write about this without using the forbidden "E" word, too!

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The Game Archaeologist: Revisiting the BBS

Video, Culture, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

TGA
Back in 2010 (2010, really? Wow.) I gave a broad overview of the history and importance of the BBS -- the bulletin board system. BBSes were a sort-of proto-internet, a homebrew networking solution that allowed users to connect online (via phone lines and low-baud modems) to chat, share ideas, and play lots of games. In fact, it's just impossible to think of BBSes without these multiplayer games that ranged from fantasy dungeon crawlers to cutthroat capitalism in space.

Today I'd like to revisit this topic by inviting you to get to know bulletin board systems in a new light. I'm going to share my own experiences with BBSes in the early '90s, a documentary on them that I found fascinating, and a game you can play today to get an eerily accurate feeling of what dialing up BBSes back then felt like.

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