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Meridian 59

Perfect Ten: MMOs from the '90s

Fantasy, Asheron's Call, EverQuest, Lineage, Meridian 59, Opinion, Ultima Online, Perfect Ten, Miscellaneous

saved by the bell
The course of MMO history and the developer pioneers who forged a path to online gaming have long fascinated me (so much so that I write an occasional column about it). While we often think of MMOs as modern entertainment barely out of its infancy, the truth is that you can trace the industry back decades to see a fringe group of devs and players striving to make these games a reality.

While the number of MMOs in existence exploded in the early- and mid-2000s (and hasn't stopped growing since), the 1990s are often an overlooked decade that featured more than the one or two games that are usually mentioned in brief history overviews. There were actually far more titles than most assume, even if you dismiss text-based MUDs and the like. Today we're going to run down 10 MMOs that were born during the era of the dot-com revolution, dial-up modems, and the peak of the Simpsons (third through seventh seasons).

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Yes, people still play Meridian 59

Fantasy, Meridian 59, Interviews

Meridian 59
Meridian 59 may not enjoy the population numbers it did almost 20 years ago, but there are still a handful of dedicated players playing every day.

A recent article at The New Yorker takes a more personal look at a few of these remaining players. "I've tried to leave the game many times over the years," admits Tim Trude, a 33-year-old player from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Tim first started playing the MMO at the age of 15. "But I always return. Some of these people I've grown up with. We have been enemies or friends forever."

The article goes on to quote other players and document a brief history of the game's development, including the source code release in 2012. Meridian 59 is looking to launch on Steam sometime this year, and its current code-maintainer is looking forward to the possibility of bringing in new players once again.

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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Jukebox Heroes: Meridian 59's soundtrack

Fantasy, Meridian 59, Culture, Opinion, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Meridian 59
There's a lot of general distaste and dislike out there for video game music that comes in MIDI or chipset form. Many gamers have simply never really experienced eras when the sound for computers and consoles were limited in such ways, so to go back to listen to them seems downright painful. For MMO players, there are only a handful of games that came out during the MIDI era, and pretty much all of them have since updated to MP3 versions.

Yet I have a fondness for older-style game music. I agree with what Ryan Shwayder once wrote when he said, "I think MIDI composers had to become masters of capturing the real core or heart of what made a song feel right. They had to take a minimalist approach to the song because they had a limited number of channels and potential sounds to work with. And it is my belief that some of the best creative works come out when an artist has to work within constraints."

That said, most of Meridian 59's soundtrack out there is of the remastered variety, so that's what we'll be listening to today. By the way, the original soundtrack by Composer Gene M. Rozenberg is available on the official website for free!

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The Game Archaeologist's top MMO stories of 2012

World of Warcraft, Anarchy Online, Asheron's Call, City of Heroes, EverQuest, Final Fantasy XI, Meridian 59, Culture, MMO Industry, Ultima Online, Vanguard, Shadowbane, Everquest Online Adventures, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

The Game Archaeologist seals up 2012
As another gaming year spins to a close, we here at the Institute for Digital Interactive Entertainment have been holding our archaeological department hostage with a trained buffy-tufted marmoset until it delivered a final report. After hours of begging and infected monkey bites, the head of that department, Prof. Justin Olivetti, Ph.D., handed us a scrap of urine-soaked paper with the following article inscribed.

While the Institute strongly suggests that you ignore this report and instead work on your button-mashing exercises, the board of directors stated that all such papers must be posted for the public to see.

This report is presented in the Yetbari typeface and contains a sequential series of items that number between 11 and 13.

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The Guild Counsel: How reader replies identify larger issues in MMOs

Polls, EverQuest, Meridian 59, Guilds, MMO Industry, Opinion, The Guild Counsel, Miscellaneous

The Guild Counsel  How reader replies identify larger issues in MMOs
Each week in The Guild Counsel column, I try to take a common issue or newsworthy topic that's related to online communities and look at it in depth. Often, the reader discussion that follows has led to some very valuable insight into guild leadership and has even spawned new topics for columns.

This week, I'd like to look at three noteworthy topics that have often popped up among reader comments: nostalgia in MMOs, the clash between "the brotherhood" and "the game," and why guild leadership often feels like a thankless task. Let's look at a few reader responses to these topics and consider the larger issues with MMOs and guild leadership today.

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Meridian 59 player teases 3-D client

Fantasy, Video, Meridian 59, Culture, Free-to-Play

Meridian 59 players revamp open source title
Now that Meridian 59 is available to anyone to tinker with as an open source project, we've been curious what the playerbase might do with this granddaddy of MMOs. One enterprising soul has started the Meridian 59: Community Client Project to bring the title fully into the realm of 3-D.

In a brief video, the possibility for a 3-D Meridian 59 is teased with some basic landscape rendering and strategically placed bushes and trees. While the author admits that it's still crude and in the beginning stages, it's tantalizing to think about this 2.5-D title finally breaking through to the third dimension.

Of course, purists don't have to worry that their game is under attack, as the production servers for the classic Meridian 59 experience are still alive and kicking. You can check out the community project video after the jump.

[Thanks to Dennis for the tip!]

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The Guild Counsel: Damion Schubert remembers Meridian 59 at GDC

Meridian 59, Guilds, Events (Massively's Coverage), The Guild Counsel, Miscellaneous

The Guild Counsel  Damion Schubert remembers Meridian 59 at GDC
Last week was the final GDC Online, as the yearly convention moves out to Los Angeles next year under the new name GDC Next. Coincidentally, developers gave several postmortem talks about some of the classic MMOs of years ago. Among those was Meridian 59, and BioWare's Damion Schubert took us back in time to look at what it was like as the game prepped for launch and the first few years. What stands out are the incredible stories that came from player interaction and guild rivalries. Whether you're long-time fan or someone who wasn't even born yet when those early games emerged, this trip through the time machine is definitely worth a look!

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GDC Online 2012: SWTOR's Damion Schubert dissects story as a mechanic

Sci-Fi, Meridian 59, Events (Real-World), Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Endgame, Opinion, Shadowbane, Free-to-Play, Events (Massively's Coverage), Star Wars: The Old Republic

BioWare's Damion Schubert at GDC
Damion Schubert remains a well-respected member of the online development community. He can tell tales of his time working on Meridian 59 and Shadowbane. His latest project allowed him to build many of the integral systems of Star Wars: The Old Republic, arguably his most successful work to date. He also writes regularly for Game Developer Magazine and speaks at GDC Online and many other game development conferences nearly every year. When it comes to developers who have shaped mulitiplayer online games, Schubert is one of the originals.

At the Game Developers Conference in Austin, Texas, this week, Schubert spent an hour explaining the thought process and development woes of taking an element like BioWare storytelling and making it work in a massively multiplayer setting. This being the first GDC Online since the launch of SWTOR, Schubert spoke frankly and openly about many of the struggles his team had to overcome to make the gaming systems work. Some of the ideas worked out well; others, not so well.

As an avid player of SWTOR, I saw new light. As I listened to Schubert speak, I began to understand why many players are frustrated with elements of the existing game. I also began to understand that if some of the systems and thought processes has been changed early on, players might have received the game better. That said, I also believe that Schubert's team prevented a lot of issues that could have popped up had certain elements been implemented in the way they were originally conceived.

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Schubert to dissect Meridian 59 at GDC Online [Updated]

Fantasy, Meridian 59, Events (Real-World), Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, News Items

Schubert to dissect Meridian 59 at GDC Online
Those darn GDC organizers! They're still using the term postmortem for games that are very much alive. In this case it's Meridian 59, and former lead designer Damion Schubert will take the stage at GDC Online 2012 for a special Classic Game Postmortem lecture focused on the 1996 title.

A GDC press release says that Meridian 59 was the first MMO to charge a monthly fee and use 3-D graphics and that it "began an era that set the stage for the MMORPG genre as we know it." Schubert went on to work on titles including Shadowbane, The Sims Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

[Source: GDC press release]

[Update: Reader Scotty also tipped us off to the fact that M59 is slated to go open source.]

The Game Archaeologist seals up 2011

A Tale in the Desert, Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest, Lineage, Meridian 59, PlanetSide, Shadowbane, Everquest Online Adventures, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

Guild Wars 2
You know what I love about the end of each year? The lists. Man, but I'm a sucker for lists, especially when they come in "best of" varieties. In the lull between Christmas and New Year's, there typically isn't a lot happening in the world of entertainment, so it's a good time to look back before we head forward.

And so it is for The Game Archaeologist. 2011 marks the second year I've been doing this column, and it's been one of my personal favorite series to write. Every week I'm learning more and more about the history of the MMO genre, and I'm encouraged to see just how much passion and interest there are for the titles that started it all and got us to where we are today.

So before we head into 2012, let's take one last glimpse back at the road we've traveled. If you've missed out on any of these columns or want to revisit your favorite classic MMO, I've compiled a huge list of everything I talked about this year, from histories to interviews to player stories. There's also a special request for you (yes, you) at the end of this column, so do me a favor and hit that jump!

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The Game Archaeologist crosses Meridian 59: A chat with Brian Green (part 2)

Fantasy, Meridian 59, Interviews, MMO Industry, Free-to-Play, The Game Archaeologist

Welcome to the second part of our interview with former Meridian 59 developer Brian "Psychochild" Green as he reminisces about running one of the oldest graphical MMOs in history. If you missed the first part, I heartily recommend you catch up on it before continuing further.

And now, for the exciting conclusion...

The Game Archaeologist: What's one of your favorite stories from your experience running Meridian 59?

Brian Green: One time I was at Dave & Busters restaurant one evening after a day at the Game Developer's Conference (GDC). I was chatting with Raph Koster about the conference, when from behind us someone says, "Oh my god, are you Psychochild?!?" Raph, who has always been more high profile than I am, gives a grin and leaves. Turns out they were fans of the game and bought me a drink as thanks.

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The Game Archaeologist crosses Meridian 59: An interview with Brian Green (part 1)

Fantasy, Meridian 59, Culture, Interviews, MMO Industry, Free-to-Play, The Game Archaeologist

Meridian 59
Last week we began to examine one of the most significant MMOs in history: Meridian 59. While it never rose to the level of fame and subscriber numbers as its successors did, Meridian 59 was a daring pioneer that paved the way for all that followed. Its story is almost like a movie, with the title born from the fruits of two amateur programmers, surviving studio shutdowns and huge competition, and persevering from 1996 through today.

As I'll recount over the next two episodes of The Game Archaeologist, I sat down with Brian Green, a blogger and game developer who oversaw the resurrection of Meridian 59 in the early 2000s and ran it for the better part of a decade. Green graciously agreed to participate, saying that he always loves talking about games -- and this one in particular.

The Game Archaeologist: Hi! Please introduce yourself and your current position and project.

Brian Green: I'm Brian "Psychochild" Green, a long-time MMO designer and programmer. I'm known for my professional blog and my work on Meridian 59. I'm currently working on the Storybricks project as the MMO Wizard. We're a startup, so that means I do whatever needs to be done at the moment.

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The Game Archaeologist crosses Meridian 59: The highlights

Fantasy, Meridian 59, MMO Industry, Free-to-Play, The Game Archaeologist

Meridian 59
A colony founded through a magical nexus, Meridian 59 had it all going on -- until, that is, the portal to the colony collapsed and it was left to fend for itself. Monsters swarmed over the land, politics split the community into factions, and adventurers were called to rise up and become the heroes that were desperately needed. And all it took was $10.95 a month and an internet connection.

Welcome to 1996 and one of the very first -- if not the first (more on that later) -- graphical MMOs to hit the scene. Meridian 59 may not have been one of the biggest games in the genre, but it was arguably one of the most important, the John Adams to World of Warcraft's Abraham Lincoln. If you were wondering, Darkfall was Chester A. Arthur.

It seems fitting to end 2011 by touching upon this significant title that, against all odds, continues to operate today. Meridian 59 weathered studio shutdowns, newbie developers in every sense of the word, and a world that wasn't quite sure what to make of these fancy-schmancy massively interactive roleplaying games. MIRGs! Oh, that would've been such a better acronym, but I digress. Let's set the wayback machine to 1978 to see how one amateur game led to another that led to the birth of an industry.

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Near Death Studios closes down

Fantasy, Meridian 59, MMO Industry, News Items

If 2009 hadn't claimed quite enough lives for your tastes quite yet -- in terms of companies, jobs, and games -- you might have a bit of a morbid approach to things. We're just over the border into the new year, but it looks like there was one last item on the chopping block. Near Death Studios, the team behind Meridian 59, is no longer simply "near" death, but over the line into pining for the fjords. Brian 'Psychochild' Green broke the news on his blog yesterday, announcing that while the game wouldn't be going anywhere, it would no longer be a commercial venture run by the now-defunct company.

So what went wrong? As Green puts it, while Near Death Studios was able to raise the money and the operational talent to get the game running and keep it in maintenance mode, the game never really grew -- the one shot it might have had at attracting new players was unfortunately timed right around the launch of World of Warcraft. He's not bitter about the experience, however, and he's glad that he had the chance to keep Meridian 59 running for such a long time and help shape something people really enjoyed. It's a sad announcement for a venerable game, though, and we can only hope that this is the last of the fallout we see from the closing-filled year.

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