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The Game Archaeologist

The Game Archaeologist: Ultima Online field report

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

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

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

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

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

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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The Game Archaeologist: Going forward by looking back at the past

Opinion, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

Have you noticed? I'm sure you've noticed. It seems as though ever since this Kickstarter fad flared up, the avalanche of retro-themed game projects has exploded. And it's not just on Kickstarter, either. One of Guild Wars 2's most popular content additions over the past year was a tongue-in-cheek recreation of 8-bit games. And now we've got Trove, which above its controversy is definitely appealing to the glory days of gaming past.

The Game Archaeologist has always advocated that the past can influence our present and future in surprising ways. It sometimes irks me that current developers have shown a lot of ignorance for past ideas when coming up with new content, although that irritation has lessened recently now that I'm seeing a growing movement to embrace and incorporate what's come before, both ideologically and aesthetically.

So what does the past have to offer the future of MMOs and how can game developers capitalize on it? As usual, I have all of the answers.

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The Game Archaeologist: The bizarre death of Wish [Updated]

Fantasy, Business Models, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, The Game Archaeologist

First of all, "wish" is one of those words that ends up looking dang strange the more you focus on it. Wish, wish, wish, wish. It's just a bunch of meaningless lines and squiggles to me now.

Anyway, what's up for today's topic? We're going to look at another MMO that didn't make it to the starting gate even with some genuine enthusiasm and hype surrounding it, and that game is wrrrshhsish. Wish. That game is Wish.

While memories of this never-launched title have faded with time, Wish is still remembered for two things: a truly audacious feature set that promised the world and an abrupt, bizarre end that seemed to come out of nowhere. What made this MMO so special and why did it die so young? Our very own Game Archaeologist is on the scene with a special report.

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The Game Archaeologist: Classic servers and you

World of Warcraft, Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest, Opinion, Ultima Online, RuneScape, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

The Game Archaeologist Classic servers and you
Sometimes players don't want progress into the future; they want to regress into nostalgia. I've always seen this undercurrent of desire for classic servers run through the MMO community, manifesting in lengthy discussions about how cool it'd be to play a game the way it was "way back when." I also imagine developers reading those discussions with a combination of shared nostalgia and anxiety over the work required for such a project.

I can understand this desire. We form attachments to MMOs based on several factors, not the least of which are when we started playing the game and what we remember most from it. While we generally applaud the change brought about by content updates, bug fixes, expansions, and the like, there's always a part of us that won't let go of the past.

That's where classic servers come into play. Here and there, studios have recognized and responded to this desire for gaming the way it used to be by creating servers that deliberately call back to the past. It might seem to fly in the face of common sense, but I don't think it's that strange when you look at the larger video game community and how strong nostalgia gaming has taken root there as well. So what do classic servers have to offer you and where can you find them?

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The Game Archaeologist: Classic MMOs in October

Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest, Lineage 2, News Items, Ultima Online, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

The Game Archaeologist Classic MMOs in October
You think your fancy modern MMOs have the patent on Halloween? Mister, classic games own this holiday. They were out picking pumpkins and decapitating spooks long before you were a twinkle in the character creator's eye.

Halloween's back in many of our older titles this month, and for those of you who have been away from a beloved classic, it may just be the best time to return for another go. Anarchy Online not only has the return of Uncle Pumpkinhead but some pretty good subscription deals right now. EverQuest has the Haunting of Norrath, Pixel Pirates is offering seasonal items in the store, Guild Wars probably toggled its Halloween 2013 switch, RuneScape's got a brand-new questline, and Dark Age of Camelot is up to its standard tricks with the Pumpkin Moon.

Of course, October wasn't just about trick-or-treating; plenty of other events have happened to the classic MMO collective. From a record-setting expansion to invasions to a very happy birthday, this month kept hopping (and growling, slithering, and lurking). Let's check it out!

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The Game Archaeologist: A history of EverQuest expansions

Fantasy, EverQuest, Expansions, Free-to-Play, The Game Archaeologist

The Game Archaeologist A history of EverQuest expansions
This past week, EverQuest made history as the title published its 20th expansion, Call of the Forsaken. Seriously, I cannot get my head around that number: 20! It's even more astonishing when you consider that contemporaries that launched in that early generation have gone many, many years since their last expansion. SOE's commitment to EverQuest's continuing development, even as the fourth and fifth titles in the MMO series are coming in the next year, is pretty inspiring. What's even more inspiring is the community that continues to prefer EQ as its stomping ground of choice.

Today I want to pay tribute to the 20 expansions of EverQuest by going through them, one by one, and seeing how they grew and enriched the game over the past decade-and-a-half. I would also love to hear testimonies in the comments as to which EverQuest expansion you enjoyed the most!

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The Game Archaeologist: WAR's biggest battle was with itself

Fantasy, MMO Industry, PvP, Warhammer Online, The Game Archaeologist, Anniversaries, Subscription, Sunsets

The Game Archaeologist WAR's biggest battle was with itself
Who would have thought that on WAR's fifth anniversary and just days after I dropped a few favorite things about the game, Mythic would be announcing a closure instead of an exciting celebration? While we can all say it that Warhammer Online's upcoming sunset was expected, nobody predicted that the news would go down on its fifth birthday. Maybe someone over there likes order more than chaos and sees a nice symmetry in this. Personally, I think it felt a little bit mean to do that to the remaining community that was patiently sitting there hoping that the studio would toss them even a small bit of recognition.

But facts are facts, and after December 18th, the game of public quests, the Tome of Knowledge, "bears, bears, bears," Slayers and Marauders, RvR and scenarios, exploding squigs, and drunken Dwarves will be no more.

There are a few months left to experience the game if one so desires, but the end is finally here. It's caused many of us who were invested in the game back in 2008 to take stock of our memories and deal with the last chapter of this strange, wild rollercoaster that started with a strong IP, a studio steeped in PvP MMO development, and a pair of white sunglasses. In the end, WAR's biggest battle was with itself -- and it lost. Today, let's look at the whys, the what ifs, and the community reaction.

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The Game Archaeologist: What I loved about Warhammer Online

Fantasy, Warhammer Online, Opinion, The Game Archaeologist, Anniversaries, Subscription

The Game Archaeologist What I loved about Warhammer Online
As I got my start in blogging over Warhammer Online, I've become "the guy" everyone on staff goes to whenever WAR hits an anniversary. The problem is, there's precious little good to say about this title's development over the past year. Pretty much all of the news we've gotten has been negative, from the closure of Wrath of Heroes to the elimination of the six-month subscription to the departure of its most vocal developers. TL;DR version of my feelings on the topic: WAR needs F2P or it will die probably much sooner rather than later.

But instead of going maudlin and piling on the obvious, I want to go down a different road today for the sake of those who loved and perhaps still love Warhammer Online. Obviously, people continue to play it even though its day in the spotlight is long gone, and I'd like to chime in with some positivity for a change. After all, WAR's celebrating its fifth anniversary, and that's pretty cool.

So in honor of that, here's a list of seven things that I loved about WAR from my time playing it and why it wasn't quite the abysmal failure that revisionist history has made it out to be.

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The Game Archaeologist: Classic MMOs in August

Anarchy Online, Asheron's Call, Dungeons and Dragons Online, EverQuest, Lineage 2, PlanetSide, The Matrix Online, News Items, Opinion, Ultima Online, Vanguard, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

The Game Archaeologist Classic MMOs in August
How few players do you need to have before operating an MMO becomes ridiculously unprofitable and in need of closing? In the case of The Matrix Online, we found out that the magic number was 500. I wouldn't have even guessed that so few people were in that game when its shutdown was announced, especially considering the vocal anguish that arose when SOE lowered the boom.

I guess it goes to show that we're often quite clueless what goes on behind the curtain. There's always this balance between the number-crunchers (who need players and money to justify continued operations) and the passionate creators (who are often developers putting in the effort because they simply love the game and its community). If nothing else, it reinforced my belief that SOE does bend over backwards to keep these games running as long as possible, much longer than some other studios would in a similar situation.

So what other news regarding classic MMOs happened this past month? It's time for another one of my patented roundups, complete with archaeological commentary!

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