The Evolution of the MMORPG.
Ever since the early nineteen seventies, the first type of technology was available, for which complete "worldwide communication" was a viable option. With the patent of the "modem" enforced in 1968, the byte was the limit. With computer geeks everywhere discovering that they could make a “server” on a box hooked up with a modem, which could be accessed by someone else "dialing in" to their server with another modem. Eventually, one thing lead to another, with more modems hooking up to more computers, and various servers rapidly appearing all over the US, UK and many other nations, in garages, bedrooms and universities, networks to networks.
And the blueprint to an international network, or "internet" was born.
With this new knowledge, a solution could be provided to the originally expensive international communication system. With this in mind, one young university student decided to develop his hobby and dream into a real-world reality. A virtual community where a normal joe could become a warrior princess, in a completely different world, in a different time, with others a continent away. This was the idea for the very first MUD.
PART ONE – The Very First MUD
Role playing games have always been popular since the very early sixties, where young boys and girls would get together and imagine up massive and broad worlds, placing themselves in them as different identities. You may have done this as a child, pretending to be a knight, or a wizard. To kill evil daemons. Fight Dragons. Have a partner to travel with you…(or to be against you). Older teens used to improve on this game, by adding rules, and regulations, probablity (with dice) and a dungeon master, whom would lead you around the world you created. This was, and still is known as Dungeons and Dragons.
In the Spring of 1979, a student studying at Essex University in Britain, known by the name of Roy Trubshaw created the world’s first Multi-User Dungeon written in the Macro-10 machine code available at the time. Now, the original core code was incredibly basic, with various holes, bugs and glitches plaguing the system. Considering this, the "game" was practically unplayable, so the original code was then re-written and re-structured into the a simular base/standard of a MUD you will see today. While much more sophisicated and stable, the MUD had no other moderators or “admin” besides Rob himself, which left it open to be quickly and easily manipulated by users whom added rooms, inventory and commands that allowed special and unbalanced treatment. This was because a client side database separate from the actual server program could be attached and operated during play. Rob completed about 25% of working program code by Easter, 1980. It was version 3.
When Rob left Essex, his friend Alan, whom had been monitoring his ambitious project closely, took over from where he had left off. By this time, Alan had understood the code and morals of the system, so he took to work, fixing up both major and minor problems. (Example: Two guys in a dark room, one could see around the area which was lit with a torch, while the other next to him couldn’t see anything). Before Alan’s additions to the project, the user could only be an “Adventurer”, the wizard role was tradionally a “debug” mode for Alan and Rob to test out new procedures and features.
It has should be considered that back then, the amount of available memory was very small, systems were quite crude, and programs could not handle massive worlds, populations, NPCs (Non Player Characters) and quests that most games feature today. Rob’s game had no real reward for playing, a very limited communication system, limited stats, and no NPCs. But at the time, it was the best thing that the members of the United Roleplayers Association of Britain had ever seen. Not only that you could explore a real-time detailed text environment, you had about 20 or so other users at the university, exploring WITH you. In the Spring of 1980, the “experimental” packet-trading system (Now known as the TCP/IP Protocol) linked Essex to a university in the USA, in which Alan and his now own group of followers had their first external visitors.
This new MUD was Alan’s prime focus and "life" for the next few years, as he had to technically HACK Rob’s code to expand the game, plus managed to add todays basic RPG features, such as an inventory, more detailed and numourous rooms, puzzles and quests. As time passed, Alan was able to forward the source code of the MUD to other RP groups in Australia, The USA, Norway and Sweden. And before he knew it, the servers he had running were literally swamped with users. Even between the “sleeping” hours of 2 and 6am, the servers were constantly full to capacity. Alan had successfully completed the world’s first MMORPG.
According to Alan, Rob had two main objectives when he started the project. One was to be a pioneer in developing a new type of database programming language, and another was to create a multiplayer adventure game. Which unknown to him, and many others at the time, would spawn a completely new genre of gaming, which would grow to expand to new worlds, like Ultima Online’s Brittania, and Asherions Call’s Darion. Alan later sold the MUD to the online service provider, Compuserve, where it can still be seen today under the name of “British Legends”.
PART TWO – The online community largens…
The internet community continues to grow by the hundred every day, with websites, new game servers, and the still largely active newsgroup population increasing in their own numbers as you read this. The fact is, we all want to communicate, and its instinct of a human nature to want to grasp knowledge and expand technology. The internet was the solution the world had been waiting for.
Since the mainstream indroduction of the WWW and IRC in 1993, people found that they could talk to someone living 3,000km away with the click of a mouse or the tap of a key. More MUDs began appearing all over the web, some adapting themes of movies or books, and others using less conventional subjects. As connection speeds and computer specs grew, developers and programmers found that they could expand gameplay over the internet, graphically rather than in text-only form. You could see your opponent visually, giving the gameplay more of a realistic, in-your-face realism.
And in a little office at the game development company, Origin, a man thought about making his dreamlike fantasy world, a true real-time reality.
The Ultima series had been emmensely popular amoung avid PC role players, due to its in-depth characters, vivid storyline and non-linear gameplay. A total of up to 11 successful single-player Ultima games were released, plus a few spinoffs on the side, including one on the Apple IIe named Akalabeth.
The Ultima 1 Blurb:
“Mondain the Wizard wrought his malice over the realm. He had slain his own father that he might gain immortality and advance his dark dominion over the land. It was against Mondain that you first answered the call of Lord British, traveling through the Moongate to put an end to Mondain's shadowy plans..”
Released in 1980, Ultima was one of the first Role Playing titles which was released simultaniously over 3 different computer platforms, (IBM, Apple and the Commodore 64). The overwhelming popularity of this game grew to the point where is was Origin’s top selling point. It’s also interesting to note that the creator, Lord British, had a major influence in both design and coding through the process of every single Ultima game in development from day one.
The breathless await for each Ultima sequel left every fan with a cold sweat. But after the release of Ultima VIII:Pagan in 1994, there was silence. What was Origin up to? Then in 1996, rumours of an online version of Ultima were sent all over the net, with the the cries of Ultima fans everywhere screaming out for more. Their prayers where answered in early 97’ when Origin announced the development of the first Graphically Persistant Multiplayer Game, featuring the world of Brittanica. A few months later in 1998, Ultima Onlinewas released to the public with high praise, and a flood of new memberships. At the time of printing, UO had 21 shards and over 120,000 active members. Now THAT’S an online community.
Ultima Online’s story consisted of an evil wizard, whom held the world in his hands in the form of a crystal ball. In a fit of rage, the wizard threw the world to the floor in which shattered the fragile land into hundreds of “shards”. Each “shard” was exactly the same in appearance, but consisted of different people, items, quests, monsters, you name it. Players log onto a “shard”, (21 at present time of writing), which are located from the US, to Japan, to Sydney. Set up a character, and ta-da! You’re part of the 24 hour, seven day a week, alternate world known as Britannia.
In the next 2 years,UO grew a massive community, www.uo.com being the prime hub for “news”, events, newbie files, guilds and everything from the shards. Thousands of fan sites have been set up all over the net, and just type in “Ultima” for over 100,000 pages alone. Sadly though, due to its ongoing costs and time needed to play properly, most players are either uni students or the unemployed. But with the addition of new, 3-D based MMORPG's, UO suffered a slow death, even with numerous addon packs.
In 1997, Sony/Variant launched its own successful MMORPG, named Everquest, which runs on the same principle as UO, but without the enduringly tedious startup process. Using a 3d interface from a first-person perspective, Everquest gave a much more “personal” experience then UO’s basic top-down screens. Both of these Graphical MUDs are constantly talked about together, with both having its own major flaws and differences. Other MMORPGS have been released since then, bunny hopping over the success of Everquest, and UO, the very first commercially successful MMORPG.
But an MMORPG isn't all about the game. It isn't about the coding, or the features or the servers. It's about the players. The community that can emerge from such a project. A MMORPG is a user defined world. The creators just set the scene. The world. The options. The players are the ones that mould it into their experience, their customs, rules and regulations.
They are the ones who make it into a reality.