Guest Author - Lisa Shea
Massively multi-player online role playing games have come a long way since their roots in Gemstone III and DuneMUSH. Learn more about the games on the market today and how they are different from each other.
I've listed the MMORPGs in order of release, since the later games took a lot of knowledge and experience from those which were already on the market.
A History of MMORPGs
The first popular graphic online role playing game was Ultima Online. This was based on the Ultima computer gaming series, and featured the same isometric (slanted top down) graphic view. It was a bit slow at first, but soon the graphics became smoother and gameplay was improved. Finally you could see the world you wandered around in, you could chat with others, catch fish, bake bread, fight enemies, and experience your world. Today, the graphics seem a bit dated, and the medieval world is very focussed.
Interesting Note: The "ruler" of this world, Lord Brittish, was played by the designer of the game, Richard Garriott. The plan was for him to figure in all plots of the game - but unfortunately, a trouble-making player killed him when the game was first released!
EverQuest took the basic idea of Ultima Online and ran with it. They offered a variety of character types, with the usual wizards-and-warriors bent. Each character had its own lands and landscapes. The view was the over-the-shoulder or first person variety, with lovely graphics to actually walk through. EverQuest also played up the social aspect, and a huge number of players log on every night just to hang out with friends and talk.
Interesting Note: EverQuest's fun escapism is so addictive to some that it's been called "EverCrack". People have been known to neglect their real life spouses, homes, and jobs because it's much more fun to avoid those problems and chat with friends on line.
Microsoft took one look at the money being raked in by EverQuest and decided they wanted an entry into this field. Asheron's Call was the answer. It focussed on three types of humans - the 'european', the 'middle eastern' and the 'asian'. You could then choose to specialize in a variety of weapons, magic, thieving skills, tinkering, and more. It's in essence a human-only dungeons & dragons game. The graphics were quite sweet, with day-night cycles, seasonal changes, and a wide variety of monsters. Characters in Asheron's Call tend to group together and concentrate on building up their characters to the maximum limit in the system.
Interesting Note: AC2 came out recently - an entirely separate game with even better graphics. AC2 features 3 different character types - human, 'large stony guy', and 'think marshy guy'. While some are blown away by the new graphics, others insist gameplay is flawed and will stay in AC forever.
A short while after the first 3 launched, Anarchy Online came onto the scene. It found that real role players didn't find many friends in the other 3 games. To answer that, Anarchy Online featured a built in conflict between the rebels and the corporation. You could join a side, or stay neutral, and be drawn into the various subterfuges and intrigues going on. The missions really made sense towards furthering a cause. The roleplaying level in Anarchy Online remains very strong, and the progression of the game is quite interesting.
Interesting Note: Set in the future on a mining planet, you get a great mix of high-tech cities, low-tech outlands, people with bows and people with pistols. Watch for the L33T monsters in the training area, with their L33T Speak!
Earth & Beyond
One of the latest entrants into the MMORPG arena is Earth & Beyond. This fills in the niche of space role playing. Instead of focussing on a person wandering around lands and hacking at rats, you customize your space ship and fly it from planet to planet. Your combat involves your spaceship tracking down a rogue enemy and shooting it into a pile of space-dust. Think Wing Commander, but with thousands of others. The graphics are simply AMAZING in this game, as is the level of customization for both your character and your ship.
Interesting Note: Just about every sense is involved here, from the great graphics to the full use of voice and sound. Read the descriptions of the items you run across - these guys have a great sense of humor!
A History of MMORPGs