You are on a steep rocky slope and just above lies the remnants of an ancient rock slide. Far below you can see the Redhorn pass through breaks in tree canopy as well as the winding Anduin River. The sky is overcast, with a strong northerly wind raining down icy lances. The air is thin, making it difficult to breathe.
*Labero the Black Numenorean* is here riding a pack horse tending his wounds.
o S W C Move: Tired> Backstab $target
You begin to silently move behind your victim...
Oh the memories! That text-based multi-user dungeon (MUD) experience may have been the most influential on my gaming career, but it certainly wasn't the first. No, for that we'd have to travel back in time several more years; the day I unwrapped my first gaming console. It was a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the year was 1989. Follow me as I take a trip down memory lane and recount the main influencers on my MMO timeline.
Just your average vid-kid
I wasn't the first kid in my neighbourhood to get a NES but I probably got the most use out of it to the chagrin of my parents. I was raised on competitive sports up until then (at a mere 9 years-old mind you) and while I never gave up on hockey or baseball completely, they were no longer my main hobbies.
The NES was a great system with a variety of game types. Strangely, I found myself less attracted to the sports titles and more to the fantasy role-playing games. There was Final Fantasy. Dragon Warrior. Crystalis. Zelda! Oh sure, I had a blast making custom maps in Excitebike but the swords, staves, and magic is what really hooked me.
Magic: The Gathering "Preventing teen pregnancy since 1994"
These early experiences with fantasy gaming were probably the gateway to Magic: The Gathering, a multi-player monster, magic, and mana trading card game. I would obsess with deck-building and refining my play strategies morning, noon, and night from 1994-1996. I think there's even a high school year book photo of me trading cards in the cafeteria. As if things weren't already awkward enough with girls and the dating scene as a newbie teenager.
Magic also gave me my first taste of competition outside of sports and regular board games. I played hundreds upon hundreds of ante games with friends and school mates. I recall one evening cutting the best card out of a friend's deck. He said, cut twice more. I cut out his next two best cards. He said, cut four more times. It wasn't long before he threw a rage fit and we made a new rule. No more cutting for ante from the player's deck.
Forming of the fellowship
My family got its first personal computer in 1995. I believe it was an Intel 486 DX2-66Mhz with 8MB of RAM, a 14.4 modem, basic CD-ROM drive, 3.5" floppy, no known graphics card to speak of, and Disk Operating System with Windows 3.1. Oh well, at least it ran Monkey Island, Duke Nukem, Wolfenstein, and Doom! It also wasn't long before I figured out that the modem was the most powerful component under the hood.
Nineteen-ninety-six. MUD (Multi-User Dungeon). JRR Tolkien. A high school friend. These ingredients whipped up into the biggest gaming influence in my life: MUME, aka Multi-Users in Middle Earth. Apparently, it influenced Raph Koster a bit too.
Screw keyboarding class. MUME is what really taught me the intricacies of a QWERTY. This DikuMUD offspring required the use of imagination, reading comprehenstion, finger dexterity, fast strategic thinking, teamwork, and endurance. On more than a few weekends I brought my PC over to said friend's house so we could MUME it up for 12-16 hour sessions.
I played MUME for nearly a decade before giving up the ghost and I've noticed a marked decrease in my ability to scan pages upon pages of text in seconds while typing 90+ words per minute since I stopped playing. My taste for PvP never quite disappeared though.
Vat eez zees eM eM Oh aRe Pee Gee?
I don't know why, but I never bothered giving Ultima Online a shot even though several people from my QBasic programming class recommended it. I did try out the original Everquest but couldn't get into it. While I should have been amazed that EQ was basically a MUD rendered into three dimensions, its horrific level grind, size, and complexity left a bad taste in my mouth at the time.
I was an adrenaline junky and PvP was my fix. To me, EQ was like what non-alcoholic beer would taste like to a rehab patient.
Dark Age of Camelot was my first real step into the realm of MMORPGs. It had a bit less emphasis on PvE than EQ (until Trials of Atlantis anyway). There were three realms with strong incentives to PvP. There were all kinds of classes, dungeons, battlefield objectives, and myseries to be unlocked. I had a strong guild that felt like a family. I stuck with DAOC from early 2002 until mid-2006.
I was amongst the first people to buy World of Warcraft when it launched in 2004, having tested it through the later stages of closed beta and through all of open beta. I was almost as quick to put it down and run back to DAOC two months later. At launch, there simply weren't strong enough incentives to PvP in WoW, even though I picked a PvP server (go figure).
I did eventually quit DAOC and WoW became my home from mid-2006 until early 2007. I hit level 60 just in time to see the release of The Burning Crusade expansion. I hit level 70 a couple months later but it became too obvious that WoW was mostly designed as a giant PvE raiding treadmill. I couldn't hack it.
I entered what became known (at least to me) as the dark times. I didn't want to play WoW. I had done DAOC to death. None of the other MMO options were remotely appealing for my tastes even though I tried most of them. I decided to simply take a break from it all. For nearly a year I focused on other hobbies.
Fighting a personal WAR
Then a friend told me about Warhammer Online. "It's made by Mythic!" he screamed. "It has an RvR focus!" he shouted. "It's based on the IP that Blizzard totally ripped off for Warcraft!" After regaining my hearing I began to do a little research. This quickly became a lot of research, forum-diving, blog-creation, commentary writing, and a bunch of other "hardcore nerdy" things one does when amped for a new MMO.
WAR was probably my most highly anticipated MMO and also my biggest disappointment. I won't get into it here as the game has a well-documented rise and fall. Well, I rose and I fell too. After writing about WAR daily for nine months and playing it for three, I was done with it. (Luckily I got this job at Massively to keep my fingers busy!)
My "next big thang" for 2009 became Aion but after my experience with WAR, I kept expectations relatively low. I couldn't even bring myself to stay subscribed after the first month. While Aion has a number of pros and cons, I won't bore you with them here. Suffice it to say, it simply wasn't my cup of tea (or coffee... you GRIND coffee, right?). Ahem.
So, where am I at today? You can find me (casually) roaming the Grand Canyon in Fallen Earth. I've been pleasantly surprised by FE. The setting and gameplay are refreshing, even if things are a wee bit unpolished. Strangely, I find myself accepting the crude aspects when they come up because they seem to fit the game world. Nothing's easy after a plague-driven nuclear apocalypse, right?
The time thief's next heist?
If you're any good at math you have probably put my age at or around 30. Good for you! Like most people my age, I have a family, a career, and far less time for gaming than I used to, yet ironically, my gaming life has come full circle.
I used to steal 15 minutes on my friend's dad's ColecoVision and Atari, while he wasn't looking at age 5. Now, I'm trying to steal 15 minutes on my gaming rig scavenging and crafting bits for my ATV in Fallen Earth at age 30.
It's funny how these things work out.
Thanks, thanks, many thanks
I want to use this opportunity to let you all know that this will be my last article for Massively. RL (not to be confused with Ralph Lauren) has presented me with a few new experience grinds to overcome and unfortunately, something had to give.
I've had a blast working with the entire Massively team. You guys and gals seriously rock! I'd like to extend special "thank yous" to Michael Zenke for bringing me on board and teaching me the ropes and Shawn Schuster for being such a great mentor and managing editor. I thoroughly enjoyed our brainstorming sessions! Liz Harper has always been there for me as well.
Thanks also go out to all you readers who provide excellent commentary, entertainment, and are constantly keeping us on our toes. I look forward to joining your ranks again. It's been a trip. :)
/Snafzg signing off