That's why I was utterly surprised to see two brand-new bloggers hit the scene writing about Anarchy Online: Sephora's Closet and Donovan Drones. Both of these blogs came out of a community-wide effort to encourage new game writers in May, and I was so fascinated with their game du jour that I contacted each of them for an interview.
What would drive someone to blog about Anarchy Online in 2012? What is there in the game worth writing? How many more words do I need to write until this paragraph doesn't look pathetically skimpy? Come with me and we'll find out!
Sephora: Let's go with Sephora, as that is who I play at the moment. I started AO in 2002 when a flatmate introduced me to the game. I had previously just played PC and arcade games, so AO was my first MMORPG. I was a horrible noobie, but being very much a sci-fi fan, I completely fell in love with the game. It gave me a vast world to explore and the backdrop of a pretty cool science-fiction story too. Yes, I was also handed a nice hardcover copy of Prophet without Honor to read when first introduced to the game.
I spent the next four years playing AO, and then on-and-off as I explored other games. There's always something new and shiny on the horizon to try, but AO just keeps calling me back. Even with all the changes to the game over the years (some good, some bitter), AO just has a unique gameplay experience I have not found anywhere else. I guess in the end it's a good gun and a bag of leets that win it for me. So here I am again, back with an active account, shooting aliens and organizing my bank full of clothes.
Donovan: I'm Donovan, and I'm a gamer. My experience with Anarchy isn't something to really brag about in terms of being a long-time player. I was actually talking to a buddy of mine, Riknas of Riknas Rants, and he's the one who ended up suggesting the game. I, being a proud proponent of retro games, decided I'd give it a twirl. After a few days of playing, I made a decision to do a few posts about it on my blog, to do what I can to promote the game. I figured giving a newcomer's take on the experience wouldn't be a bad idea, so I've done what I've could so far.
What's your blog about, specifically, and why blog about Anarchy Online?
Sephora: My blog focuses on social clothing in AO. It's both a visual catalogue of the clothing available in-game and a showcase for the various outfits one can assembled from all of them. For a game that is not predominantly a social game (in that I mean something like Second Life or The Sims), it has a large number of clothing items and props.
Why blog about AO? This blog has been an idea I've been toying with for years. Originally it was something I started up on an AO fan site called RP Central, but the site shut down in about 2007, and since then I've been meaning to redo it all as a blog. It may be five years later now, but when I saw an article on the NBI, I thought, "Hey, maybe this will be the little bit of a push and some advice I need to continue with the idea." It's the one game I enjoy the most, and I would like to share a small part of it with others.
Donovan: My blog isn't specifically about Anarchy Online -- it's a bit more general than that -- but for the next month or two, that's what the content will mainly focus on. Like I said, it's sad to see old games like Anarchy go, and if I could get it a few more players or subscribers, that wouldn't be a bad deal in exchange for a couple of posts. The content of each post more specifically focuses on the different mechanics of gameplay as I, along with Riknas, discover them while playing.
Sephora: I have to say it has its good and bad sides. There are many people who have stayed with the game for years, so the community has a solid base of people that know the game, its possibilities, and its limitations. In part, it feels more stable, as it has found a form of equilibrium and settled. At times, though, that also makes it feel isolated as some of the new players seem unsure or hesitant to break in to that balance. Still, it is constantly shifting as new players do find their niche in the game or old players move. On the downside of it, though, 11 years is a long time, and when returning to it, you may see many names you recognize but also a lot more names who never light up as online again.
Donovan: There are definitely perks about being part of an 11-year-old game, and the biggest among them being the wealth of knowledge that the older players have to share with you. With a lot of new MMOs, there isn't a big source of help and experience to draw from when figuring out what to do, so you're pretty much on your own. I've been part of several online gaming communities, though, and I'd say from my limited experience with it, AO has really impressed me. Once you become part of a faction, you can just post a question into your faction's chat channel and you'll generally get some helpful advice. I'm not saying this isn't the case with newer titles, but you're less likely to be insulted for asking a simple question.
If someone had never tried AO before, what would you say to convince him to give it a go?
Sephora: It's got a different flavor from most games out right now, and it's fun. If you enjoy a game that has a complex character system and gives you more freedom to customize your class, you will probably enjoy AO. Each profession has a skill set and weapons it excels at, but they each also offer a degree of flexibility, so even some unusual options can turn out to be viable. It all depends on how you want to play your character and what you intend to do with it. Make one character and try the game, just experiment and see how things work without trying to be the best of the best. Reset IP points add up over time for a reason.
Donovan: There are several reasons to give AO a try, but I'll try to narrow it down to ones I think drum up the most interest. One, there's a enormous amount of content that's already there, and the chance that you'll become bored because there isn't anything to do is extremely unlikely. Two, its astonishing longevity has spawned an incredible amount of resources and databases to look at if you're a new player just trying to learn. With a game as deep as Anarchy, that's a must.
And finally, it's free. As most know, there are restrictions, but most of the original game's content is 100% accessible. This isn't just a dumbed-down version of a larger game; it's a larger game that was made free, with optional expansions and features you can purchase at your leisure.
Sephora: I'm looking forward to it, even if it means I will have to re-do all my screenshots! But the new engine may be that little bit of sparkle that AO needs to bring it out in to the main stream of public awareness again. Of the people I have introduced to the game, many have told me that even though the game was interesting, they found the graphic style really distracting, some even to the point of being unable to continue playing as it was not the high-polygon count and "realistic" look that they are used to.
I will admit though I was surprised Funcom is doing it. Most companies would probably choose to close down a game rather than go through all the work required to update its code and textures. In some ways, it may have been easier for Funcom to just close and then relaunch the game instead of keeping it running while we all ask, "Is it done yet?"
Donovan: It just means one less excuse not to give the game a try. I'm not a big graphics guy, but I can see how the dated engine might turn some people off. All in all, I don't really see a bad side.
What's your favorite Anarchy Online memory?
Sephora: I spent most of my AO life in an RP org, so there are many silly social/RP events like the Rubi-Ka tours. The tours involved most of our organization heading off in to the wilderness together, regardless of level, to explore. We ended up coming across another org having a raid at Hollow Island one time, so we decided to stay off in the distance on the cliffs and have a picnic. Someone took on the roll of announcer and did a play-by-play of the raid. Unfortunately it turned out that we were not far away enough, so a few mobs decided to join the picnic with us as the meal. Needless to say, we swiftly found ourselves back at the reclaim terminals.
I think the most memorable was still my first time out of the starting zone, which in 2002 was the "holo training grounds" found in player apartment towers. I was waiting for my friend to show up when this lady in what looked like a green cheerleader outfit appeared and asked if I needed help. I said, "No, I'm just looking for a friend." She said she could be my friend and again inquired whether I needed help or had any questions.
Well, I had no idea who she was and chose to just keep looking about the area and ran off to the other side of the platform. The lady in green came as well, still asking whether I needed help, then one in pink showed up too. Pink said, "It's OK; I'm already her friend!" So as I'm looking at these two characters wondering what in the world is going on, I hear my flatmate calling, "The pink one is me! The pink one is me!" Turns out, the green one was an ARK (Advisors of Rubi-Ka) greeter who shows up to help answer new player questions and get them going in game.
Donovan: I'd have to say my favorite memory was when Riknas and I finally got out of the tutorial zone and realized how big the game actually was: when you can literally spend hours and hours in one little town without any thought of moving on to some other place and then you're suddenly running around in a pretty big sandbox. That's a bit general, I know, but it's hard to be specific when there are so many great moments to choose from. It's just a fun game through and through.
Thank you guys for talking about Anarchy Online with us!
When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti pulls out his history textbook for a lecture or two on the good ol' days of MMOs in The Game Archaeologist. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.