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MMOrigins: Life's funny like that


We all got started gaming somewhere. For a lot of people, it was the Sega Mega-drive, the Atari 2600 or the NES that signaled their first steps into gaming. For me, it was the Commodore Amiga, a machine that was more a complete home computer than a games console. It was on the Amiga that groups like Team 17, Ocean, Electronic Arts and Blizzard first really made their mark on gaming and it was a great time of innovation in the industry. I recall long nights spent playing Frontier: Elite II, scooping hydrogen fuel from the corona of a star or wormholing into deep space. Another favourite that I still play occasionally was K240, an early space 4x game and still one of the best I've ever played.

It was the public domain market on the Amiga that really caught my attention. It's one thing to play a game, but here was the opportunity to make one and sell it via a page in CU Amiga magazine or a PD order disk. I've always been more interested in making games than playing them but being young with no programming experience, I was limited in what I could do. I tooled endlessly with the "Shoot 'em up Construction Kit" and "Reality Game Creator" packages, making countless primitive prototype games that only I ever played.

Like many MMO gamers, I came from a pen and paper role-playing background. I participated in weekly sessions of Dungeons and Dragons for years, first as a player in an ongoing campaign and then later as a dungeon master. I loved nothing more than to create a game world and an adventure for other people. I'd create props to aid role-play, maps to add an immersive factor and puzzles to provide some non-combat challenges for my group. There were no programming skills required to make this game, just a little imagination and effort. It was a liberating creative experience.

The Runescape years:
The first MMO I ever played was Runescape, a little Java browser game all the kids were playing at a local internet cafe. The graphics were crude, the gameplay simplistic and the sounds horrible but I was strangely drawn to that blocky world. It was here I got my first taste of a persistent world filled with other people, and I liked it. I've been a social multiplayer junkie ever since. Give me a game where I can compete or co-operate with other people and I'll be all over it. Bizarrely, Runescape demonstrated an early kind of sandbox-style emergence. The mere fact that there were so many people playing together produced opportunities. I quickly learned about barter trade and how to turn an opportunity into profit, running an almost Ferengi trade business.

Runescape was unusual for taking unorthodox approaches to PvP, content development and the fight against macros. I came to appreciate the innovative ways they fought macroing and the bite-sized content they delivered on a regular and rapid basis. Their iterative development style was the first I got used to, so when I was later faced with MMOs that sell expansion packs, it came as something of a surprise. Since it was my first MMO, I've found I sometimes have a unique perspective from which to look at newer titles. Although I no longer play Runescape, I'm never as dismissive of Jagex's achievements as other people are and I don't believe they've gotten to where they are by accident.

Roll on EVE Online:
It was during a session of Dungeons and Dragons that a friend introduced me to this new and exciting game he'd found called EVE Online. He described this open-ended space game with thousands of players in one server and talked of how the game's economy and political systems were entirely player-run. He urged me to get in on the ground floor because EVE was going to be huge. It didn't take much to convince me and in February of 2004 I logged into EVE for the first time. I created the avatar that would stick with me for over five years and counting, though if I'd known I'd be around this long I may have chosen to spend a little extra effort on it. Even though my friend eventually quit EVE, I still thank him every year for introducing me to the game.

Far from just influencing my preferences in an MMO, EVE has been something of a driving force behind my life. A fear of maths had always caused me to hold myself back from trying to learn a programming language but in a game like EVE, there's no escaping maths. I went to university to study Computer Science and the remote possibility of getting for a job working on EVE Online spurred me to do my absolute best. I worked on as many game design projects as I could over the years and earlier this year I graduated with first class honours. Although CCP doesn't seem interested in hiring me, I have no regrets. It was thanks to that imaginary carrot on the end of the stick that I now have a masters degree and the skills I've always wanted to continue my own game design projects.

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