The Think Tank: Remembering our first MMOs

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The Think Tank: Remembering our first MMOs
This week, my very first MMO, Ultima Online, turns 17 years old in what can only be an intentional effort to make classic MMO gamers feel very, very old indeed. I've been thinking a lot about the game and returned to it recently to scope it out, so for today's Think Tank, I polled the Massively writers about their own "first MMOs," their first memories of the genre, and whether their firsts have survived the test of time.

Anatoli Ingram, Columnist
@ceruleangrey: My very first MMO was Final Fantasy XI. My wife and I were blown away by features such as characters visibly changing clothes when outfitted with new gear, since we were used to single-player Final Fantasy games and their static designs. We could afford to set up only one PlayStation 2 at first, so I spent the first week diligently farming insect wings and beehive chips outside of Windurst so we'd have a nice chunk of gil to get started with. The first experience of seeing all of those other characters in the world and realizing that they were other people was huge; for a long time I approached interactions in game exactly the same way I would in real life.

My favorite early memory revolves around how dangerous I thought the world outside the city gates must be. It took me a while to get up the courage to run very far into the woods of Ronfaure, and I spent a good five minutes paralyzed on the side of the road when I saw something further down that looked like it might be a giant spider with spindly legs. Alas, it was a tree.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
@nbrianna: My first MMO was, as I mentioned, Ultima Online, but it almost wasn't. My boyfriend picked it out at Media Play (hehe), and I told him it looked stupid; the box was total cheeseball fantasy art, and my experience with co-op games up until that point was basically brodudes playing Descent in the lab. He bought it anyway. I think roundabout 4 a.m. the next day, I looked up from my copy of Ultima Online and told him he should probably go get himself another box. I married that guy.

My first experience with the game was just excitement over how many neat skills were in the game, even compared to the RPGs I'd played (Daggerfall being the big one back then). I know I rolled a character with skills that totally didn't work together, music and tailoring and forensic identification, probably. I remember trying to understand magic and the teleportation system, which at the time still consumed runes. I also made my first chunk of change dyeing other people's clothes for tips, since many early players still hadn't figured out they could just go buy a dye tub and dyes themselves two steps from the Britain bank.

I took a nice long relook at the game in 2013 and have continued playing it off and on over all these years. It's not what it once was size-wise, and the sand in the sandbox has changed quite a bit, but it's still a great MMO with more game systems and features than any MMO I've ever played to date.

Eliot Lefebvre, Contributing Editor
@Eliot_Lefebvre: My first MMO was Final Fantasy XI, a game that I hadn't even planned to buy because in my own words, MMOs were stupid and dumb. But my girlfriend at the time suggested that I buy a copy for myself and one for my roommate, so I said "what the heck" and did just that. I hadn't expected to really enjoy it, but I now remember just stepping out of the city gates of Bastok and exploring Gustaberg for the first time, trying to figure out how my Red Mage worked, and desperately asking another playing for a dozen gil to buy pants. Twelve years later, it seems incredibly rude, but at the time it was novel and strange and kind of neat.

What really completely sold me was later, when I had to make my way out to Selbina for the first time, ducking monsters along the way. I really had a sense of adventure for that first time, something that you could achieve only in an online space. A lot has changed in my life since then, but my love of MMOs hasn't.

Jef Reahard, Managing Editor
@jefreahard: Technically UO was my first, but that was basically over a semester break in 1998 or whatever. The first one I played for an appreciable length of time was Anarchy Online.

Justin Olivetti, Contributing Editor
@Sypster: I was very hestitant to get into MMOs early on after seeing EverQuest addiction take a friend and noting how user-unfriendly many of these title seemed. I did dip my toes into Anarchy Online back in late 2001 during the launch fiasco, mostly due to my love of science fiction. That did not go well; it was basically playing a slideshow due to Funcom's bungling, my older computer, and a dial-up connection. It would be years before City of Heroes convinced me to give online games another try.

Larry Everett, Columnist
@Shaddoe: My first MMO was appropriately Ultima Online, although I didn't call it an MMORPG at the time. It was just an Ultima game that I could play with other people. I played with my father-in-law, and the primary communication platform was neither in-game chat nor voice chat: We used ICQ. That'll make you feel old. And the biggest thing I remember from my first few days of playing UO were armorsmiths stripping down to their skivvies in order to carry all the ore they needed. I also remember that first week my FiL and his friend standing on a ship poking each other on with low-level swords so that they could gain experience. It was all so weird and amazing to me at the same time.

Mike Foster, Contributing Editor
@MikedotFoster: My first MMO was World of Warcraft. The early days were confusing and challenging (this was early 2005 so the game was not quite as newbie-friendly). I didn't understand how to chat with people (I thought /say was local chat and everyone was ignoring me), I didn't know why some classes had cool frost spells but I didn't, I couldn't use my abilities correctly, and I died quite a bit wandering around the world into the wrong places. The first time I walked into a capital city I was stunned; the idea that each character was a human player somewhere in the world was impressive and exciting. I had never played any type of online game, so every basic thing was something I had to learn.

A friend joined a couple of months later and the two of us sort of figured it out together. Early WoW days are definitely among my best gaming memories.

MJ Guthrie, Contributing Editor
@MJ_Guthrie: Well, technically I'd have to say my first MMO was The Sims Online because I alpha tested it in order to just build and talk with family long distance without the huge phone bill! But my first real MMO was Star Wars Galaxies, which I have waxed on about on numerous occasions. I would so totally still be there if I could. My very first experience in game I would actually have to say was character creation. I spent hours (not kidding at all) checking out all the various combinations for various races before I actually settled on one. It was mind-blowing how much depth there was.

My first I'm-an-actual-character-logged-in experience was finding my way to the Coronet cantina so I could dance. Dance and people watch I should say; I was on an RP server, and there were stories just weaving all around me. After I'd been dancing for a while, one of the bar's patrons who'd been watching me gave me a decent tip and then asked if I had ever seen Tatooine; tips, he said, were even be better there. I said no I hadn't and said I'd love to see it someday. He then offered to buy me a ticket for the shuttle and I jumped at the chance! And that, my friends, is how it all started! Dancing in the Mos Eisley cantina was the catalyst for the awesome adventures I had for many, many years to come.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the most caring of the carebears, so expect more than a little disagreement! Join Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and the team for a new edition right here every Thursday.
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