The (MMO) World According to Robert – Part 1

If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.

Yogi Berra – When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!: Inspiration and Wisdom from One of Baseball’s Greatest Heroes

So far on this blog I have only written about politics and spirituality. Now is the time for me to talk about the third passion of my life, that is also built upon the shoulders of those who came before: computer games.

Games are big business and MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, often shortened to MMO) are a nice piece of that business pie. According to the marketing firm Interactive Entertainment Sherpa, the global game market in 2013 is worth about $70 billion with MMOs accounting for $14.9 billion and 628 million players. For us to understand why the market is like this now, and where it might go in the future, it is important to understand where it came from. So this is short history of the MMORPG market development.

DandDIn the beginning (1974) there was Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). A table top role playing game. Really this is the first MMORPG, except is wasn’t massive (unless you call 3-10ish people massive) or online. All modern fantasy games owe their existence to D&D and AD&D (they are 2 different games but to most people they are interchangeable so I will refer to them collectively as D&D). The game of D&D entered the zeitgeist of the late 70’s and early 80’s. The game and players were accused of being satanists, witches, nerds, and geeks. The various religious groups and individuals accused the game as being hazardous to the mental and spiritual health of the children. Even kids who hadn’t played it had heard of it. And many adults at the time believed the scare stories that the media spread. It was a cultural phenomenon that had huge impact on computer programmers.

If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.

Yogi Berra – What Time Is It? You Mean Now?: Advice for Life from the Zennest Master of Them All

It wasn’t long for the influence of D&D to be felt in computer games (themselves a new phenomena). In 1975 William Crowther wrote the computer text fantasy game, Adventure, on a DEC mainframe. It was based on his cave exploring and, “some aspects of the Dungeons and Dragons that I had been playing.” Two other unofficial version of D&D were created for the DEC and PLATO systems in 1975, dnd and Dungeon.

Cue the music, “Also Sprach Zarathustra”; in the late 70’s and early 80’s the personal computer revolution began to loom. The year 1977 saw two huge cultural events. Star Wars was released and the home computer revolution kicked into high gear with the release of the Commodore PET(with upper AND lower case text), Apple II($1,298 for 4K RAM and video 280 x 192 with 6 colors), and TRS-80 (not including lower case letters, upgrade to lower case for a mere $1.97). Several CRPGs (Computer Role Playing Game) based on or influenced by D&D came out

Akalabeth - High end for it's day.
Akalabeth – High end for it’s day.

for these newfangled home computers. The famous Zork, D&D1 (after D&D 28b renamed Akalabeth), and Temple of Apshai.

Over the next several years there is a flood of computers into the market. The famous ones like the Atarii, Apple III, and the IBM PC. There are also a slew of lesser known computers that never made it, such as the “portable” Otrona Attache, “at a mere 18 pounds and no bigger than a briefcase”, or the Victor 9000 . A direct IBM PC competitor, the company started in 1980 and was bankrupt in 1984. Then there was my college computer, the IBM PCjr. I bought it in 1984 with my student loan money for $1,269 (about $30 less than the Apple II). I loved the computer because it came with 128K of RAM and 16 colors at 640 x 200 resolution. For comparison I’m writing this on a Lenovo PC, the company than bought IBM’s PC business, that has 16GB of RAM (125 million times the PCjr’s RAM) and 16.7 million colors at 1980 x 1020 resolution and cost about $700 ($307 in 1984 dollars).

As the computers start to have more colors and better resolution the games began to take advantage of these features. My college friends and I spent many hours wizardry1-splashplaying Wizardry on the PCjr. This game was one of the first party based D&D like games to really make use of the color and graphics of these newer PCs. Of course as more colors came out and graphics improved many new fantasy CRPGs came out. Games like King’s Quest and Ultima III advanced the genre using puzzles and the better graphics to make more compelling games.

The CRPG genre, in my opinion, reached it’s pinnacle in 1998’s Baldur’s Gate. A game actually set in a D&D world, using many of the D&D rules as the basis for it’s game play. However, all these CRPGs were single player games, unlike D&D which was a multiplayer game.

In order to get a multiplayer fix in the 80’s a gamer had to play MUDs (Multi User Dungeon). The first MUD was named MUD and was created and written by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle at Essex University between 1978 and 1980 (when version 3 was completed). Like the original Adventure game this was a text based game. Unlike Adventure, MUD, allowed more than one person to exist in the game world and interact with it and other players at the same time.

The idea of multiple players in a D&D like game world merged with the graphic and story telling elements of the CRPGs was the next obvious step. This led to early graphical MUDs (arguably MMORPGs)

Continued in Part 2

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