Do older MMO’s still have it?

Hello, old friend.

Older MMORPG’s were able to immerse me in the moment.  Newer MMO’s don’t have that power, and I’ve written about the subject and heard from many of you these past few days who agree.  Someone asked me if the older games are still able to do it for me if I go back and play them all these years later.  The answer is yes.

A few months ago I went back to Ultima Online and played the oldschool Second Age era gameplay.  Hundreds, perhaps even a thousand, others were there living in the world already.  I didn’t know what I was, who I was, or where I was going.  A friend of mine, who compared to me is a pro, asked me what I want to be.  What do I want to be?  What a foreign question.  What DO I want to be?  I decided I wanted to make stuff.   I didn’t know why, but I did.  He pointed me in a direction and said, “You’ll find some mountains that way.  Here’s a mining pick.  Go mine.”  I went and began my life as a miner, then a blacksmith.  I made things.   I chose what I wanted to do, and made it happen.  There was no right or wrong answer to his original question, “What do you want to be?”

Today I once again booted up the Project 1999 client for the original EverQuest.  I played a few months ago, and a few months before that.  Today I was once again struck with a sense of being overwhelmed.  This wasn’t EQ with 10 years of development.  This was EQ when Kunark first came out, and I was a master of this game years ago.  Yet, somehow, I log in today on a new character as a Dwarf in the Butcherblock mountains with not but a club in my hand and a dangerous, unforgiving world ahead of me.  I felt so alone, so timid, and so unprepared for what was nothing more than a few feet ahead of me that I shrank back to the safety of the guards to gather my thoughts.  I went on to play for hours doing things I hadn’t done in MMORPG’s for years.

So yes, older games can still do it for me.  By today’s standards their graphics are ugly, their polish that of rust, and their mechanics simple and cruel.  Yet I find myself immersed.  Is it because they are so very different than today? I think so.  Is it because older games all seemed to have some sandbox in them and be less newbie friendly?  I think that’s part of it as well, but the key really is how different they were from each other, and how different they remain from today’s MMO’s.  That difference changes my mindset every time I log in, and sometimes that’s all one needs to be immersed.

  • Older mmo’s that I used to love do not still have it for me.
    And graphics have nothing to do with it… even if a graphic update would be nice.

    The game itself changed a lot due to patches and no longer plays as I remember.
    The community changed, the economy, sometimes even simple things like music.

    The fond memories I have can not be replicated if all those factors changed.
    That is my take on returning to an old mmo.

    GW2 had a helpful and friendly community in the beta.
    Lets hope it stays that way when it gets released.
    Somehow I doubt it.

    I guess we all played betas where the beta players where much nicer players compared to those when retail hits.
    Any idea why?? It makes me wonder.

    off topic: bought ghost recon online on ps3. Quite fun, even the multiplayer.
    So sad that connections are SOOO bad at times. My frustration meter starts to make steam noises.

  • @Zyler: You can’t play the older games through the official channels. They’ve been ruined like you mention. Play them as they were in the heyday.

    As for beta testers (real beta testers, not the masses playing during “beta weekend events) always being nicer and a better community… I don’t know the answer. I’ve witnessed it dozens of times. It’s true.

  • It sounds like you’d love the likes of Civcraft. It’s a minecraft multiplayer mod with a focus on civilization building and economy. Obviously a lot more free form than any MMO ever has been, and not really an RPG, but it sounds close to the mark.

  • Reading these past few posts Keen…I think what you want to recapture is your youth.

    It’s gone man. Enjoy the mechanics or don’t enjoy them. What you’re really searching for no longer exists for you.

  • That feeling you’re describing there, when you logged into Butcherblock 1999, I still get in most MMOs, new or old. I had that in the last few weeks alone in TSW, GW2, The Missing Ink and Argo. I had it in City of Steam earlier in the year. I had it in Vanguard recently when I spent some more time there.

    It’s not a property of the games, it’s a property of the player, an attitude of mind. Open yourself to the possibilities of each world and many, I would say most, will draw you in.

    As Jim says, though, nothing will bring back the years you’ve lost, nor the innocence you had. If any MMO could do that, everyone in the world would be playing it.

  • Any tips on “unofficial” channels i should google? for daoc or eq or whatever else?

  • And there’s the further element that now that MMOs are established a much smaller percentage of other players will be experiencing them for the first time too; so even if one could oneself recapture the feeling of playing one’s first MMO, the surrounding atmosphere and community would not be the same. That’s another reason why making clones of Ultima Online or Everquest (or even vanilla WoW), which were infused by that early community, is never going to work.

  • @Bhagpuss: I had it in Vanguard when it launched. I definitely did not feel it in TSW or GW2… at all.

    I’m convinced it’s not all me. It can’t be if I’m still able to experience it in some games but not others.

    @Fathom: EQ Project 1999, UO Second Age, SWG EMU, DAOC Uthgard

    @Gankatron: Which game would that be?

  • @Gankatron: While these older games still immerse me, they’re old games I’ve played already. I want something new. What this did was prove to me that older games aren’t just nostalgia or the “first time” effect. It also debunks the theory that you can never experience it again or go back and feel the same way about an older game.

    This also provides grounds for a major point. Key point below!

    Every game released from 1996 until 2005’ish(that I played) was vastly different from the rest. The Realm, UO, EverQuest, Asheron’s Call, DAOC, Asheron’s Call 2, SWG, and so on, were each so different from the other that each created an EXPERIENCE until itself; One that could not be found anywhere else.

    Today, every game is so similar to the next that it’s no wonder I can’t be immersed. I was immersed the first time I experienced this trend/model — in WoW.

  • I too tried an unofficial channel to ultima online.
    It looked like the game I played, yet its not.
    Its like a deception.

    Playerbase smaller then it used to.
    Everyone only wants to pvp. (reason below)
    No economy at all. Server got funded by selling huge packages of materials like wood, metals, herbs. So there was no one willing to buy the mats you gathered.
    The iconic music in britain or britania (the big city you can start in) was gone.

    I tried… but its just not there.

    To me mmorpg’s are all about the world itself and the community.
    I do not remember that piece of sweet loot.
    I do remember for instance the time where I declined an invite to the nr1 pvp 5vs5 preteam in wow, because I valued the guild only 5 vs 5 team I set up for them more. (even if they sucked and yes I’m a pvper as well)

    I remember some nice people I met. I remember the first time I went to a beach to fish and seen players pass by to quest. Setting up a fireplace and offering everyone that passed some of my fresh cooked fish and a roleplaying story along with it.

    Btw… Keen your not alone. Your just one of the jaded forum posters and lurkers. So am I… 0.0

  • And… I do agree with you Keen.

    It is the lack of social game mechanics and the lets copy wow thing that makes it feel all the same.

  • @Keen – I get that you feel GW2 is another trap for you and not a step in the direction you wanted. I just don’t understand why.

    Below is a quick comparison of DAOC vs GW2 since you seem to continue to include classic DAOC as a game you feel would still fill your needs. (without ToA and Lab of course).

    It has RvR or WvW. Perhaps not all the mechanics are there yet like Darkness falls, but it’s really close and probably will get closer as the game gets patched and expansions.

    It has in my opinion great crafting especially with with addition of discovering recipes. The major change I see between DAOC is that GW2 speeds up your crafting if you are doing 100 of something. Instead of getting carpal tunnel syndrome continually clicking on a mouse and having to spend 10 seconds per item, it allows you to click craft once and then depending on the amount speeds it up. I don’t see that as a negative, but rather a move forward.

    Structured PvP, DAOC didn’t have this, but GW2 added it as another avenue of something you could do if you didn’t want to do the other things in GW2 at the moment or even ever. A great addition.

    GW2 has way points and portals while DAOC had mounts, teleporters, etc so I don’t see travel as being too different. Both also had speed buffs.

    The worlds are both large. In fact, I just read recently that someone discovered a map of Tyria in a GW2 file and found it was even larger than previously thought. So it can’t be the amount of land you can cover that’s an issue.

    Besides the lack of Darkness Falls. The only thing I could really find that sticks out is housing. In GW2 you have an instanced house which is kind of lame. And in DOAC you had an entire area where you could go through neighbors and check out trophies and see how people modeled their houses. Definitely cool stuff and definitely something I hope GW2 adds to the game.

    But even after that, I still don’t see what you find missing in GW2. Can you explain it in comparison of DAOC?

  • I think GW2 will be a lot of fun, and maybe it will last me years instead of 3 months. I’m not ruling that out.

    The PvP is great fun. I think it will be a fantastic twist on the RvR I enjoy.

    Crafting does look intrigueing.

    The world is large.

    I agree wholeheartedly. That’s why I bought, and enjoy, GW2.

    But that’s really not what this is about. I’m talking about the feeling of immersion and absorption into the experience that I can feel in a game like EQ, UO, SWG, and Vanguard when it first launched. Heck… vanguard wasn’t even a very good game and it managed to get me immersed and sucked in to the experience.

    It really is about being different. GW2 just isn’t different *enough* for me (personal thing, I know it doesn’t apply to everyone).

  • I’m biased. My nonstalgia for the older MMOs could very well just be nonstalgia, and not inhernet quality.

    Playing Runescape back in 2002, I remember entering a vast, strange world, and getting mauled by a bear. I remember getting scammed out of my nice set of armor, and having huge drop parties. Nonstalgia is great.

    But I wouldn’t want to go back and play 2002 Runescape right now. I’d want some of the nicer, streamlined, casual features that we see today, and I can’t deny it. As much as I want some more player-player interaction, player-made story, and spontaneous sandbox time, I would prefer those things to be given to me through a smooth, polished, understandable system now. That’s just what my sojourn through MMOs has done to me.

    I’m just more of a casual now…
    Join us Keen… one of us…. one of us…

  • @Keen – Thanks for clarifying that. But it now has me wondering if you’ve compared the time AND feeling you go when playing EQ, UO, SWG to the amount you played GW2.

    As of now, you played it only a beta and with a detached character(s) you knew you were going to lose. You haven’t invested the amount of time you have in EQ, etc. If a game is fun, gives you several avenues of enjoyment, and you start investing time with characters that no longer have the threat of deletion, perhaps immersion in GW2 is not so far away? Or have they made it too difficult for you to get into the story itself so that immersion is more difficult for you?

    Also, I’m not sure what you mean by different enough. Do you mean its evolved state is not close enough to a sandbox game? Or do you mean it isn’t different enough from other MMO’s in general?

  • I’ve found the biggest difference between new and old MMOs is the incredible amount of hand-holding, and specifically what we call UI-watching. In old games you would play the game by moving around through the world, only interacting with your UI/HUD once in a while when, say, looting or chatting. You had no minimap, you had no waypoints, you had no X-marks-the-spot quest solutions and checklists to get through.

    Even combat mechanics have become an exercise in staring at cooldowns to see when to hit your next number key.

    So I don’t think the immersion of old games like UO or EQ was because of their “sandbox” nature, but rather their lack of reliance on the UI for gameplay. Giant ! and ? over heads, vast quest logs, maps which spell out exactly where everything is all break the feeling of existing IN a world.

    Yes, back then you had to actually look for stuff, and learn the layouts of areas and remember where NPCs were, but isn’t that a big part of it?

  • For starters I think you need to sink some more time into GW2 before you can honestly tell if it immerses you or not. While going back to EQ had you immersed from the get go I find it unlikely that you where equally immersed the first few hours of playing it the very first time years back. At least that’s how every game works for me, they grow on me once I start sinking some hours into MY character (as in not the temp char I play during betas). When you went back to EQ your mind was most likely set to immersed mode from remembering how it used to be. Only real good test to prove your point would be trying a old MMO that you’ve never tried before and see if you get your immersion straight out of the gate there. IMO that is. 🙂

  • @Proximo – I agree. That’s pretty much where my question above comes in for Keen, but I think you summed it up pretty nicely as to what my feelings are on the situation.

  • I was immersed in EQ immediately. EQ is special in that way, though.

    You’re right about having temp chars and not allowing myself to grow attached, but at the same time there’s something to be said for how ‘familiar’ all of GW2 feels to me.

    I won’t rule out the possibility that GW2’s immersion will take time.

  • I just can’t agree that this is a matter of youthful eyes vs. those of jaded young adulthood. I’m not saying you can maintain the same wide-eyed wonder that you had as a teenager for your whole life – thank god, why would you want to? – but I think we should always be ready to demand that our expectations be challenged just as forcefully as they were “back then”; that our sense of wonder be engaged by wholly new ideas, that creators innovate and push ahead of us, to show us new frontiers and possibilities.

    When I read Keen’s posts, I don’t see him asking for developers to recycle the mechanics of UO or EQ1 or DAOC, nor do I think him simply bitter because he doesn’t like the mechanics of modern games; I see him demanding that creators start pushing innovation again, and that they create unique experiences rather than carbon copies. We have mastered the last generation of MMOs, and now the form needs to press onward into new territory where we’ll be challenged again. In the process it will probably explore areas which have been left fallow, such as proper player housing and a real economy, but that is a common process as a form explores its own history.

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood him; if so, he can let me know and I apologize. But assuming I understand him correctly as demanding more genuine diversity, creativity, and *real innovation* in the MMO sector, I say he couldn’t be more right, and it’s about damn time.

  • Zyler’s post has it right: “To me mmorpg’s are all about the world itself and the community”. MMOs are not just pieces of code that you can be immersed in independent of anything else. They are communities at some time in some space and the software itself is only a part of the experience that enables your enjoyment, in the same way that facebook is.

    But those who are saying GW2 has no real innovation, just didn’t play the same game many of us did in the BWEs. Sure you can play it like WoW and follow the zerg through the renown hearts but, then you miss the differences and the problem is your playstyle not the game itself. Anyone who thinks Dynamic events are just like Rift and Warhammer should look at this: Noone has done anything remotely like this in any MMO to date and making the open world dynamic is a huge step forward.

    And finally, if you want to be be immersed in a swimming a pool, you need to dive into it and explore, not run round the edge chasing some illusionary carrot.

  • “And finally, if you want to be be immersed in a swimming a pool, you need to dive into it and explore, not run round the edge chasing some illusionary carrot.”
    Man that was a good analogy! ^^

  • I think alot of the immersion older mmo’s gave us was due to a few things that chained into eachother wonderfully. It starts with lack of information. Meaning lack of information coming at you in the world/ui. When you arn’t overwhelmed with ?’s and !’s all over and floating information bubbles here and there it forces you to investigate more closely and thus pulls you into the game that much more.

    Next is leveling up. This may sound odd at first but hear me out. When I played EQ and any other game that I really got into mmo wise leveling was not easy. You could not just sit and solo by yourself to max level. When the game forces you to stay in areas for extended periods of time due to difficulty you naturally will grow a community. Doing this early on in a game is vital in my opinion. Todays games wait until the end game to do this and I think it really takes away from the overall communities that are being produced. This ties directly into the next topic of grouping.

    Since the leveling was harder people had to help one another so you were constantly making friends or enemies, thus making the community that much deeper. In EQ for example you would get a group and exp for hours on end with the same people many times. This kinda ties into the next topic which is giving people a chance to chat.

    Sounds odd but downtime can be a plus. I can’t count the number of times I bs’d with friends in my group while we waited on spawns to pull in EQ. Sure you can say, well all games have chat and guild chat and general chat and trade chat etc. This is true, but other than raiding or in a dungeon how many times are you in a group looking at the person you’re chatting with’s character in game, while not being distracted by other things. Sounds weird but it really doesn’t happen that often and that small thing brings alot of immersion with it that you might not realize.

    I always hit the topic of a fully connected world as well. When I log on and know I can run and find my friend somewhere in the world without invisible barriers blocking me it helps. When you start adding instances and lockouts you just hurt the overall immersion.

    Last but not least kinda goes back to my first topic. Lack of information. Todays mmo’s you can google anything for, have tons of things helping you figure stuff out in the game, maps everywhere, quest helpers etc. When you remove alot of this fluff and direction, it makes you step back and say, okay so what do I do now. If you ask yourself this question the game doing something right even though it sounds wrong. It’s forcing the player to……wait for it…..omg….THINK! It’s something that we really don’t have to do in most of the games today. Hell I’ve been revisiting Rift with a few friends and I can honestly say I have no clue what is going on other than me going to quest hubs, clicking the quest givers and running to circles on the map for the quest. Breaking this automatic behavior is something mmo’s really need to look at in my opinion, and the start of that is getting rid of the fluff.

    Even though DayZ has a terrible engine, ugly graphics, and pretty poor gameplay. The game does one thing right, lack of information. That alone brings the immersion level up and is the only reason I’ll play it. Anyways it is nice knowing that the emulated EQ server is still around. I played it little bit a few years ago and it did capture the best expansions of EQ. If GW2 doesn’t come through I might have to fire it back up and revisit it myself lol.

  • @Sikk It’s ironic that the things that you list as leading to immersion, such as spawn camping, area xp imbalances etc., are for the most part major failings in the game mechanics or missing features, rather than something intended by design. But, there are just as many fail mechanics in early MMOs that have no redeeming features in terms of encouraging community, such as need/greed looting, kill stealing, resource node competition etc.

    It is, of course, true that if you put people into situations where they have to stand around for hours waiting for something to happen, such as a spawns, tanks, healers, they will sometimes chat with each other. But it’s hard to believe that going back to all that is the way forward for MMOs.

  • After reading/commenting on your original immersion post, I found a vanilla WOW server and wanted to see if the nostalgia was real or imagined. Watched the original start video, and felt the old heartstrings pulling again. Launched a toon — a duplicate of my first — and started questing. Fortunately/unfortunately, it was a server that ran at 14x experience, and after my first kill, I was level 2. My first copper node yielded a stack of ore, which doesn’t sell in the Auction house for anything. Not much time later I was level 15, with no gold for training, but at least I was enjoying the atmosphere again. It was nice not to have to run grinding quests to level, but the trade offs (all flight points open, no gold, no economic game at low levels) made it a different game completely, and forces the objective to get to 60. The game is designed not to enjoy the trip — its to get to the final destination asap.

    And from the chat going on, it seems that battlegrounds seems to be the final destination for far too many. With a limited population, it looks like there won’t be many PUG’s or opportunities for social interaction. It just reinforces my opinion, that organized (group restricted) PVP is the death of the old MMO experience. I think the game makers would be best to focus on a great PVP game, avoiding the questing/leveling/crafting/economic aspect. Simple and cheaper, so they might be able to make a return on their investment. It might then open the door for someone to make a MMO without organized PVP, that focuses on the multifacted social and intellectual aspects which tend to satisfy the “immersion” part of our brains.

    One final thought. Forcing more in-game social interaction. Shortly after starting my toon, I sent out a question in chat, and found a kindred spirit. It was a great start, but the euphoria faded as it became apparent there weren’t many more players on board after this type of experience. It brought me back to the early days of WOW, when the guilds basically eliminated a lot of social interchange (fewer PUG’s etc). There were tons of people trying to get into a guild, and you could sense their frustration of being left out. Later, Blizzard tried a few things to make it easier for the non-guilded to get into the action — meeting points, and in BC, easier instances and PUG queuing. My point is that some concerted effort needs to be made to “force” social interaction, so that all players have a chance to experience this element of the game. My guild became virtually 100% of my social interaction, and just like organized PVP taking too many out of the game, so does guild activity. The non-guilded need some greater opportunities. One thought comes to mind — a bartering system for certain materials or items, where they can’t be auctioned, but need to be traded. Enchanting was like this, and I did meet a lot of people and enjoyed that profession due to the interaction.

  • @Roq It is ironic and I’ve thought on the topic many times before but that is what I think it comes down to. The mmo’s these days rush you from quest hub to quest hub and before you know it your in a new area because of the pre designed track that led you there. Instead of you having a choice of moving on you are forced to move on and it is usually faster than slower. Sounds like good game design but when you’re herded from area to area like cattle you don’t always get to experience what you might want to experience and the social aspect is usually lost. This really goes hand in hand with the majority of the current mmo’s which are pretty much all themeparks. That could really be a big key, the whole themepark vs sandbox design. I think having a balance between the two is the perfect zen of the genre and lately we have seen pure themeparks which is probably the reason I’ve felt let down time and time again with them.

  • I think your pretty close to why you feel the way you do about “modern MMO’s” with this line Keen: “That difference changes my mindset every time I log in, and sometimes that’s all one needs to be immersed.”. No doubt there would be more to it (expectations not being met, certain systems/mechanics not up to par which colours the rest of the experience, etc), but this would be close to a root cause. I’m not trying to say “It’s all _your_ fault”, I’m sure it isn’t, but the way we view something, even “real life” somethings, is definitely shaded by our perceptions and beliefs (i.e. mindset).

    You don’t mention your time in Darkfall very much any more either, from a lot of your posts that I’ve read, it had a lot more going for it (systems/sandbox wise) that you enjoy (and you even used to say you enjoyed playing it a lot apart from the buggness….which I’d expect the would have fixed up considerably by now). Maybe it’s time to grab a few mates a give it another try?

  • @Tinman_au: It’s like a chicken or the egg situation. Is the fact that I know a game is no different than the rest my cause for immersion, or is it the fact that the game is no different that causes me to know that I know it is no different?

    As for Darkfall, I’ve tried it again. I know a handful of people who still play. Darkfall had good intentions, good ideas, but executed so poorly that the result was a completely broken system. So broken, in fact, that right now you can get a 20x multiplier for skills until Darkfall 2.0 releases; At which point they may wipe. Darkfall has become all about the metagame of politics and PvP. In a way, much of the sandbox is lost and the spirit of the game has shifted out of the style of sandbox games I enjoy and onto something a little too tough-guy e-peen pvp politic’y. In my opinion, nothing can “save” Darkfall from its fate, but hopefully the new patch will make current players have more fun. All my opinion, of course.

  • darkfall problem was armature game design that was implemented in a manner which could not be overcome by band aiding it.

    The only way you are going to get the innovation you want in MMOs if if the cost goes down.

  • @Keen: Did you ever try something like

    I don’t think it has combat, but there seems to be a lot of the other aspects you sound like you’d enjoy. Maybe breaking out of the combat treadmill might fix the “same as everything else” feel you get from the usual MMO?

  • I totally agree with you a huge reason mmorpgs were so good back in the day was because they were all sooo different from each other yet still offered alot of entertainment. today I feel like everything is a wow clone with 1-2 different features from the last… I miss UOR and SWG and DAOC and Asherons Call… all great games all different from each other if you make a list of current games 85% of them fall into almost an exact wow clone its pathetic what happened to creativity of the mmorpg gaming community… I swear they all saw blizzards success and got money hungry only to watch there shitty games go under after about a year and make minimal profits. hopefully they learn from there mistakes and we get some NEW UNIQUE games.

  • I also forgot to add shadowbane to that list which for those who don’t know a emulator is currently being worked on and hopefully it will have a strong population