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The Gamebook Writers Who Nearly Invented the MMO 72

mr_sifter writes "In the 1980s, gamebooks were all the rage, and most geeks have read through a Fighting Fantasy novel or two. You might even have heard of Fabled Lands, arguably the most ambitious gamebooks ever — it was planned as a series of 12 books, each representing a different area of the world, and players could roam freely from book to book. It was completely non-linear, and unless you died, there was no way to finish. In 1996, the authors, Dave Morris and Jamie Thompson, hooked up with game developer Eidos and started work on what would have been a ground-breaking computer game version of their books — an MMO, in other words. Unfortunately, development hell awaited. This article tells the story of the game that could have been WoW before Warcraft."
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The Gamebook Writers Who Nearly Invented the MMO

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:46PM (#31795560)

    This article tells the story of the game that could have been WoW before Warcraft.

    Gee, was WoW the first MMO? I think not.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rainmouse ( 1784278 )
      It is always annoying that people regard World of Warcraft as the first MMORPG, considering it was basically Blizzards own version of Everquest which was out years before and Everquest was just a 3d version of Ultima Online with added group mechanics (tank, DPS, healing and crowd control). I guess what is ever remembered is not who did it first, but who first did it right.
      • Not to mention all of the MUDs around that helped pave the way for UO.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by axjms ( 167179 )

          Exactly! I always thought of MUD's as the very first MMOs with UO and Everquest simply being graphical MUD's. But perhaps there was something even before the MUD's and MOO's that I am unaware of.

          I use to have a serious addiction to a MUD called Phantazm. I still remember the sound of my modem connecting in and then connecting to Phantazm via telnet. I swear to god it was like a rush of heroin. Those were the days.

          • Before the MUDs was D&D. That was the ultimate multiplayer game (although really it wasn't an MMO as you were limited to how many people you could gather together). But your only limit was imagination (and how big of a douche bag your DM was)

            • by axjms ( 167179 )

              Yeah, I was kind of limiting my thinking to the electronic realm, but you are right of course. D&D started it all. Interesting to read about some of the mail based games that people have written about below. Never had the patience for that sort of thing, and I didn't think I would have the self control to handle any of the slick graphical based MMO's. So I have been MMO "sober" for at least ten years.

              • Consider yourself lucky. Most of today's MMOs (WoW included) are complete shit designed to suck people in and then make them do repetitive tasks. I myself am an admitted victim, as I play Star Trek Online (which is a subpar game but I like it just for the space battles which at least somewhat satisfy my inner Trek nerd). I always wanted a Trek RPG but pictured a game where you were a ship that would go on dynamically generated missions and you could free roam the ship or switch to a tactical outside the

          • by martas ( 1439879 )
            me, i prefer TLA's
          • For a lot of these Gaming reporters, nothing exists before the year they were 5. So while Ultimate Online, Everquest, Tradewars, et cetera may have been the earliest MMOs, the reporters have never heard of them so they might as well not exist.

            I also laugh when people say Resident Evil was the first survival-horror game. Not even close. "Haunted House" on the 1977 Atari 2600/VCS console was the first. But heaven forbid reporters do historical research as part of their job. To them, RE was the first.

        • by Creepy ( 93888 )

          From a technical standpoint after MUDs came Neverwinter Nights on AOL, considered the true first graphical MMORPG. Release Date? 1991, then 3D graphical MMORPGs, came in 1996 with Meridian 59. One big problem was number of concurrent users in a single area, which I believe Ultima Online was the first to try to tackle (shards) in 1997.

          That said, if you do RTFA, it does say Asheron's Call and Everquest were released or about to be, but nobody at Eidos had ever heard of a MMORPG. They also go on to say the

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I think what they are getting at is that it would have been as big as WoW - bigger then Ultima Online or Meridian 59, simply because it HAD that rich background and culture to it. WoW is by no means the first MMO, but its because of its predecessors that it did so well. In all honesty, I think if WoW did not have Warcraft and Starcraft games preceding it (and Warhammer games, if you count those), and it was launched at the same time as LotR:Online, LotR would be the bigger of the two.

      If this HAD taken off -

      • by nomadic ( 141991 )
        WoW is by no means the first MMO, but its because of its predecessors that it did so well.

        Ultima Online had more stuff to draw on from its predecessors than WoW ever did, and it still ultimately lost out to WoW.
        • I liked UO back in the day.
          I played it for a while and I remember I just found it soothing mining for a few hours or crafting things....

        • Good thing you're talking about number of players familiar with the world, and not amount of material. Oh, wait....
          • by nomadic ( 141991 )
            Please, you think 95% of Warcraft 1 and 2 players knew, or cared, anything about the world beyond the absolute basics necessary to play?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mike Buddha ( 10734 )

        I don't think this "fabled" game had the gumption. WoW was in a world already well known and well accepted amongst video games. It had a pedigree. Fighting fantasy not so. The few video games in that world, or even that genre, that have been released have been dismal failures (ie Deathtrap Dungeon on PC & Warlock of Firetop Mountain on DS)

        As rich in backstory as a lot of games are, the game has to "not suck", which WoW got right, for the most part.

      • To be honest were all just guesing about a guess. It might have been big and yet the central gameplay mechanic around it or plenty of other imaginable problems and it fails. We will never know and I'm not sure why were are discussing hindsight 'what if's' about a game that was never made.
    • This article tells the story of the game that could have been WoW before Warcraft.

      Gee, was WoW the first MMO? I think not.

      I can name at least 4 other major MMO titles that were on the market before WoW:

      Ultima Online - 1997
      EverQuest - 1999
      Horizons (Surprised to see it is still somewhat around) - 2003
      City of Heroes - 2004 (APR-27 as opposed to WoW on 2004-11-13)

      Then there is also that Meridian 59 that was mentioned elsewhere in this thread, and also Eternal Lands in 2003 (which was the first MMORPG I ever played. Got too grindy fast, so I think I gave it up after three months or so).

      • And let's face it, MUDs have been around donkeys years. It was only a matter of time before someone created a graphical version. The idea was obvious enough, and the technological hurdles weren't that great. It just needed enough people with adequate internet connections to make the game viable.
      • Meridian 59 was up in 1995.

        • Indeed it was... I downloaded their 100+ meg installer (if memory serves me correctly) over a friggin modem. That was a royal PITA.Two times I had to start over because resume wasn't supported! ;)

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      WoW before Warcraft, not WoW before WoW. But even then, they are wrong. The first Warcraft was in 1994, and they are talking about starting development for this in 1996.
    • Not massive, I think I saw maybe 42 users max, but I was playing Avatar [] in the 80s. And this was the second major version. Yes, only 15 floors, and everyone and their mother knew that, but it was cool before PCs were out of CGA.

      Ha they had more processor and RAM, it would have scaled very well, I think...

    • by mdwh2 ( 535323 )

      It must be the Apple definition of "first" - first, except for the ones that came before it.

    • Hah, network snipes on a Novell network.

  • hmm, but... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KingAlanI ( 1270538 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:51PM (#31795618) Homepage Journal

    always antecedents. always second-guessing.
    Nothing is (completely) new under the sun.
    Hindsight is 20/20

    • Re:hmm, but... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:03PM (#31795730)

      always antecedents. always second-guessing.
      Nothing is (completely) new under the sun.
      Hindsight is 20/20

      Hindsight is 50/50: sometimes you learn something and sometimes you don't.

      • by Daetrin ( 576516 )

        Hindsight is 20/20

        Hindsight is 50/50: sometimes you learn something and sometimes you don't.

        Well as long as we're mutilating old adages, Hindsight is 100/50: You always think you've learned something, but half the time you're wrong.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      Hindsight is a lying bitch.

      It confirms peoples biases, and people use it to see patterns which may not actually be meaningful.

  • I remember a friend and I sharing Ultima II maps that we had created and talking about how cool it would be if we could connect and play the game at the same time...

    (I know, I know, cool story bro)

  • First MMOs (Score:5, Informative)

    by Reason58 ( 775044 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:56PM (#31795662)
    So they started to talk about an MMO in 1996? They already had MMOs on the market by then. Meridian 59 [].
  • by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:57PM (#31795670)
    Welcome to 'Developer Dungeon'!
    Go North
    You cannot go North.
    Go South
    You cannot go South.
    Go West
    You cannot go West.
    Go East
    You cannot go East.
    Get me out of here
    You cannot escape.
  • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:00PM (#31795702)

    MUDS and other games that involve everyone playing in the same massive persistent world at the same time have been around since the 80's.

    There were some graphical games with large persistent games with lots of players in the same world before 1996.

    I'm not so sure about 3d games if that's the specific title they're talking about.

    • Man, Slashdot is sooooo frikking wierd!

      If you mastered command-line editing (like vi) you are an ancient pro of the arcane.

      If you leveled up a seriously hot wizard via a text-only interface you're not even on the map.

      Makes me want to smack some people with my acoustic coupler, I tell ya.

  • There were several Massive Multiplayer games that didn't use computers at all.

    I played one called Star Master for several years. It was run by an outfit called Schubel & Son which also ran a fantasy game (Tribes of Crane) and later did computerized PBM games.

    Players created a species (limbs, senses, mental abilities, defenses), a planet (size, atmosphere), and government.

    Each turn you filled out one or more turn sheets. It cost a few bucks to process each. One sheet might let you move one ship (or group

    • Last time I checked, these are still around. I was thinking of starting in on, recently.

      However, when I went to the Flying Buffalo Website [] they distracted me with the new Japanese "Lost Worlds" gamebooks (which are sort of like the old Lost Worlds games books, except containing perverted pictures of cartoon girls in place of the rather dull "Man with Sword" or "Skeleton with Shield" I remembered from my childhood.).

      Oh, don't go there! I don't want them to sell out of any more and have to order them from H

    • Indeed. Computer & Video Games mag in the UK had a PBM Space game back in the early 80's. You sent off your orders and waited a week or two then the results came back.
  • I owned several Choose your own adventure books when my age was single digit... were "Gamebooks" Similar to those? They were pretty cool :thumb:
    • by coaxial ( 28297 )

      Yeah. I was a big fan of the Lone Wolf [] series. Read all the way up through the Magnakai Series. I figured the story was over then since the Big Bad was finally defeated, so I stopped. After a few years I found a later book, and thought it was kind of dumb to have even more books. The character was already super powerful, and it just seemed like one sequel to far.

      But to answer your question, yes, they were like Choose Your Own Adventure, only every so often you'd have to fight, and then "If you win, tur

      • I had the first book in the Lone Wolf series when I was a kid. I've kept it around for many years, and I just played it last week with my 9 year old nephew.

        He had as much fun with it as I did back in the day.

      • by Endymion ( 12816 )

        I loved those books. I was quite surprised a year or so ago to find that not only have most of the books been preserved online as Project Aon [], but someone actually ported the first couple books to the nintendo DS [], with enforced gameplay, an inventory screen, managed battles, etc!

  • by sammyF70 ( 1154563 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:32PM (#31795972) Homepage Journal
    The author actually says in the article that Everquest and Asheron's Call were about or were already released (and by that measure, Meridian and Ultima Online must have been out already). He also says that he wrote this article because he was curious what happened to the game, which makes him a very gifted journalist for becoming curious just as 'An iPhone and iPad version of the Fabled Lands books is set for release this Summer" (picture caption on the 3rd page). Slashvertisement much?
  • Read through a Fighting Fantasy "Novel." How does that work, exactly?

    To simulate this experience:

    Paragraph 1: You are standing in front of a large earthen mound. An eerie wailing comes from a tunnel leading down. If you choose to enter a tunnel, go to paragraph 53. If you'd rather explore the surrounding countryside, go to paragraph 37.

    Paragraph 2: You sit down at the large oaken table, a winsome barmaid gives you a flirtatious look. "What'll it be, handsome?" If you'd like to sample the local mead,

  • I never played it, but when the pencil and paper RPG Torg [] came out, the publisher encouraged players to mail in the results of how their campaigns were proceeding, particularly how published adventures went. Based on this input, later editions would reflect these changes of the world. It was a cool idea, but I don't think it actually went anywhere in practice.

  • Playing the Assassin's Creed series lately really brought home to me how MMO's are basically just MUDs.

    Sure they have pretty graphics, but even the most sophisticated don't take the basic step of letting you have some body-control, like AC does.

    In effect, in any kind of chat or roleplay or whatever, even in some of the MMO's in combat, it's just a MUD.

    Text scrolls by, and all the sparkly effects and 17mp on-the-fly rendered graphics are just a frame to house the same old text game that geeks have been doin

  • I was a big fan of the books, if this game had been made I doubt that I would have made it through school. Would have been a bigger time sink than civ and championship manager combined
  • I almost cured cancer once. But had a tough time with the development cycle so the project was canceled.
  • Ahh Fighting Fantasy books! The books that got me into RPG, even before I knew what RPG ment...

    I have very fond memories of reading them, playing them, even of getting out to buy a new one.

    And what do you mean, "read a novel or two"?! I've finished, without cheating, at least 4 novels, although I had around 20 or something. Here in Portugal we didn't got all the 50+ books, but we got them translated to Portuguese, which for me was astounishing. No other books in Portuguese talked about wizards and sorcerers

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