My interest in online worlds and games began quite a long time ago. I’m not sure which one was the first online game I played, though. I know I tried out the original Neverwinter Nights on AOL, and for a time we also had Prodigy and I tried out Compuserve. I spent time somewhere with a crude 4X game (I think) called TradeWars, and I played various games on the GEnie service along with spending time in the RoundTables (RT) there (the precursor to these new-fangled “forums”…the Justice League: GEnie group in the Comics RT in particular was pretty hilarious).
However, the clearest memories I have was a game called Medievia. It was a text based MUD that my siblings got me into when I was probably around 10-12 (so 1992-1994-ish). Compared to other MUDs I tried later, it felt like a fully realized world, and introduced many words into my vocabulary like quaff (the only way to drink potions) and formation (a 3×3 grid for your group used to employ a rudimentary form of aggro control and tanking).
The game was at version 3 when I started playing (sometime in 1994 likely) and the lands were like other MUDS, just a series of rooms connected to each other to form cities, dungeons, and landscape. Later they would upgrade to a Medievia version 4, which added a fully built world with millions of wilderness rooms built into an ASCII landscape, where dragons could randomly land and start rampaging through towns, natural disasters could devastate an area, caravans could be acquired for trading and to help you survive on the roads, and a death system that STILL makes me wish someone would implement something like it in modern MMOs as it’s pretty freaking cool.
Medievia was the source for many early memories, and the origins to one or two character names I still use. I joined a clan (guilds in current terminology) called Cheese, Inc., probably the best name for a clan/guild I’ve ever heard. The names changed during my time, from Cheese, Inc. to El Queso Grande, to Cheese, and other variations.
Probably my favorite memory was when the clan leader brought us into the clan hall, where it was previously declared a Public PK (Player Kill) zone, and then over the course of our party would slowly close and lock all doors leading out of the clan hall. After he locked the final door, someone finally noticed and called it to our attention, at which point he grinned evilly and proceeded to slaughter us all (being a pretty badass character himself). All in good fun, of course. I think we were all too busy laughing at the absurdity to fight back though. Rotten fish slapping may have been involved at some point, I forget.
Looking back, Medievia inspired many ideas that would later fuel my imagination about possible games I would make “if I only had the time”. Among the features that stood out to me were:
- A fully realized world map (in ASCII code) made of millions of rooms you could explore almost entirely, provided you could survive.
- A multi-class system allowing you to go back and continue building your character in other classes even after reaching max level (31).
- A death system where you wandered as a corpse and could either wait 20 minutes and pray at an altar for resurrection…or hunt down a necromancer who had taken your soul and kill him to be resurrected sooner.
- A randomized endgame dungeon called “The Catacombs” or just “The Combs” that actually moved to a new location occasionally.
- An early random quest system known as Autoquest.
- An automatic item “tweak” system for looted equipment that would randomly generate some values for items so you could come across a really nice variation purely by accident.
- Large weather systems, even forest fires that can be started.
It’s no surprise I was hooked, but I don’t think my young brain was capable of understanding the possibilities online worlds held that were slowly being absorbed through this magical new medium.
It also taught me to type extremely fast. Combat updates would occur regardless of what you were doing, and attacks and spells needed to be typed out on a command line. Sure there were shorthand commands, but I never used them (and therefore never bothered to learn), preferring instead to type out something like “cast greater healing on Soandso” instead of “c gh on Soandso”. After a while you begin to learn to type fast as a survival mechanism. For some reason I never had the courage to tell my school computer lab teachers what was actually causing my typing speed to rocket past everyone else. They probably wouldn’t have cared in the slightest and may have even been interested in this method of training, but it strangely felt like cheating to me to be using a game to get better at typing. It just didn’t feel like practice…just fun.
However, as happens with all games eventually, I started to drift away during my sophomore year, and completely stopped prior to my Junior year despite having at least one friend still playing. I tried seeing if other MUDs were worthwhile, but Medievia had a magic for me that few other MUDs could replicate, and indeed many games still fail at some of the more interesting mechanics present (as noted above). I now realize it was a factor of “it just clicked” and was my first foray into these online worlds, but back then I barely understood the ramifications this game would have on me. Games for me after that were mostly console and adventure games like the King’s Quest/Space Quest series, as I did not have a powerful enough computer to handle more graphically advanced games that were beginning/already appeared.
My gaming habits would stagnate as more important things came into focus…like graduating, picking a college, and figuring out what I wanted to do with this crazy thing we call a life. Now…completing two out of three of those wasn’t bad, at least it got me out of my hometown and set me up for some of the biggest changes in my life…even if it still took several years after to get that third item done. I wouldn’t get seriously back into gaming until I began college and had more personal freedom than ever, as well as my own PC (more on that later).
Interestingly enough, Medievia is still active, free, and still improving the game over 20 years since they started. I recently found their website and while nostalgia certainly hit in, the game has grown far beyond what I played and I don’t know if I could ever go back. It was an early time in my gaming life that I wish I could impart upon newer generations to get a feel of where these games have come from, so that where we are now becomes all the more incredible and amazing, and put in the proper frame. Looking at the current features, part of me thinks it might also make them a little disappointed that several of these features just aren’t common or even non-existent in most modern and “better” games, such as ship fights, natural catastrophes (floods, forest fires, diseases, and meteor storms), and weather systems that empower your magic.
http://www.medievia.com – Do You Dare Enter?
Images taken from Medievia’s website, hosted by myself, as well as from my own playing.