Long before online gaming hit the mainstream in the mid 1990’s, there was MUD. Standing for Multi-User Dungeon, it was an online version of the Adventure text game, created by Roy Trubshaw at Essex University in England in 1979. It would later be greatly expanded on by Richard Bartle, sparking an entire genre of game that still thrives today.
You can directly tie the existence of today’s MMOGs such as World of Warcraft to the original MUDs, which proved to the world that gaming online with fellow adventurers was and is incredibly compelling. For the history of the trailblazing MUD, please consult your local Dot Eaters article.
TDE continues a series of posts concerning various aspects of the Famicom and NES, leading up to the 30th anniversary of the ubiquitous Japanese video game system. This time, we look at Nintendo’s first cautious steps towards online connectivity with the Famicom.
Just the Fax
In America, video game companies have tested the waters of console-based online services, such as PlayCable for Mattel’s Intellivision in 1981, and 1983’s Gameline for the Atari 2600. Nintendo starts its own flirtation with online services for the Famicom in 1987, with the development of the Disk Fax System. Used in conjunction with the Family Computer Disk System, the scheme allows players to purchase special blue-coloured disk versions of games, onto which they can save their high-scores. They can then take these to Disk Fax kiosks in participating stores, where their high scores are read and sent to Nintendo via phone line to be entered in contests run by the company. Games used in the competitions include the two versions of Family Computer Golf: Japan Course and U.S. Course, as well as 3-D Hot Rally and Famicom Grand Prix F1 Race. Top scorers receive awards such as gold versions of disk cards, ensconced inside of elaborate packaging.
Perhaps you’re like me, and the original Castle Wolfenstein, made by Silas Warner and Muse Software for the Apple II in 1981 and the C64 in 1983, defined your computer gaming experience back in the day. And perhaps Activision’s 2001 Return to Castle Wolfenstein remake, itself a re-telling of id Software’s seminal 1994 3D remake of the original, helped to define the modern online shooter in your mind.
Well, the news from Gamespot is that B.J. Blazkowicz is back for more two-fisted adventures with Wolfenstein: The New Order, announced today by Bethesda Softworks. The game is being developed by MachineGames, a Swedish outfit made up of former key members of Starbreeze Studios, makers of The Darkness and the Riddick games.
As I said, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was a watershed game, not necessarily for its rather pedestrian single-player campaign, but more for its amazingly well-tuned and just plain fun online component. Pitting Nazis against Allied forces, the simple-yet-deep strategy and wonderful level design destined the title for greatness. Here’s to raising a stein to the success of this new entry in the Wolfenstein saga.
Our ad today loads up a service that gave many people their first taste of electronic mass communication: CompuServe. Back in the “good” old days, you had a couple of options if you wanted to go online: a local dial-up BBS, or a nationwide equivalent like CompuServe, one of the larger players in the forming market. Here is the ad, from a 1985 issue of Compute’s Gazette:
The “videotex” mentioned in the copy was an early system to deliver interactive text to users. It’s funny to me how the base elements of the Internet were all understood and ready to be delivered to a potential user base: news, banking, online shopping, email, games… all the concepts of what we do on the Internet today. Of course, CompuServe has to couch things in a way people of the 80’s would understand, so they compare their chat service to a “multi-channel CB simulator”. 10-4 good buddy! I’m also impressed by the image of a Zardoz-type video warrior armed with not only a hand blaster, but a light-sabre as well. Guy’s ready for a fight!
At the Game Developers Conference currently underway in San Francisco, Sony made an announcement about a major patch coming to its virtual social space Home, available for free on the PS3.
I say free, but besides being a PR machine for upcoming Sony movie releases and games for the PS3 and PSP platforms, the driving force of Home has been the idea of microtransactions, where you can pay from .99 cents to a few dollars for costumes, clothing, virtual living spaces, and so on. The margin is sky-high on the 1000’s of items available, so Home seems to be a big revenue generator for Sony.
The update concerns itself with improving the nature of games available in Home, something Sony notes is a huge driver of interest in their virtual service. Games will apparently be easier to create, and easier to merge with the space overall. It also promises to incorporate ease of MMO-type gaming, where virtual peeps can join each other to game in large groups together.
Personally, I’ve found Home to be a wash from its inception. I could bag on the lame money-grubbing nature of it, the asshats everywhere, the skin-deep shallowness… but I think how the boys at Penny Arcade summed it up in their online comic back when the service launched in 2008; their painful criticism still speaks directly to the Home experience: