Looking back on Asheron’s Call

Back in 1999 some friends got me into playing Asheron’s Call – one of the first three Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) to hit the market.  Originally developed by Turbine Entertainment – a company formed to create this game – and originally published by Microsoft on the MSN Gaming Zone.  I played the game to varying degrees from its launch in 1999 until it was shut down at the end of January 2017 getting involved in two official volunteer corps – the Zone Online Team (ZOT) and the Jolt.co.uk live events team and contributing to various third party add-ons and emulation projects.

Almost one year after AC was shut down, the Hey You Video Game podcast decided to do an episode on AC featuring interviews with LOLcifer and Tee Ess, aka me.  I had a bit of a cold at the time of the interview but it was awesome to talk about and reminisce about a very unique game.  It’s easy to forget how unique the game was; some of the concepts it pioneered are now in every new MMO to hit the market while others haven’t for reasons which could be debated for a long time.

The true irony of Asheron’s Call is that the development team was very ambitious and tried to push the genre as far as possible which involved pushing the server-side hardware beyond its limits, causing the game to get delayed before release making the graphics system at release (and throughout the life of the game) quite outdated.  While the developers created a replacement game engine which featured much better graphics and sound a few years later it was released as a sequel and not an update.  The sequel not only featured much better graphics but greatly changed the game mechanics and systems.  Was this done to try to appeal to a wider or different user base or to align themselves closer with the mainstream games?  In either case the sequel didn’t attract many existing players to it due to the game system changes nor did it attract a large market of new players leading to the original game greatly outliving the sequel.

Hopefully new DMCA exemptions will be made to allow for the community maintenance of abandoned online gaming properties and I’ll have a chance to demonstrate what made this game so unique.  No matter what the future holds in store for this groundbreaking game, I can’t deny that it helped pique my interest in various topics I otherwise may never have delved into.  While I had played many games before AC and have played a variety of games since, AC is responsible for making me learn a lot about the subjects of game design, interactive storytelling, distributed computing, and hybridized data systems.  Perhaps I’ll write more about these subjects in order to highlight how the game intrigued me so, but until then, please enjoy the podcast here.