Monday, June 27, 2011

Happy birthday, Anarchy Online

Ten years ago Anarchy Online launched, with what is until now unbeaten as the worst MMORPG launch ever. I was there on day one, and looking back I wonder why I didn't log off immediately on that day. Fortunately the game improved significantly from launch, and has survived a full decade today. Time to have a look at what AO brought to the genre:

Anarchy Online was probably the high-point of procedurally created content in MMORPGs. Pretty much everything in AO was randomly generated, from the landscapes to the random missions. That did sometimes lead to strange effects: For example weapons exist in 200 different levels, with the stat increase per level being linear. But somebody had balanced that system somewhere at mid-level, with some weapons having a stronger increase per level than others. That led to some low-level weapons having negative stats, even negative damage output! Furthermore the system resulted in a huge number of different weapons, with players camping the weapon store, which every hour got a new batch of 50 random weapons. It could take a long time before you got exactly the weapon you wanted at the right level.

Random missions turned out to be not so great either, a problem shared with Star Wars Galaxies: If you can repeatedly hit a "new mission" button on a terminal creating random missions, you'll do that until you get the random reward you want for a reasonable effort. Random landscapes looked great, but quickly became boring. And random dungeons became boring even quicker, because there weren't all that many tilesets from which to build them. (Which incidentally was my main reason to quit City of Heroes. Now that is going free to play I think I'll check whether they added significantly more tilesets for their random dungeons.)

So overall procedurally created content was not really a great success in Anarchy Online. I think there is a future for it in MMORPGs, but the random creation with algorithm has to be implemented better.

Anarchy Online was a pioneer of the Free2Play movement in December 2004, although financed by advertising instead of an item shop. While the announcements of 2011 of many games going Free2Play raise barely a yawn, that was pretty revolutionary in 2004.

As a final birthday present to Anarchy Online, I'd like to cite some previews of Star Wars: The Old Republic, in which the previewers complain about people standing toe to toe and shooting at each other with laser weapons, which doesn't feel all that realistic. Anarchy Online has this problem since a decade, and it's interesting to see how nobody has come up with a better implementation of Sci-Fi combat yet.

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