Since Fatsquatch has been reminiscing about MMOs out of the gate here, my mind has begun to wander back to a simpler time. A time when the only way to access the Internet in my area was with a blazing 56K connection. A time when our computer which rocked Windows 98, a 4 GB hard drive, and 32 MB of RAM was the envy of all of my friends. A time when all I really wanted to do was find games to play online with other people… that were free, of course.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been an extremely competitive person, whether it be grades in school, performance at a job, or even winning at family game night. One problem I had growing up was that my friends never wanted to play against me; all they ever wanted to do was play cooperatively. This was fun, but what I really craved was challenge not from the AI, but from the person next to me. A real life being who could truly adapt to my techniques and not fall prey to the same tactics dozens of times in a row. Unfortunately, most of my pals didn’t fit the bill. I was stuck playing cooperatively, with the rare competitive matches ending with them being angry at me for showing the slightest bit of pleasure after a solid victory. I even found myself letting people win sometimes just so they wouldn’t get angry and quit playing.
It turned out that playing with people from around the world was even worse. Even playing a game of checkers against someone was an exercise in futility because people just hated losing. As a result, I started searching for something different. That’s when I stumbled upon Era Online.
Doing a quick Google search for EO doesn’t really bring up a lot of information. You might stumble upon the developer’s website, which only contains a brief mention of the title as well as a link to its Wikipedia article. Information on the game has all but vanished, and I feel like with it a part of my adolescence has disappeared as well.
At its core, EO was very derivative of Ultima Online, though I had no way of knowing at the time. I was drawn in by the prospect of playing a game in real time with dozens (or hundreds!) of other people. Even though it wasn’t strictly competitive, the variety of character classes and professions was mind-boggling to me at the time. I fondly remember making a character who was a Pirate that could tailor and was great at woodwork so I could make myself some snazzy threads, an awesome boat, and float around yelling “ARRRRRRRRRR!” at anyone unfortunate enough to be on the same map as I was.
Another thing that really drew me in was the sense of community, which I have yet to find in any other online game I’ve played since. EO was basically a project done in one man’s spare time that ended up turning into a full-fledged game that made it deep into beta status before ultimately having the plug pulled.
It was fairly buggy even toward the end of its life, but the community was loyal and, for the most part, helpful. Even before the game was playable there were numerous guilds that developed with specific purposes, and I got caught up in that as well. I ended up joining a guild called The Shadows; we were supposedly neutral to all the conflict between other guilds, but we generally just messed with everyone who crossed us and spent a lot of time robbing banks.
It’s amazing to me that to this day I can recall specific in-game events (such as winning a race to catch a dragon before anyone else in the game thanks to my guild mates blocking other players’ paths), names of some of my guild mates (Xile, Delay, Treforus, Dekar), and the heart-wrenching last day that the server was online. I wonder if any of my guild mates (or anyone else for that matter) remembers things from EO in vivid detail like I do. I wonder how many of them have played World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, didn’t really enjoy them, and kept playing because they had a friend or colleague who played with them.
In the weeks, months, and years since EO shut down I’ve searched for another MMO that would capture my imagination and have the sense of community that I yearned for. Even after spending well over $400 in monthly access fees, I have yet to find it. What saddens me the most is that I probably never will.