History In Action: Meridian59 Is Free

By Alec Meer on May 10th, 2010 at 9:02 pm.

Ultima Online isn’t the grandaddy you think it is. In fact, it was predated by one Meridian59. Often considered the first MMO (at least in terms of how we now define the genre), and thus progenitor of all the Warcraft template that so many of the last half-decade of MMOs is built around, Meridian 59 is an essential artifact for gaming historians. It’s also (apparently) really very interesting even by today’s standards. Combine that with the fact it recently went free to play after 14 years and you have a really bloody good reason to indulge in a spot of gaming archeology.

Given the now rather unfortunately-named developer Near Death gave up the ghost in January and the game’s currently running on a non-profit model, it might not be around for long, so look at it and support it while you still can. You can download the client here, but until the current overlords build a new account management system, you’ll need to email them with your desired username and password to create a free sub.

To get a rather good sense of what Meridian59 is and how it works, I can recommend reading both Eurogamer’s recent retrospective and the fan-run Reference site. Had I more time, I’d love to do a Worst Ninja-style nose at the game.

Speaking of which, I wish Ultima Online would go free. It’s a fascinating world as it is, but with a surge of population it would be amazing.

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49 Comments »

  1. Sarlix says:

    I feel sorry for the ‘tight-knit community’ that’s going to be bombarded with hundreds of deranged rps goers (no offense)

    Downloading now.

    • Sarlix says:

      OK maybe not hundreds then, tens perhaps.

      Or ones

      OK just me then

      Never fear Sarlix will go forth on behalf of you all!

      Make way villainy! hero coming through!

  2. Alex Bakke says:

    One of the developers of Meridian 59 is now an Administrator on http://www.bolterandchainsword.com, nice guy to talk to.

  3. PJ says:

    What happened to that man’s pants? Is this what you call “really very interesting even by today’s standards”?

  4. Khab says:

    Nah, I tried this when it came out.

    I actually did, too! I had kind of fun, come to think of it. Got pkilled and everything.

  5. HexagonalBolts says:

    Hello Runescape.

  6. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Meridian 59 was back then the poor offspring of MUDs, never attaining the popularity of this seminal genre. Than Ultima Online came and Meridian 59 was all but completely forgotten. Despite Meridian 59 being older, it was not until Ultima Online that the genre actually got defined.

    Meridian 59 was back then mentioned as a sort of graphical MUD and of inferior quality and implementation.

    Today Meridian is not match for the more advanced MMOs, either. Forever trapped in some sort of mediocrity that never really allowed it gather an actual name for itself. And this is so because the game is really not that great. Never matched MUDs in their complexity and play value, and never matched Ultima Online in features and… play value.

    Despite earning my respect for its historical significance (more, because this was actually 1996 when the internet potential for graphic gameplay was still mostly untouched), Meridian was a bad game. Sorry.

    • Wolfox says:

      Simon Cowell, is that you?

    • Dawngreeter says:

      I would just like to add that I have nothing to say. Furthermore, let it be known that my unresponsiveness is quite enthusiastic. I almost wish I had something to say because I have little doubt in my mind that, given such circumstances, my statement would be mindshatteringly awesome. Alas, this remains purely within the realm of hypothetical and you will have to deal with my complete lack of something to say.

      Still, I will not stop you from pirating my hypothetical awesomeness by way of personal imagination. So long as I am credited, of course.

  7. Jimbo says:

    Eh, I’ll just wait for Meridian60. I’ve waited this long.

  8. Spectre-7 says:

    I have a lot of nostalgia attached to this game. I played the beta the first day it was available, and had a fine time running around their little virtual world, hiding inside of scenery that wasn’t supposed to be accessible and attacking players who couldn’t see me (often under ridiculous pseudonyms like An orc, so the unsuspecting target would think the game was glitching badly). We also discovered quickly that you could change your name to ###, which was how the gameworld prefaced all of the system messages. There was some real dastardly joy to be had convincing a player that he’d just logged off with a simple emote — ### Thragnor has left the game.

    That was fun for a while, but the game eventually became more refined and complex, and consequently much less fun, and I moved on the greener (well, browner rather *cough*quake*cough) pastures.

    A few years later, I went to work for 3DO, who’d bought the rights to the game, and I worked directly alongside the games last remaining admins. They were a harried bunch who mostly despised what they did for a living… not that such a thing is at all unusual in the tech support section of a game company. :)

    Nice to see that the game’s been released free. I doubt I’ll be playing, but it does warm a strange little part of my heart to see it continuing on.

    • Brumisator says:

      Ah, the good old time of broken games.

      When games were art, and not engineered for “gaming perfection” like nowadays.

      Hey, sidepoint, how come nobody ever used the “games used to be art” argument?

  9. geldonyetich says:

    As long as they’re going free, they probably should have rigged up some micro-payments. That’s the typical model amongst second-banana MMORPGs these days, a niche the once-innovative M59 was shoehorned into simply via simple obsolescence.

    To a great extent, these earlier MMORPGs are more worth watching than the later ones. They were conceived before cloning the easy answers was an option.

  10. Chiablo says:

    Where did the 59 in Meridian 59 come from?

  11. tapanister says:

    One word (made up by two other words): Darkfall Online. Ok, two words total.

  12. malkav11 says:

    That retrospective really doesn’t have anything useful to say about what distinguishes Meridian 59 from other MMOs in actual play or why I would want to check it out nowadays. Nor, frankly, does this article. Absent such information, I don’t think I can be bothered.

  13. Grey_Ghost says:

    Wowzers, I remember this game. I had a friend who was really into it way back when. I tried to get into it, but all I can recall is it being a horrible experience.

  14. MadMatty says:

    Is my arse art?

  15. El Stevo says:

    @ PJ:

    It’s not a man, unless he’s tucking it between his legs.

  16. metal_spider says:

    CUBONE wears the skull of its deceased mother. Its cries echo inside the skull and come out as a sad melody.

  17. Zombat says:

    UO does have alot of player ran servers, which apparently, yonks ago, EA said was okay.

    • RedFred says:

      This is true. I have been an on and off player for a while now. It is tricky to find a decent PvM server that isn’t littered with fluro junk though.

  18. Magic H8 Ball says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    Is my arse art?

    The Arse. “Do not go to a gay bar”. The goal of the game is go to a gay bar and get molested.

    Bad jokes aside, original post confused me, because the definition of a MMO is definitely not the same as it was back when UO was king. So what kind of MMO is Meridian59? EVE kind or Aion kind?

    • Nick says:

      What the hell sort of homophobic crap is that?

    • Starky says:

      The goal of the game is to start a war, a nuclear war. A difficult task involving careful money management (key is managing to trick other players into spending it, all their money), along the way increasing your fame as a warmonger, until you reach the rank of superstar.

      At the gay bar.

  19. Lobotomist says:

    Niceee!

  20. terry says:

    Hasn’t UO been free for a while (cough cough)? I seem to recall some sort of server emulator and there are several player-run shards, or were when I last checked a year or so ago. I love me some UO (which is odd given I really did fuckall in game but hit trees) but it wouldn’t be the same I suspect.

  21. Dinger says:

    The problem with searching for predecessors is that there’s always another. You know, massively-multiplayer (in the sense of a server capable of handling hundreds to thousands of players), persistent world, with raiding parties of up to ten players, permadeath and all that? Welcome to 1975.

  22. Dave says:

    Pshaw. I remember Meridian 59 as newcomers on the scene. GemStone is where it’s at.

  23. Gar says:

    I don’t know who ‘Mario Figueiredo’ above is, although he’s got a nice blog. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s completely wrong. In fact, most people posting here have no idea what Meridian 59 is about.

    Meridian 59 is the best PvP MMO there is.

    That’s really the problem, though. Nobody plays for PvP anymore – not real PvP, anyway. Gamers today think WoW and Darkfall have PvP. They don’t. They have mock systems that are like watching PvP rather than actually doing it. There’s no heart, no skill, no penalties. Meridian 59 is vastly different from all of that.

    Believe it or not, we’ve had 15 years of updates, additions, and balancing. We even got a new graphics engine a few years ago. Something about this game ensures that it can never die. The community and owners simply love it too much.

    Unfortunately we are in an age when MMOs are only as populated as their marketing dollars, and we’ve always been owned by small companies. Still, the small server size (a few hundred people per) allows the community to matter much more. It’s a great game, if you think you can handle it. If you play for achievements and grinding and pretty celestial steeds, you should probably pass.

  24. Gar says:

    Whoops, forgot to point out – that screenshot up there is from the OLD graphics engine, on a pirate version of the game with poor quality to boot. Our game doesn’t look quite that brutal :)

  25. Hitman the Red says:

    Meridian59 will forever from this day forward be defined by it’s graphics (which actually are not really bad). That is quite unfortunate but not unforeseen since everything now has to be slick and polished to get a second look. In these times in which we live you can polish a tird and sell it to somebody. But a diamond still covered in coal isn’t worth the trouble.

    Meridian is just such a gem. With it’s pure balance of spell schools and warrior skills there is NOTHING out there as complex when trying to configure your toon for PvP. You can sit in front of a blank character screen and waste an hour simply deciding what character design will fit what you want to accomplish.

    The fact the game has a smaller world basically makes it a huge areana for war with just enough space to hide and/or chase your enemies while remaining armed and supplied. The penalties you incur for running from a fight or dieing in a fight are down right serious compared to anything else out there. Visit http://www.gilcon.net/meridian to get some more insight into the game’s dynamic and check out the message boards there. Here is an updated screen shot of a town called Tos: http://i58.photobucket.com/albums/g256/Fragalicious/M59Graphics.jpg

  26. malkav11 says:

    Well, nevermind. That answers my question about whether I’d be interested. (Hint: no.)

  27. Magic H8 Ball says:

    Nick said:
    What the hell sort of homophobic crap is that?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Path_(video_game)

  28. Sowy says:

    Meridian 59′s pvp system is fluid and player skill based. It has the fluidity of a FPS game but magic/weapons. The game isn’t centered around who can get the best loot, or run on a tredmill faster. In fact even new players can get into pvp fairly early even versus higher strength players. It’s not impossible for them to win either. It doesn’t take forever to build a character and there ARE death penalties but they are NOT permanent or unrecoverable. They are, however, enough to make pvp give you that adrenaline rush that is lacking in the no-risk pvp games that are currently on the market and flooded by 14 year old gamers and asian gold farmers.

    As far as the “A tight nit community” I STILL keep in touch with people I’ve met in this game in it’s early days. I cannot say the same about ANY other MMORPG that I have played. Some in the community are hard headed, but take delight — you can kill them!

  29. BoNeZ says:

    ROFL, M59 LIVES ON……

  30. D says:

    M59 isnt for everyone thats for sure. But going along with the story..there are infact other free servers of M59 and UO. Im not sure if the person who wrote this cant mention free servers or hes just never used a computer before.

  31. BoNeZ says:

    I played Meridian 59 over a decade ago and I still play today. I’ve tried other MMO’s and always went back to M59 due to the fact that it’s original and requires more of a thought process to play. Those who leave are most likely to leave because of the few disliked players that have been here and will always be here and never a day that they don’t grief the newbz. Hehe and most other MMO’s that are played do to their extreme advertisements, well face it any 8 year old can play these. You got skill, desire, and are tired of playing with kids toys, check it out it’s FREE nothing to lose. Oh if you try M59 and are used to playing WoW and cry a lot when u get killed better play on 102 I’m not even sure if people from WoW are allowed on server 101………….. That’s all I have to say about that……. ;)

  32. Tanaka says:

    Gar hit quite a bit on the spot. I played M59 for pretty much it’s entirety and into the pirate servers and beyond. The one thing M59 had that no others today have is the ease of communication and an evolving community of players. It was never about the graphics, it was about skillz… either you had them or you didn’t. Player Killers, hunters to go after those Pk’ers… This game was a pvp beast. Either you knew how to drive your toon or you didn’t, and if you didn’t it was obvous to everyone. This game design put you in a place and a situation where you had to constantly keep a wary eye out for being attacked. It was all about notoriety in a community based environment. Reputation was huge. To this day none of the other games out there can compare to the heart beating pulsating you would get from getting attacked by surprise in the wetlands by two PK’ers.
    Bar none this game had and still has an aura that can not be met by any other game. For the most part the bad drivers were always the ones to whine and complain, and give up the ghost….

    Tanaka. Server 103, 104, 106, and 108, as well as the russian pirate servers and so on…

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