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The Story of the First 3D MMO; Meridian59

Developed by Archetype Interactive and published by The 3DO Company (yes, the 3DO console that flopped) back in 1996, Meridian 59 is generally regarded as the very first MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing game) that had 3D graphics. Meridian 59 was Archetype Interactive’s first and only game and was noticed by other game developers from The 3DO Company early in development. 3DO eventually bought out Archetype Interactives and published Meridian 59 under the 3DO Company name. While Meridian 59 may not be a household name, it made technological history.

A player fighting a giant rat with their hammer.

Meridian 59 was set in a typical fantasy setting with swords, magic, and monsters. While there was nothing too special about it’s setting, there was most definitely something special about the way it portrayed it’s setting. Large-scale multiplayer games that preceded Meridian 59 all had one thing in common; they had no graphics. These games were called MUDS, or multi-user dungeon. MUDs were text-based and read almost like an interactive book, only you could play with people around the world in real-time.

A MUD, notice how the user types a command to perform an action; everything is text-based.

Meridian 59 decided to take the magic of the MUD, aka online multiplayer adventures, and make it feel more like a typical video game. Meridian 59 had a completely 3D interface where you can see the big monster or spooky cave in front of you, and you didn’t even have to rely on your imagination. The game used its’ graphical display as the main way to portray the scenery, and action to the player, but kept the traditional MUD text in a secondary window to describe things such as hit points, item drops, and chat/ NPC interaction.

Meridian 59 charged an initial $40 plus a flat-rate subscription fee of $10 to play, a practice later adopted by nearly every other MMORPG. At the time, internet access was not nearly as common as it is today and was usually charged per minute of use, so playing a game like Meridian 59 was an investment. AOL, the most popular internet provider at the time, charged $9.95 per month and gave you 5 hours of internet use. After that, you had to pay 5ยข every minute. Meridian 59 was far from a cheap hobby, especially considering the unreliable and painfully-slow nature of the internet in 1996.

Perhaps because Meridian 59 was far ahead of its time, the game didn’t quite sell like The 3DO Company had hoped. Because of this, the project was shut down on August 31st, 2000. It was later passed around to Near Death Studios in 2002 and then eventually back to the original creators from Archetype Interactive in 2010.

Now in the hands of the original creators Andrew and Chris Kirmse, the game is now available to play completely free from the official Meridian 59 website. There are no subscription fees, microtransactions, nothing. Instead, they run their servers off of donations from the community. In 2018, Meridian 59 was released on Steam to reach an even larger player base.

For over 20 years, players from all over the world made friends and fought monsters in Meridian 59. To this day, adventures are still being had and friends are still being made. Why not join in through Steam or the official website?

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