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History of MMORPGs - 1970-1980

by: Gustavo Lequerica-Calvo ; edited by: M.S. Smith ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Video gaming had humble beginnings. It wasn’t as high tech as it is today. Even MMOs were quite simple during their development stage, i.e. low-end graphics and a simple gameplay but those were the elements of success for later generations of MMOs.

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    The Decade of the 70's

    The history of the MMORPG is quite vast and spans 35 years in history. The conception of the MMO came after blending several video game concepts such as fantasy, first person shooters, adventure and many more.

    Finding who was the individual or group that made the first MMO is quite difficult, as there are no real records worldwide. Many video game historians agree that the first MMO game was Mazewar (or The Maze as it is also known) a game made by Steven Colley, who introduced the concepts of First Person 3D perspective, avatars for the players (who were represented with eyeballs), a map compass that let the players to know their positions in the map, a level editor, and, probably one of the most revolutionary elements for its time, network play and chat option between players.

    Indeed, Maze was a game that was ahead of its time, as many games in the 70’s only offered a pixilated view and The Maze revolutionized the in-game views concept as well the gameplay dynamics. It did far more than transform video game standards, as the script of Maze was used by NASA in 1973 for the Ames Research Center to future space exploration.

    Away from the “virtual world”, in 1974 Dungeons and Dragons was first published. It was the game responsible of introducing the Role Playing concept to the public, as many college boys used to play while they were away from home. The same year as the release of D&D, a Maze-like game, but clearly inspired by the D&D concept, pedit5, was released for the PLATO system. It was the first dungeon game and a predecessor of Diablo, and other dungeon games like Quake and Doom.

    In the middle of the 70’s, when MMORPGs gained more popularity, a new wave of MMOss appeared: Text Adventures. What are Text Adventures? They are MMOs that don’t have any graphics and are composed only of text, similar to Choose Your Own Adventure books. During this period of time there was a boom in Text Adventures, since they only used minimal requirements of the computer. In 1978 computer students Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw developed the first multi-user text based adventure called MUD1 while they were students in Essex University.

    MUD1 was originally used clandestinely by the students, using the servers of the university without the knowledge of the administrators. The gameplay was similar to Dungeon and Dragons, with players gaining experience, battling monsters and obtaining money according to their experiences. You could say that MUD1 is the grandfather of acclaimed game World of Warcraft as the same dynamics can be seen in World of Warcraft as well.

    But it wasn’t MUD1 who was known first globally. In 1981, it was a clone called MAD who was inspired in the MUD platform. The game used the BITNET network, and players from Europe, Israel and the United States could play together. Truly MAD was the predecessor of modern MMORPG.

    The influences of the first generation of games has had a lasting influence on the industry. Games like pedit5 made their mark along with classic games like Duke Nukem, Doom, Halo, Wolfstein and many others. In the next article we are going to do a brief walkthrough to the history of MMORPGs in the '80s.