The List

Some highlights from the roads less traveled in the MMOG scene

Brett Todd

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This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #156

It isn’t all EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies. The MMOG explosion of the past couple of years has resulted in a slew of games flying in under the radar of most players. Many come from independent developers and publishers hoping to cash in on a new trend, others from bigger companies who haven’t yet found an audience for their budding franchises. Almost all feature downloadable client software, so there’s usually no need to run out to your favorite software store. Here are some of the best of the rest. (Note: all fees are monthly unless listed otherwise):

A3: Awakening
alienaa.com
Who makes it? Web Docent
How much?? $4.50
What’s it about? Web Docent has been running browser-based A3, or the Alien Adoption Agency, since 1997. Create your own E.T. and send it into the game world, which looks a lot like our own, but with, y’know, aliens all over the place.

Artifact
samugames.com/artifact
Who makes it? Samu Games
How much?? $9.98
What’s it about? Build an empire in Artifact, an MMOG RTS where you hunt for powerful, um, artifacts. One drawback? It’s always running, so you or an ally had better be online to handle enemy offensives.

Astonia III
astonia.com
Who makes it? Intent Software
How much?? $9.95
What’s it about? Astonia III looks like the original Ultima Online and shares the same role-playing-by-the-numbers philosophy. Create a warrior or mage and kill monsters, build skills, collect loot, yada, yada. Unlike a lot of other small games, it has a pretty large community of players.

Battles of Tenadia
tenadia.computergames.ro/tenadia.htm
Who makes it? Tenadia.com
How much?? Free
What’s it about? Build a better gladiator in Battles of Tenadia, a web-based combat simulator where you develop a warrior’s skills and send him into arenas. Battles are run automatically each night and you’re informed about the outcomes via email.

Blade Mistress
blademistress.com
Who makes it? Blade Mistress Online
How much?? $5
What’s it about? If you’ve got a thing for chain-mail-bikini babes, you might enjoy Blade Mistress, where all characters are women. All of these barbarian broads are real bruisers who could beat the hell out of Xena without breaking a sweat.

Bushtarion
bushtarion.com
Who makes it? Andrew Cronin
How much?? Free (sort of—see below)
What’s it about? Browser-based Bushtarion casts you in the role of a militant farmer. You grow crops, build alliances with other players, and hire military units to attack other Old McDonalds. Real-world cash is used to purchase in-game currency.

DarkSpace
darkspace.net
Who makes it? Palestar
How much?? $9.99
What’s it about? Great visuals and a Star Trekian plotline involving the United Galactic Trade Organization makes DarkSpace intriguing. Gameplay centers on selecting a starship and outfitting it right down to the paint job.

Endless Ages
endlessagesportal.com
Who makes it? Endless Ages Team
How much?? $9.95
What’s it about? Billed as the first MMOG FPS RPG (welcome to acronym hell), Endless Ages also mixes sci-fi and fantasy. Cast a spell one moment and whip out your blaster pistol the next. See the review on page XX.

FaitH
dragonclawstudio.com/faith
Who makes it? Dragon Claw Studio
How much?? $10.80–$21.70 every three months
What’s it about? Browser-based games don’t get any better looking than FaitH, a strategy RPG that features beautiful maps and distinctive character reminiscent of Gahan Wilson. Team play is emphasized through the need to build a strong kingdom one province at a time.

Helbreath: The Crusade
helbreathusa.com
Who makes it? iEntertainment Network
How much?? $9.95
What’s it about? A war of gods is central to Helbreath: The Crusade. Aresien and Eldiniel aren’t on speaking terms, so their mortal followers are trying to kill one another. Regularly scheduled crusades pit one faction against another in massive real-time battles.

Lunatix Online
lunatix-online.com
Who makes it? Prowler Productions
How much?? $4.16–$5
What’s it about? Browser-based Lunatix Online sees you escaping from a mental hospital, again and again. Choose from illnesses like paranoid schizophrenia and homicidal mania and you’ll soon be listening to voices in your head.

Meridian 59
meridian59.neardeathstudios.com
Who makes it? Near Death Studios
How much?? $10.95
What’s it about? The great-granddaddy of fantasy MMOGs has been around since 1996. Near Death Studios saved it from oblivion in 2000 and currently operates the throwback for a contingent of nostalgic diehards.

Project Entropia
project-entropia.com/main.jsp
Who makes it? Mindark PE AB
How much?? Free (sort of—see below)
What’s it about? Headlining press blurbs about sci-fi MMOG Project Entropia is its use of real-world money. Instead of paying a subscription fee, in-game items are purchased with your credit card. Visa customer service reps are already having nightmares.

Ragnarok Online
ragnarokonline.com
Who makes it? Gravity Corporation
How much?? $12
What’s it about? The game takes its Norse themes from the original Ragnarok comic series. It’s entirely point-and-click, and takes place in a Midgard world where you have very pointy hair, and never enough “flee.”

Rubies of Eventide
rubiesofeventide.com
Who makes it? Cyber Warrior
How much?? $9.95–$14.95
What’s it about? A cool name and dedicated developers make this fantasy MMOG one to watch. It’s the usual derivation of D&D, with 100 professions plus a detailed, frequently updated backstory.

RuneScape
runescape.com
Who makes it? Jagex
How much?? $5
What’s it about? This stripped-down fantasy roleplayer is for the 56K crowd, as it takes just minutes to download and features graphics circa 1995. Still, the game world is huge and there are free play servers that cost no more than your time.

Second Life
lindenlab.com
Who makes it? Linden Lab
How much?? $14.95
What’s it about? Something like a surreal The Sims Online, Second Life is an alternate existence both mundane and bizarre. Building and scripting tools let players do just about anything that they want, so people have been creating empires, protesting the war with Iraq, and just constructing really odd houses.

Threshold
thresholdrpg.com
Who makes it? Michael Hartman
How much?? $50.00 one-time fee
What’s it about? Michael “Aristotle” Hartman’s Threshold might be an old-fashioned text-based MUD, but it emphasizes roleplaying and story and boasts some fervent players. How fervent? Some of the web sites dedicated to in-game alter egos are a tad scary.

Toontown Online
play.toontown.com
Who makes it? Disney
How much?? $7.95–$9.95
What’s it about? Ever wanted to step into Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Well, you can’t, it’s a movie. But you can play Toontown Online, a Disney game where you create your own toon and join Mickey Mouse in beating up nasty robots with cream pies.

WarBirds III
totalsims.com
Who makes it? iEntertainment Network
How much?? $9.95–$24.95 plus $29.95 retail purchase
What’s it about? Battling in the great blue yonder is what WarBirds III is all about. The latest edition of the long-running massively multiplayer flight sim features gorgeous T&L-enhanced visuals, over 50 WWII vintage aircraft, and rigorous physics.

Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates
puzzlepirates.com
Who makes it? Three Rings Design
How much?? TBA
What’s it about? It’s only in beta, but how could we not mention a game where you can sail the seven seas solving puzzles? Strap on a parrot and play variations on Tetris and every other sort of puzzle game this side of Minesweeper.

Z-Opolis
z-opolis.com
Who makes it? PersistentWorldZ
How much?? $0.15–$0.25 hourly to a maximum of $15.00
What’s it about? Even the Mary-Kate and Ashley crowd (meaning teen girls, not pervs) have an MMOG. Z-Opolis is about “friends, family, and fun,” and includes a friendship meter and the ability to buy cutesy pets.

This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #156