Online gaming has changed a lot over the past fifteen years. Before Steam, the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, hell even SegaNet, I was plugging telephone wires into my computer and getting my game on. It didn’t seem odd at the time, but I was playing a free to play MMORPG on a 56k modem – years before genre juggernaut World of Warcraft was even a thing.
I’ve played this game on and off for years. While it has certainly undergone numerous changes, it retains a classic feel. The game is very much the same today as it was in 1997 – despite the arrival of technically superior competitors with widespread appeal. It’s become one of the oldest persistent browser-based games in existence – a text-based roleplayer by the name of Hiddenworld.
While I can largely attribute my deep hatred for grinding to this game, I look back on it with fond memories. Sure, it might’ve taken me a half an hour a day for nearly a year to reach level one hundred. There was a lot of work involved, but the competition and community made it all worth it. Much like Destructoid, my love for Hiddenworld came from the dedication of its users.
Instead of multiple servers filled with faceless thousands, Hiddenworld is a single game populated by a few dozen familiar faces. Some are loved and respected by the masses, others feared, some even hated. It’s strange to think a somewhat basic turn-based RPG with such clear limitations could have such a devout following.
New players will spend their first few days in the game beating up rats with sticks and staves in the forest outside of town, where they’ll earn experience and the gold necessary to buy new armor and weapons. They’ll bribe innkeepers to attack sleeping players where they lay. Then they’ll head off to the dorms to murder individuals too cheap to buy a room at the inn. Eventually they’ll head to player-owned banks to deposit their daily earnings and decide where they themselves wish to spend their night.
Before long they’ll be roaming the world in search of new equipment and monsters to kill. They’ll form teams with other players, hunt down rivals, and slaying their hated enemies. Soon enough they’ll run for public office, control town finances, achieve nobility, claim lordship over provinces, exile players to the wastelands, and perhaps even reach the game’s highest honor – Knighthood.
There are only five Knights in Hiddenworld, each a respected player that has been voted in by a majority of experienced players. They act as the game’s caretakers, moderators, second only to the game’s revered, godlike, creator and his appointed council of Guardians. In recent times these have become highly sought after seats of power. Factions have formed with the sole purpose of uprooting those in office, and replacing them with one of their own.
About six years ago an organization called the Alliance formed on one of the game’s many fan sites. We met in secret, plotting to overthrow those in power. A small number of players with a large number of alternate characters that effectively ran the game. They had formed teams, organized, taken control of nearly every province, elected themselves Knights, and were so numerous that no single person could challenge them.
The Alliance had a leader that was a master orator. A man who didn’t need power himself, because he could twist, control, manipulate others to his will. Any person that would cross him would be met with the organization’s attack dogs. They’d find you, grasp control of your home province by whatever means necessary and exile you.
I eventually left the Alliance, finding their tactics rather repugnant, only to be branded a traitor. Leveling a character can prove difficult when whatever move you make leaves you in the wastes, a place where you seldom can progress. By this time the Alliance had become so powerful, so organized that no-one could truly challenge them. Myself and a team of other dedicated players that found themselves caught in a war between these two great forces formed a third faction, The Deviants. We had no clear goal outside of self preservation and revenge against all those that would cross us.
It was an interesting time. At one point or another each faction would be the dominant force, politics being the only real difference – that and how dirty they’d be willing to play to survive. I held Knighthood for a short time, what a political scandal that was, and eventually became one of the game’s most powerful players with my trio of level one hundreds, ranked killers, members of some of the finest teams in a larger association of rogue players, discontent with both the ruling class and those that had risen up against it.
I’d eventually fall away from the game. The game had become so interesting, so compelling that when the politics died down anything less than what had become the new normal was almost boring. Players started gravitating to high definition game consoles and World of Warcraft. It was technically the same game. In fact, it was better. Incremental additions and the increased interest of the players for so many years led to some definite improvements, but people were slipping away.
I’ve recently returned to Hiddenworld, finding a shadow of its former self. It never had many players, a few hundred dedicated members at most, but never have I seen it so sparsely populated as now. I sometimes think about going back and playing. It is still the same game after all. And free to boot. But you can’t ever go home. I caught lightning in a bottle. It’ll never happen again and I’ll never do it justice recounting those legendary days, but I can cherish those memories and occasionally check back in and reminisce with the few that are left.
If anyone's interested give it a try. I'd even be willing to help you through the basics if you drop me a line.