The last ten years have been absolutely excellent for online gaming, MMORPGs in particular. In that time, hundreds of examples of the genre have come and – because of their ‘living’ nature – also gone. We’ve watched promising new-borns like Tabula Rasa die well before their time, while awkward, unpromising children such as EVE have grown into mature, successful adults. Others have been tragically cut down in their prime (R.I.P. City of Heroes, Star Wars Galaxies, DAoC), or dubiously murdered (Lego Universe, sob). And some, like Anarchy Online, have started old and just grown older, somehow always avoiding the digital retirement home. There have even been miracles, like Asheron’s Call 2, which was rezzed by a mournful Turbine a couple of years ago. And in our cash-for-ideas age of Kickstarter and Patreon, there are all kinds of wonderful things going on: Ultima fans should check out Richard Garriot’s Shroud of The Avatar, while anyone who misses flying low over Atlas Park needs to sign up with Valiance Online right now.
But towering over the hustle and bustle of MMORPG life are two benign giants, both of whom share November 2004 birthdays. The massed ranks of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft fans may not know (or care) that SOE’s EverQuest II is at least as old, and perhaps twice as storied as its Azerothian counterpart, while the SOE massive probably do know that WoW is ten years old but don’t care either. So in the spirit of bringing these two hordes of fantasy gaming nerds together, let’s have a look at how WoW and EQII came to be, while we sip the birthday bubbly and munch the Anniversary cake at the table of online role-playing.
Whilst EverQuest II is obviously a sequel (or more correctly, a parallel universe set 500 years in the original EverQuest’s future), World of Warcraft is not without its own heritage. And whichever way you cut it, Warcraft is the older of the two franchises by a good five years. Released in November 1994 by Interplay Entertainment (the second incarnation of Interplay) for MS-DOS, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans was a heartfelt response to Westwood Studios’ legendary Dune II, released a couple of years earlier in 1992. In a fascinating account on his own blog that also explains the origins of click-drag unit selection, Patrick Wyatt, Producer and Lead Programmer on Warcraft, says that “While [Dune II] was great fun, it suffered from several obvious defects that called out (nay, screamed) to be fixed. Most notably, the only way that my friends and I could play the game was against the computer. It was obvious that this gaming style would be ideal as a multiplayer game. […] And with that singular goal in mind, development of [Warcraft] began […]”.
One year after Warcraft’s release, and about 400 miles north of Blizzard’s base in Irvine, California, Sony Interactive Studios America (SISA) was established, following lengthy reshuffling and renaming at Sony’s Foster City offices. In 1996, SISA’s new president, Kelly Flock, gave the green light to an idea for an online roleplaying game, pitched by one of his executives, John Smedley. Smedley was an Ultima fan and D&D player who, before joining SISA, had run his own company, Knight Technologies, producing Amiga, SNES and Atari Lynx ports. Swept away by the early MUDS such as Sojourn and TorilMUD (still live today!), he wanted to bring their text-only fun into a 3D world. The project would eventually become EverQuest, the original design for which is now credited to Brad McQuaid, Steve Clover, and Bill Trost. McQuaid and Trost had created WarWizard, a 1993 Amiga RPG released as Shareware, and it was that title which had prompted Smedley to recruit them. McQuaid and Trost were the lead designers, while McQuaid also handled the core programming, and Trost came up with the history and lore. Other key contributions came in the form of Geoffrey Zatkin’s brilliant rest-to-remember spell system, and the 3D character models from artist Milo D. Cooper (also a WarWizard vet). One interesting thing to note about the game is that it didn’t do any software rendering, meaning that you had to have a dedicated graphics card. We take our graphics cards for granted now, but back then this was a considerable gamble. In the end, EverQuest was quantifiably responsible for getting a lot of both graphics cards and modems into people’s homes.