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Meridian 59 Remembered

By: raptor

Around the mid-90’s I was livin’ it up in college…..not really caring what it was I was going to really DO with my life. It was all about the fun, baby. Occasionally I would hit the computer lab on nights when nothing was really happening around the dorms and goof off there. It was here that I was introduced to the “internet”.

 

 

 

Even then, the world wide web seemed like a place of endless possibilities. You could do so much with it. So me being a gaming nerd, I wanted to know all there was to know about gaming communities and the possibility of online gaming. That’s when I discovered a little known 3DO game called “Meridian 59”.

 

 

 

It promoted the idea of a community within a game. That was entirely foreign to me right then, but something I had imagined coming into being some day. But, here it was, right NOW! I had only just started my misadventures online, and here was this ONLINE MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER GAME! I HAD to have it. So, when it was released in late 1996, it was MINE!

 

 

 

Keep in mind that MMORPGs were merely a “fringe” idea with few people knowledgeable enough to actually make it work with 9600 baud modems and 15,000 different home computer configurations. Yet, here was this obscure 3DO game sitting on the shelf for all to enjoy (this was 3DO’s first ever game for the home computer). This was ahead of it’s time, as not only was it a 3D game, but it came out a full year before Ultima Online and years before Everquest.

 

 

 

So what was this “Meridian 59”? Well, it turns out some dudes not that much older than me at the time had dreamed it up in the basement their parents’ house. Andrew and Chris Kirmse were a couple of IT geeks trying to get a degree when they first started work on the idea for the game. They had been gaming geeks for quite some time, and had a good handle on programming languages and such.

 

 

 

What they didn’t have a handle on was graphical programming. 3D/polygons were a fairly new thing in gaming, and it was something they knew little about. So, after a year or two of developing the game in 2D, Chris and Andrew took it upon themselves to LEARN this new tech. But, after changing their beautiful 2D game into 3D, everything looked like crap. The images that looked decent in 2D looked dreadful in 3D.

 

 

 

But, a fellow named Keith Randall, one of Andrew's roommates, thought he had the knowledge to write a proper 3D engine for the game. So he took a crack at it, and got the project back on track. After some time, Andrew and Chris ran across a usenet posting from a guy named Mike Sellers who was looking for someone to write a game, just like the one they had already nearly completed. They responded and Mike and his brother Steve Sellers began to seek funding for the game. After finally getting some cash together, the lot of them formed a corporation called Archetype Interactive.

 

 

 

Now the boys were in business. It was time to start hiring some help to get the thing moving quickly. But with everyone working from various locations across the US, it was difficult to coordinate everyone and get things fixed and touched up in a timely fashion. There were many severe bugs in the Alpha version that needed attention. But, on the plus side, people had begun signing up and testing the game… and they were liking it.

 

 

 

After some furious development, they finally began seeing some media attention. There was a mention in the New York Times, and a French game mag. Things were looking up by 1996. One of the beta testers was a 3DO hire by the name of Kevin Hester. He was loving the game, and enthusiastically brought it to the attention of the Big Kahuna himself, Trip Hawkins. Trip was on board, and wanted to buy Archetype Interactive for $5 million in stock from the boys, with a promise to release the game to the world. Signed, sealed, delivererd.

 

 

 

After more development, the game was finally ready for it’s debut. But….. there was a glitch (isn’t there always???). 3DO was in full desperation mode, with a financial problem of epic proportions. They could do little to promote the game or live up to much in the way of commitments for other projects. The layoffs began in force by year end, and that left a skeleton crew to keep Meridian 59 going. The stock that was given to the boys was just about worthless as time passed. Things didn’t look good.

 

 

 3DO Founder Trip Hawkins

 

And, they weren’t. With so little support, the hate mail and foul phone calls to customer support for billing issues, technical issues, cheating and more flooded the office. But, in the end, a positive legacy has been left behind.

Meridan 59 broke new ground in a bunch of ways. And now, you can actually play the oldest graphical fantasy MMO still in existence for free on a dedicated web server over at www.meridian59.com. This was the result of a purchase by a company called Near Death Studios, who purchased the game after 3DO shut it down in 2000. Owner Brian Green kept the game going and kept updating it over the years, until 2010 when Near Death Studios closed it’s doors as well. It is STILL playable because the boys who started it all, Andrew and Chris Kirmse, bought the rights to it and once again running the show.

It’s one of those titles that flies under the radar, and then years down the road you realize the impact it had. I know my days spent building up my character were great fun, and it was one of those sweet experiences that you don’t’ forget.

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jrotunda Posted on Mar 06, 2014 at 11:42 AM

Nice read, good information! I played this game back in '96 before all the other games could sink their hooks - it always stayed with me through the years. It has the most diehard community of any online game I've seen (self included) and pretty intense pvp - always fascinated and kept me going on that aspect. Thanks for mentioning it's still around and free to play!

raptor Posted on Feb 18, 2013 at 07:31 PM

I think when I get some time this week I'm going to sign up and start with something as close to my old character as I can remember. Should be a fun blast from the past.

AceNThaHole Posted on Feb 18, 2013 at 04:24 PM

I have never played a single mmor......whatever. But this was fun to read and I had no idea these types of games came along so quicly after the web started gaining popularity. Its sweet that people still play it after all these years.

ProphetSword Posted on Feb 18, 2013 at 03:39 AM

I'd heard of this game in passing, but never really experienced it. It was interesting reading about it. I checked it out just for historical purposes. Even though I didn't enjoy it in this modern environment, I saw where I might have liked it back when it was new (in fact, I probably would have played the hell out of it). But things have changed too much to enjoy it now (at least for me).

Good job.

Fulton4V Posted on Feb 15, 2013 at 03:53 PM

I spent so much time on Everquest it was crazy. I have never even heard of this game. I liked your article

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 13, 2013 at 08:29 PM

Okay. I fixed a few typos for you.

This was a great read. I was a huge fan of 3DO and Trip Hawkins for taking the risk they did on the 3DO system. But this deal seems a bit deceptive on his part.

Thanks for this!

vkimo Posted on Feb 13, 2013 at 08:23 PM

Wow, very informative piece. You spoke with such a casual tone it was like you were there from the beginning. Nice work!

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