Raiders of the Lost ARC
It's rare to be able to witness an extinction in progress, especially in videogames. Tom Endo examines the steady decline of the ARC community, a crew of retro-savants devoted to a dying game.
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Sierra owns a ton of properties that will never see the light of day again. I've bugged them about numerous old mac titles that they won't do a thing with. I think the one I want to see again the most is something called lunatic fringe, an old game that was a mac screensaver more or less the same as asteroids, but with much more dynamic enemy ships. Meh, Sierra just doesn't see money in porting these forward to today...
I think you can see several elements of the path that multiplayer shooter games - and some other multiplayer titles - tend to take with this story. First of all, you have the gradual change in game mechanics, as overpowered strategies become "nerfed" and the game reaches an equilibrium point; then, there's the trend towards the same old maps (you see this quite a bit with StarCraft as well, in my opinion), and players refining their skills on these maps alone. From there, it just becomes a case of muscle memory. Not exactly what I would consider fun, but as somebody who doesn't play games when it gets to this sort of case, I'm not that qualified to comment.
It's interesting to speculate about how we might avoid, or at least reduce, such problems for future games. One lesson is clear: signing away ownership of a game's source to a commercial entity is not a good plan.
The game sounds like something I used to play quite a few years ago called Subspace, also shut down eventually because the popularity waned. Was a very fun game while it lasted.
While I think it's terrific to see that these games last so long, it does seem kind of inevitable that almost every MMOG must die out eventually, or evolve so much as to be almost unrecognisable.
It's funny to think about live sports in contrast to this. Most sports evolve very little and yet many have been played for hundreds or even thousands of years. Chess too, and I'm sure there are many other examples.
Perhaps StarCraft will be the computer-world's first on-going competitive title? 10 years on, and it's probably at it's strongest (in Korea at least). But even SC will evetually be all but unplayable on the hardware 10 years from now, let alone 100. Is there a solution? Does this even need to be solved?
I read articles like this and I wonder how financially lucrative this demographic even is for a game developer. It's like people who still play Halo 2, you have a group of people who've spent so much time mastering a game that they're no longer willing to master a new game.
At what point do you focus on supporting the pros instead of trying to move new product that can be picked up by new players?
It's funny to compare them to Michael Jordan because he's a good example of an athlete who tried to change games himself. And he came crawling, well maybe not crawling, back to basketball. Are the two pro players mentioned even good at other games? Competitive? Is it even a bad thing if they aren't?
Subspace is still alive at: http://www.getcontinuum.com/
I haven't played since the original Virgin Interactive game, and I don't know how many people are active in the new community, but you should check it out if you're curious. I'm sure I will eventually get around to it, myself.
I've watched this happen to two of my favourite games. Both of them being Sierra games to top it off.
Empire Earth just got shut down recently, and the community is fading fast because of it. Thankfully, some people quickly got an alternate lobby system setup and existing players are still around, but new blood is effectively cut off and the game will die.
The other, and my personal favourite game of all time, is Starsiege: Tribes. This game hit the cycle too. Tactics were refined (disk fighting, hopping, and "skiing", which is like bunny hopping but downhill, and then jetpacking on the upside of the valley, essentially catapulting you into the air at great speed), the same maps started to get played, like Broadside and Raindance, and then the skill gap was created, causing newbs to get raped hard by even average players. The servers for this game are down as well, though it doesn't matter, because it doesn't run on vista anyway.
I am reminded of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Lost World".
Funny thing is, I've been part of a similar community once on Battle.net. When I first started with Diablo 1, I became acquainted with a group of regulars in Diablo Retail NLD-1 (I'm dutch). After a few years, they instated a rule that didn't allow non-Diablo 1 players to join the channel.
So the entire community moved to Public Chat NLD, a dedicated channel but otherwise unpopulated. That was because no-one knew of it, except for ourselves.
Now segregated, the community was left to bond over time, by itself and isolated. We grew rather close - I believe I even spent new year's eve with one of the clans at a meeting.
But it was beyond that. Couples emerged. People immigrated. Got married. Had KIDS.
It all blew up after a flame war. People left, and didn't come back. A few years ago I paid another visit. The sole occupant of channel Public Chat NLD, our house bot. I checked again a few months ago - nothing.
Wow. Everyone's writing about little known games I used to play that have had a great online community spring up around them. First Allegiance and now ARC? There needs to be a Starsiege article and I'll have all my favorite games covered. I remember playing arc with three of my friends and having a blast trying to master the strategy needed to cap flags in a coordinated fashion. Long range standoffs with good players were tense and usually only ended when reinforcement came to the rescue for either side or one of the players was stupid enough to rush and get themselves stuck in a corner. The the control setup was so easy for anyone to catch on to, but maneuvering in a deceptive pattern and controlling key choke points were hard lessons, learned only from mistakes and watching the more experienced players. Was definitely sad when we tried to connect one day and the servers were down for good. I had no idea it was still around. Thanks for writing this great article.