Tuesday, February 18, 2020

My Return to a classic - Asheron's Call MMORPG from 1999

Asheron's Call was released back in November 1999. It was my first MMORPG ever, and a game that changed my gaming life forever. I was an avid gamer before AC, so naturally I would purchase gaming magazines from time to time, the internet was still young and print was the best place for information.  I had seen ad's and read interviews for it and was pretty excited. I  remember them never saying a release date, but I would check up on the internet every once in a while. Then one day I saw they were doing an open beta. At this time my mother and I only had a crappy dial-up connection and most of the time it never connected even close to the 56k speeds advertised. So the 99mb download for the beta was big for the time. Not to mention the fact that staying connected and keeping the phone line busy for that long was frowned upon and required luck. This was before download managers or at least my knowledge of them, so being disconnected would lose you any progress made. I started it one morning before leaving for school, and to my surprise when I got home from work at 9pm it was all done. I can safely say that download changed my life's course and direction.
Let me start from the beginning and explain how it all began. My aunt had a tax business that my mother would help her with during the busy season (Jan-May). Being a single mother she worked 2 jobs typically during this time, because she had to keep a regular job when tax time was over. This gave me a lot of free time to develop my gaming habits, which was on consoles up until 1992 when we got our first computer. My Aunt needed to upgrade her machines, so she sold my mom one of the old computers. It was a Tandy 1000sx, purchased at Radio Shack in the mid 1980s, color monitor and DOS only. It had the memory upgraded, which at the time required soldering chips on top of  the existing chips. I was told all this later, as my interest and knowledge of computers grew. All I knew at the time was we had a computer. My mom knew how to get her tax program running on it but that was about it. I remember not messing with it much for the first few months because it didn't do anything fun. However, my interest in it grew as my school got a computer with Oregon Trail, Math Blasters and some other fun games. I wanted those on my pc at home. So I started playing with it and figure how to make it do things. I taught myself DOS and then the fun began.  I convinced my mom to buy me a game called Sid Meier's Pirates, I do remember having a bit of time getting it running for the first time, having to put in a special command or something before starting the game, otherwise it would not run. I now forget what this was, but at the time it was a cool thing I figured out myself.  I never looked back after that, it was so complex and fun compared to the games I had played up to that point. An ungodly amount of time was spent on the Caribbean Sea's over the next year. I was never a good student in school, but I remember this one point when we were studying the Caribbean and learning about its history, and I surprised my teacher and class with my knowledge of the ports and landmarks.
Another thing I will never forget is looking through bins of big boxed PC games, that stores had on discount. I would try to find some that would run on my Tandy and sounded fun, rarely did I see a game I'd heard of before. Before the Internet, it was the wild west and you only had the box to describe what a game was like. You also had to read the books to figure out how to play and get past the DRM.
Let's fast Forward to when  I was 16 years old and got my first real job about a year earlier. I had saved up and was ready to buy my first computer. I had moved on from the Tandy at this point. To this day I vividly remember getting rid of it, how heavy it was carrying it and thinking of the memories and joy it brought, wondering if maybe I should just keep it, even thought it hadn't been powered on in years. Honestly, I do wish I would have kept it, but I didn't. Why did I get rid of it? I was with my mother at a garage sale a few years prior and low and behold they had a custom build PC for sale. Rare thing to see, we went to a lot of garage sales in my family. Computers were still pretty expensive, and we never had the money to buy a new one. I remember talking to the guy about it, he worked in the computer industry and had built this machine himself. He told me about the video card, ram and HDD he had put into, he was asking $150 for this one. I had that much saved from mowing lawns, so I bought it myself. It was a 486 /66 with Windows 3,1 and a Baud Rate 1200 modem. Yes the Internet had arrived and I now finally had a machine that could get on it. I bought the games I had been wanting, but could never play before. Warcraft 1 and 2,  Master of Orion, Rainbow Six, Fallout, and many more.
Knowing that my current PC could not handle Asheron's Call, I had saved up and bought a Pentium 2 233mhz from Circuit City. That was the machine I had when I was downloading that beta. It would soon have a motherboard failure and take a month for CC to repair at the time, but was still under warranty at least, but man was that a long month. I played the beta and just fell in love. The world was huge, with other people running around in it. There were monsters of all varieties all over. This cook monarchy system that worked as a Guild or Clan system, but was so well done. You produced XP for your patron, while they supplied you with gold/gear or perhaps just advise. Why has no other games use this system?
I showed my gaming friends, this crazy thing called Asheron's Call and soon we were all playing. Tying up the phone lines, getting yelled at for spending too much time in game and staying up way too late on school nights. I could talk for hours on the things AC did that were amazing. The monthly updates, live events, loot system, monarchy system, exploration, and leveling systems were all brand new and unique to AC. Whenever we would see each other at school, one of us would have an adventure to tell that was surely exaggerated, but still epic. It was amazing and still my fondest memory of gaming. To this day it's still the game that we all talk about when were together, remember when the Shadows attacked, or we got GSA armor or fill in the blank with about 1000 other things. As we grew up, moved on to college, other games, jobs, we all went back into AC seemingly at different times, and never really fully committing like in the old days, but always enjoying our short stints back.

They shut down AC back in 2017,  on a sour note for many of the dedicated players. Previously after the game went into a hibernation state a few years prior, they said they would release files for people to host their own servers when the final shutdown was nearing, but that never happened. Several groups approached Warner Brother's about buying the AC license, but it seems likely to never happen. Thus spun up community projects and emulators like you see for so many games that have been shutdown these days. That is how I am currently getting my AC fix.  Check out https://www.gdleac.com/ and answer Asheron's Call again or perhaps for the first time.

Here are some Videos I've made since I got back.

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