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Details You Never Knew About The First 3D MMO

The MMORPG genre has become a staple of the gaming landscape. World of Warcraft has reigned as the champion of loot and leveling MMOs almost since it showed up in 2004, but there are plenty of other vibrant online communities. Star Wars: The Old Republic, Final Fantasy XIV, and The Elder Scrolls Online all have monthly userbases in the hundreds of thousands, meaning that you can dive into a new virtual life in almost any type of world.


Considering that World of Warcraft is now over 15 years old, it can be hard to imagine what came before it to lay the genre's foundations. Everquest or Ultima Online are both good guesses, but in reality, neither title was the first large-scale, 3D MMORPG.

That honor belongs to Meridan 59, a game that did what it could with dial-up internet connections and vector graphics, finding a way to make it all work back in 1996. Here are some details that you never knew about Meridan 59, the world's first 3D MMO.

Meridian 59 predated the naming conventions we use for MMOs

When developer Archetype Interactive and publisher The 3DO Company released Meridan 59 in 1996, the company needed to invent a new genre for the game. It was decided to call it a MMPRPG, or "massively multiplayer roleplaying game." While the term fit, it soon fell out of fashion after the Ultima Online auteur Richard Garriot coined the term MMORPG, lengthening it slightly to "massively multiplayer online roleplaying game."


The Meridan 59's world was limited by the technical constraints of the time. The developers could at best hope that players were using a 56k dial-up modem connection, which severely limited how quickly data could be transmitted. The 3D graphics used to convey the world were similar to those you might imagine from the original Doom.

The developers described Meridian 59 as a "graphical MUD," or multi-user dungeon. This was a natural progression of the genre, as MUDs were essentially text-based roleplaying games from the '90s adapted to an online setting. However, as a result, that meant the game depended on player interaction for any real action to occur, as the world is mainly static. As such, the nature of grinding, raids, and leveling that we associate with modern MMOs were mostly absent.


Despite cancellations, Meridian 59 lives on

As a result of Meridian 59's on creating an online environment where significant actions depended on player interaction, many aspects of progression and story interaction were tied to guild allegiance. In a positive review of Meridian 59 from a 1997 issue of PC Games, the reviewer describes his introduction to the game as frustrating until a benevolent stranger bought him weapons, armor and sent him off with thousands of shillings. His only request? When the reviewer had advanced to a certain point, he would consider joining his benefactor's guild.


The focus on player versus player gameplay became even more intense after publisher The 3DO Company dropped its official support in 2000 and the game was revived by an independent developer, Near Death Studios, in 2002. PVP dueling became the focus of the game, forcing players to band together to have a chance to survive Meridian 59's unforgiving world.

While even Near Death Studio's finally pulled the plug on its version of the game in 2010, original developers Andrew and Chris Kirmse have kept the game alive by releasing the source code.