Shortly after Doom was released, a service called DWANGO was created. With help from id, DWANGO allowed users to connect to a service that allowed four player death matches without a LAN. It was a fantastic program at the time. Unfortunately like most online services at the time it was expensive, as they charged by the hour. Users would buy blocks of time, so you couldn't go over, but it was still a premium price for just 5 hours. You could however sit in the lobby for free and chat, which is what I did for the most part. The Dallas DWANGO lobby was pretty popular at all times of the day. There were other lobbies around the country, one in New York was a rival of sorts for Dallas. Sometimes we'd invade each others chat room, but at the cost of long distance charges. DWANGO eventually supported Warcraft II and other games. For a time it looked like it would be a cash cow, but the rise of multiplayer gaming on the Internet in 1996 would basically obliterate all the momentum DWANGO had accumulated. QuakeWorld made tcp/ip gaming a reality. DWANGO was doomed.
The Internet Paradise
My first foray onto the Internet was through my friend David who set me up with an ISP called GNN. At the time, GNN was beta testing their service and software so I got to access the Net for free. I was addicted to the Net soon as I got my sea legs. Mainly because it was all free, no restrictions of any kind. I figured out how to use Usenet, IRC, and of course the world wide web. The beta test ended and I was given a discount on a monthly subscription. I signed up for awhile, but soon switched over to Internet America. Around August of 1996 I signed up for the Ultima Online beta test. After researching the game, I found an IRC channel called #ultima which I was active in for many years. For more on Ultima Online see my MMO Journals.
Around this same time, MP3s were created. Unfortunately only one application existed to play MP3s, and it cost a fee, luckily a crack was easily accessible. Thankfully Winamp came out the following year. In 1996 MP3s were popular with the Net savvy community, but mainstream didn't discover them until Napster hit the Net in 1999 and the world changed.
For gamers, the Net revolutionized everything. Starting with how the industry communicated with fans. Online sites like OGR and Gamespot could deliver inside information and rumors quickly to readers. No longer was there a cloud of mystery that hung around upcoming releases. Gamers could follow development of a game up to release. Which happened with Ultima Online as most of the Internet gaming population waited impatiently for the game to drop. I followed the game from when I signed up for beta in August 1996 till it entered beta in June 1997 (I didn't get into beta till July 1997).
Ultima Online was a watermark in Internet gaming history. Certainly the discussion and debate about the game itself could take up pages, but UO also ushered in a new era of gaming. Sites like mine and the sprawling coverage of sites like IGN were all inspired or given birth by Ultima Online. UO brought together like minded people into a thriving community that continued to grow beyond just the walled garden of Ultima. The UO experience took place outside the game as much as it took place inside the game.
I don't want to repeat myself so I'll refer readers to my MMO journals. There you'll find more information on those early years of UO and Everquest. In future journals, I'll detail what it was like to play early versions of Counter Strike and Quake 2 Capture the Flag. Many of you may remember places like McKinnley Base and non source versions of CS Italy.
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