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Chapter 20. 'The Lighter Side of' Meridian 59's 'History'

Chapter 20. 'The Lighter Side of' Meridian 59's 'History'

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[ Team LiB ]


M59 benefited mostly from being in the right place at the right time. It had most of its network code done, in order to be a Bulletin Board

System (BBS) door game, at the same time that the ability to use the Internet escaped the college campuses and entered the homes of

thousands of Americans. As a result, we were able to get to market very, very quickly. Perhaps too quickly, as we never achieved nearly

the success that UO recognized.

Possibly the most interesting thing about reading this timeline is that many of the odd problems, scenarios, and conflicts that are now

thought of as being unique to UO and EverQuest (EQ) have been around for a very long time. Now that I've worked with former members

of Simutronics (Dragon Realms, Gemstone) and Kesmai (Legends of Kesmai, Air Warrior), I know that these problems are somewhat

endemic to the industry. Perhaps realizing this, we can think of better global solutions instead of band-aids.

Getting M59 to ship and supporting it selflessly for two years in the role of lead designer is probably the greatest and most satisfying

achievement of my life. It also gave me the majority of the knowledge, experience, and maturity that I brought to take on leadership of

Origin's Ultima project. And while I may not agree with every decision that management ever made (a common enough event in any

industry and company), I do feel enormously thankful to the 3DO company for taking the risk to buy a fledgling company and invest so

much into making it happen.

As for the game, I do not lament Meridian's death but praise its life. Meridian had a great ride for something that started in a garage and

had the muscle of EA, Sony, and Microsoft waiting to crush it like a grape.

[ Team LiB ]

[ Team LiB ]

The Timeline

Zaphod and Zandramas write the core of the game systems at home. They form a company with a pair of brothers (one

calls himself Meridian) to build a graphical MUD.

A friend and former player on a MUD I helped to run, Raph Koster, turns down a job at Archetype to go do something at

Origin and recommends me to Meridian-the-designer. I send him 20 pages of ideas, most of which I now recognize as

complete and total crack. I get the job.

Archetype is a virtual company. I have never met any of these people before, in person. I have only interviewed with one

person over the telephone. Everything is surreal and dreamy. I live in total terror that maybe this is all a joke and I will be on

the curb come rent time. Miraculously, a paycheck actually appears in my mailbox at the beginning of the month.

I spend many, many, many hours downloading the latest builds of the game over a 14.4 modem. I discover the hard,

grueling, stay-up-all-night way that the Meridian editor will only compile rooms that have walls at 90-degree angles. Our lead

programmer's response is, "Hmmm, that's odd."

I convince the team to hire my brother, Mocker. He proves to be a much better world-builder than I am.

The company starts arguing about the name of the game. One member of the team passionately believes that the game

should be called TOS, short for The Other Side. Attempting to placate him, I say, "Don't like the name for the game, but hey,

wouldn't that make a great city name?" The city of Tos would be our first city, and always our most popular one.

We settle on the name "Meridian" for the game that we are working on, based primarily on two reasons: (1) we're sick of

arguing about it, and (2) everything else we came up with was already taken or trademarked.

The name "Meridian" turns out to be trademarked—it is the name of a printer driver somewhere. Rather than fight that battle,

we change the name to "Meridian 59," figuring we'd write some background story that would explain what 59"

" meant later.

M59 hits Alpha. It can hold a scant 35 people. It has seven rooms, two spells, no skills, three monsters (all giant insects), one

quest, and no form of PK control whatsoever. The newbie spawn point is a sea of bodies. The game is so full that we have to

(randomly and without warning) kick people off the server to debug our own game.

Trying to get investors into the game, we want to show off all of our 1337 art. The problem is, all of our customers are playing

men, and our women look much better. I somehow get volunteered to have a female moniker in-game. Mostly through

laziness, I never bother to change it. Oddly enough (and thankfully), never as an immortal was I hit on, except by women.

In a time when we are desperately trying to impress investors, the original NeverWinter Nights (NWN) closes down. Without

warning, we are flooded with MMPRPG-starved fans, and they all want every single NWN feature.

One of my co-designers chooses a bad time to bug me. I haven't slept in 36 hours, and I'm acting as the combination QA/CS

department for our new Alpha, frantically taking calls and bug reports from the fans when the designer sends me a completely

random, out-of-the-blue idea. I send him an extremely angry, confrontational /tell laced with profanity, press ENTER—and

then realize I have sent a /shout, not a /tell. The entire game goes silent. I quickly log off and get some sleep.

Working remotely, we realize we haven't heard from one of our contract artists in about a month, much less gotten any art

from him. Given that he lives in Arizona, there is no way to check up on him. He later returns, mentioning mostly that he

needed a "break."

Broke, we hire a guy to build levels for free, some guy named Q. He turns out to be worth a hundred times that much—well,

more, anyway.

Running on fumes, we convince 3DO to buy us. They may still hate us for that. My salary was tripled overnight—and I was

still grossly underpaid.

I meet my co-workers in person for the first time. We are all a lot less intimidating in person.

3DO doesn't have art resources to spare, so we hire an outside art house to replace some of our art for us. For some reason,

this house seemed to be under the impression that we were a Sierra-like game. As a result, a small segment of our art looked

like it belonged in a Hanna Barbara cartoon.

In what may be the single worst ad in gaming history, we tell PCGamer readers that M59 is "the single most fun thing you can

do with hundreds of other people without wearing anything made of latex."

One of our new guardians chooses the very original name "Gandalf." When told by his co-workers that they were all going to

start a tradition of having names that start with "Z," he sullenly changes his name to "Zgandalf."


a time-honored precedent for the genre, we ship off our gold master to duplication while still fixing server-side bugs.

3DO ships M59 on September 27, 1996. Our marketing guy tells us that he spent lots of marketing cash to get the product on

the endcaps of every CompUSA in the country. We pile into Q's Mustang to go and see our product on the shelves for the

first time. It is not on the endcap. It is hidden behind a pole.

At launch, we have something like 20 different monster models, a full third of which are giant insects of some form.

Within one day of being live, Meridian has its first virtual prostitute, making thatMeridian's oldest profession.

I smite my first player, an annoying person named "Sexy" who emoted "wraps her legs around you" and similar phrases as I

was attempting to tell her (in front of an audience) that she needed to stop killing newbies and doing odd things with their


We ban a guild for duping, as we finally catch on that the 10 bucks a jerk gives you isnot worth as much as the 10 bucks a

peaceful player gives you. The guild en masse writes to PCGamer.com, which promptly reports of our vindictive, evil CS

department on the front page. Our policy on not commenting on account cancellation prevents us from responding.

Our first major hack program goes into existence. I forget the name of it (Meridian Extreme?). Neatest feature—someone

discovered that there was no room check on shopkeepers, so you could sell your loot to the shopkeeper from anywhere in

the room.

www.3dosucks.com goes live. Just as good cannot exist without evil andUO cannot exist without Lum; we feel our existence

is justified. It's far better than if they didn't care enough to hate us.

Meridian Extreme is improved. Its interface is now much, much better than that of the game.

Perhaps trying to compete with ourselves for worst ad ever for a computer game, we tell readers, "The next time someone

tells you to get a life, tell them you've already got one. A virtual one. M59."

Meridian wins GameCenter's award for RPG of the Year, beating outDaggerfall.

In a round of layoffs, I am forced to lay off my own brother. We rehire him a month later.

Starting another fine tradition of MMPRPGs, in a desperate attempt at self-defense, someone releases a version of Meridian

Extreme that will log in your character, suicide your character, and log out. Our guardians actually take great pleasure at

fielding calls from cheaters begging to have their accounts reinstated.

The program EZ Macro convinces me that I hate use-based systems.

We perform our first major "nerf." M59 has a political system that gives bonuses to you based on what faction you are in and

how powerful it is. The duke is too powerful, and so we (accidentally) overcompensate by making the princess too powerful.

However, the term "nerf" has not been popularized by UO and EQ yet, so instead I get an angry email complaining that we

"castrated the duke." I often wonder what the mail would have read if we had nerfed the princess.

We ship the Vale of Sorrows expansion pack, after a long discussion with marketing about whether or not that is an

appropriate name for a product released two weeks after major layoffs. Our new producer, a guy named Rich Vogel, defends

the development team's choice in names and wins.

A dupe bug renders money useless overnight. In an interesting economic development, the players almost immediately fall

upon dark angel feathers (DAFs) as a replacement currency until things return to normal. DAFs are valuable because they

are rarely dropped yet stackable items that are required to cast player-killing spells. PKers have an interest in getting them,

and non-PKers have an interest in keeping them out of PKers' hands.

We change the palette of all the art in the game. The only art excluded is some of the very old textures used for the forests

way back in Beta. These rooms still exist, and the textures that were formerly green are now orange, red, and yellow.

Mischievous guides enjoy teleporting players to these old zones and telling them that it was a new area we were working on

that was half-done, the land of the burning trees. We never successfully combat these rumors.

One of our guardians parts ways with the company, muscled out for giving favors to his favorite customers. He is so popular

that dozens of people write messages on boards that cover hot tech stock tips saying that 3DO is going down because it can't

keep its best CS people. Our stock actually dips that day.

The infamous GuideWozzle episode: A player volunteer guide goes crazy. He goes to the ghost room and uses a bug to

spawn several ghosts (by far the hardest monsters in the game). He then marches down the who list, teleporting people in

the room one at a time. They have enough time to say "WTF" before being cut down like weeds to a weed-whacker. I teleport

into a room full of hundreds of corpses. I ban GuideWozzle. The last two people teleported into the room (who were saved by

my intervention) immediately begin looting the corpses of all the other players.

Starting a time-honored tradition in MMPRPGs, a guardian is banned for fraternizing with the counselors.

Not to be outdone by 3dosucks, a new web site goes live, detailing how Q will give personal favors in the game for oral

gratification. This is accompanied by doctored images of his in-game character. The entire team is quite amused, except for


In another round of layoffs, I am forced to lay off my own brother.

We rehire him two months later.

We release Revelations, the second expansion forM59. It is a sizeable tropical island that is hard to get to and full of sentient

yet primitive races; it sets a precedent for the genre.

Setting a time-honored precedent for the genre, the advertising for the Revelations product has a scantily clad female that

literally has nothing to do with the game. Given our previous advertising, we are delighted by this.

The stupidest thing the design team ever did: In order to get to the island, you needed to cast "dispel illusion" to open an

illusionary wall and enter the caves that led to the island of Ko'catan. Unfortunately, the only place to get the reagents for

dispel illusion at launch was on the island. We quickly add a quest that teleports users to a new room that contains a new

monster (hued version of an old monster) that drops the reagents as loot. The fans wildly applaud the brilliance and

convoluted nature of the first opening of the passage to Ko'catan—except for a couple of players who said, "Funny, I tried

doing exactly that quest yesterday, and nothing happened."

The entirety of server 109 gets bored and raids server 108. They don't player-kill. Instead, they all choose names starting with

clone, as in "clone1," "clone2," "clone3," "clone4," and so on. They all use the same character model and they only speak in

binary. One person, the master, does all the talking for the group. Server 108 freaks the hell out. They blame us. We try to

explain that we aren't that smart.

In an admirable example of the community defending itself, a player on server 108 starts a new character, calls it "clone16,"

and joins the game. Immediately, the other clones include him in the clone's in-game chat channel and start talking normally,

saying things like, "Ha ha ha! I can't believe they R so freakd!" He quietly listens. The next day, he posts a log on the

message board complete with a listing of which clone is which 109 player and which clone guy is cheating on which clone

woman with which other clone woman.

I drop a rare artifact on the ground by accident. A nearby thief snags the item and runs off with it. When I found out what

happened, I delete his arm. The team is stunned that this is even possible.

In a cunning grasp of the economics of the Internet (and over the development team's strong objections), the pricing model of

M59 is changed from $10 a month to $2.49 a day but never more than $10 a week or $30 a month. This effectively tripled the

price of the service, with the added benefit that it confused the people it didn't insult. Hundreds of accounts are cancelled.

Tragically, the move proved to be profitable in the short term because two-thirds of the population did not cancel their

accounts. However, the damage to the community was very, very deep, and Meridian never fully recovered.

I leave the Meridian design team to work on 3DO's new project, Might and Magic Online.

UO goes live. Surprisingly, few people leave, partially because the gameplay is so different, but largely also due to the fact

that most people who were going to leave already did so in the price change defection.

3DO cancels Might and Magic Online, citing the "failure" of UO. (Note: Origin kept its numbers close to its vest for quite some


The Renaissance update is released. I had little to do with this update, other than helping with initial designs. It introduced the

hunters and the necromancers. The necromancers got neat buffs but had to feed their hunger by player-killing. The hunters

got neat buffs but had to kill necromancers. Players promptly proceeded to power-game the system (using mules for

necromancer fuel, thus allowing them to get the buffs without cost). They then complained that we never added cool PvP

scenarios for elder players.

I do a summary of all the magazine and web reviews thatUO and M59 got. M59 almost always had the better review.

I quit my job to take a position of greater responsibility at Origin. Before I quit, I implemented what is in my opinion the coolest

Easter egg ever—a room full of statues that pay tribute to the original design and support staff of M59.

At my new place of employment, a key member of theUO design team tells me that they were, at the time, "terrified" of

Meridian's impending launch.

I log into the EQ chat rooms with my M59 name while waiting for the servers to open for phase 4 Beta. Humorously, enough

people recognize me and start chatting Meridian old times that the volunteer in the room has trouble answeringEQ questions.

The necromancers had a safety valve built in. They had an Achilles' heel—the lich queen—who, if killed, would kill all the

necromancers and therefore reset the scenario (removing the buffs). Since the necromancers and the hunters were

conspiring to power-game the buffs, this never happened. Finally, one player got bored. He killed the lich, with one stroke

killing 50+ necromancers. It was possibly the single most impressive player-killing action in MUD history. Fifty death

messages in a row, interspersed with occasional "LOLs" and "WTFs," makes for highly amusing reading. It had been so long

since the lich had died that the necromancers actually argued that the lich killer was a grief player.

Noted Meridian fanatic and self-admitted troublemaker convinces her company, World Fusion, to begin work on an MMP

game called Atriarch.

A player, Ixit, achieves immortality in my mind by performing a feat of spectacular power-gaming—something that I thought

was mathematically impossible—becoming a master in every spell and skill school in the game. (Most players are masters of

only three instead of seven.) When he tells me how he did it (a process of meticulous ping-ponging of skills in the use-based

system that literally took hours a day for months), I say to myself, "Wow, yeah, I guess that would work."

EQ goes live. Given that the gameplay is similar but much, much deeper, it devastates theMeridian community. The diehards

cling to the notion that EQ sux and M59 will rule forever, but numbers dwindle quickly.

While strolling through EQ with my Meridian name, someone gives me free healing, SoW, and buffs because "Your chat

system didn't suck like this one does."

Meridian enters the new millennium with no 3D graphics card support and no hope of ever getting it.

M59 is #91 in GameSpot UK's most important games of the millennium.

A noted player, Dementia, is banned from M59. He attempts to get someone in trouble by doctoring the logs of a chat session

and sending them to a GM. Little does he know that the other player was that GM's mortal character.

I log into Meridian for the first time in a year. "Oh my dear God," I think to myself, "we never put mouselook in this stupid game."

A key member of theAC design team tells me that he was "terrified" of the speed that we could makeMeridian happen.

Horizon's core members, Dave Allen and James Jones, mention in passing that they were bothM59 addicts, and that it came

up frequently during their design sessions.

A general amnesty is declared for all players banned from M59. The exceptions are "those banned for credit card fraud,

those banned for racist and sexist activities, and Dementia."

A key member of theEQ design team tells me that he was "very worried" about competing againstMeridian.

I tell a former member of theUnderlight team that the M59 team was "terrified" about their impending launch.

3DO announces that Meridian will be brought down on August 31, 2000.

Rob Ellis and Brian Green, two former 3DO employees and workers on Meridian 59, cut a deal with 3DO in 2002 to revive

the game under a new company, Near Death Studios (http://www.neardeathstudios.com/NDS-Team.shtml).

[ Team LiB ]

[ Team LiB ]

Part V: Appendices and Glossary

Appendix A Executive Considerations Checklist

Appendix B Bios of Interviewees

Appendix C The Bartle Quotient Survey Questions and Some Results

Appendix D Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs

Appendix E Online World Timeline

Appendix F Glossary

[ Team LiB ]

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it. Thanks

[ Team LiB ]

Appendix A. Executive Considerations Checklist


Type of


a. Classic

b. Hybrid

c. Persistent World



a. 3D First-/Third-Person

b. Isolinear, Top-Down

c. Other:___________________________


Primary Mode

a. Real-Time Strategy

b. First-Person Shooter

c. Virtual World

d. Card/Board Game



a. Fantasy

b. Science-Fiction

c. Other:___________________________


Primary Market

a. Mass

b. Moderate

or Casual

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c. Hard-Core


Competitive Analysis

a. Current Competitors

b. Competitors in Development or Testing


Development Timeline

a. Design

b. Development

c. Alpha Testing

d. Beta Testing

e. Anticipated Launch Date


Cost of Entry

a. Property Licensing and Royalty Costs

b. Development Budget

c. Marketing Budget

d. Launch Budget

e. Bandwidth Needs

i. How Many Bits/Bytes per User/Minute?

ii. Cost per MB of Access

f. Annual Maintenance Budget

g. Live Team Costs

h. Hardware and Bandwidth Costs

i. Total Estimated Cost, Development Through First Year Post-launch


Revenue Projections

a. Estimated Retail Sales

b. Expansion Pack Sales

c. Subscription Fees

10. Risk/Reward Analysis

a. Development and Launch Costs Versus Customer Market Niche of the Product

b. Team Experience Versus Nearest Competition

c. Licensed Versus Original Product

d. Expected Return on Investment

i. Amortization Time of Development and Launch Costs

ii. Profit Margin, Years 1–5

11. Permission to Proceed

a. Perform the Preliminary Design: Go or No-Go

b. Design Document Review: Go (Continue to Final Design) or No-Go (Cancel the Project)

[ Team LiB ]

[ Team LiB ]

Appendix B. Bios of Interviewees

Jeffrey Anderson

Richard A. Garriott

Gaute Godager

Scott Hawkins

Thomas Howalt

Daniel "Savant" Manachi

Kathy Schoback

Damion Schubert

Jack D. Smith

Gordon Walton

[ Team LiB ]

[ Team LiB ]

Jeffrey Anderson

Company: Turbine Entertainment Software

Current title: President and CEO

Favorite game that you've worked on: Asheron's Call: Dark Majesty

Current favorite game to play: Asheron's Call

Favorite game of all time: Warcraft

Prior to joining Turbine, Mr. Anderson was the executive in charge of production for Origin Systems Inc. (a subsidiary of EA). At Origin,

Mr. Anderson managed the Ultima Online (UO) franchise, where he was directly responsible for expanding its online business. In

particular, he produced EA's first-ever MMP expansion pack and focused on building the next generation of 3D online worlds. Prior to

that, Mr. Anderson was executive director for the Consumer Products division of Viacom, Inc. In that role, he directly managed

Paramount Pictures' worldwide interactive licensing, merchandising, and business development. Before Viacom, he was vice president

of operations at Mission Studios Corporation, a game developer. Mr. Anderson also practiced law at the firm of Holleb & Coff in Chicago,

Illinois, where he concentrated in both intellectual property and corporate litigation. He graduated summa cum laude from the University

of Illinois (B.A., 1989) and served on the Law Review at the University of Chicago Law School (J.D., 1992).

[ Team LiB ]

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