I've been meaning to pen a thing about online RPGs, to go with my long-ago posts on paper and live ones. There's a ton of this sort of stuff about, of course — Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, Baldur's Gate. However, first off:
Eye of the Beholder
Possibly nobody else even remembers this. It was a TSR Forgotten Realms thing way ahead of Baldur's Gate, and it was completely mad on a number of levels, and yet enormous fun — and generally the fun and the madness tended to stem from the same elements. I give you some examples:
1. Your 6–8-man party of random adventurers was set up like a first person(s) shooter, and whilst having Duke Nukem or whoever potter about with a POV camera stuck between his eyes is one thing, this starts to break down when you're basically the shared POV of six people, and there's no head bob for movement, leading myself and my co-player to the irresistible conclusion that our valient heroes had descended into the dungeon on a golf buggy.
2. Although a 1-player game, we found that it actually worked better with 2 — one to control the trolley, usually by reversing at top speed away from the irate monsters, and the other to cast spells, shoot arrows, and throw random items from the inventory. Mêlée combat basically never happened, but everything in your pack could be flung at monsters for actual damage as your half-dozen characters frantically backpeddled down the corridors, and this was, in fact, what most of the early encounters degenerated into — especially the level with all the spiders, which was one level before you could deal with their poison (sneaky).
3. The monsters, in grand old D&D fashion, could not work the doors. In fact, when dealing with Mind-flayers, as an example of a monster type quite capable of killing off some or all of your party, we ended up adopting the following procedure:
a: open the door, unload all series spells and attacks at the perplexed Mind Flayer.
b: close the door before the Mind Flayer can do anything.
c: rest up for eight hours for the spellcasters to regain their spells.
d: repeat until successful. Fights can be expected to last up to 2 weeks.
4. Given the severely limited flat graphics (like the old pre-Quake FPS's) and general early and rough feel of the game, there were some extremely clever touches that I've never seen since, such as:
a. You had to watch the repeating wall panels carefully because the secret doors were activated by little buttons that relied on the player(s) being able to spot them/
b. The game also took advantage of the repetitive environment by having traps that turned the party around, which was almost impossible to notice.
c. The occasional pile of bones you found could later be resurrected into an additional character for your party.
5. Finally, though, after fighting your way through about 20 levels of slimy, dank dungeons, you reached the Beholder's lair. Which was immaculately done up with white and purple wallpaper, and had dinky little dado rails with plaster eye motifs, leading to the inescapable conclusion that "Changing Rooms" had just finished with the place. This is a monster with a bunch of eyestalks and no hands, and so the logic can lead to either the beholder somehow hiring a team of interior decorators who fought their way through all the same psychotic monsters in order to pimp out its crib, or alternatively the beholder itself doing all the plastering by way of masterful telekinesis. The beholder also had an enormous spike trap in its living room, which served the sole purpose of killing the beholder when you knocked the wretched creature back into it, making this the most hamfisted example of Chekov's Gun I've ever come across.
But it was fun, and it was the first online RPG I'd ever played that didn't come entirely in text asking me which compass point I wanted to take through a poorly described forest. And Baldur's Gate would be for a few years, so it was all we had.