The McMaster Files

The Dreamers of the Dreams

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #122. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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A repository for games and ennui.

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I had a Hayes 2400 baud modem that I got with my initial Prodigy subscription. I used that when I set up my first real internet connection, via AOL, in my late teens. Of course I upgraded that to a 33.6 as quickly as possible. On AOL, I found what would be the next big thing – multiplayer games. Unlike door games on a BBS, the games on AOL and the internet at large weren’t limited to however many phone lines the host might have. No, these were giant. These were worlds where I could get lost. I fell in love with a game by Simutronics called Dragon Realms. It’s still around today. Dragon Realms is a complex MUD (multi-user dungeon) that is represented entirely in text.

Oh, how I loved that game. Being able to match wits with a real opponent, or team up with friends, was a game-changer. I had a great time with Dragon Realms, but then Ultima Online happened. UO took the feel of Dragon Realms and added a graphical interface and familiar world. I spent many hours playing UO. It was hard to imagine what would come next. Luckily, I wouldn’t have to wait long.

While I was still regularly playing Ultima Online, a game called EverQuest started getting a lot of attention. It was like the others, but with 3D graphics and a first-person perspective. Early screenshots looked very cool, in that early 3D graphics kind of way. When the game entered closed beta, I signed up for a chance to play. I got my chance.

I came home one day, checked my mail and there was a package from Sony Online Entertainment. Inside was a handful of CDs and a letter welcoming me to the beta. I excitedly installed all the CDs and began the extensive patching process via my dial-up modem. Finally, the patching process ended and I got to make my first character – a monk. I’ve always loved the D&D monk, so I couldn’t resist. I played a human and chose a starting town of Qeynos, which is on the west coast of the central continent of Norrath.

There are moments in your life that stay with you. This was one of those. Stepping out into that 3D world and seeing all the other testers running around, using the vendors and fighting the low-level monsters outside the gates was mind-blowing. The world had a life that wasn’t just AI-controlled, scheduled encounters – you could talk to them, fight them, trade with them, and on and on.

As I stepped out of Qeynos, I was greeted by frenzied activity. A monk that had managed to reach double digits in leveling was standing around talking to a crowd of new players as Fippy Darkpaw shouted his challenges across the zone. After some time of exploration and learning my character, I decided to set out to the East. This began one of my most memorable journeys.

The area I entered was too high level for me, but I didn’t really know that at the time. I began to run across the zone and somewhere, near the beginning of my trek, I picked up a cougar. I could somewhat outrun the beast, but it would nip at me every here and there. We did this little dance for what seemed like hours. My life slowly drained as the cougar constantly took its toll. Finally the plains ended and I started to run up a mountain path. As I came close to the entrance of a mountain city, the cougar took its final swipe and left me dead at the threshold of Rivervale.

Though my first adventure in EQ ended in disaster, I was hooked. When the game was released, I got my friends into it and we formed parties and explored the world. Then, oddly, I began to make a new group of friends that were exclusively online. My world had become larger and smaller at once. I could enjoy my favorite pastime with people from all over the world without having to leave my home.

As a group, new friends and old, we made our way through the game. We did corpse runs. We sat in the tunnel between the Commons and traded. We camped Guk. We raided the plains. Hell, we raided the moon! It’s sad, I can’t tell you much else about what I was doing in 1999, but I remember camping the Ghoul Executioner for the hood and axe.

Time, of course, marches on. Eventually, EverQuest fell off and other games took its place. There was Dark Age of Camelot, Shadowbane, etc, etc. . . However, there wouldn’t be a game that would grab me like EverQuest until the World of Warcraft beta, years later. Even then, it still lacked the wonder I felt in EQ. I believe a large portion of this feeling comes from the lack of information around the game.

By the time we got WoW, the internet was in full swing and the information machine chugged on day and night. EQ had this raw feeling, this feeling of the unknown. Losing experience on death and having to recover your body added a sense of danger lacking from most other games. The world seemed savage. I’m not sure any other game has matched that feeling, or ever will.

On November 18th, 2019, at the age of 50, Brad McQuaid, the creator and designer of the original EverQuest, passed away. He had gone on to work on other games, but none had captured the lightning in the bottle that was the original EQ. I greeted the news of his passing with profound sadness.

In our world, there is not a lot of mystery. We have a reason for everything that happens and we discover more about our universe every day. The surface of our planet has been mapped and re-mapped and photographed by satellites. Our lives are relatively safe and secure as compared to that of our ancestors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I don’t have to worry about the same things they were worried about, but the human spirit longs for the new and the unknown. That’s why I love the creators.

My sadness at the passing of McQuaid is, as most sadness is, selfish and personal. I loved Brad McQuaid, though I never met him. He, along with many other designers and creators, gave me a world to explore. Thanks to the work and imagination of McQuaid and his team, I found another world where I could escape and live, if only for a little time. Thank you for your dreams, I cherished them.

 

“Great hail! we cry to the comers

From the dazzling unknown shore;

Bring us hither your sun and your summers;

And renew our world as of yore;

You shall teach us your song’s new numbers,

And things that we dreamed not before:

Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,

And a singer who sings no more.”

– excerpt from “Ode,” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy

 

Rest in peace.

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Jason McMaster is a writer and editor with a lifelong passion for games. When he isn’t working on Unwinnable, he’s either on his PC or playing a board game. Follow him on Twitter @mcmaster

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