Nearly twenty years ago, a video game completely broken and bugged spoiled me for all other online games since. I thought it may be worth writing down what I still remember about it, so this is its story in several posts:
In early 1999, I had internet access at home for the first time in my life. I was using a university’s dial-up connection (8KB/s, yay!) to surf the early WWW and even chat with friends using ICQ. Right around that time, I saw a small article in a monthly computer magazine about a new online game called Mankind.
According to that article, the game simulated a whole galaxy of millions of stars and their planets, all of which supposedly could be explored and settled by online players who all had shared access to the same environment. This blew my mind - sure, we had LAN parties, but online gaming was still a relatively new concept at the time. I had never even considered the idea of playing with thousands of other people on the same game map before - and here, a game was doing just that in a Sci-Fi setting.
I rushed to the video game store, only to find out that this game wasn’t available yet. Over the next weeks, I would check all stores I came across, until I finally held a copy in my hands.
Mankind 1.5 - Online Realtime Strategy Massively Multiplayer
On the front of the box, an armada of spaceships and the slogan “Mankind 1.5 - new, optimized version”. On the back, some screenshots and the following statements among others:
> “Unlimited number of players”
> “Huge battle field of 900 million(!) different planets” [yes, the exclamation mark is part of the original marketing copy]
> “More than 170 units available, more being published each month”
> “no monthly fee; box contains code for 12 months of free play”
For the standard price of a PC game at the time, this was of course an immediate buy. At home, opening the box revealed a CD-ROM and a ~60 page manual (remember the time when games still came with those?).
While installing, I paged through the manual. It described the interface (both a mail and chat system; where and how to click to select units and move them), it hinted at being able to construct bases just like in other RTS games, to mine more than a dozen different resources, to earn money by doing missions for some “empire”, to eventually build megacities and wage war against other players and even to create guilds with other players to support each other. I was thrilled!
Eventually, the installation process was finished. I activated my internet connection and logged in for the first time...