20 Years of Anarchy Online: A Brief Retrospective

Wow, twenty whole years. You did it! We did it! Anarchy Online celebrates 20 years of service this year, and to celebrate a universe of the far-flung future, we’re inviting you on a trip through the past.

We managed to wrangle up some former devs on AO to have a chat with em; you may recognize some familiar faces! Here’s a trip down memory lane for the lot of you:


Now, let’s take a look back on the early days of AO, the things the game pioneered, and explore the oddities and quirks that make Rubi-ka special!

In the Beginning, A Series of Tubes

In its infancy, Anarchy Online began development in Norway as a research experiment in 1995.

You see, back then, consumer internet access was nowhere near as fast (or as ubiquitous) as it is today; dial-up modems were still the norm, and access to higher-speed connections was prohibitively expensive. This left us with the question of if crafting a persistent online world was even worth it.

Some in Funcom’s leadership felt that going online was the future. Many others in the company then thought they were crazy. Both are true!

“We had to explore. We had to lift stones, cross bridges, climb mountains; test the limits of our reality. We had to brave the unknown! We had to make ourselves noticed.”

– AO Intro Cinematic

We didn’t have a ton to go off of then - sure, there were MUDs and text-based adventures, but there weren’t many graphical MMORPGs to speak of - and heck, the actual term ‘MMORPG’ didn’t even really enter mainstream circulation until 1996/1997. Even by late 1999, there were only a handful of major games in the genre, and even then they were all sword-and-sorcery types; nothing like the sprawling sci-fi universe we sought to create with Anarchy Online.

We were determined and ambitious - and as previously mentioned, a little crazy - and were flying by the seat of our pants.

Brace For Impact

And then, June 27th, 2001.

A day that lives on in glory and infamy in the hearts of many - the day Anarchy Online officially launched. Those around then may recall the release… well, to quote our post-launch statement, did not go “as smoothly as we had expected.”

In fact, to this day AO holds a seat on the pantheon of history’s rockiest game launches - a distinction we’re not exactly proud of – but after launch, we truly put the metal to the grindstone to make things right.

In the months following the launch, the team worked tirelessly to pull up and recover; fixing bugs, working with customers, and the like…and we’re still alive and kicking two whole decades later.

And you know what? We’re damn proud of that.


Trailblazing The Rift

Anarchy Online wasn’t just a pioneer forging new ground as the first sci-fi MMORPG; there’s a whole bunch of features considered standard in the genre that we helped break ground on. Take the humble but not-to-be-underestimated hyperlinking in chat: ubiquitous feature in online gaming now, but we were one of the first (maybe the first?) to ever utilize the function in a game. The future is now!

On a more serious note, Anarchy Online forged the path for some now-common features in online gaming, such as randomly-generated mission parameters, aka “ACG” or “AGC” Missions - often paired with the community app ‘Clicksaver’ to select a contract with just what you want - along with instanced dungeons and encounters.

The Songs of our People

Even crazier was our original foray into dynamic music; audio that changes based on your settings, context, and surroundings. There hadn’t been any other online game which attempted interactive music that shifts with your location, so we took our own stab at it despite there being little reference for gaming.

In gaming, you want to make sure the audio and background music complements the environment without being distracting, irritating, or too repetitive. It should seamlessly integrate into the context of what the player is doing and should elevate the overall experience, enhancing the activity or focus of the player without necessarily taking center stage (unless the situation calls for it, of course).

Since Anarchy Online was a game where you could potentially spend tens to hundreds of hours in a single playfield, one of our primary goals was to avoid repetitive audio loops that you’d begin to recognize and find annoying.

Our solution was to break up each composed track into tons of short soundbytes that then layer upon each other depending on the situation. To say it required a ton of additional care and work to make…well, work is an understatement:

“With AO, we aimed at having interactive music, something which we neither had any technical or musical experience with. No developer had ever done interactive music with an online title (or any other title for that matter) so there were few leads to follow. After a lot of back and forth with the technical design, we came up with a solution we believed was plausible, and with that the composing of the music started. All composers are used to thinking in a linear fashion when writing music, and I knew that writing music for this title would be a very different process and approach.

However, I was not prepared to face so many different issues. When doing non-linear music, you run into so many problems. Melodies not making sense, harmonic movements which are “off”, tempo-issues etc etc… But in the end, I think it turned out quite nicely, and as a testament to that, some players still play with music on after many years and thousands of hours in-game.”

– Composer Morten “Jazzid” Sorlie, quote from http://arcanum.aodb.us/community_mortensorlie.html

A deeper analysis on the design and process used for our music system can be found on Gamasutra, written by former audio engineer and composer Bjorn Arve Lagim. You can find the article here!

https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131361/the_music_of_anarchy_online_.php

…Y’all Did That?

AAR
(Image taken from YouTube channel uoham)

On the topic of music and audio, Anarchy Online was also one of the first games to perform a virtual concert in the MMORPG sphere, and among the first in all of online gaming - using tech engineered by Microsoft’s Massive Inc.!

In a nutshell, this tech allowed us to display dynamic content to billboards throughout Anarchy Online’s various zones, and we repurposed this system to broadcast a feed of the band “All American Rejects” for a special event in August 2007.

Perhaps not quite the same experience as attending a show in-person (and in retrospect, could be a neat experiment in today’s era of remote communication and event streaming), it was nonetheless a novel concept and a bit of unique fun for Rubi-Ka!

This also begs the question on how the band could exist twenty-five thousand years in the future and broadcast to a region untold lightyears away from Earth…

See our press release here:

https://pr.funcom.com/Anarchy-Online-Makes-Cyber-Concerts-a-Reality-for-Gamers


You, the Citizens of Rubi-Ka

Of course, what’s a massive multiplayer game without its social elements and community? We’d be nothing without the actual players leading the way through Rubi-Ka and its extradimensional spaces. In no particular order, let’s walk through some of the initiatives and programs that have existed through AO’s lifespan and their legacy!

The Advisors of Rubi-Ka (ARK)

Originally founded as an in-universe department of the ICC, the ARK program has evolved into an autonomous volunteer organization of incredibly passionate members of the community. Their true identities generally hidden to the public, ARK staff have access to a multitude of special commands and powers at their disposal, including teleporting other players, summoning items and creatures, and otherwise interacting with the world and its inhabitants in a way not normally available to the average citizen of Rubi-Ka.

“The Advisors of Rubi-Ka are a special group of veteran players who freely volunteer their time and energy. It is the Advisors number one wish to further enhance the overall game experience of every player they meet on their way.

In the early days of ARK, the group was responsible for greeting new players, creating in-character, storyline, and out of character events, testing and investigating bugs on the Test server, and handling in-game petitions. As time and conditions have changed, ARK still remains largely responsible for in-game, in-character RP events as well as out-of-character events and parties in coordination with both GridStream and other players; as well as helping with bug investigations.

On a personal note, I’ve been around AO for 16 of its 20 years and a member of ARK for almost as long. It is incredible that the game has such longevity and means so much for so many people. I have great memories of the ICC Shuttleport and trying to find my way around the Subway. Of zoning into the Temple of the Three Winds, only to be annihilated by GOT in the first hallway. My first steps into so many zones. The triumphs of team successes, and the bitterness of raid wipes.

The people I’ve met along the way, both as a player and as an ARK, mean a lot to me. The fact that the game has so much to do and so many different ways to accomplish things has really added to its longevity, and I look forward to what the future brings.”

– Sywyyn, ARK Director

ARK and GridStream Productions (see below) were also behind some of the very first in-person meetups within the community, and ARK themselves have historically made regular appearances at Funcom’s Oslo and Durham studios!

You can find ARK staff today holding special in-game events focusing on roleplay and in-universe interactions. They can also occasionally be found chatting away in the official AO Discord channel.

You can read more about ARK here: https://www.aoark.org/

GridStream Productions (GSP)

Founded in 2002, GSP is a nonprofit online radio station which was founded by Lan Tarryk Kozar and friends for Anarchy Online. Since then, the station has branched out into The Secret World/Secret World Legends, and remains committed to bringing the highest quality of audio entertainment to both games via their “one stream, one community” philosophy.

“For 19 years GridStream Productions has been the source of not only a multitude of music but parties, prizes and of course many relationships for the people of Rubi-ka. Friendships, marriages and families have been formed through GridStream Productions both in and out of Anarchy Online over the last 20 years. The staff of GridStream Productions hope to carry on forming those bonds with our listeners and aim to keep the liveness going for our communities who just keep subsisting. We appreciate you all and hope to party soon!”

– Gemmikins, GSP Board Member and DJ

Today, GSP is maintained by a colorful crew of supercharged hosts; find them and their DJs holding regular shows and seasonal events in and out of the game!

Tune in here: http://www.gridstream.org/

The Professionals

With 14 professions available in the game, balance was always a tricky thing. One solution around 2004 was the foundation of The Professionals program: a player council, of sorts, where a couple prominent players from each profession would be chosen to represent their class and provide feedback to us!

Community Resources

This is more of a personal thank-you from myself and some of the folks in Customer Service, but we’d like to give a huge shoutout to some of the player-run resources and pages that exist for AO - they’ve been a huge help for us when we need to look up specific information, and we reference them on a constant basis.

These resources include, in no particular order:

…and many, many more! Too many to mention, really, including sites from the past, such as Anarchy Mainframe, Anarchy Online Arcanum, AO Vault, Towerwars.info, Faunlore, Tir School of Engineering, etc… (If we missed you we’re sincerely sorry!! Please reach out!)


Anarchy Online Music Collection on Steam

We’d like to include a special mention to “bitnykk”, an intrepid player who made it their mission to collect AO’s full soundtrack make it all available in one location

Their efforts and determination ultimately resulted in the release of AO’s full audio collection, a 4-volume anthology complete with every track and even formerly unreleased content! We reached out to bitnykk themselves for a little insight on their efforts:

“Gathering “Anarchy Online Music Collection” of 4 volumes all started in a personal call to launch AO music out of game, like while driving or such.

First step, game files were small chunks isolated & quite hard to assemble. Turning towards some sound archive (RKM) & forum (GSP) allowed to go further …

… but the puzzle really started to complete by magic after contacting original musicians : one by one, they joined in to contribute old & even new pieces:

M. Sørlie, T. Linløkken, B.A. Lagim, L. Willett & Ayria provided files & agreement to see 56 tracks playlist of over 4h released by Funcom’s CEO R.M.M. Casais!

Piled by extension (RK, SL, AI, LE) the full collection endly allows whole AO community to enjoy such unique SciFi + Fantasy mix the MMO offers since 20 years.”

– bitnykk, 2021

You can read more on bitnykk’s mission here:

http://forums.gridstream.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=28727

And you can find the complete music collection, for FREE, here:

Anarchy Online: Music Collection
Anarchy Online: Music Collection


Until Next Time

Whew! If you’ve read this far, thanks for joining us on this brief retrospective of 20 years of AO! It’s been a wild and sometimes bumpy ride, and from everyone on the AO team and from everyone at Funcom, we’d like to extend our sincerest thank you for your creativity, passion, and support.

If I missed anything or if you’d like to add your own personal shoutout or memory of AO, feel free to leave a comment on the forums or hang out on discord!

Stay safe out there Citizens!

Lots of love,

AndyB :adnybap:
Community Manager

& The Anarchy Online Team

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