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The History of Current online Web Games

Tuesday - 11 September, 2007

The History of Current online Web Games

Early online gaming

Dialup bulletin board systems (BBS) were popular in the 1980s, and many were used for online game playing. The earliest BBS, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had a simply text-based interface menu, but later systems made use of terminal-control codes (the so-called ANSI art, which included the use of IBM-PC-specific characters not actually part of an ANSI standard) to get a pseudo-graphical interface. RIP was one such quasi-graphical ansi code. WildCat BBS from Mustang Inc also had a slick graphical interface for their BBS software. Some BBS offered access to various games which were playable through such an interface, ranging from text adventures to gambling games like blackjack (several played for “points”, some offered real money). On multiuser BBSs, such as MEGACOMM the fore-runner of, more than one person could be online at a time. These multiuser BBS sometimes allowed the users to interact with one another through chat or online messages; some such games of the fantasy role-playing variety were known as IF (Interactive Fiction) and “multi-user dungeons” or MUDs. The most popular was Legends of the Red Dragon (L.O.T.R.D) and Adventurer of Renown Deeds (ARRA); one may still experience this popular online text game at’s Legend of the Green Dragon (lotgd). These games eventually evolved into what are known today as Massive Multi-user Online Role-Playing Games or MMORPG for short.

Growth of online games

Commercial online services also arose during this time, most starting with a crude plain-text interface similar to that of BBSs; however, these commercial vendors operated on large mainframe computers permitting larger numbers of users to be online at once. By the end of this decade, commercial online services moved to fully-graphical environments using software specific to each personal computer operating system — remember this is all before Java, and shockwave plugins were introduced. In fact, no one had even heard of a browser! Popular text-based services included CompuServe, The Source, Geocitites and GEnie, while platform- specific graphical services included Quantum Link for the Commodore 64, AppleLink for the Apple II and Macintosh, and PC Link for IBM PC operating systems, all of which were run by the company which eventually became known today as America Online. AOL chief competior in those days was Prodigy. Interactive games were a feature of these services, though until 1987 they used text-based displays, not graphics.

Rapid Changes in Technology

Times and technology changed; the World Wide Web (WWW) was introduced in 1994; Pentium chips were now in PCs; Netscape launched a silly little program called a “browser” in the same year with Microsoft introducing Internet Explorer a year later. Microsoft also made a bold move to include Internet protocol (IP & TCP/IP) in their revolutionary Windows ’95. The age of online web-based games was fast approaching.

The Birth of Current Online Games

Web games began back in October 1995 when Macromedia introduced a Netscape browser plug-in called Shockwave. This was simply a playback engine for interactive animations created with a program called Director – the big brother to flash. Director had already been in use for several years, and was used by many developers to create simple CD-ROM games. A few developers got the idea to put some games on html pages and … well … the free online game was born for the WWW. One of the most popular site — although no longer active — was by Scott Porter. He developed a brilliant game framework in javascript. Few of his javascript games have survived. At about this same stage, Sun Microsystems introduced Java, a universal application development environment that was available in Netscape’s browser. Java applets began to appear in Web browsers. The contest between Shockwave and Java gaming was afoot. Many gaming sites sprang up with interesting and creative games such as by Gary Rosenzweig — one of the leading experts in Director and the new Flash plug-in.

Back in January 1993, Charlie Jackson, Jonathan Gay, and Michelle Welsh started a small software company called FutureWave Software and created their first product, SmartSketch. A drawing application, SmartSketch was designed to make creating computer graphics as simple as drawing on paper. Although SmartSketch was an innovative drawing application, it didn’t gain enough of a foothold in its market. As the Internet began to thrive due to the launch of the WWW, FutureWave began to realize the potential for a vector-based web animation tool that might easily challenge Macromedia’s often slow-to-download Shockwave technology. In 1995, FutureWave modified SmartSketch by adding frame-by-frame animation features and re-released it as FutureSplash Animator on Macintosh and PC. By that time, the company had added a second programmer Robert Tatsumi, an artist Adam Grofcsik, and a PR specialist Ralph Mittman. The product was offered to Adobe and used by Microsoft in its early (MSN) work with the Internet. In December 1996, Macromedia acquired the vector-based animation software and later released it as Flash 1.0. Flash rapidly became the most popular method for adding animiation and interactivity to web pages. Both Flash and Shockwave added improvements to allow developers make better games. Shockwave later added a 3D environment which is the best application for online 3D game development. Flash, much later, added advanced scripting and speed to its compiled files. Acording to some experts in the gaming industry, we are now in the 7th generation of video gaming. For further reference see this article.

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