Past Lives

I’ve taken a bit of a programming hiatus so far this summer, with the exception of the WordPress plugin I mentioned last time which I just spent a couple hours a week on over the past several months. Kind of taking a deep breath before plunging into making a game for the upcoming Windows Phone 7. During my break I’ve spent some time thinking about some of the projects I’ve worked on over the years – some that I’ve hated, and some that I’ve loved. One that always stands out for me is a little something called MariusNet, and I thought I’d share the story.

I’ve taken a bit of a programming hiatus so far this summer, with the exception of the WordPress plugin I mentioned last time which I just spent a couple hours a week on over the past several months. I’m kind of taking a deep breath before plunging into making a game for the upcoming Windows Phone 7. ¬†During my break I’ve spent some time thinking about the projects I’ve worked on over the years – some that I’ve hated, and some that I’ve loved. One that always stands out for me is a little something called MariusNet, and I thought I’d share the story.

Back in the days before Bungie was famous for Halo, they made this little game called Myth. I thought it was intriguing, but never played it much. My friend Conner (to use his Myth gamer name) was really into it though, and I followed his exploits from a distance. I did eventually create an account, and since I had recently seen the musical Les Miserables, “Marius” seemed like a good name for a fantasy game.

One of the really cool things about Myth was the central server everyone logged into for chatting and starting games. A large community formed through that, and lifelong friendships were born. Many people formed into gaming clans. Conner was one of the early members of Clan Plaid, which remains an active gaming clan to this day, although they’ve long since branched out to other games. I was recruited later (9/27/2001 to be exact, as I sit here looking at my Marius #CP# beer mug) but was never very active, to my regret.

Sometime after Myth II was released, Bungie started working on some really cool new technology, and a PC game they were going to call Halo. One of the ideas that was talked about early on was the ability to go anywhere on the entire ringed planet. Sometime thereafter, Bungie was purchased by Microsoft, and they moved their offices from Chicago out to the west coast. The “go anywhere” thing obviously never panned out.

Bungie’s move ended up being the driving force behind what ended up becoming MariusNet. It seems that somehow they had lost the source code to their Myth I game server, and being the mad hackers they were, they had hard coded internal network addresses into the server (or something like that), and were unable to get it running again in their new offices. Suddenly several hundred people were no longer able to play the game they loved. My friend Conner approached me and asked if I’d be willing to help him reverse engineer a replacement Myth game server, working on the assumption that the Myth I server functioned very similarly to the still running Myth II server. I eventually agreed.

We found some packet sniffing software, a disassembler, and I abandoned my wife and kids for a couple weeks while we worked. Somewhere along the line we started calling it MariusNet (kind of similar to Bungie.net, get it?) To make a long story short, we eventually (with a couple of key bits of info from one of the Bungie guys) hacked together a more or less stable server that allowed Myth I players to connect, chat, start and play games. Over time we improved the server, re-engineered the login system, added game stats and ranking – the whole works. We even eventually added support for Myth II, Myth III, and even Bungie’s original game Marathon.

Once Bungie realized we had something permanent, they officially discontinued their Myth I server support – which we took as their official blessing that they were fine with our reverse-engineering efforts. They even found time to interview Conner and I. And as thanks for our efforts, we were invited to the original Xbox and Halo launch party in Chicago. We played in the very first public game of Halo, and ate breakfast with the Bungie guys afterwards (yes, it ran that late).

I dropped out of supporting the server quite a few years ago, but some good people took over. I don’t think about MariusNet very often, but every now and then I’ll go back for a visit to see that my namesake is still happily chugging along. ¬†As I write this, there are 31 people playing Myth II, and 12 playing Marathon. “Thriving” may be too strong of a word for the community, especially compared to its glory days, but it’s a good feeling to think that I had some small part in helping people continue playing a game they loved, and that some of those people are still playing even years later.

Anyway, hope you don’t mind my little trip down memory lane. Tomorrow I think I’ll start making some new memories on the Windows Phone 7 simulator.

Visit MariusNet: mariusnet.com

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