Meridian 59 is considered the first Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, published in 1996, and is the source of the term. M59 continues online to this day, as two of the original developers purchased the rights to the game and re-invigorated the franchise.
This game contains examples of:
- An Interior Designer Is You: Players can rent rooms semi-permanently at inns, and decorate them with a variety of objects, change the bed, and even choose the wallpaper. In a far cooler example, players can also buy buildings, though they must be de facto owned by a guild rather than an individual. These guildhalls can then be used to store gigantic quantities of loot, at the risk of having the hall stolen if you're not careful. Yes, other guilds can sneak in and try to forcibly steal your guildhall in one of the most fun PvP scenarios ever devised.
- Critical Existence Failure: The only thing that changes as your characters' HP drops is the level of desperation in their groan of pain, until at 0 HP you suddenly become a corpse and a pile of loot. This has caused generations of Meridian 59 gamers to perk up or freak out at the sound of the eponymous 'death screams' given off by people about to die. Given that it's a sound stolen by dozens of B movies over the last 15 years, it can lead to seriously hilarious real life moments.
- Eldritch Abomination: The game's extensive lore hints that an entity called the Ancient One sleeps inside the world, and that, if it ever woke up, the universe would end. Most of the evil personalities in the game's history, including the Goddess of Evil, Qor, were merely projected aspects of the Ancient One. This means that, even if it doesn't wake up, its very dreams could still destroy the world.
- Enemy-Detecting Radar: In addition to the constant first person view, the game also has a minimap in the corner that displays a map of the area you're in once you've explored it. On this same minimap, monsters show up as red dots and players show up as blue dots. Unfortunately for the player, monsters only show up if they're close or in direct line of sight, and players can often be invisible. In both cases, you can't see them on the map.
- Geo Effects: Every school of magic gets power bonuses based on environmental effects. For example, Qor, the 'evil magic' school, is more effective in dark areas. Faren, the 'elemental magic' school, is more effective outdoors and in wild terrain. Interestingly, some schools come with the ability to manipulate the environment for their own benefit. For example, the Qor spell Darkness, which dramatically lowers the light level in an area, with obvious benefits.
- In-Universe Game Clock: The game has a complex time system that governs many of the world's aspects. Notably, a Meridian day and night cycle takes 2 hours. When enough days pass, a Meridian year passes, and each character's age is noted in their description - i.e. 'Joe Elf has hailed from Marion for 34 years.' These ages are often a source of pride for players, because it can show that they were created in a server's early days. Automatically generated gravestones in the game also carry names of players that have died, lamenting that the victim was 'Born X ME, died Y ME', which can lead to strange moments when a player runs across his own gravestone and remembers 'oh yeah, I died that year.'
- Mutually Exclusive Magic: You can only master one of the two strongest schools at a time - either the Good school or the Evil school. This doesn't hold true for any other schools, though, and players often build characters like Good/Nature/Weapons or Evil/Illusions/Weapons. The dichotomy between the two aligned schools leads to a very diverse building system.
- Player Versus Player: Meridian 59's selling point, and the reason it has survived so long, is its unforgiving and self-aware focus on Player Versus Player. Likely because it was first conceived in a time when Diku MUDs were popular, anyone can attack anyone in most parts of the world, albeit at the cost of becoming an outlaw (orange name) or a murderer (red name). This system would later be almost directly ripped off by Ultima Online.
- After 15 years of balancing, additions, and graphics engine upgrades, many Meridian 59 veterans acknowledge it as the best PvP MMORPG out there. This is hard to argue against, if only for the fact that it's probably the only true PvP MMORPG in operation. Every other MMORPG has started catering to the much larger 'carebear' market, and P vP has sadly become an afterthought these days. It's fairly common for new players to start Meridian 59, get brutally killed a dozen times yet never try a new strategy, and quit out of frustration.
- When a player character dies, they lose a hit point permanently (out of max 150), 1-2% in all their skills (out of 99%), and all their carried and equipped items.
- The game has a very flat gear-power curve. There is virtually no item treadmill.
- Respawn Point: Played straight, in that anyone who dies goes to the same spot. Subverted, in that that spot is an otherwise inaccessible afterlife dimension that lets you re-enter the world at any town. An even stranger minor detail? A certain spell can open a portal in the Underworld that will bring the dead person back to their corpse. Considering that whatever killed them is probably still there, it's usually not a good idea to use it.
- Skybox: Notable in that, despite being the first graphical MMO, Meridian 59 took great care to create a coherent artistic style. The sky was therefore very detailed, changing slowly from day to night and back again, complete with a functional and moving sun and moon that could even naturally eclipse at various points. Lampshaded after a graphics engine upgrade changed the skybox, where right-clicking on the moon would give you lore information about it, including the line '... legend says that the moon was once a lot larger.'
- Video Game Geography: The game uses a series-of-discrete-rooms setup, mirroring the MUDs it was originally based off of. As the game is graphical and not bound to perfectly square rooms, the game world's geography has, over the years, slowly become impossible to visualize mentally. Often, two routes between the same location can be vastly different in length. This often leads to unfortunate newbies running away from Player Killers finding, much to their dismay, that their stalker has somehow gotten ahead of them and is waiting for them.