Vanguard disappears into memory


Vanguard closed today. This is my last screenshot, taken on 2013-02-23 at 23:20:19 EST. I was working on a quest series involving Unicorns that culminated in a Unicorn mount at the end. The mount wasn’t statistically as good as mounts you could buy for small amounts of money in the game’s Station Cash store, but in my mind I never quite let go of Roleplaying in games like this. When I play by myself the effect is compounded, so there I was trying to help the Unicorns.

I know that I could have logged in for Vanguard’s last day and maybe seen some of the things I used to know, but it wouldn’t have been the same. The most important thing about Vanguard for me is that it’s going away. That the game remained open gave me this permanent feeling like I should play it again, and try to recapture some of that feeling I missed. That was not going to happen of course, because the game has been fundamentally different for a long time now compared to how it was back then.

There was the gang harvesting, the crafters chat channel on my server(I think the server was Gulgrethor before any merges), the strange personalities all coming together for a game that, in our minds, gave us a freedom to do things that we were unable to do in previous worlds. Climb atop a mountain and see for a huge distance with your jacked up clip plane(your frame rate would suck though), find a Travertine node and call for help and have a team of 6 from the crafters channel to help you within a few minutes in their ridiculous harvester uniforms, pick out your housing plots next to your friends, work feverishly on building or buying your house/boat/etc materials.

I didn’t craft because I wanted to have a tool to help me level better, I crafted because participating in the world and the crafting ecosystem was awesome. I discovered server and world firsts making jewelry and had an ongoing market presence in the auction house. Diplomacy felt the same way to me, although I didn’t personally go that route very far. Adventuring felt like I was writing my own story, even though some of the quests themselves were pretty generic.

For all of the game’s problems which led me to never get particularly far in it(my highest is that 35 cleric there), Vanguard captured a piece of my idealism regarding online gaming in a way that only the EverQuest line and perhaps Anarchy Online have. This idea that I was fairly free to do what I want, even if it was an illusion, was really powerful. Normally a game’s funnel inevitably ends in a min/max build(AC), PvP advancement(DAOC), endless missions/faction grinding(AO), a crushing grind to keep affording housing that really has no point except as a money sink(virtually every game with housing), or whatever else developers did to ‘keep you engaged’(keep you paying.) Although I never got to the ‘endgame’ level-wise, in my mind I feel like if I had seen every piece of the world I would still have a feeling like I could find something new just visiting places and being there in the world.

I think this is something my friends don’t understand about why I can do things in games over and over and it doesn’t bother me. If I am engaged with my character and the game world, the 32nd time I’m running a dungeon is perfectly different from the previous 31 times in much the same way that I still manage to get out of bed in the morning in real life even though every day is pretty much the same as the day before. This is my character’s life, and I am living it in the context of how their world operates.

One sad element of Vanguard’s removal is that it is probably the only game that got player boats remotely right(in a game not centered around boats, anyway.) It had lag and control issues and you couldn’t actually haul cargo or anything like that, but goddamn, it was great to bust out my blue Kojani sloop(named ‘The Missing Eye’ for a story I had crafted up in my mind) and sail up the river rather than running up the shore. I had harvested most of the wood and cut it into boards for that boat myself(I was a stone crafter so there was some crossover), and an orc crafter named Swampfist did the woodworking-specific stuff and final construction.

To Dareak(who made my stylized plate my cleric is probably still wearing as he rides into oblivion), and, goddamn, all the other awesome people who I missed and lost track of because the only way I knew them was in Vanguard, thanks for everything. I wish I could have done better, but the circumstances at the time(mostly bugs and progression frustration) broke it apart. I consider early Vanguard to be the kind of situation I want to experience again, where I feel like I am part of something, and there is a persistent community of people around me who share common goals and attitudes. In retrospect, it’s probably the best MMO experience I ever had, although AO and EQ might have been equivalent.

I still have the system requirements sticker for Vanguard on my monitor at work, as I have since January 2007 when I received the game box, with its ridiculous(at the time) recommended system specs. Naturally my computer met the specs because I am a gaming nerd, but fairly few did. It always struck me as a little funny that they were worried about being able to get shelf space with such high requirements, and I think they had to nerf things to lower them at one point. When the game came out I had to run it at 1152x864 on my 1600x1200 native monitor because my system just couldn’t handle it(and 1024x768 was just a bit too crowded UI-wise.) I also had to run in full-screen mode because Windowed would half your frame rate. I guess it’s pretty weird to look back on chunky performance issues with a bit of fondness, but I think the reason I made all those compromises is because I had such a strong feeling about getting in there and engaging with the game, which is definitely something I miss having.

I’ve kind of rambled all over the place here in no particular order, so I’ll just cap it off with: Farewell, Vanguard – you did well, but at least now I can stop being haunted by your memory.