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The game is designed, coded and produced by Erling Ellingsen, but is based on the ORE codebase developed by Aaron Perkins. Graphics came from multiple contributors while sound effects were mostly created by Finnish musician Sami Hakala. The world locations were implemented mainly by Ellingsen, Oddvar Røste, Kenneth Marius Gundersen, and Bjarte Bjellås. The project was non-profit and largely casual.
The official project was terminated on May 2000, but multiple re-releases and spin-offs have been launched since then. Numerous projects have been launched by other developers using the codebase and the assets from Era Online (see Spin-offs).
Era Online's development was revealed sometime in 1999 when the creator set up a website inviting people to beta test. The website was hosted on a free webspace provider. The interest for the game picked up quickly and hundreds of people volunteered. Guilds and fansites started appearing on the Internet. News of the game also reached numerous gaming sites, such as the now defunct Betazine.
An official online forum was soon established, and over the course of the game's development, the userbase grew to the thousands. An official newsletter was also established, which had about one thousand members at its peak. Later the game also got its own web domain.
Era Online received a lot of press between 1999 and 2000, despite it being an "underground" game. It was mentioned on several prominent gaming sites and even on Norwegian national TV and regional newspapers. It appeared on sites such as IGN Vault and GameZone. The game was never reviewed as it never left the beta stages, but multiple previews and interviews surfaced.
Era Online plays similarly to other MMORPGs, such as Ultima Online. When the game was released in beta and administered by the original team, players could download the client from the website. Players were required to be online and connected to the Internet when playing.
The game starts with the character creation process where the player selects a name, a race, and three primary skills. In the latest version of Era Online, the player didn't select a class – it was determined from which skill had the highest ranking. For example, someone whose highest skill was cooking would in the game be defined as a cook. It was therefore a skill-based system, and the player would invest a given number of skill points at each level-up. Players would then venture through a fantasy world where they fought enemies and engaged in social activities such as crafting. Players were able to create items such as swords, furniture and food if they had the proper skills. They could talk to each other through a text-based interface, and they could go out and play online together. The goal of Era Online was primarily to explore, enhance a character, and gain money by finding and creating items.
Fighting was implemented in a basic fashion. A player would enter battlemode and then proceed to strike their opponent by pressing a key repeatedly. Crafting revolved around finding raw materials and working with them - for instance, a player would have to chop at a tree to create logs which would then need to be sawed into planks which then could be used to build furniture. Magic was almost not present in the game, and was mostly limited to healing spells and a few basic attack spells. The graphical details was limited, both in regard to magic and fighting. The game had a basic interface where players could click different icons to bring up windows such as the backpack, spellbook and character sheet.
The game had numerous identifiable features that are uncommon for games of the genre, such as the ability to make campfires and sit around them to heal one's character. It was also possible to fish, chop wood, cut wool off sheep and mine for iron ore. Crafting - though basic in its implementation - played a central part of the gameplay.
The game is set in the fictional world of Menath, created specifically for use in Era Online. Menath is divided into two continents, Titania and Centania, and is inhabited by four primary fantasy races: The Humans, the Dark Elves, the Wood Elves and the Haaki. Each is taken from popular fantasy literature, except the Haakis; the Haakis were a desert-dwelling people specifically created to populate the vast desert areas of the gameworld. The Elven people occupied the lesser continent (Centania) while the Humans and the Haaki took residence on the main continent (Titania). There are numerous cities scattered around the continents.
Five different deities ruled Menath: Hyliios, Veega, Bendarr, Griigo and Zeendic. Each represented a discipline such as war, commerce, wisdom and love. Veega also represented birth and death. Religion was present in the game where players could seek out temples to pray at. The deities were spawned by a master God earlier in the world's history.
The two continents are connected by an almost endless bridge called The Bridge of Bondage, created by Elven slaves. The Elven continent is halved by a wall constructed to end the battles of the two factions. The Dark Elves are led by the evil villain Kain Benwick, who in the game is working on creating a plan for world domination. The Humans lead the Empire where the Emperor is the political leader. All nations are willing parts of the Empire, except the Dark Elves who have been subdued through centuries of war and thus forced into it. The Haakis are considered neutral, but are still a part of the Empire.
A story was written to function as background history for the gameworld. It contains information about the birth of the deities, their involvement in the creation of the world and how the political landscape has evolved over the years. The Menathian timeline is divided into Eras where the start of each signifies a world-changing event. The world of Menath is supposedly several thousand years old, but it is believed that there is a vast, but forgotten history that took place before recorded time. The Era universe, set around the world of Menath, is still being used in different works from the original creator.
The game displays 2D graphics much like that of the Nintendo Entertainment System's Zelda series and is fairly limited in terms of animations and effects. The game is coded in Visual Basic and utilizes DirectX 7. The graphics are rendered using DirectDraw. The system requirements were generally very low and the game required minimum bandwidth.
Players were able to equip different clothing sets, as well as equipment such as swords and shields. This was rendered on the character, but there were no fighting animations; combat information was shown in pure text through the chat interface. The monsters also did not have any fighting animations. All items - a few hundred in number - also had their own specific graphic.
The different parts of the gameworld all had their own specific graphics assets. The vegetation such as ground texture, trees, bushes and such were all different for the separate parts of the world. Architecture would also vary from place to place, and houses was drawn roofless to show the interiors. The world itself was split into different maps- over 200 in number.
Sound effects and music were mostly taken from freeware sound libraries. The theme song was, however, composed and produced by Finnish musician Sami Hakala. The project used the DirectSound and DirectMusic APIs. The networking code used WinSock and not DirectPlay which would probably have made it perform better.
After the development of the game was discontinued in May 2000, several people started building their own versions of the game. The first project was started immediately after the first, and the game was re-launched. The new team also started working on a new version of the game, which sadly was never completed. There have also been an attempt at making Era Online 3D and an Era Online 2. The latter was fairly successful, with a re-designed graphics engine and a game that was actually launched on the Internet. Era Online 2 was eventually discontinued as well. In 2003 Curve Software (formerly GameBay Productions) announced that an Era Online: Return of Menath was in development, however, the project was later renamed to Quintara and then announced as discontinued in late 2005.
Several other teams have also launched Classic versions of the game in its original form. This would basically involve releasing the original version of the game and running an operational server that would accept players in.
- Interview on GameZone.com
- IGN Vault reference to Blinkingdot.com interview
- News article on Stratics.com
- News article on IGN Vault
- General information on Indews.com
- Sequel in the works, new team