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Exploring A Decade-Old, Abandoned Fantasy Game

This may be the end of the digital world of Minions of Mirth. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser)

In our continuing exploration of the hidden and unknown corners of digital spaces, we have delved into a number of high-profile game worlds that still see regular visits from devoted fans. But what happens when we try to find a digital world that has been totally abandoned?

There are digital worlds like World of Warcraft’s Azeroth, or EVE Online’s massive universe that are so big, some locations eventually become forgotten or less trafficked—but are still visited by nostalgic players from time to time. Then there are digital worlds like the titular Mirth from Minions of Mirth (MoM), that seem almost entirely forgotten.

MoM is a fantasy role-playing MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) released in December 2005 by small indie developer Prairie Games. The game takes place in a fantasy world where light battles dark in an endless struggle for control of the land. If this sounds familiar, it is because Mirth is essentially the generic prescription of fantasy worlds. 

According to an article on Gamasutra from 2006, the game was created by Prairie in just a year, with a team of only 35 people. Despite this, Prairie Games touted their new world as having 14 different regions complete with day and night cycles as well as weather effects. The game was proudly independent and offered free of charge. Players had 12 different fantasy races to choose from including classics like orcs, elves, and dwarves, as well as some more monstrous, and unique to the world of Mirth, such as the lizard-like drakken.

The Trist Stones. Yes, it is Stonehenge.

The gameplay was built over an existing third-party engine, and looked not unlike most MMORPGs with a field of windows and buttons for players to attack enemies and chat with friends. Although MoM’s system was notably complicated thanks to the number of skills and crafting options.

The user community was encouraged to delve into the source code and help improve and grow the world. The graphics and animations were fairly simple, even for the time, but according to the developers, MoM managed to garner a healthy following anyway, thanks in part to the efforts to make the player community an integral piece of the experience.

Cut to 10 years later. Since 2005 the number of MMORPGs has exploded. Many of them offer premium experiences under a free-to-play model. Games like Lord of the Rings Online brought an alternative to the long-dominant World of Warcraft, and the options for open, persistent, and most importantly, inhabited worlds, continue to grow.

The main gate of Trist in a storm.

Faced with the rapid advancement of game technology—graphics; user interface—and the increasing number of MMORPGs on the market, Minions of Mirth could have either grown or died. Yet, somehow, it seems to have done neither. It is alive, but abandoned and forgotten.

There do not seem to be active player forums, and Prairie Games declined to return any requests for interview or comment. Yet the world of Mirth still lives. To see what wonders may have been left behind, we downloaded the game and created a human hunter named Baerff (surprisingly, Baerf was already taken), and set about exploring.

The global chat channel was completely empty, which likely meant that we were the only player character in all of Mirth at the time. Left alone in an entire fantasy world designed for teamwork is surprisingly lonely. Without the guidance of any other players, or developers to point out particularly interesting landmarks, we were left to wander Mirth in search of hidden wonders in a world that looks hopelessly stuck in a computer from the mid-2000s.

“Message for you, Sir!”

According to the game map, the world is pretty small with just two lightly marked continents and a couple of outlying islands. But there are places with evocative names like The Cruel Cavern and The Temple of the Great Burning. If only we could get to them.

Bypassing the first hub city, Trist, Baerff set out down the road towards the Desert of Mohrum. The desultory, flat plains flanking the roads were full of skeletons and bugs that were easily angered and nearly impossible to outrun, but Baerff managed to skate by them, getting to within sight of the desert entrance. Then he died.

The giant who killed me.

After respawning at the starting point, and trying again, we found that Baerff had been killed by a passing giant. Unfortunately, the sound assets in the game world are so sparse, and the alerts so non-existent, that exploring anywhere above our level would be nearly impossible without getting killed by random monsters we didn’t even know were there. Nonetheless we tried again, making it into the desert zone for a brief, glorious moment before being instantly killed by a beetle. Damn.

MoM is, by its own admittance, very hard to get into. Combat and progress is nearly impenetrably obtuse, and navigation within the world is only occasionally well-marked. Progressing to any of the other zones in the game was beginning to look more and more unlikely. We set out for another adjoining zone, Mount Zharim, and once again made it to the area for just a moment before being immediately killed by a bear that appeared out of nowhere.

A glimpse of the desert before death.

Left with few options, we began to wander around the area known as Trist. Landmarks were scarce—an eerily lit temple here, a simple, unadorned house there—but the region eventually began to take on its own desolate attractiveness. Devoid of any other players and made of angular, half-baked terrain and textures, Trist felt like it was some unfinished part of the game world, as though we were reaching the edges of creation, and it had begun to break down into a more poorly defined space.

The end of all things?

Of course, this being the land of Mirth, there was no edge, just an invisible wall preventing you from dropping off the horizon. Nonetheless, the dynamic weather effects did manage to produce some surprisingly stunning vistas, even if they were tinged with a bleak emptiness by the forgotten world all around.

The land of Mirth is by no means an attractive place, and if there are wondrous secrets hidden in its empty corners, they weren’t easy to find. But for a decade-old world that somehow manages to hold onto its place in the digital landscape, it still manages to muster some quiet, vintage atmosphere. Even if it is a bit lonesome.