Editorial: Then and Now: Kingdom of Loathing

Well y'know... stick men and all.
Kingdom of Loathing does not hesitate to poke fun at its own art style.

Kingdom of Loathing is a browser-based RPG that primarily uses stick figures for most of its art assets. While the art may look crude to begin with, it is all part of the charm that has kept this game running for so long. How long has it been running for? Well, some MMOs may be celebrating their tenth birthday this year, but unlike those, this one has gone to eleven.

The game features six classes, each with different play styles tied to one of the three main stats in the game. Seal Clubbers and Turtle tamers use their muscle to destroy enemies with brute force, while Disco Bandits and Accordion Thieves prefer to use their moxie to outwit opponents. Pastamancers and Saucerors instead use mysticality to call forth minions and destructive magics. Adventuring throughout the world rewards the character with a number of extra stat points, eventually increasing one of their main stats. Increasing a classes primary stat enough will cause the character to level up and unlock additional class skill that they may purchase from a trainer.

The main draw of KoL is its excellent writing. As new locations, enemies, and items are added to the game, the team will look for pop culture references they can make. Failing that, they are not afraid to make obvious puns. As the art is mainly stick figures without any animation, the quest narrative is brief enough to make players understand what needs to be done, while containing enough jokes to make players desire more. And more can be found all over, because content is continuously being added to the game. From humble beginnings learning under the Toot Oriole on Mt. Noob, the player travels to the Nearby Plains, the Distant Woods, and the Big Mountains before arriving at the Lair of the Naughty Sorceress.

That was how the game was to end, only it took two years to create the content leading up to the final encounter. KoL entered beta in February 2003. The game then did not contain much at all, and adventuring locations found in the game today were slowly added over the course of the following year. Story quests ended at level eleven when the player was sent to fight the Sorceress, but in 2005, the game changed. Ascension was added. Up until then, players would endlessly gain levels until they could not be stopped by any creatures in the game. Ascension allowed them to effectively restart the game as a different class while permanently retaining one of their existing skills.

What's a pirate's favourite sweater? Arrrgyle.
An adventuring location in the game.

This wave of content also brought forth two extra story quests, meaning the final quest was now given at thirteen. Ascending characters also had new options, like whether they wanted access to all the items the obtained from their adventures, or if they would lock them away for a hardcore run which offered impressive loot when they ascended once more. The downside to this, is where classes once needed to work together to produce some of the best items in the game, a single person with enough skills could make everything. Leader boards were established so that players could see how quickly the fastest players could complete an ascension. This lead to wealthy and experienced players with enough resources eventually completing a run in a single day.

Even when things go wrong with the game, the developers add in-game reasons for what went wrong. An event dubbed ‘White Wednesday’ saw the games creator, Jick, accidentally erase all the data tables for the game. Backups were found, but from a month prior to the deletion. The team worked with players to restore as much missing information as they could, and the Time Arc was added to the game. This saw rifts opening up across the world the lead to the Kingdom in the past, and in its future. Other events have happened in KoL, but few came from such a terrible act of stupidity.

Today, KoL supports eight people with income gained from selling premium items to the community. These are designed to make the game more fun for people willing to support the developers, rather than just letting people ascend faster. These usually take the for of familiars, pets that players can collect that have various abilities in and out of combat. This is also how people with extra money lying around can buy in-game currency by trading these limited time items with other players. Did I mention that the currency of the Kingdom is meat?

Have you played Kingdom of Loathing before? Would you try it today to see how much it has progressed? Do you think other web games could support their developers for over ten years? Let me know in the comments!

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