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The Birth of Tibia

his month, we would like to take you on a journey through time, a journey backwards. We are travelling to the 90s. It is the time of the SNES and the Sega Mega Drive, the time during which PCs started to become affordable to almost everybody and found their ways into many homes. The time at which more and more people started connecting to the internet (with very slow modems, that is...).
This is also the time at which computer games started to spread, and the time of MUDs, mostly text based multi user dungeons. Also the first graphical character-based online games existed already. Some even allowed interaction between users and provided chats, for example.
This period signifies the slow decrease of pen&paper role-playing games and the rise of role-playing games on computers. A time at which the world was hardly comparable to the world today for PC gamers.

When asked how he came to know Tibia, Knightmare, who was amongst the very first players, answered that he simply searched on the internet for an online fantasy multiplayer. He found Tibia, a fairly new game, free of charge and with hardly any players yet. Knightmare remembers that he felt like a pioneer on unknown territory. He was one of the very first to explore a new world, the Tibian world.
Back then he did not realise that this game would become such a big part of his life, that he would even form large parts of this new world himself. He was simply a student, a fan of fantasy stories, who, like many others, spent lots of his time reading, playing pen&paper role-playing games and who was interested in computers.

The developers of Tibia have a similar past. Let us travel a couple of years further back in time, to the time when Steve, Stephan and Durin, the original developers of Tibia, were also students and made their own experiences with role-playing games, computers and programming.
We CMs wanted to learn how Tibia was born, what was before, and how everything started. So apart from Knightmare, we also talked to Steve and Stephan to find out how they experienced the time back then.

Steve, like Knightmare, spent much of his childhood playing pen&paper role-playing games. He started out with DSA (Das Schwarze Auge, a German role-playing game), played Dungeons & Dragons and several others. When computers became popular, he took his hobby to the new medium as well, and played games like Bard's Tale, the complete Ultima Series (one of the first games with an open game world), Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder.

Steve has actually always designed games. Even as a child he invented boardgames, and when his interest switched to computers, he started programming on his C64. Later on, he learned programming in Turbo Pascal and wrote his first computer games. He even sold one to a magazine for floppy disks at the age of 14. It was a puzzle game called Time Fuse.

Stephan, Steve and Durin shared the passion for programming and computer games. They became friends during their school time. Stephan, like Steve, also started programming on his C64 around 5th grade. The three of them enjoyed programming together, and by the end of their school days, they had developed a real time strategy game called Strike with a multiplayer mode, playable in computer networks.

The three of them first were confronted with the internet around 1994/1995 and they quickly realised that this was simply great for games. They were interested in MUDs, but found them quite boring, because of the missing graphics. So Steve and Durin, influenced by Ultima, somehow brought up the idea to create a game themselves that would combine MUDs and a graphical user interface.
Stephan liked the idea as well, mainly because of the technical challenge. So on April 8th, 1996, they officially started working on their first GIMUD, their own multi user dungeon with a graphical interface.

At that time, they did not know much about the internet. They figured though that Turbo Pascal would not be the programming language of choice for their project and went for C++, without having ever programmed in C++ before. There were hardly any books available either that could teach them how to program an online role-playing game. They believed in their project though, and simply wanted to try it, so they kept going and with time learned everything they needed to know, simply by doing it themselves.
The name Tibia was brought up by Steve, who did not have any idea that this word refers to the shinbone. Also, the name was actually used as the world name at first. They did not have a game title back then.

After their time in school, they all went a bit their own ways, making plans for their future lives. Time for programming together was scarce. However, they did not lose touch and continued working together on Tibia, mainly on weekends and during holidays. It was not their plan to found a company, though. Stephan had actually planned a completely different career for his life back then. Science appealed to him much for his life after school.
When they saw, though, that Tibia started having fans, it was very motivating for them and the journey began. They programmed and developed Tibia simply following their own ideas, always trying to master the next challenge.

Steve remembers the very first guest in Tibia, too. Albe, who wanted to name his character Alge but mistyped, logged in on January 10th, 1997, only 3 days after the launch of the first test phase, Tibia Alpha 1.0. It was very exciting for the three of them, and the first player was greeted enthusiastically.

With the days passing, more and more players joined. In the beginning mainly from Germany, just like Knightmare, but soon players arrived from all over the world. The average number of players online in the summer of 1999 was about 50. A year later it was already 150.

While the three gods mainly kept on developing features for Tibia, the fans wrote stories, designed maps, created graphics for new objects, and organised the ingame life. Even the first fansites were created during that time, the very first one being Yorin's Tibia Homepage, published on January 28th, 1998. Around that time, Tibia received a magic system, skills, vocations and even the Royal Tibian mail and the depot system were developed. It was the start of Tibia's Beta 4.0 phase.

Knightmare remembers this time like this: In the beginning, I was allowed to write NPCs. I wrote the texts and sent them in. Then, me and others were even allowed to build maps. Since I liked writing, I also wrote a genesis for Tibia, like others did, too. Our stories were then published on the website. I didn't have the impression that any of the developers had an ambition to create own myths and lore himself.
Knightmare's impression was partially correct. Stephan was indeed more interested in the technical challenge.
Steve and Durin, however, did have plans for the story, and they had talked about it quite a lot. Most of what they had planned storywise is not ingame today, though.
Steve explains that it was of the utmost importance for them that the world itself was free and open, that you could move around in the world freely, that you could use everything - very similar to how the world felt in Ultima. They were so busy defining and developing the structures and features of the game that they did not really have any time to work on the story at the same time. So when players and fans started bringing up content, they gladly accepted it and went along with it.

Knightmare clarifies that when he actually started working for CipSoft and it all went to a more professional level, there were indeed rules he had to follow concerning the content of the game. Everything was checked by Steve, who, according to Knightmare, was not a fan of too exotic experiments. Mixing pirates with fairies, goblins and unicorns, for example, would not have been allowed. Knightmare also remembers that the implementation of Ankrahmun even took quite some persuading on his part.

We wanted to know from Knightmare what games or stories influence him mainly when creating content for Tibia. However, he could not really answer that question. He stated that he has been reading so many stories, and has been playing so many different role-playing games, pen&paper as well as online, that there is not one particular story or setting he is influenced by. He remembers one clear thought, though, from the early days. It had always been important to him to do it differently from others. He wanted Tibia to become its very own universe, without cool bad-ass dark elves, for example.

When asked about a special memory of the early times, Stephan mentions a meeting with Tibia fans in Regensburg sometime around 1998 / 1999 as a reason for his motivation to keep on developing the game further. He also states that the fact that there were actually people who enjoyed the game so much that they wrote stories, and filled the world with life was a big incentive for him to keep going. He simply felt that Tibia could not be shut down again.

Stephan explains that once there were more players, they clearly saw the need to create a more stable Tibia client to provide a better gaming experience. They were thinking about possible options. One would have been to develop a new client with the help of other people. Tibia - an open source project.
Steve basically only saw two ways: They could either make working on Tibia their full time job after their studies and try to make a living from it, or quit working on it and earn their living otherwise. For him it was clear that with them having different full time jobs and less time at their hands, Tibia would never grow.
The time back then was very encouraging for young entrepreneurs. It was the time of the new economy, a time at which society promoted starting own companies. So in early 2001 they decided to really go for it, to quit looking for other jobs, and to develop Tibia further themselves. On June 8th, 2001 CipSoft was founded.

In Steve's memory, the start was a bit bumpy. They were looking for a suitable and affordable office, and made plans on how to organise their company. Many doubts filled their minds back then. They started working on the new Tibia client with a more professional demand than before. They had discussed a possible payment model, and so sort of invented the freemium model: people can play free of charge but they pay for certain features. At that time, this model was not widely spread at all.
Steve remembers several setbacks. For example, costs for renting servers and for traffic were immense. Also several providers did not take them seriously. Enough reasons for doubts if they could ever earn enough money with Tibia to make a living. Before, it had all seemed much simpler, they had used the servers at the university, free of charge.
Steve remembers that he first started relaxing a bit once premium accounts were actually introduced, and he saw that people were indeed paying for the game.

Steve refers to the following phase with the term "growth management". At one point, many people were suddenly attracted to Tibia. So the three of them were focussed on trying to provide a good gaming experience and a good service for more and more people. They constantly had to put up more game worlds to be able to accommodate the need. It was a continuous growth, continuous work, there was always something to do, and there were always reasons to continue.
Stephan remembers that there was really no time to stop and think about what was happening. When they remember back though, you can tell that still today they are simply amazed that what once started as such a small project became so big. They had not imagined an outcome like this at all when they started out and dared to make the risky decision to found a company after having completed their studies.

You may have noticed that one of the gods back then was not mentioned yet in this article. We are referring to Guido, who was not part of the very beginnings of Tibia, but joined the team of Steve, Durin and Stephan around 1999. Guido is indeed one of the founding fathers of CipSoft, who worked on Tibia just as passionately as the other three. Once he had joined the team, he helped mainly with the content of the game, and had a big impact on Tibia's adolescence years, too.

Thanks to Steve, Stephan and Knightmare, we received a bit of an insight into a crazy past time. We learned a bit about the background of the people who figuratively speaking gave birth to Tibia, a game that is strongly influcenced by Dungeons and Dragons, and more directly by Ultima. A game that is still played today by thousands of people from all over the world, more than 17 years after the first player actually set foot on Tibian lands.

We hope you enjoyed this little journey back through time just like we CMs did!
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