Dark Sun Online: Crimson Sands

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Dark Sun Online: Crimson Sands
Cover art
Developer(s)Strategic Simulations, Inc.
Publisher(s)Strategic Simulations, Inc.
Total Entertainment Network
Platform(s)Windows 95
Genre(s)Massively multiplayer online role-playing game

Dark Sun Online: Crimson Sands is an early massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that was developed and published by Strategic Simulations, Inc. in 1996 for Windows 95. Dark Sun Online is based on the licensed Dark Sun campaign setting for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing game. Dark Sun Online was one of the first fully graphical MMORPGs.

Dark Sun Online was one of the first fully graphical MMORPGs to feature a number of features popularized by later games like Ultima Online,[1] such as nearly unrestricted player versus player combat.[citation needed] Due to the game's peer-to-peer structure, the game was susceptible to hacking by its players.[2] The Dark Sun Online servers were shut down in 1998 when its publisher was discontinued,[1] and official support and development for Dark Sun Online had ceased by 1999.[1]


AT&T support[edit]

In the summer of 1994, representatives of AT&T's Interchange network pitched the idea of an advanced Dungeons & Dragons online game to Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI). AT&T was in the process of launching an online network, and wanted a strong game presence to help the network launch, based on the success of Neverwinter Nights on America Online.[2] The team on the game was financially limited, with only one part-time artist. Sprites and sounds were recycled from two previous Dark Sun titles (Dark Sun: Shattered Lands) and a game called Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse. Other sounds were "borrowed" from the game Word of Aden: Thunderscape, which was also under development at the time. The team modified the codebase of Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager to serve as a multiplayer client, which complicated software development during the process.[3] The team continued development on the project after AT&T closed the network that SSI was slotted to release the game on in 1996. The game was shopped to other companies, and picked up by Total Entertainment Network (TEN).[3]


TEN released the game on its service in 1996.[3] Members of the Total Entertainment Network, later Pogo.com, had exclusive access to the game.[1] According to GameSpy, the game had many of the features that would help make the game Ultima Online successful, which was released a year after Dark Sun's launch.[1]

As of October 24, 1997, the development team reported that the game was generating "tens of thousands of hours of paid use every month."[2] The game had been rushed to launch, according to developers, and had a number of bugs. It was also vulnerable to hacking and cheating, with the code proving "ripe for manipulation" by users within weeks of its launch.[1] As the game relied on a peer-to-peer networking system, game logic became dependent on users' computers instead of the host, leaving the game exceptionally vulnerable to hacking.[2] Hackers "quickly learned to alter and improve player abilities at a moment's notice."[1] Hackers were at a great advantage in the game to other players, an Issue SSI had difficulty solving.[2]


The game was at a disadvantage when TEN was dismantled in 1998, as it didn't have a "massive" userbase and lacked a modern game engine to help interest another publisher.[1] The game "quietly" shut down in 1999.[1] According to Engadget, "while ultimately unsuccessful in achieving its potential or gaining a large audience, Dark Sun Online: Crimson Sands made a valiant attempt at achieving the inevitable future of gaming."[3]


The game was set in the desert world of Athas. Like many modern MMOs, it had "classes, guilds, chat windows, grouping, levels, death penalties." Characters could be built from eight races and eight classes, with the choice of an alignment limited by their class. There was also the option to multi-class under certain conditions.[1]

Interaction between players was accomplished via a MUD-like chat interface, and combat was turn-based, with each player having a short timer on their turn.[citation needed]

On Athas, PvP is usually possible in most locations except for safe zones. Death results in players losing some equipment and a full level, with a total of 15 levels in the game. The game generated random quests for players. Developers would use the social aspect of the game to schedule roleplaying activities, and could also generate live events using the chat system. Developers encouraged roleplaying through the chat as well, with players of all locations able to communicate.[1]


According to GameSpy, Dark Sun Online was "a well-intentioned experiment from SSI that just never got off the ground the way it could have".[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "A History of D&D Games". GameSpy. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e Vrignaud, Andre (October 24, 1997). "Postmortem: SSI's Dark Sun Online: Crimson Sands". Gamasutra. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d Olivetti, Justin (May 15, 2012). "The Game Archaeologist: Dark Sun Online". Engadget. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  4. ^ Rausch, Allen (2004-08-18). "A History of D&D Video Games - Part IV". Game Spy. Retrieved November 17, 2012.

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