Neocron’s 20th Anniversary
This year, 2022, marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Neocron. It was released in 2002 by the now defunct Reakktor GMBH based in Hanover, Germany. It is considered an MMOFPS (Massively Multiplayer First Person Shooter) in that it combines skills and experience with twitch combat in a very unique way. It was also relatively unique in that it had a cyberpunk setting in a time when other MMO games were almost all fantasy based.
My introduction to Neocron came in the summer of 2003 when I visited a Half Price Books store looking for something to do since I knew I was going to be home from work for a few weeks after my daughter was born. I’d been a fan of cyberpunk genre having read Neuromancer, Snowcrash, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep among others. The box definitely caught my attention and I grabbed it for cheap.
What I should have realized, since I was no stranger to multiplayer online games (I previously played Ultima Online), was that the retail box includes a code to activate or create a new account. The account itself is what authorizes you to play and you need an active subscription. That meant when I got home and installed the game, I tried to use the code in the box and got the message that the code had already been used. In order to actually play, I had to purchase a new activation code online and set up a subscription.
When I created my first character, Lachlan (after which this site is named), I had to chose a server.
There were five servers originally:
- Pluto - English - 1 character slot
- Uranus - German - 4 character slots
- Saturn - English - 4 character slots
- Jupiter - German - 1 character slot
- Venus - French - 2 character slots
I chose Pluto because I read that the one character limitation meant that actions were more meaningful which led to it becoming the default roleplay server. I went through the initial tutorial area and loved every bit of the atmosphere.
I initially joined the City Administration faction because I wanted to roleplay as a police officer (NCPD). Within the first hour, a player randomly traded with me and handed me a million credits. That blew my mind.
My first clan was called NPD and they roleplayed as the NCPD. I was assigned a patrol and instructed how to behave as a player police officer. It was symoblic because the area I was patrolling was a safe zone. I also became “poker” or someone who would install implants for the other players.
See, one of the penalties for dying is that one or more of your cybernetic implants might pop out. If you didn’t have the skill to poke yourself, you had utilize a dedicated poker. I would stand in the main city plaza near the medical facility where many people would respawn after dying and poke them with my implant tool to put back in whatever implant they had queued up. The universal sign for other players to poke you is to kneel in front of them and they would often tip you for your service.
Skill and Combat
Neocron combines both twitch-based FPS combat with skill-based combat. Gear, weapons, and implants all have stats and those stats all impact your characters abilities. In addition, you earn experience in five categories:
Each of these main categories earn experience and level independently. Upon levelling, they give skill points which can be distributed to various skills within the category. Each level of a skill requires progressively more skill points to level up and the different character classes cap out the main categories at different levels. This requires not only carefully choosing the correct class, but distributing the skill points correctly to be effective. Specializing is almost always required as higher level gear requires a sufficiently high level in several skills which require a high number of skill points.
How do skills come into play if there is twitch-based combat (no auto-targeting)? Outside of the obvious, that certain gear requires specific levels of skill to use it, skills impact how effectively you can use the gear. For example, a pistol does more damage with higher skill level in Pistol Combat.
This is most effectively illustrated with aiming in combat. Even if you are aiming at the target when you pull the trigger, there is a chance that your skill isn’t high enough and you could miss. The longer you maintain the aim, the greater the chance that you will actually hit and this is communicated using a visual cue in the reticle.
To make things more interesting, different aspects of combat are affected by skills in multiple categories. For example, damage with pistols is calculated using a base for the weapon with the Pistol Combat (70 %) and Weapon Lore (20 %) as modifiers.
Factions, Professions, and Classes
The factions in Neocron are divided up generally up into pro-city and anti-city factions. The pro-city factions, except for City Administration, are made up of corporations. There’s NExT which manufacturers vehicles, Biotech which manufactures cyberntics, Tangent Technologies which provides weapons, ProtoPharm which manufactures drugs, and Diamond Real Estate.
Each player has reputation with the different factions which is heavily influenced by the faction they are in versus the relationship their faction has to others. This, in turn, determines the penalty for attacking or killing other players. If you attack an enemy of your faction outside of a warzone, you receive no penalty. If you attack a friendly or neutral, you receive a penalty and a reduction in reputation with that faction. If your reputation goes too low, you can be attacked on site by that faction’s guards or even the city guards.
Player vs Player
Each character starts with a law enforcer chip installed which prevents them from attacking or being attacked by other players. The penalty is a slower experience gain and an implant slot that can’t be used to enhance a skill. Once removed, the player is fully able to engage in PvP combat, but it can’t be put back in. Players with LE cannot heal or cast psi spells on players without one to prevent LE’d players from indirectly assisting in PvP fights.
There are two special zone types which impact PvP - safe zones and outpost zones. Safe zones don’t allow any kind of combat and the patrolling NCPD bots will act swiftly if you pull out a weapon. Outpost zones are where PvP primarily takes place for control of wasteland outposts and the usual penalties don’t apply.
There is so much more depth and interesting mechanics to talk about, but the purpose of this post is to document my memories of my time in Neocron. If you want to know more, head over to Tech Haven or the (now community-run) Neocron official site for more information.
Trillian and Tech Haven
One day, I was on break from being an NCPD police officer and headed out to the wastelands to kill some warbots when I ran into another group doing the same. They invited me to join them and we (mostly they) killed things in the wasteland. This was how I met their group leader, Trillian.
You see, Trillian was from Tech Haven, a member of the Fallen Angels. The Fallen Angels were a group of scientists who had fled Neocron City when the PSI Monks had control of the government. They built a vast undergroup complex called Tech Haven. Trillian was an active member of a group which defended Tech Haven from regular raids by the city factions.
Trillian and I started an unlikely (completely roleplayed) relationship. She was an outcast from the wasteland who could only visit certain parts of the city and I was a member of the city police force. Eventually she convinced me to give up my city life and moved with her to Tech Haven.
I was with the Fallen Angels for only a short time before there was drama within the faction. There was a battle for faction leadership and it became contentious enough that we decided that it wasn’t worth staying. We moved back to the city, joined Biotech, and became part of a new clan, SynergyXR (SXR).
The history of SynergyXR, as I was told, was that they were originally part of a clan called Synergy. There was a split and they became SynergyXR (SXR). XR means no re-rolling. There was apparently a problem with the clan never being fight-ready because key players were always re-rolling their characters and had to level them back up. On a 4 slot server this would have been done with alts, but on a 1 slot server it was a problem.
SXR had it’s own Ventrilo server, website, and forums which provided a level of communication and coordination I’d not encountered before in an online game. If it weren’t for these resources, I probably would not have played Neocron as long as I did or the friendships that I have. Although, these days we keep in touch through Discord.
In 2004, SXR had a real-life meetup in Barrie, Ontario, Canada and there are plans for another meetup in 2024 as well. I wasn’t able to go to the original one because I had recently joined the clan and I had family and work obligations, but my kids are grown and I’m self-employed now so maybe I’ll make this one.
Some of the names I remember besides Trillian: FN, Faid, Zhut, Zhus, Alamais, Buck, Buttercup, Chosen One, Comie, Dajuda, Derre, Mace, Gunsh1fty, Kryptonite, Ferromax, Freaky Fryd, Coo, Myrlin, A4nic8er. I’m sure there were others, but not everyone made it over to Discord.
Chosen One was a teenager and would often get up after his parents told him to go to bed so he could play with us. Alamais was a college student who attended the same university that FN and others did. Zhut was Trillian’s real-life husband at the time. Buck and Buttercup were married. These are people whose lives touched mine in various ways during this time. Years after we quit playing Neocron, I visited Zhut at his home in Kansas for a weekend.
Over the years, the leadership of the clan changed with there being an official council that made decisions democratically. I did my time on the council and even led outpost fights. There was politics and drama and intrigue, it was awesome.
There’s been many attempts to keep SXR together with so many of us not playing Neocron anymore (some do) and every once in a while some of us will align on the same game and play together, but nothing will ever bring us together like Neocron did.
Trillian became less active in SXR as she joined the volunteer GM team and more of her time was devoted to that role. The responsibility of the volunteer GMs, particularly for those based in North America, were to be the in-game support team. They answered support requests and either assisted players or notified the dev team of ongoing issues. In return, their game subscriptions were subsidized. At some point, Trillian recruited me to join as well.
GMs went to great length to keep their GM identity secret from their regular characters. If others found out the connection, we’d be accused of playing favorites, asked for special privileges, or even hunted. We had access to extra commands such as the ability to take no damage (aka God Mode), spawning items, teleport players and ourselves, invisibility, and the ability to wear character skins while logged into our GM account. In fact, our uniform was that of a S.T.O.R.M. bot, the military version of the Copbot.
I spent a lot of time working solo since I was available in the evenings in the North American timezones. The German GMs and official Reakktor employees were fast asleep. Player populations in North America were always pretty low so there wasn’t much demanded of me most of the time. I volunteered to run events, help script dialogue, and develop new content.
There had been abuse of privileges by past GMs so I understand the reluctance they had with giving me too much reign, but it was really pretty ridiculous the limits they put on me. Even for training in using the tools, they required that I arrange with the person training me to be online at the same time as her and I could not use any of the tools when she was not with me. I had no opportunity to practice, learn, access documentation, or do anything that wasn’t completely supervised.
Whether true or not, we were told that everything we did was audited and reviewed. If there was so much as an item spawned that we didn’t have permission to do we’d be stripped of our GM status and possibly banned from the game. I was working for $14.99 a month (the cost of a subscription) and even that had to be approved on a month-by-month basis.
I finally quit after an e-mail from the new head of GMs accused me of something I knew I didn’t do. It just was not worth it. I was trusted with root access to hundreds of servers for my day job and it was galling that I couldn’t be trusted to follow their rules even with everything being logged and audited. I don’t know if they treated everyone like that or if it was just the German distrust of Americans that drove it, but I had had enough.
Side note: I had a brief experience with another German company that developed a similar game called Face of Mankind. I applied as a GM and had the experience as a Neocron GM on my resume, but in the application process they published my name and character name on the game forms with a demand to respond to an e-mail I never received. I immediately withdrew my application as it compromised my position as a Neocron GM. So that’s been my experience with German game companies.
Neocron 2: Beyond Dome of York
I joined the GM team shortly before the launch of Neocron 2: Beyond Dome of York launched and helped test the new zones, systems, and missions on the test server. Overall, despite the rocky launch, I thought that the improvements over original Neocron were positive. I only wish they had completely replaced the underlying engine so that it could continue to be developed and improved. I feel that DoY could have been a renaissance for an underrated game, but ultimately, Reakktor GMBH went bankrupt after I stopped playing.
Disclaimer: Most of this is hearsay and rumors I heard. Contact me and I’ll retract any incorrect statements.
The end of Reakktor was quite chaotic and I only observed most of it from a distance. The servers went down often, were rolled back, crashed, and were consolidated into fewer servers over a period of a few years. The game went free to play and there were times when you couldn’t create new accounts.
At some point, I heard Reakktor accidentally published the entire source code along with an update. They fixed this, but the cat was out of the bag. I don’t know if that’s the reason they ultimately handed the full source for the client and the server over to the community or not. Neocron is still playable today and is continuing to be developed by the Neocron Support Team as Neocron Evolution.
At some point, I was contacted by an individual who had the desire to create his own Neocron server. He had obtained a copy of the source code (I know not how, I can only guess) and was planning to set up a private server with a modified client. As someone with prior GM experience, he asked me to help. I did so reluctantly with the intention to share what I knew and then bow out of the project. I didn’t have much interest in playing or supporting the game anymore. I think the server became somewhat of a success with player populations rivaling the official servers until he got a cease-and-desist from Reakktor.
There is another Neocron project which has a different goal than Neocron Evolution. Their aim is not to continue developing Neocron 2 where Reakktor left off, but to create the original Neocron. I don’t know who is behind Neocron Classic, but the project has had their own controversies and setbacks. There was an update a few days ago as of this writing so hopefully they’ve got it back on track.
I’m curious if anyone knows the history behind how these groups came to be. Did they both license the code from the defunct Reakktor? What are the terms? Let me know!
I wanted to share a couple of other memorable things about my time playing Neocron.
First, my son was about 4 years old when playing and he was very much into dinosaurs so he used to love to watch me play because there were several wasteland creatures that looked similar to dinosaurs. He’s now 23 years old and not into dinosaurs as much.
Second, my daughter was an infant (she was born the week I bought the game) and there was one time that she was being fussy at bed time. To comfort her, I had her in my lap while I played. That is, until she projectile vomited over me and my brand new Logitech gaming keyboard with programmable LCD display (similar to this one). It never worked after that, unfortunately. She just turned 19.
As a gamer, I play lots of different games and switch them up often. I don’t stick with anything for very long even if I eventually come back to them over and over. On the 20th anniversary of the release of Neocron, I had to take the time to document my memories of the one game that I played almost exclusively for years. If I wasn’t playing, I was thinking about playing. I was planning out a character or planning an outpost attack or helping players or writing dialogue for NPCs. I was reading or posting on the official or SXR forums while at work and planning what we’d do that evening.
Not all of the memories were good, but I’m grateful that I have them to look back on. I’m even more grateful that I can still jump back on from time to time. It makes me a bit sad to do so as the servers feel barren and my friends are not there, but it’s still good.