It’s always sad to go back to your old haunts and find them forgotten and abandoned, no longer bustling in quite the same way that you remember. Finding this in cyberspace is perhaps even more poignant; usually the only sign that your old haunt even existed is a record preserved by the Wayback Machine – a forum frozen in time, or a newsfeed no longer updated. All in all, a poor epitaph.
War of the Servers is a product of ‘LitFuse Films’ – a machinima production company that itself is no longer operating – and PHW Online*, a forum dedicated to comics made using games. Particularly popular was Garry’s Mod, a sandbox/toybox game using assets from Half-Life 2. Tangentially affiliated with this was PHW Radio (from whom I won a pirate flag, way back when) and the Garry’s Mod role play servers, such as Melonbrew. Good times.
The story of War of the Servers is much as you might expect, then. It’s a machinima version of War of the Worlds – more Jeff Wayne than H.G. Wells – and is retold as an invasion of ‘Mingebags’ (the Garry’s Mod equivalent of ‘n00bs’) instead of Martians, and game servers instead of Victorian towns. The production quality is high for the state of machinima at the time – given that it was all cobbled together using a physics engine that was resolutely not designed for this purpose – the humour is suitably British and the cast list is impressively large. At least it keeps them off the streets I suppose.
Across the gulf of the internet, minds immeasurably thicker than ours regarded our servers with envious eyes. And slowly, and surely, they drew their contraptions against us.
But more importantly, War of the Servers is a time capsule from the community of the mid-noughties. PHW Online no longer exists at all. The staff of Lit Fuse have since gone to work for Bioware or disappeared entirely, and all that is left is the content that was created from that time. Without wishing to sound too pretentious, to understand the history of gaming means more than having played GoldenEye or Mario Kart. It’s about communities, and the things they leave behind for the rest of us to enjoy.
*I actually found it through Concerned, a brilliant, funny and thankfully still online Half-Life 2 comic strip by Christopher Livingston. Concerned is worth a read if only for the ‘Notes’ at the bottom of each comic. Livingston is a brilliant writer, and now writes for PC Gamer, so look him up!