It's 2023 and it is the 20th anniversary of the official Korean release of one of the first MMOs I've played, GunZ The Duel. Although the methods certainly have changed, it is still an online game played to this day. Having a devoted fanbase from a competitive game is nothing new. There are still just as many people playing the original StarCraft as they were back in 1998. What’s rare is seeing an online multiplayer game that by all means failed several times yet still maintains a userbase through the use of preservation.
Any hope in playing the official serves had long since missed that boat as it not only sailed but sunk. In 2015, the original developers of GunZ, MAIET, closed their doors, dissolving their assets to another company, Masangsoft. This was only met with confusion as MAIET’s three main gaming IPs, GunZ The Duel, GunZ The Duel 2, and RaiderZ were suddenly under the rights of Masangsoft, who obtained MAIET’s assets.
Despite plans of reviving RaiderZ, the game has since been in limbo and if the Steam page for GunZ 2 is any indication, it will likely remain in limbo as that game has been inactive for years. To further add salt to the wound, the official site does not mention any former MAIET titles. The icing on the cake is that searching ‘GunZ’ and ‘RaiderZ’ are met with two private servers as the first result for both games. With no developer and no update on who actually owns what rights, it has been left to the community to keep MAIET’s games alive. What, exactly, was so special about GunZ The Duel?
Originally released in the Summer of 2003, GunZ The Duel was created with “gun-fu,” in mind. Movies like Equilibrium, The Matrix, and any John Woo film that comes to mind were inspirations for the creation of GunZ. It was a third-person shooter that allowed players to wall run, climb walls, and do flashy cartwheel flips. Each player had access to two ranged weapons and a melee weapon, with the melee weapons allowing players to dash across the map. This meant that there were multiple ways to escape combat as well as sneak into an unsuspecting opponent.
Those who remember the early days would be familiar with the infamous “dagger noobs” who would lunge at an opponent, topple them over, and spray lead into them until they die. Until the player knew that they can avoid the “toppling over” by jump canceling at the right time as if it were a fighting game, then it simply became an obsolete way to gain “cheap kills.” When the game was first released in English, it was under a “global” beta known as International GunZ. Not to be confused with what’s currently a community, iGunZ as it was known was MAIET’s first attempt at breaking outside of the Korean market.
As someone who was there during the game’s infancy, I remember a lot of players were thrilled about GunZ The Duel’s success. This was a fairly new concept in a genre run rampant with first-person shooters. In America, especially, Halo 2 had released and it’s considered one of the best multiplayer FPSs ever developed. Despite this, GunZ was able to keep a steady player base and it seemed that the sky was the limit. Unfortunately, server bugs and rampant hacking led to the game being temporarily shut down on several occasions until it finally shut its doors.
The timing window between the beta release of iGunZ and its closure lead many to believe that the 2007 Ijji revival was the first English version of GunZ The Duel. While it wasn’t, this version was the one that would make it past its beta phase and into live service. Over the years there have been Player VS Environment content, known as Quest mode. Common enemies include orcs and dragons, using the environment and mechanics to reach the end and defeat the boss.
I mentioned how dagger thrusting was seen as obsolete as soon as the defender knew how to avoid the “instant kill” situation. Over the years, the success of GunZ wasn’t because of the game’s intentional mechanics, as they would all become obsolete. Instead, the thousands of hours of time spent tearing the game apart through its glitches was what made the game soar in popularity. To this day, there hasn’t been a third-person shooter that allows its players to be this expressive.
Very quickly, the mild action-based run and gun style of gameplay was met with Bayonetta-style combos. It was no longer a “third-person shooter,” but a “multiplayer action game” that awarded dexterity and consistency. Rather than discuss each and every glitch found in GunZ The Duel, I’ll lightly touch upon the fundamentals of the default style commonly referred to as “K-Style” or “Korean Style.” In GunZ, a player’s animations can easily be canceled by having them do something else. An example is if the player attacks with their sword, they can change into a firearm before the attack comes out, canceling the animation.
The cancel window is so lenient that a player can wait until the exact frame in which the sword attack becomes active. As it becomes active, switching to a weapon like a shotgun will also cause the gun to fire. At some point, the sword frames and gun frames overlap while the weapons change, and it’s this sweet spot that players learn to abuse. Simply add a jump to this equation and the Slash Shot is born, one of the base forms of everything that stems from it.
That’s not all, as even the basic movement tech was rooted in K-Style. Instead of climbing a wall up to a certain point, players could air dash slash into the wall to climb faster but also have more control over their movement. Quickly it became not only a more fun way of enjoying GunZ, but it also became a requirement to reach high levels of gameplay. “K-Style” wasn’t an “official” way of playing GunZ, it was a glitch. Therefore MAIET never acknowledged it as part of the intended tech, as shown with the sequel, GunZ 2.
Oh, there was a sequel that was released due to the game’s success but the team was oblivious to what made their project a runaway classic, to begin with. In the end, it failed to maintain the same player base who still had access to the freedom of style and movement. Ironically, years after its shutdown, this year has been the best year to get into the game as the flow of information is better articulated and shared in public areas rather than secretive forums. Most of the guesswork is already done for the player, all they have to do is practice and work their fingers to the beat of the sound effects.
As mentioned, the fate of GunZ The Duel, as well as RaiderZ, continues to hang in the balance for an official revival. If an announcement was made right now, it would certainly inquire inquisitive minds who have seen clips and heard of the game through word of mouth. However, thanks to dedicated communities, players can experience one of the 2000s' most aesthetically cool multiplayer experiences.