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Role Playing (Games)

The History of Computer RPGs 77

Posted by Zonk
from the welcome-to-the-dnd-world dept.
Gamasutra is running a series of articles about the history of CRPGs. The first piece covers the early years, from 1980 to 1983, and deals with with games like mainframe dnd, Wizardry, and Ultima. The follow-up, The Golden Years, touches on the gold box Dungeons and Dragons titles, as well as the Bard's Tale games. "The first Gold Box game is Pool of Radiance, a game which marked an important turning point in CRPG history. The game shipped in a distinctive gold-colored box (hence the nickname for the series), which sported artwork by celebrated fantasy illustrator Clyde Caldwell (Caldwell also designed the covers for Curse of the Azure Bonds and several other TSR-licensed games and books). It was initially available only on the Atari ST and Commodore 64 platforms, though soon ports were available for most major platforms, including the NES."
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The History of Computer RPGs

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  • turning point (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by nomadic (141991) *
    Pool of Radiance, a game which marked an important turning point in CRPG history.

    The SSI games were a travesty. They were wargames masquerading as CRPGs, they were buggy as hell, they were all produced using the same system so there was very little difference between them, they followed neither the spirit nor the rules of the system they were supposedly based on, and gameplay was just constant grinding with very little story, puzzle solving, or individuality. The graphics were bad even by the standards
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PhilipMckrack (311145)
      I disagree as well. I loved Pool of Radiance and probably played it all the way through 6 or 7 times or more on my old C64. I liked the fact that the gold box games all pretty much used the same system, I could go from one to another and gameplay was almost the same. I would liken it to the expansion packs of todays mmorpg games, the later gold box games added to the earlier ones, you could even import your party from the previous games with all stats intact.

      I never really tried Ultima games until 7 or 8 so
      • Re:turning point (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Monday February 26, 2007 @05:44PM (#18159048) Journal
        One of my first RPGs was Ultima III on the Apple IIe (yes, old timer). One of the best tricks that I did to entertain myself was the fact that treasure chests dropped by monsters outdoors were obstacles and permanent (until opened). Monsters also blindly followed you. So I put 2 and 2 together and strategically led and killed monsters until I had created a "monster zoo" outdoors filled with all sorts of helpless meanies trapped in treasure box pens.

        The other trick I liked was to build boat bridges between islands using boats captured from pirates but that was a bit harder to pull off.

        It's always fun to find loop-holes in games.
        • by nuzak (959558)
          The other trick I liked was to build boat bridges between islands using boats captured from pirates but that was a bit harder to pull off.

          I spent all day doing that once. Then the whirlpool came and sucked them all down to Davey Jones' Locker.
        • by Creepy (93888)
          heh, heh - Ultima III makes an old timer - youngster, you've got a lot to learn about being old

          How about Atari 2600 Adventure [wikipedia.org] (technically the first action-RPG)? I don't remember if I played that before or after Odyssey (see below).
          somebody can now 1-up me and talk about Adventure on a mainframe (which is where it came first, I believe).

          My first RPGs on a computer were Akalabeth [wikipedia.org] (Ultima 0) and Odyssey: The Compleat Apventure [wikipedia.org] on the Apple ][, which were mostly single player RPGs, though the mechanics of Ody
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Hoi Polloi (522990)
            I played the first 3 Wizardry's with my brother. He was older so he usally got the keyboard and I manned the graph paper mapping and navigating for him. We occasionally fought over the keyboard too.

            I remember getting stuck once and called Sir-Tech in NY in fustration. A person who sounded like a kid answered and very patiently explained what I needed to do. Free of charge too! I thought that was pretty cool of them.

            If you played Wizardry 1 you'd remember the "Creeping Coins" which gave big XP points bu
        • To do you one better: in a week-long fit of boredom, I decided to make it my goal to fill every last square of land with chests. The hardest part was leading monsters into mountainous areas, using the time-stop spell or a powder to freeze them in place, then getting back to attack them before they woke up and moved out of the square I wanted them in. I think I finally just about got it, too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MiceHead (723398) *
      they followed neither the spirit nor the rules of the system they were supposedly based on, and gameplay was just constant grinding with very little story, puzzle solving, or individuality. The graphics were bad even by the standards of the day.

      (Score:1, Flamebait)

      Flamebait? I think Nomadic has a point on many counts! Compare Pool of Radiance [wikipedia.org] to Dungeon Master [wikipedia.org], which came a year before it. I enjoyed some of the Gold Box games, but I always felt like they were stamped out of a machine. The Ultima serie
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bieeanda (961632)
      This is probably going to get me modded as flamebait, but I felt the same way about their spiritual descendants, the Baldur's Gate series. They were ostensibly Second Edition AD&D to begin with, but used rules that were heretofore only found in the Basic D&D ruleset (weapon mastery and such), had heavily modified critters (mustard jelly is not green slime, and neither of the BG variants are anything like the ones statted in the Monstrous Manuals) and made a travesty of D&D combat by making ever
      • You could play BG, BGII, etc. in turn-based mode, you know. Aside from the lack of squares, stuff had a range and an area of effect.
        • by Bieeanda (961632)
          I'm not sure why people make this claim, because turn-based and automatically-pausing-simultaneous-activity are not the same things. I'll reiterate: By the time a spell effect goes off in the Infinity Engine, most of the targets have already vacated the area. That may be realistic, but it's not D&D.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by east coast (590680)
      The graphics were bad even by the standards of the day.

      You want to see some bad graphics? Come to my pen and paper game.

      RPGs don't need to be graphically intense to be good.

      I will agree that the were wargames to a point, that's what SSI was always best at. I still don't think many CRPGs are story intensive. Sometimes I'm thankful for it.
    • For me, the turning point was Might and Magic II. The article mentions the M&M series near the end of the article but I thought this game was a much grand version Bard's Tale. The hours it consumed in my childhood. I couldn't quite understand why the Quest for Glory series had a lengthy section. To me, this was a sub par CRPG -- more of a Sierra Adventure game with some stat points. Although a fun game, don't get me wrong, but I fail to categorize it with all the other great titles mentioned. If there
  • LSL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ikyaat (764422) on Monday February 26, 2007 @02:11PM (#18155758) Homepage
    Is leisure Suit Larry considered a roleplaying game since its the only time I ever get to be a suave ladies man. That game rocked. Same as Space Quest series and Kings Quest series on the Tandy 500.
    • Your comprehension of a "Role Playing Game" is a bit broad. In just about any game you play, you are assuming the role of one of the charactors, so by your definition, almost all games are role playing games.

      Games like Liesure Suit Larry are what we call "Graphic Adventures". This is an unfortunate name, because one who doesn't know the explicit definition of Graphic Adventure will confuse it with "Adventure" games like Diablo.

      I'm just the messanger. Please don't kill me.
      • Say rather that your comprehension of role playing games is rather narrow. Traditionally, role playing games have been exactly that, you take the role of a character. go play. Mind you this is not computer RPG. what we call computer RPG took basically only the statistics/war gaming aspect of rpg's and pretended like it was the same (which, sadly, for some people it is). Personally I always thought it was silly calling games like Larry an adventure while Bard Tale et al got to be RPG's.

        Diablo is most definat
  • I loved Magic Candle III; I always wonder why people don't mention it when making lists like these.
    • by revlayle (964221)
      hell, even magic candle 1 was an interesting game... i was amazed how much was slammed in a few disks for the C64 version also
  • Wasn't this article already Slashdotted [slashdot.org] in December?

    And I agree, Magic Candle is wonderful, though I played only the first one on my Apple II. At the end, it saved my characters to be imported into the sequel -- which I don't think was ever released for that platform...

  • TES II Daggerfall (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Drakin020 (980931)
    Daggerfall was a great RPG in my opinion. So open ended with a large world. So what if it was randomly generated. I think that was one of the games that made a huge success in my world followed by Morrowind and Oblivion. Never played much of Areans though. (TES I)
    • by smbarbour (893880)
      To each his own, I suppose. I had bought Daggerfall a long time ago and could not even get out of the starting dungeon (and that was with an edited character). I tried Morrowind, but it was so boring I wanted to gouge my eyes out. I guess they were too open-ended for my tastes (or perhaps I just really suck at playing 1st-person RPGs).
    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      Daggerfall was a raging bug-fest. It was literally impossible to beat most dungeons without cheating-- not because the monsters were difficult, but because that "randomly generated large world" you're so fond of often generated bottomless pits that caused you to fall out of the world, or frequently designed dungeons with one-way traps in them.

      You could steal anything from any shop by just entering the shop, then using "Wait" until the shop was closed-- shopkeeper leaves you locked in! You can take whatever
      • by IceDiver (321368)
        Yes, Daggerfall was buggy.

        However, I never needed to cheat to complete the game. Every time I ran into a bug, I discovered that Bethesda had released a patch to fix it.

        As I recall, there were over 200 patches released for the game. Sure the game was buggy, but I have never before or since seen a game company that supported their game to the degree that Bethesda did for Daggerfall. It is one of my favourite games of all time.

    • by Petrushka (815171)
      Also a lot later than the ones discussed in the article -- like, a decade later. By the look of things, they'll be getting on to that around about part 4 of this series :-)
  • Apparently I hail from the Bronze Age. <picks up cudgel and shakes it at the WoW-generation>

    Looking forward to the rest of this series. (As long as the Infinity Engine games win!)

    (Temple of Apshai on the C64)

    • by jdigriz (676802)
      Temple of Apshai, great game, very hard as I recall. I was constantly schlepping about giant copper ingots so I didnt get very far.
  • Parry Parry Parry

    • Parry Parry Parry

      You're doing the "Summon Kibo" incantation all wrong. He's not like Bloody Mary or the Candyman or Biggie Smalls, whose name you say into a mirror three times to make them appear.
  • Fun article that definitely made me a bit misty-eyed for ye olde days. However, its unfortunate that the article paints roguelikes as being firmly past-tense. In terms of pure dungeon crawl hack-n-slash, roguelikes have persisted [nethack.org], grown in interesting [www.adom.de] directions [mangband.org], and remain vibrant [angband.oook.cz] today.
    • OK, so you kind of look like a grandpa, even with the games you linked to ;) , and I'm not quite old enough to remember rogue in the present tense (I'm one of those Coleco/NES brats), but the roguelike has seen a lot of play in Japan with the Fushigi no Dungeon [wikipedia.org] (Mysterious Dungeon) series, which has had games in the Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Pokemon series. There are some other similar (more recent vintage) titles, like Dokapon Monster Hunter for the GBA. I feel like there was another rogue-ish gam
      • by 6350' (936630)
        On the topic of roguelikes, your comments bring up an excellent issue: at what point do we stop calling a roguelike a roguelike, and call it something else (say, and RPG). Conventionally, the "mustyness" of Angband (still rocking along in development, btw) is actually part of a broad/vague definition of "roguelike."

        All cRPG's pretty much have their roots in roguelikes, simply because roguelikes were early in the family tree of computer RPGs. But, in the same way that I am not a monkey, some of the games
    • by snuf23 (182335)
      From a commercial basis, Rogue-a-likes just evolved into games like Diablo picking up the action element from games like the arcade Gauntlet and Gateway to Apshai [mobygames.com].
      The most recent commercial examples include be Titan Quest and Fate [fatethegame.com]. Fate even borrows the pet concept from Nethack (I'm sure it was in other Rogue-a-likes - I'm not expert).
      • by 6350' (936630) on Monday February 26, 2007 @03:16PM (#18156890)
        Absolutely - all this represents the evolutionary tree of cRPGs. Diablo in particular is quite interesting: as any roguelike player knows, Diablo was very clearly inspired and heavily influenced by roguelikes. It wasn't until quite recently, however, that I heard a story that demonstrates just direct the inspiration was.

        (the following is unsourced, and comes to me from that awesome vector of "some dude at work":)
        It seems that Diablo, the story goes, was originally turnbased! Some engineer had the kooky idea of converting the game over to be realtime, which noone he worked with was to fired up about. So, he did it on the side as a pet project. When finished, he checked it in and had everyone give it a shot. They of course realized they had a winner on their hands ...
        • It seems that Diablo, the story goes, was originally turnbased! Some engineer had the kooky idea of converting the game over to be realtime, which noone he worked with was to fired up about. So, he did it on the side as a pet project. When finished, he checked it in and had everyone give it a shot. They of course realized they had a winner on their hands ...

          I doubt it. The code difference between a turn based and a real time game is non-trivail. In fact I doubt 1 person working in their sparetime could do i
        • by Empiric (675968)
          FWIW, I heard much the same thing, from the even-more-awesome vector of "Yeah, I think I read that in a gaming magazine once."

          Though, a quick googling reveals some remnants of that apparent history [rampantgames.com].
        • by Dutch Gun (899105)
          Ok, I'll go ahead and confirm this for you. I happen to know one of the devs working at Blizzard during the development of Diablo, and asked him about this.

          According to him, yes, Diablo actually did start out as a turn-based game. Blizzard North was heading up the development, but under pressure from Blizzard South (everyone there figured that real-time would be much more popular), the switch was made from turn-based to real-time.

          I think the conversion process was slightly less dramatic from the way he de
    • I remember being young (very young, I was born in 1981) and playing Dungeon Master on my dad's Atari ST 1040...according to my parents, I learned how to read so I could play play Planetfall and Hitchhiker's Guide!

      The one gripe I have with this article is that it neglects the now mostly-extinct genre of interactive fiction. Sierra and Lucasarts both expanded on the Infocom format and made games that I think were as much role-playing games as all the hack-and-slash dungeon games. Both were only able to cap
  • I still have fond memories of this game. A friend and I played through all three on the C64. Then I did it again when I finally got an Amiga. For me, no game has ever made as much of an impression, although Shadow of the Colossus really impressed me. I still remember some of the 4 digit spell codes from BT. I was really hoping the recent bard's tale would capture the same feeling for me. But sadly, it was a joke.
  • by AndroidCat (229562) on Monday February 26, 2007 @03:07PM (#18156724) Homepage

    Although there's some question about how deeply J.R.R. Tolkien's Ring trilogy played in the development of D&D,
    The only question was how fast could they scrub words like Hobbit and Ent out of the game books.
  • Why only fantasy is considered? Where is SF CRPG? Don't tell me SF CRPG did not exist back in 90'.
    As example, i played Frontier - Elite 2 on Amiga back in 1993
    I presume it was a RPG, but it was sold as space-combat-trading game.
    But, if you think a GALAXY of 100000000000000 star system is not big enough to make an RPG...
    3D real-time graphics, details from galaxy to clock tower in your city (on Mars), newtonian physics and much more... on just 600KB...
    Argh, where is UAE? I'm in dire need now!
    • by east coast (590680) on Monday February 26, 2007 @05:13PM (#18158598)
      I presume it was a RPG, but it was sold as space-combat-trading game.

      Elite was a flight/trade simulator. I love the game myself. It's far from an RPG (IMHO) because the entire time I played it I never really felt the need to conduct myself like the captain of a space cruiser. I felt it was a video game with a bit of meat that made it worth playing for hours at a time. Anyway...

      This is the problem with this whole subset of games (RPGs that is); little, if any, require any real roleplaying. I like to play "rpgs", both on the PC and pen and paper, but I never really roleplay. I guess it's a very very grey area on what real RPGs would encompass. I guess that stuff like D&D and EQ are more like real RPGs since you're taking on the identity of another to the point that you have to deal with "life" from within their abilities. Elite simply doesn't do this. In EQ or DnD I may be a great fighter even if I'm bound to a wheelchair without the ability to lift my arms more than a few inches, it's just about the roll of the dice, it has nothing to do with my own real world abilities. In Elite it was much different, if you sucked at playing the game you just sucked... you needed to be as good a player IRL as what it came out as on the PC. I guess that may be the first sign of a game being an RPG; that barrier between real life abilities and the ability to work within the game scenario. Anyone has the same chance of rolling a 20 from a disabled guy in the wheelchair to the best athlete to a mathematician. In Elite you had to be a good physical player to reflect a good Captain Jameson.

      I don't know, just some of my thoughts on the matter.

      sorry for being long winded.
      • by mcvos (645701)

        Elite was a flight/trade simulator. I love the game myself. It's far from an RPG (IMHO) because the entire time I played it I never really felt the need to conduct myself like the captain of a space cruiser. I felt it was a video game with a bit of meat that made it worth playing for hours at a time. Anyway...

        So how is that different from 95% of the CRPGs out there? Although it didn't involve any dialogue, in some ways, Frontier felt more like actual roleplaying that some so-called computer RPGs.

        Thi

  • by Pluvius (734915) <pluvius3&gmail,com> on Monday February 26, 2007 @04:31PM (#18157978) Journal
    The first article mentions that the NES versions of those games are the best available. Well, not exactly; the best way to play them is through The Story of Llylgamyn, a compilation of the first three games for the Super Famicom. Unfortunately, it was only released in Japan for the Nintendo Power accessory (not to be confused with the magazine). It was a nifty little device similar to the Famicom Disk System; you could go to a store and load games onto a flash ROM inside of it. Of course, you can't do that anymore.

    But then, that's what emulation is for. If you can find the ROM, which is easy enough (hint: The name is "Wizardry I-II-III - Story of Llylgamyn (J) (NP).smc"), then you're golden. You might want to use the translation patch [romhacking.net] for it, but it's not necessary; the games are dual-language, so the only Japanese you'll have to muddle through is in the pre-game menus. A minor note: For some reason Knight of Diamonds is listed as the third game while Legacy of Llylgamyn is listed as a second, which is a transposition. Play them accordingly, or not.

    Rob
  • i disagree with what they label as the "golden age." i'd venture to say that, for me at least, the golden age was in the mid to late 90's, when we had releases like the Baldur's Gate series, and Planescape: Torment, and Fallout (and bioware and black isle, period!), Daggerfall, diablo (yes, not really an rpg, but we're including it because it helped revitalize the genre at the time) and others. there was a great glut of AWESOME RPG games.

    the article's "golden age" I think, is too close to the "original ag
    • never mind. i missed the last page somehow and i see how he's calling what irefer to as "the platinum age," but I'd still have to say, those earlier "golden age" games really leave a lot to be desired by today's standards, and yet, i feel stuff like baldur's gate will NEVER seem out-dated. a friend of mine, who has only recently become very interested in games, was asking about "computer RPG's with great plots" and the Baldur's Gate series was the first thing in my mind, followed shortly by Planescape: torm
  • It was a great old CRPG. I liked it anyway. The graphics were simplistic, comically so, but it was enjoyable.
  • Tunnels of Doom (Score:4, Interesting)

    by British (51765) <british1500@gmail.com> on Monday February 26, 2007 @06:47PM (#18159898) Homepage Journal
    For the small minority of TI-99/4A owners, there was the incredibly fun Tunnels of Doom. It would take forever to load on cassette! Typically, 1st party games were among the worst, but ToD was the exception! It had serious depth for a TI-99/4A game. Later on in life I would meet the author of Legends, another RPG which was pretty fun.

    Okay, so we(TI-99/4A owners) had a grand total of 2 RPGs, still, better than none.
    • by shalla (642644)
      I loved Tunnels of Doom! To this day, I can start singing the song it played while loading a level and my brother will join in. Ah, the hours we spent trying to save the king...

      I always considered the Scott Adams games to be early CRPGs, just done completely in text form. Ah, the joys of Pirate Adventure! (Yes, I spent hours loading those on cassette too.)
  • The article didn't even go into Scepter of Goth or the other really early MORPG (Forget the name). (Since it could only handle up to 16 dial-in users I had to forgo the MMORPG title--it wasn't really "Massive")

    I also didn't see any mention of online MUDs but they came later(so they may not have been mentioned yet); Scepter was around in the early 80's, predating (or at least paralleling) most of the games listed in the article and the IBM PC itself.

    • by Teckla (630646)

      Scepter of Goth was a fantastic game. I still occasionally pull out the source code for it, and take a walk down memory lane.

      • by bill_kress (99356)
        Do you really have that code? I and a few friends would love to see that! Any chance you could send me a copy?

        bill.kress is my gmail acct if you think you could.
  • Forgive me if this was mentioned in the article, but where is NetHack? I briefly scanned the article and didn't see it mentioned.
  • I grew up on Sentinel Worlds, Wasteland, Hard Nova, Starflight (I & II) and goodies like that on my Tandy. In fact, I still have them all in storage. I should pull those out and play em... They just don't make games like they used to- fun.
  • They seem to be missing quite a few gems fro the early days, including the very first 2.5D game ever, Alternate Relality: The City. Wizardry was just coming out. But in 1985, there was a new pseudo-3d game with a persistent state(actual time went by), shops, weather, nighttime, and so on. It also had the typical player inventory, levels, spells, and such. Oh - and banks, gambling, and so on, as well as morality(if you were evil, good guys came after you!). Plus, a really nice, convoluted plot that we d

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