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Role Playing (Games)

Dungeons and Desktops 176

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-put-on-my-robe-and-wizard-hat dept.
Aeonite writes "Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-playing Games chronicles the rise and fall of the Computer RPG industry, from Akalabeth to Zelda and everything in between. While the bulk of the book is devoted to the genre's 'Golden Age' in the late '80s and early '90s, author Matt Barton explores the entire history of CRPGs, from their origins in the mid '70s to the very recent past. While not entirely comprehensive, the book covers not only the major players and award-winners, but also dozens of obscure 'also-ran' as well as notable games in related genres." Keep reading for the rest of Michael's review.
Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-playing
author Matt Barton
pages 451
publisher A.K. Peters Ltd
rating 7
reviewer Michael Fiegel
ISBN 978-1-56881-411-7
summary A detailed history of CRPGs
Barton first defines the genre, insofar as one is able to do so, explaining that a CRPG generally includes elements such as: a system of statistics to track characters (ability scores and skills); the ability to advance characters via experience points; and randomized combat. Barton further attempts to define the genre by comparing CRPGs to what they are not, including JRPGs (Final Fantasy), MMORPGs (World of Warcraft), Adventure Games (Zork), and Strategy Games (Warcraft). A bit later, he explores the origins of the CRPG, listing Baseball Simulation Games (such as Strat-O-Matic), Tabletop wargames (Chainmail), Tolkien, Colossal Cave Adventure, and (of course) Dungeons & Dragons as having had an impact on the creation and evolution of the genre.

The next nine chapters of the book are devoted to the history of the CRPG, which Barton breaks down into six phases, somewhat akin to Hesiod's Five Ages.

The Dark Age covers the period of time from 1974 through the end of the decade, and includes PLATO and Mainframe games such as pedit, Dungeon, dnd and DND (not to be confused with each other, or with D&D or D&D), Oubliette, Moria, Avatar and Orthanc. Also included here, somewhat out of chronological order, are a discussion of Rogue and Rougelikes (Hack, Moria and Angband) and MUDs all the way through to 1989's TinyMUD. The Bronze Age of the CRPG begins in 1979 with the publication of Lord British's Akalabeth: World of Doom (which would go on to sell thousands of copies, making it the first commercially successful CRPG, if not exactly the first) and includes a host of obscure titles, including Wizards Castle, Eamon, Space and Empire, The Tarturian, Odyssey: The Complete Apventure, and Dunjonquest: Temple of Apshai. In 1983, Bronze turns to Silver with the appearance of the Ultima and WIzardry trilogies, games which truly began to lay the groundwork for all that came after. Also mentioned in this chapter are less well-known games such as Sword of Fargoal, Dungeons of Daggorath, Tunnels of Doom, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Universe.

The Golden Age dawns in 1985, bringing with it the refinement of prior ideas and the perfection of the genre's underlying systems. Barton divides coverage of this age into three chapters. The first covers the Early Golden Age, beginning with the console crash of 1983 and ending with the arrival of the NES in 1985. The CRPG market survived the crash rather unscathed, and in fact flourished thanks to games such as Phantasie, The Wizard's Crown, Ultima IV, and Autoduel. Most notable of all, of course, was 1985's The Bard's Tale, which spawned two sequels (three, if you count 2004's "spiritual sequel" starring Carey Elwes), both of which also receive some attention here.

It is here where the book's structure begins to drift a bit. By Barton's own admission, progress in the CRPG industry is "neither linear nor orderly," and in fact the attempt to align CRPG titles, trilogies and series along a single timeline almost necessarily breaks down. The Bard's Tale trilogy seems as if it would more properly be discussed in the next chapter (The Golden Age Part I). Instead, Barton calls it "The Dawn of the Golden Age" and places it about a third of the way into the "Early Golden Age" chapter, where it somewhat loses some of its impact. Further confusion surrounds the inclusion here of Might and Magic Book I: Secrets of the Inner Sanctum; published in 1986, it is not only followed by a discussion of Alternate Reality: The City (published in 1985), but is preceded by a lengthy discussion of several games which came after it, including The Magic Candle (1989) and Bloodstone (1993). While the author has thematic reasons for covering these games here, one wonders if a strict chronological order would have served better. Even Barton seems a bit off track when he invites the reader to "turn to the second half of the Golden Age," which runs from 1987 to 1993 (for those not keeping track, the first "half" only ran from 1983 to 1985). I don't mean to nitpick over throwaway segue lines, but in a book with a historical focus, the time-shifting is just a bit disconcerting.

Regardless, "The Golden Age Part I" covers the period of time that many consider to be the era of the CRPG, when companies like SSI, Origin, Interplay, and New World Computing dominated not just the CRPG industry, but the computer game industry as a whole. Ample coverage is justifiably given to SSI's Gold Box games, including Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, and Pools of Darkness. Somewhat curious (to me) is the omission here of any discussion of AD&D Second Edition, which was released in 1989 and officially introduced the concept of THAC0 (which appeared in Pool of Radiance). Other titles covered in this lengthy chapter include: SSI's Krynn trilogy and Savage Frontier games; the original Neverwinter Nights on AOL; Ultima V, VI and VII; Wizardry VI and VII; Might and Magic II, III and so on; Neuromancer; and Interplay's Wasteland.

The next chapter, "The Golden Age Part II," is devoted to JRPGs and groundbreaking CRPGs with real-time 3d graphics that appeared alongside the aforementioned CRPGs. Covered here in the JRPG category are games such as: The Legend of Zelda and its sequels; The Dragon Warrior series; Final Fantasy; Chrono Trigger; Super Mario RPG; and the Phantasy Star series. The chapter also covers Sierra On-Line's Quest for Glory series; the SSI Black Box games (including Eye of the Beholder); Dungeon Master ("the most successful Atari ST game ever released") and its many clones; and other notable genre-bending games including Beyond Zork and Star Saga.

Here again, we fall into a small hole in the timeline, for The Golden Age ends in 1993 and the next age doesn't begin until 1996. The chapter covering this black hole is called "The Bigger They Come," as if suggesting that Barton was unwilling to give a name to this second Dark Age of CRPGs. Here we see coverage of a variety of bad CRPGs, including Interplay's Descent to Undermountain, Ultima VIII and IX, and the Gothic series (which surely deserves more than the two paragraphs it gets). Covered in more depth is SSI's fall from grace following the publication of an assortment of sub-par D&D titles (including Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Al Qadim, and others) and the ensuing loss of their license with TSR. Some attention might have been paid to the "fall from grace" of TSR itself, which suffered financial ruin in the years that followed and was ultimately purchased by WOTC in 1997.

Ever the optimist, Barton instead moves rapidly into The Platinum Age, which covers the period of time from 1996 to 2001 and includes "the best CRPGs ever made." Covered here in some depth are games such as Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale and its sequel, Dungeon Siege, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, Might and Magic: The Mandate of Heaven, Dungeon Keeper, Arx Fatalis, Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series, Interplay's Fallout and Fallout 2, and Troika's Arcanum. The bulk of the chapter, however, is devoted to two games and their sequels: Blizzard's Diablo and Diablo II, which the author treats with noteworthy disdain, and Bioware's Baldur's Gate and its sequel, which Barton believes is "the best CRPG ever made."

While both games receive more or less equal time, it is a bit hard to swallow Barton's dislike for Diablo in the context of a historical overview; nowhere else does he editorialize quite so much, or so vividly. While at first he simply declares that Diablo's consideration as a CRPG "remains a divisive subject," he quickly moves on to less thinly-veiled potshots. At one point, he refers to "hordes of badly behaved teenagers (and middle-aged men, no doubt) scampering to Battle.net, 'pwning' each other and seeking out the latest cheats and hacks to gain an unfair advantage." Later, Barton expresses a "pang of regret over the overwhelming triumph of (the Diablo) series, since it seems to have come at the expense of the older, more sophisticated CRPGs of past eras." He insists that Baldur's Gate "offers much more strategy than Diablo," and argues that Baldur's Gate's multiplayer "helped the game compete against Diablo, whose Battle.net servers had become a swirling vortex for Daddy's money." I don't even know what that means — how can a free service be a vortex for money? The entire argument smacks of something one might find in a Penny Arcade comic strip, such as this one or this one. At the end of the book, Barton goes so far as to predict that "the real-time Diablo and Morrowind-style CRPGs that were so popular throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s seem fated to extinction, usurped by World of Warcraft and other MMORPGs." In the wake of all the buzz surrounding Diablo III's announcement in recent days, this prediction seems slightly premature.

Barton ends the book with a discussion of the Modern Age, "which we are in today." The chapter covers Neverwinter Nights and its sequel, as well as Vampire: The Masquerade and Bloodlines, and Knights of the old Republic and its sequel. After a mention of Fable, Oblivion, more Final Fantasies and Zeldas, and a discussion of why console-based CRPGs seem to be winning out, Barton closes out the book with a look at MMORPGS, from Meridian 59 through WOW and DDO (and every major title in between). He notes (quite properly, in my opinion) that an MMO like WOW has trouble handling a central story and plot as adeptly as a CRPG can, and points out several "emerging trends" concerning CRPGs, including the rise of online gaming, the tendency to announce the death of the standalone, single-player CRPG and — just because we can never have too many digs at Diablo — a mention of the increasing emphasis on action over strategy. "Whereas Ultima Online stressed role-playing, Diablo emphasized roll-playing," says Barton.

Of course, it is Barton's voice which makes the book entertaining; this is no dry history, but the enlightened point of view of a student of CRPGs, shared with the reader in a casual, accessible manner; in many ways, it is a bold manifesto in their defense. Says Barton: "CRPGs are not only the most fun and addictive type of computer game, but possibly the best learning tool ever designed." You may disagree with that, but you can never dispute the author's own dedication to that belief.

Despite the book's somewhat questionable chronological structuring (or, more correctly, its occasional deviations from that structure), the only major flaw worth noting is that the accompanying artwork is, to put it mildly, hideous. The original full-color screenshots look wonderful in Barton's Gamasutra column, but in the book they are mostly reprinted in muddy, blotchy black and white, making it impossible to determine what they depict even with the help of accompanying captions. The book does contain a color insert after page 208, but this 4-page, 8-picture centerpiece is at best forgettable — I flipped past it entirely while reading, and found that upon further review I hadn't missed anything by skipping over it.

Dungeons and Desktops is a mixed bag, somewhat akin to a sack full of Halloween candy. There are some genuinely good pieces of sweetness in there, as well as a great deal of hidden, forgotten gems and some bits you never knew existed. Despite a bit of a jumble towards the middle, taken as a whole the book is well worth picking up if you're a fan of CRPGs or fantasy games in general. Less die-hard fans might find themselves preferring to stick to Barton's Gamasutra columns, and Diablo fans might find themselves gritting their teeth at some points, but then every bag of candy's got a few pieces of black licorice in it, no?

You can purchase Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-playing Games from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews — to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page."
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Dungeons and Desktops

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  • by gbulmash (688770) * <semi_famous@yah o o . com> on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:32PM (#24034447) Homepage Journal
    It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

    > what is a grue?

    The grue is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is adventurers, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its fear of light. No grue has ever been seen by the light of day, and few have survived its fearsome jaws to tell the tale.

  • The mighty MUD (Score:5, Informative)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:32PM (#24034449)
    I'm glad he at least acknowledges the MUD [wikipedia.org] (multi-user dungeon). I personally doubt we would have ever seen MMO's like Meridian 59, et. al. without their text-based MUD predecessors. And, unfortunately, many people overlook them when talking about modern MMO's.
    .
    And, as a recovering KobraMUD [kobramud.org] addict myself, I can definitely attest that the classic MUD's were every bit as addictive as their modern MMO counterparts. Though they required a little more imagination, their miniscule system requirements and free online play helped make up for it (not to mention that their low overhead allowed them to be played without shards or multiple servers--letting you play with all your friends without having to jump servers).
    • Re:The mighty MUD (Score:5, Interesting)

      by woot account (886113) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:40PM (#24034551)
      The first thing I did when I opened the page is searched for "MUD" to make sure he had covered them. Quite honestly, I'm happy playing my MUD of choice (Carrion Fields [carrionfields.org] if we're gonna do a little advertising here) over any MMO I've tried. If for no other reason, because roleplaying actually takes place on it. I tried playing WoW for a while, and immediately went to the RP/PK servers (coming from CF, that's what I'm used to), and I was confused as hell when I saw all these advertisements about guilds with "no RP required!". The truth is, MUDs are still much closer to pencil and paper than MMOs will ever be, and I prefer that.
      • Re:The mighty MUD (Score:4, Informative)

        by strokerace (912726) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @04:27PM (#24035743)
        I too am a happy Carrion Fields player, and several MUDs before it.

        I've played a few graphical D&D like games Oblivion, Diablo, etc but they were never able to hold my attention the way muds do. I can only handle so much click, click, click, F5, click, click.

        Since it's just text the development "costs" are low. It creates a dynamic environment that's changing all the time. New skills, spells, classes and areas come in frequently.

        Muds are always evolving and they don't cost you 29.95 for 2 new areas and an additional class.

        And when it comes to PK it's not even close. Muds are the chess to WOW's checkers.

        Each class has around 100 skills or spells they can do and it takes a lot of experience to play at an expert level. In CF it's not uncommon for a skilled player to beat back many opponents in a raid or pk situation.

        It's not for everyone, but if you're looking for the ultimate in role playing and PKing, do yourself a favor and give it a try for a few hours.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by duckInferno (1275100)
        A prerequisite for roleplaying in WoW is a higher than normal capacity for ignorance.

        Legolol: "Hark, friends. This Westfall Boar has materialised right in front of me!"
        Healorr: "Let us hope that this one posesses a liver."
        Steveland: "Hey look guys, that Defias Messenger that we killed just half an hour ago is alive again, over here!"
        Healorr: "))shut UP steve!!"
    • Damn straight. I was never a big PC gamer growing up, but I did play Zork on an original Macintosh. Upon my first exposure to a MUD in early days at college, I was hooked (and yes, I flunked out, though I wouldn't blame the MUD itself).

    • by jaredbpd (144090)

      KobraMUD, eh?

      Did you ever travel in a reassembled teapot on Gong?
      Or haul bananas to Macross?
      Help Puzzem with his Crossword puzzle?
      Find Egbert... you know what I mean?
      Did you have a cool, calculating look in your eye?
      And most importantly, if I were to sass you, what would happen?

    • Re:The mighty MUD (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sloppy (14984) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @03:02PM (#24034847) Homepage Journal

      I see MUDs not merely as something worth mentioning, but the actual beginning of computer role-playing games. Zork, the Rogue-likes, the classic Ultima series, etc aren't any more "role playing games" than PacMan is.

      I'm not putting those games down, but interacting with other intelligences, while having the capacity to "break character" but not doing it (i.e. having vast flexibility and expressive power), is what makes a role-playing game. If Rogue is a role-playing game (you pretend to be a dungeon-delving monster slayer and treasure hunter) then so is PacMan (you pretend to be a dot-eating thing in a maze). It's not as though playing a character who can use a sword or cast spells, is what sets RPGs apart from everything else. Those things are merely setting details.

      • Re:The mighty MUD (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Dutch Gun (899105) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @04:39PM (#24035907)

        I've never heard this definition used to define a role-playing game. I don't think too many would agree with it, because it effectively eliminates all single-player games from the genre.

        I'd say the defining characteristic of an RPG is "directed character growth". That is, the player makes decision during gameplay that significantly alters the abilities / role of the player in the game. Japanese RPGs focus more on growth, while US/European games often focus more on customization. It's a different experience than actual "role playing" with other real people, but just because they share a name, I don't think they necessarily have to provide the exact same experience.

        I don't think you're going to have too much luck trying to convince too many people that Final Fantasy, Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, and the like are not role-playing games.

        • by Ptraci (584179) *

          I'd agree with this, but what's with his inclusion of Dungeon Keeper? That's a strategy game, all about resource management and attack and defense of territory.

        • by kalirion (728907)

          I've never heard this definition used to define a role-playing game. I don't think too many would agree with it, because it effectively eliminates all single-player games from the genre.

          There are plenty of games that let you make moral decisions regarding how you want to proceed in the plot. True, there's not the level of freedom that you could get in a pen and paper game. But check Morrowind or Temple of Elemental Evil out sometime.

    • Nod that :)

      Though our MUD is not a sissy roleplaying MUD. The play style is actually frighteningly similar to that of Diablo, just without the graphics and with better quests and content.

    • Maybe some longtime MUD'er can help with this...

      Years ago, maybe around 1990-1992, I played a text based dungeon. It had multiple players and a randomly generated map. The interface was a cross between an Infocom game and NetHack. Looked similar to Larn or Angband in some places.

      Your character could move through the world map and then into stores, training schools, or dungeons. You could also dig pits to bury stuff, follow other parties to watch them covertly, and even submit spells.

      I don't remember the nam

  • Wrong golden age..? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:40PM (#24034549) Homepage Journal

    I grew up on Ultimate I and II and played the board game along with Apple and I'm quite surprised that this early era, where SSI was dominate, along with others, was not indeed the first golden age.

    I have to say that I disagree with his assessment of Diablo as an RPG. To me, Diablo fit right into the proud tradition of the likes of Ultimate and was in many ways a spiritual successor.

    To me a good RPG is like reading a book - its an individual thing and I think there's alway going to be room for that in gaming...

    • Diablo to me was just a really fancy upgrade to the GUI of Dungeon Hack/Rogue/Larn type games. You can build your stats differently, but not much flexibility in the RPG part of the game.
      • by snuf23 (182335)

        Yes Diablo is in that lineage. Same one town up above, randomly generated dungeons below model. The biggest difference is that it is action oriented. The oldest game I can recall that had a similar mix was the action oriented Gateway to Apshai. Similar to earlier Temple of Apshai games but with a joystick driven interface and it ran in real time.

    • Umm, Ultima, not Ultimate. Are you implicitly taking spell-checker corrections?

  • Awesome (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:42PM (#24034587) Journal

    Finally a book review I'm actually interested in. I love classic CRPGs, I'm in the middle of Phantasy Star III right now actually. It's nice to see someone treat the subject of video game history seriously. I can see this book useful both as a history of the video game industry, as well as a refresher on any RPGs you may have missed. There are literally thousands of hours of CRPGs available, you can't play them all, so a historical review like this can really help you pick the important ones to play.

    I just have to ask, does he mention nethack?

    • by Aeonite (263338)

      Nethack gets a few sentences on page 36, alongside other Roguelikes such as Hack, Larn, Moria, Ancient Domains of Mystery, and Angband.

  • well (Score:3, Funny)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:44PM (#24034609) Homepage Journal

    apparently he didn't call any of us from the P.V.H.S. computer/role playing club (the membership for both was the same people - so they are kind of interchangeable) to ask us about the crpg we wrote for the apple IIs in the computer lab in '86. which is a shame when one takes into account the oppressive conditions we worked under. mr. cornell would rip a floppy right out of the drive and staple it to the wall if he caught someone playing a game.

  • Fond memories (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ConceptJunkie (24823) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:44PM (#24034619) Homepage Journal

    My first experience with CRPGs was a PC port of Rogue around 1983. I was instantly hooked.

    I have many fond memories of playing Oubliette around 1983, and eventually hacking the encryption on the save file. The encryption consisted of adding 0x71 and 0x72 to alternating bytes in the save file. After that I was able to hack the save file to find out if characters could actually survive the 9th level. It turns out having 6 totally maxed out characters might survive a single move on level 9, but certainly not two.

    Way, way too much fun (and time wasted) for what was something like a 60k executable.

    I still have the Turbo Pascal code for encypting/decrypting the save files and doing other operations like restoring age (characters would eventually age and die from the time spent resting to heal).

    Shortly after that (around 85 or so) I discovered a little game called Hack (around version 2.0.3 IIRC). I think heard somewhere it's still around. (Actually I occasionally run Nethack 3.4.3 on my PocketPC for kicks. My oldest kid likes playing it too, but he only plays with tiles, I think anything other than character mode is tantamount to blasphemy.).

  • Gamasutra Articles (Score:5, Informative)

    by AllIGotWasThisNick (1309495) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:46PM (#24034631)

    For you cheap folks, a version of this work was on Gamasutra last year:

    * Part 1 [gamasutra.com]

    * Part 2 [gamasutra.com]

    * Part 3 [gamasutra.com]

    Not sure if this is the entire book or not.

    • by Aeonite (263338)

      It is not the entire book, but it seems like it would serve as an extended free preview. The book is still well worth getting for the additional material.

      The website is a better place to look at the pictures, though.

  • by Nightspirit (846159) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:46PM (#24034633)

    ...since Baldur's Gate 2. NWN's story sucked but some of the mutliplayer was great; it's a shame NWN2 didn't follow through. The Temple of Elemental Evil could have led to a new golden box age by licensing out the engine if it wasn't such a bug ridden mess. Oblivion just didn't do it for me and Fable/Mass Effect were o.k.

    Fable 2 looks interesting and Dragon Age is supposed to be Bioware's spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate 2; hopefully it will pan out and not just be another Jade Empire/Mass Effect.

    • by derinax (93566) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:54PM (#24034737)

      Actually, with the Circle of Eight (Google it) patches that continue to be updated, Temple of Elemental Evil is a fantastic CRPG.

      Download the Co8 5.0.0 release, and the cumulative patches (currently up to 5.0.5) and rediscover ToEE.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        "Temple of Elemental Evil is a fantastic CRPG."

        GAH! You sir are either twisted, or have been deprived of any quality CRPG.

        ah, great. Now I'm actually thinking of giving it a try again. Bastard!

    • Try saga Play Saga [playsaga.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by crunzh (1082841)

      Oblivion (eldar scrolls 4) is IMHO the best crpg since baldurs gate 2.

    • by MachDelta (704883)
      Ok, I know its not much younger than BG2, but have you tried Knights of the Old Republic? Even if you're not a Star Wars nerd, its an AWESOME CRPG.

      KotOR 2, on the other hand, isn't quite as good. If you can get past the bugs, the missing planet, and the fact that the ending kind of falls flat, it's still oodles of fun though. Just another victim of being rushed out the door.

      Anyways, I recommend the KotOR series simply for the fact that my girlfriend who is
      a) Not much of a geek.
      b) "Hates" D&D eve
    • NWN's story sucked but some of the mutliplayer was great; it's a shame NWN2 didn't follow through.

      Download some of the user-made modules: in particular the Shadowlords and Dreamcatcher campaigns. The third part of the saga, Demon, was great fun and technically amazing but for me didn't really seem fit with the others.

    • What bugged me most about NWN2 were the relatively poor 3D graphics, although I suppose that it does make for a somewhat more interesting combat experience if you can manage the loading times and overlook the World of Warcraft style zones and areas. You are right about the story not holding a candle to the Baldur's Gate series (BG, BG2, and Throne of Bhaal) but really where could they have gone with a new story to top Baldur's Gate? One can only alter the entire Forgotten Realms with climactic wars culminat
  • Diablo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jerf (17166) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @02:51PM (#24034691) Journal

    Diablo is a graphical Roguelike; in particular, it's basically a somewhat-dumbed-down*-but-much-prettier Angband. If Hack/Moria/Angband make the cut, there's no way to exclude Diablo.

    (*: Not really a criticism. The Roguelikes often take advantage of their essentially textual nature to do things that simply can't be done graphically, or would be fantastically difficult. Anybody want to write the code that morphs any given monster type into any other given monster type for NethackGL? Not me!)

  • by dpille (547949)
    You can, in fact, still play Avatar by starting here [cyber1.org]. Unfortunately, every time I've tried, there's not a soul on- and of course, playing with others was the whole reason it was fun in the first place. It still amazes me that I'm old enough to have played some "dark age" foundational computer game. My 6-year-old son would no doubt simply blink in incomprehension if I ever tried to explain Avatar or Arctic, the mud I eventually graduated to.
    • by rickb928 (945187)

      What are you talking about? I never see less than 10 users, and as many as 24.

      Try zavatar. Good version. Look for ilu or Spray'nPray, I'll show you a good time...

      And ask for a second logon... woot!

  • The book packs a lot of mini reviews, history and, at least for those of us who had the chance to play and feel attached to some of those games, a lot of 'oh, wow, those were the days' moments. If you enjoy CRPGs, you should read this book.

  • ...without RTFR or RTFB, the book doesn't discuss the emergence of the comical RPG/MMO like Dungeon Runners [dungeonrunners.com] and Kingdom of Loathing [kingdomofloathing.com]. I'm certain both came about with some hint of inspiration from Dead Alewives' [wikipedia.org] D&D sketch and the over-geekification of RPG enthusiasts.
  • Some of my fondest memories of computer gaming was when I was about 11 and my parents bought an Apple //e (Upgraded too! This thing had 128K of RAM and TWO floppy drives). I spent a lot of hours playing Wizardry, Ultima 2 & 3, Apshai Trilogy, Phantasie, etc.
  • Ah, the great games of old...

    I never played that many, I did play a few though.

    Might and Magic I, M&M III, M&M IV (By time we got a PC that could handle 2, 3 was out...)

    PoolRad was a great game. I got it just as I was learning about D&D. I remember so many great things about that game.

    I was going to protest a few omissions till I remembered the starting criteria. The Space Quest games, Civilization I etc.

  • I would have hoped he'd mentioned Dark Heart of Uukrul. It was uniquely styled if nothing else. Puzzles out the wazoo (luckily you only needed to solve like 8 out of twelve to beat the game. at the time I barely got half of them. there were built in limits to power leveling (at least it slowed you down a bit).
  • by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann,slashdot&gmail,com> on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @03:15PM (#24035007) Homepage Journal

    How come nobody here has mentioned Eye of the Beholder and the dungeon-crawling genre?

  • One of the first "programming" things I did was rewrite pieces of the BASIC parts of Temple of Apshai on my Commodore 64... like to make the shopkeeper say "Thou dost smell like a fart!" I loved me some Infocom, Ultima III-V, and Phantasie.
    • by sticks_us (150624)

      Ha! I did some of that too, but the game that I really hacked on was Telengard (check it here [aquest.com]) which was written for the C64 in a mixture of basic and assembly. The asm parts were for handling some of the graphics chores only, IIRC, which meant that the rest of the code was easily tweaked.

      +400 swords, anyone? Level 750 dragons? Oh yeah. I went there.

  • RPGs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pluther (647209) <pluther&usa,net> on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @03:34PM (#24035203) Homepage

    I have to disagree with his criteria for what makes an RPG. He mentions having a character that can get more powerful as you play, which is a common element, but I think the essence of what really makes it a role-playing game would be the ability to interact with other characters and the world in a variety of ways. Having choices lets you select a "personality" for your character, even if it's only from a limited set of choices. Even if they all end up going the same place, being able to reply to the king wanting you to save the princess with "of course, your majesty. ", "What's in it for me?", or "Hm, I wonder what the Dragon's offering." can go a long way.

    Of course, this is just a long-winded way of pointing out that Star Control 2 was by far the best CRPG ever made and I hope they do another one like that some day.

    • by Aeonite (263338)

      I summarize the criteria Barton uses to describe CRPGs - he says it more eloquently. He also mentions others, including combat support (healing), towns where you buy things, random encounters, and other characteristics that many, if not most, share in common.

    • by cens0r (655208)
      God I love StarCon 2. I still play all the way through almost once a year.
  • I never thought of Diablo as a CRPG, button mashing, face smashing, wtfpwning FFA, yes.. but RPG? nah.

  • I know about the silly lawsuit over the old Hero's Quest...but how can you leave that out in favor of the later, far crappier, Quest for Glory series? In my humble opinion, Sierra has sucked ever since discarding the command interpreter. Hero's Quest 1 and 2 raised my typing speed by 20 wpm. That might have been the most professionally beneficial thing an RPG has ever done for me.
  • by Teh MegaHurtz (954161) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @03:41PM (#24035277)

    Chapter 1:

    I put on my robe and wizard hat...

  • Best MUD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Phairdon (1158023) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @03:58PM (#24035447)

    Does the book mention Gemstone III or Dragonrealms at all? Those MUDs were very influential in my addiction to role-playing games. Also, when I used to play Asheron's Call or World of Warcraft I would constantly think that this or that feature was not as good as Dragonrealms. MUDs are just way more interactive than a graphical MMO.

    • by bughunter (10093)
      Aye, I played both, and recall them fondly. I played GS3 on AOL back when it was a nickel a minute, running up $400/mo AOL bills. In fact, it was AOL's conversion to flat-rate pricing that broke my addiction. I couldn't get a dialup connection for weeks, despite near constant redialing.

      And now, when I play WoW, I regularly lament the fact that Blizzard spent so much on graphics and so little on gameplay, and wonder how much they could do if they attempted the same kind of immersive quests that DR and G

    • by Durinthal (791855)
      Honestly, Simutronics deserves its own category for the games it's made. They're the highest quality MUDs and have more features than any MMORPG ever released.

      (I still want a true skill-based experience system in a MMORPG. DR has yet to be beat.)
  • by sesshomaru (173381) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @04:03PM (#24035483) Journal
    The author of the book has some extensive article online about the subject, here's one from Gamasutra:

    The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part III: The Platinum and Modern Ages (1994-2004) [gamasutra.com]

  • Apparently the author met a purple "h" in the mines on the way to writing the book. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss was in 1992 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultima_Underworld:_The_Stygian_Abyss [wikipedia.org]), not "the period of time from 1996 to 2001". The above summary would put this smack at the end of the "Second half of the Golden Age".

    (Knew it sounded odd because I remembered playing it in my first round of college... ). Kind of makes you wonder what else they got wrong, frankly.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Aeonite (263338)

      Barton says on page 288 that Ultima Underworld was published in 1992. However, this statement is indeed contained within "The Platinum Age" chapter, which on page 12 he says is 1996-2001. See my commentary within the review for why I agree that this is occasionally confusing.

      • by SDF-7 (556604)

        Ok. I caught that there was some skipping around between sub-Golden age listings, but this seemed bigger than that (coming after the second dark age and all... and with both titles in the series out of sequence, I find myself at more than a bit of a loss as to why it would only come up by Platinum... but hey, whatever). Thanks for the clarification.

  • Played most of those games. It was a much quicker response to those "play-by-mail" games that came before them.
  • Any mention of Darklands? I loved that game.

  • The Legend of Zelda isn't an RPG. Well, unless you're talking about Zelda II. Surely with the research that's been done in the making of the book, Barton must've noticed the existence of the console adventure genre (of which Zelda is the archetype) in the video-game magazines of the day, a convention that still persists despite many people miscategorizing Zelda as an RPG. Perhaps he included the series because it was arguably the second biggest outside influence on the console RPG genre (behind the Ultim

    • That really irks me. Nintendo classifies Zelda as an adventure game, precisely because it is an adventure game. Some people assume anything with a sword in it must be an RPG, because they so closely associate a fantasy setting with the RPG genre. Game genres are defined by gameplay mechanics. Thusly you can have Auto Wars, which as Mad Max-esque RPG that centered around cars. That is firmly an RPG. You can have RPGs set in the old West, or in space. Chris Avellone of Obisidian Entertainment (he was a

      • by Aeonite (263338)

        Barton discusses this issue and points out that the Link sequel is more properly an RPG since Link gains experience. As the original though, Zelda certainly warrants discussion. My review cannot possibly hope to put this all into the proper context in such a short space.

        • Zelda doesn't warrant discussion outside of Zelda 2. The original Zelda features no stat-based gameplay of any sort. Stat-based gameplay is the defining aspect of the RPG genre.

          Nintendo is the sole authority of Zelda, and they have never once called the original Zelda an RPG. They have always classified the game as an adventure game. Retailers classify it as an adventure game. Reviewers classify it as an adventure game.

          It is an adventure game. Just because one entry in the series dabbled with experien

  • by PhantomHarlock (189617) on Wednesday July 02, 2008 @05:21PM (#24036489)

    I am glad to hear that he is broad minded enough to include Autoduel, which breaks from the traditional fantasy theme.

    For a long time I thought that Ultima V was the best Ultima ever made. Then I met someone else who shared that opinion and then knew that I may not be crazy. Ultima IV was also not far behind, or at least it's equal. That's probably why a group of people went through great pains to recreate Ultima V using the dungeon seige engine. (see this link [gamespy.com] for info.)

    A lot of the other games mentioned I remember playing on the C=64, Amiga, Apple II and PC.
    Another good one is Sentinel Planets. That was a hybrid space combat / planetary exploration game with EGA graphics on the PC. Probably one of the first PC games that was vaguely well done.

    I do disagree with the assessment of Diablo. It sounds to me like he turns a nose up at diablo because it emphasizes action more than the roleplaying aspect. In comparison to his favorite, Baldurs Gate, it is a completely different game. Personally, I enjoy the more action based games myself, mostly due to a lack of time and brain power to want to do anything else after a long work day. Just a sign of getting older I suppose. The Diablo games and Starcraft are the perfect balance. You can jump in, have a good game and put it away for a while.

    Good times...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991)
      For a long time I thought that Ultima V was the best Ultima ever made. Then I met someone else who shared that opinion and then knew that I may not be crazy.

      I went through those two stages too. Ultima V really was the perfect CRPG; every aspect was just perfectly done.
    • by weinerdog (181465)

      For a long time I thought that Ultima V was the best Ultima ever made. Then I met someone else who shared that opinion and then knew that I may not be crazy. Ultima IV was also not far behind, or at least it's equal. That's probably why a group of people went through great pains to recreate Ultima V using the dungeon seige engine. (see this link for info.)

      Ultima V was too ambitious for its time. The depth of its story and gameplay were a huge leap forward from Ultima IV or anything else that came before it,

  • Gothic series (Score:2, Interesting)

    by chris411 (610359)
    It seemed as though the review is implying that the Gothic series belong to 'bad' CRPGs. I couldn't disagree more. So far I've played the first and second, and it's doubtlessly one of my favorite CRPG series. And this is from someone who has played and enjoyed many of the Bard's Tale, Wizardry, Magic Candle, and Might & Magic games, and yet doesn't even like Diablo. Granted, I've had the benefit of patches, and playing these games on an above average PC when taking the requirements into account, both
  • or Exitilus.

    Now THOSE were awesome RPGs.

    If you weren't around during the time of BBS and door games, disregard. This throwback is for older nerds.

  • it was a text based adventure game on the Trash-80. Zork was a lot like it--i got further in Rakka Tu because there weren't any dang grues...

    my memory is too lousy to remember if we (my dad and I--because I was fairly young he was helping me play) finished it or how far we got. i kept wishing someone would port it to my PDA like they did so many of the Infocomm text adventure games so i'd stuff to do in all-hands meetings.
  • I still play NetHack couple times a month. Excellent.

    http://www.nethack.org/ [nethack.org]

    And, indeed, the depth of NetHack is impressive.

    http://ars.userfriendly.org/cartoons/?id=20011107&mode=classic [userfriendly.org]

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