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Role Playing (Games) Entertainment Games

History of Computer Role Playing Games (1974-1983) 93

Matt Barton writes "I thought Slashdotters might be interested in my History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part I article on Armchair Arcade. It starts with the birth of the CRPG on mainframes and ends in 1983. I start by discussing tabletop D&D and number games like Strat-O-Matic, move into mainframe classics like dnd and Rogue, and then cover the first CRPGs for home computers. I wrote this article for CRPG fans who want to learn more about venerable old classics like Akalabeth, Temple of Apshai, Ultima, Wizardry, Tunnels of Doom, Dungeons of Daggorath, and Telengard. Please share your own stories!"
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History of Computer Role Playing Games (1974-1983)

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I used to get up at 6am to log onto a BBS and play LoRD before school started, it was a classic.
    • Most of these games were released way before LoRD.
      I spent an ungodly number of hours playing Temple of Apshai and Wizardry on my 8086 with its CGA monitor..
      I never really got into Aklabeth or any of the Ultima series until around Ultima III.
      Ahhh good times.

      That said I did enjoy that early morning bit of Tradewars 2002, Barren Realms Elite and Operation Overkill,
      the connect tones of my first 1200bps modem still haunt my consciousness.
      • by fishbowl ( 7759 )
        I played all the Epyx "Apshai" games on the TRS-80 Model-I. I also learned quite a few tricks for pushing the envelope on a Model-I, because Apshai set up a bunch of Z-80 machine language routines and called them from BASIC.

        As for BBS games, I ran a BBS through the 80s and 90s, and while I loved Operation Overkill (and hung out with its creator Dustin "Weazal Dub" Nulf a few times), I could not play TW2002 or BRE myself. My users certainly seemed to enjoy those games, but I think I was too antisocial even
    • God I loved LoRD. Especially the In-Game Modules (crossroads, etc) and the balanced nature of the time/fight limit. It was a game that the casual player could do as well as those with more time on their hands.

    • Legend of the Red Dragon, I haven't heard that mentioned in a decade. I remember running LoRD on a WWIV BBS. Oh how easily entertained we were back then.
  • I agree that D&D had a huge influence on CRPG and miniature wargaming had a huge impact on D&D. The first pnp rpgs grew out of existing miniatures rules.
    • I've never played a single RPG DND or MMORG.

      And yet I'm a unix coder. I must be a mutant
    • Like the rules covering armor in modern 3.5 D&D (and most CRPGs, at least spiritually). It is a twist on the older = 2ed rules which in turn take their form from the way that hits were calculated using six sided dice in chainmail.
  • by D-Cypell ( 446534 ) on Monday December 25, 2006 @04:59PM (#17361346)
    I start by discussing tabletop D&D....

    Ahh... good old D&D. Better than Sex.... or so I'm told.
  • Wizard's Crown (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nightspirit ( 846159 ) on Monday December 25, 2006 @05:04PM (#17361378)
    Although slightly offtopic (wizard's crown was released in 1985), it is one of my favorite crpgs of all time, and it is obvious from the article where they got some of their ideas from. I still havn't beat the game.
  • That POS was the first one I played, although I saw some geeks playing Ultima I (I guess, or whatever) on the Apple IIe in the back of the classroom.

    It was pretty fun as I recall.
  • I hope Part 2 remembers to cover Alternate Reality: The City (1985) and The Dungeon (1987) ( Wikipedia []). Those games were amazing for their time. AR had a raycasting engine 7 years before Wolfeinstein 3D, animated background scenery, weather and sun systems, great music with synchronized sing-along lyrics, character alignments, it tracked hunger/thirst/encumbrance/temperaturee/etc. The series had an ambitious Matrix-esque [] 6-game plot scripted out (only the first of which was made, in two parts). It even
  • 1974: Freshman year.
    1983: Vowed to quit computer gaming.

    Stay tuned for Part II (1984-1994), due out Tuesday (patch day!), in which I relate the story of how the now-famous Apple commercial lowered my Con by 2 and lured me back in.
  • Telengard (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sigma 7 ( 266129 ) on Monday December 25, 2006 @05:52PM (#17361554)
    I tried getting back to Telengard after ~15 years. While there isn't a problem running a game in real-time, it becomes an issue when you have to wait ~5-10 seconds for the scene to render and only have a short window of opportunity to make an action before being assigned the default "pass". The situation was worse with IBM PCs - since processor speeds kept improving, any old game that relied on a slow processor for delays became almost unplayable (e.g. Ultima III - on a modern system the whirlpool would slag pirate ships before you could see it on screen, which was required to advance the plot.)

    As a side note, these games aren't exactly Role-playing games. It's more on par with a combat-oriented red-box D&D (1st edition) where the only interest is in killing off monsters, as opposed to Paranoia where there is a mandatory focus on roleplaying (usually at the expense of the rules.) Regardless, I don't have anything against computer-run adventure programs.

    • by Ucklak ( 755284 )
      Telengard for the Commodore64 was written in Basic.
      Very easy to give yourself the advantage.
    • by koafc ( 718334 )
      There are some programs (e.g. moslo) which will slow down the game so that it is playable on modern hardware.
      • by Sigma 7 ( 266129 )
        Mo'Slo and other slowdown utilities work by periodically requesting time from the CPU - this works fine until you have a "fast" computer, which results in bursts of fast events, or a multi-core computer where slowdown utilities are less effective.

        With Ultima II in particular, I ran it under Dosbox. The result was that the game was too slow even after trying to use ~15000 cycles. I don't see why this should be the case, but that's what happened.

  • Dungeons of Kairn (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Back then I used to play a lot to a CRPG called "Dungeons of Kairn", developed by the same man that did "Aethra Chronicles" later. It was a fun game, and I enjoyed it quite a lot back then. The problem is that it was shareware, so it had only one dungeon. The author posted an university address to send the money to purchase the registered version, but it was no longer his current address when I played the game. Since then, I have tried to find him and purchase the game to play it in Dosbox, but he (and the
  • Adventure [] was a massively addictive game, once you stopped wondering why the dragons looked like ducks.
    • That was a makeover of the original Colossal Cave (Adventure/Advent) text game. One of the more influential games, and the first adventure game, it had some of its features like "you are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike" copied into other games. I remember spending hours trying to work through it on a VAX 11/780. There were several ports done, and I played one a few years back, and it was still addictive. A great piece of gaming history, and something everyone should try - it's still fun,

      • Adventure (Colossal Cave) and a whole stack of other classic games (Hunt the Wumpus, Trek, etc.) are available as a standard RPM for Fedora Core, right out of the box. "yum install bsd-games" gets you the lot.
      • ... I remember spending hours trying to work through it on a VAX 11/780. There were several ports done, and I played one a few years back, and it was still addictive. A great piece of gaming history, and something everyone should try - it's still fun, and shows that you don't always need enormous graphics and processors to make a great game.

        Holy crap! If a VAX 11/780 isn't an enormous processor you must be into some really big iron. You know the type you can get lost in. ;)

  • In Ultima III I used to love to create "roads" three chests wide between all the cities/dungeons/moongates so I could travel at will w/o fear of attack by wandering monsters.
    Then I learned that I could do the same in the ocean with boats, once I trapped the whirlpool.

    M=Sea Monster
    (fixed width font required)


    You could do this in the little fjord just north of Lord British's castle.

  • Database server down. Any reason why slashdot doesn't coralize [] or link to mirrordot [] in every article?
  • Trinkets (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ScottCooperDotNet ( 929575 ) on Monday December 25, 2006 @08:20PM (#17362164)
    I miss the large boxes with real manuals and a game-related trinket. For example, the Orb of Moons in the Ultima 6 box.

    What other games came with trinkets?

    • Everquest I & II both did this often. In addition to in-game items when the retail version of an expansion was purchased, I have a small collection of extras such as a Fiorina Vie figurine, collectable coins, cloth maps, etc.
    • Ultima IV came with a nice cloth map and a lead ankh. Of course every Infocom game I can think of came with stuff. Ogre came with a real ID rad-badge (I didn't know until much later they were random since mine is the appropriate 2033rd Armored Division badge) with stickers that changed colors when exposed to gamma radiation.
    • one of the Ultima Online expansions (UO Renaissance I think) came with a UO medallion and cloth map of the game world.

      Its a shame EA turned Origin into such a lame company.
    • Came with a working radiation badge.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Avatar8 ( 748465 )
      I know that every Ultima game from IV through IX came with a cloth map and a trinket. I'm proud to say I have them all.

      Ultima III definitely came with a cloth map; a friend had it, didn't want it any longer and gave it to me.

      I do not know if Ultima I or II came with a cloth map or trinket. I only have the cardboard remake maps of those two.

      The original Ultima Online, Collector (Dragon) edition included a cloth map and a medallion.

      All of the Infocom games came with some trinket related to the game.


  • This seems like as good a place as any to ask for info on a couple of shareware titles I played back in the day on my 8088.

    The first was, a pretty normal dungeon crawler done up with ASCII graphics. The only thing that really sticks out in my head about this game was a command on the order of "Activate your mad uncle Aleister's device...". I had a lot of fun with the game but lost the disc when my house burned and never managed to find it again. (The device, when activated, was a random teleport which cou

  • It's a shame that Werdna [] hasn't been active on slashdot for a while... I'd love to hear some inside scoop on the development of Wizardry from its co-creator. Wizardry and Ultima IV are still my two favorite CRPGs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by v1 ( 525388 )
      I loved Ultima IV and Ultima V. Those were games that could send you all over the map repeatedly gathering up information. Things like "ask the three brothers anthos about the riddle". Two (real time) days later you might actually have gotten to find them. Forced you to explore the land and get to know the inhabitants. If Ultima V was re-released in its original form for a modern computer I'd buy it just to play it again.

      For the Apple II there was an unexpected challenge. Due to an oversight, the Apple
      • by cei ( 107343 )
        I guess the things that were somewhat revolutionary for Wizardry at the time were the spell system and the advanced classes (Bishop, Samurai, Lord & Ninja). Well, that and the nature of the mazes and how they needed to be mapped. Odd jump points and maps that wrapped weren't something I'd encountered in text adventures up to that point.

        Ultima IV's component based spell system was also intriguing. Early D&D always had spell components, but most of the DMs I played with were more than willing to ignor
        • I lost many many hours to that game. The trick early on was to find "Murphy's Ghost" and send in a character to fight him over and over to get craploads of exp. That and the tiltowait spell, always was exciting to cast that. What a great game. I still have the original manual and disk sitting along with my IBM PCjr.
        • by v1 ( 525388 )
          You will recall that Ultima also had classes, eight of them. Didn't they have 8 of everything? You could read the programmers behind the monitor so easily! Eight reagents, eight circles of spell level, 8 skill levels, eight classes, eight towns, eight cities, eight shrines, eight stones, eight words of power, etc etc. Three of everything else, castles, abbeys, etc.

          The different classes were not balanced either. You would have a much quicker game if you answered the gypsy to become say, a mage rather th
    • by bogie ( 31020 )
      Huh, how did I possibly not know that he used to be a /. user? He must think us Wizardry fans are a bunch of nuts. ;-)
  • When I was about 6 years old my dad bought an Atari 800 with a tape deck. I had few cartridge games for the system and we used to get a subscription to magazines with game code you could type in. We would back them up onto tape which failed so very often.

    Anyway, when I was about 8 my mom bought me a game on cassette tape for the 800. The game came with a massive manual with a section devoted to descriptions of rooms. It took about a half hour to load the game off the cassette each time I wanted to play,
    • by fishbowl ( 7759 )
      You have definitely described Temple of Apshai or one of its sequels.
      I thought the idea of putting descriptions in the book was a great idea. It allowed the creators of the game to really push the envelope and squeeze every single byte out of these limited machines for gameplay and graphics, and offload all that text to a book.
  • Telengard (Score:3, Informative)

    by Petrushka ( 815171 ) on Monday December 25, 2006 @10:37PM (#17362810)


    Telengard was directly inspired by the PLATO dnd game mentioned above, with minimal graphics and randomized dungeons.

    This is inaccurate: Telengard's dungeon is not random, but procedurally generated (rather like the universe of Elite).

    Out of interest, this map [] rather entertainingly shows someone's abortive attempt to map the dungeon (they got only a tiny fraction of the way through mapping the first level, tee hee).

    • by XO ( 250276 )
      My brother had several graph paper books full of maps for Telengard.
    • You're probably requiring the author to be a little more technically specific than he was trying to be.

      He probably intended "random" to mean "not static" as he points out that dungeons in certain other games are the same regardless of when you visit them, whereas in Telengard this is not true.

      That Telengard doesn't simply randomize everything, but follows a procedure, is probably important to the programmers but not to the players, who are only going to be interested in whether or not it is worth their time
    • Not sure if anyone pointed this out but there is a port of the old Telengard to PC which can be downloaded for free. Here is the link. [] Regards!
  • I never got the fascination of Colossal Cave on my Vic-20. But losing a long played Moria character at level 24 (1200 feet) on a VMS box using a 300 bps speed just because of a loss of carrier, really got on my nuts. I mean *really* got on my nuts. Sure, I got my revenge by killing the Balrog seven times over later on my own box, but... As for Nethack, it died, when they added the fountains. Sorry, but that is my view. Even games can get freeping creaturism. Nethack bloated in a spectacular way, when they a
    • by fishbowl ( 7759 )
      >As for Nethack, it died, when they added the fountains.

      Of all the things to get upset about, this one seems very weird to me.
      What was your problem? The small chance of a free wish?

      I see fountains as a last chance to summon Demogorgon if he didn't show up in Hell. So my characters almost never touch them at all (because it's the rare hero who actually *wants* to summon Demogorgon ;-)

      Sometimes I will #dip in fountains in order to try to create pools of water, because that can be very handy to have on th
    • I will always have a copy of Nethack on my USB drive.
  • by XO ( 250276 )
    I think the DOS versions of the Apshai games are playable on Gametap.
  • Thanks for the reminder of much time spent playing Moria instead of completing my school work at Rutgers University. I was just able to compile the code under MacOS 10.4.8 with a minimum of effort and it is (of course!) as I remember it :-)
  • Nethack [] was originally released in 1987. The last update to the website was in 2004, a total of seventeen years of evolution.
    Nethack itself is a branch of Rogue, which itself came out in 1980.

    TFA does not even mention Nethack. So much for history...
    • TFA does not even mention Nethack. So much for history...

      Well, two things. First, it does mention Hack as one of the Rogue derivatives. NetHack is just a further derivative. Second, this is the 1980-1983 section. You're complaining about something from 1987 not appearing.

    • by mikesum ( 840054 )
      Does 1974-1983 mean anything to you ?
  • I played DUNGEON on a PDP-11. It was the spark igniting the flame that is my raging video game addiction. I have played many clones - Bard's Tale, Diablo, Dungeon Siege, etc., but this is the original for me.
  • I remember having to "Kings Quest" from tape. Later I got the expansion pack from Asgard software. It had levels based on Dr. Who, and I think one based on K-Mart. Anyone else have this?
    • by Avatar8 ( 748465 )
      Yes, I have these.

      I loved the K-mart theme because you were looking for the blue light special and had to fight cafeteria ladies and mall zombies. Dr. Who was always a favorite.

      I know there were several other themes, but I'll have to dig it out to check.

      I'm very fortunate that I have two working TI-99/4As. I brought it out a year ago and gave my daughters a brief distraction with the A-maze-ing game and speech synthesis. This article is making me want to pull them back down. I also have all of the Scott

    • by British ( 51765 )
      Actually it was "Quest for the King" for Tunnels of Doom. Aasgard software made the ToD editor. I had it and it came with a few already-made sample games. You can basically change around the graphics, magic item names/behavior and such, but not not the core game. It is still fun to play with though.

      There was a Star Trek-themed ToD game and some other fantasy-based ToD game, but it was insanely hard.
  • Phantasie I & III for the PC were easy but addicting. The graphics were simple but you really got into the story. On the other side of the fence, Wizard's Crown (& Eternal Dagger which I somehow never saw for the PC) was difficult, focusing more on tactics. I never finished that last dungeon.

    All those games were from SSI. Really fun. Ahh the memories.
  • What, no Zork? (Score:2, Interesting)

    >Turn left have been eaten by a grue. Game over.
    Best text game. Ever!

    "The grue is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is either adventurers or enchanters, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its horrible fear of light. No grues have ever been seen by the light of day, and only a few have been observed in their underground lairs. Of those who have seen grues, few ever survived their fearsome jaws to tell the tale." - Zork I

"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."