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The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part I: The Early Years (19 !

-19 "# Matt Barton

Welcome, brave adventurer, to the first of my in-depth feature articles exploring the history of our favorite computer game genre: The Computer Role-Playing Game, or the CRPG !or many avid gamers, the CRPG is the perfect storm of gameplay, story, and strategy Whether "e#re tal$ing about a randomi%ed &dungeon cra"ler& li$e Rogue or a story-driven game li$e Betrayal in Krondor, a clic$-fest li$e Diablo or a stat-crunching Pool of Radiance, the CRPG has al"ays en'oyed a tremendous appeal (ven today, "hen the first-person shooter and sports games seem to have crushed all opposition, everyday millions of players login to World of Warcraft, and each ne" installment in the Zelda series sends ripples throughout the entire game industry Whether ac$no"ledged or not, the CRPG "ill al"ays play a ma'or role in computer and console gaming The CRPG is the spine of the electronic gaming industry--and it#s not hard to see "hy )ou 'ust can#t have more fun "ith a computer or a console than "hen you#re engrossed in a "ell-crafted CRPG *ut "here did the CRPG come from+ !rom "hat deep, dan$ dungeon did they cra"l+ ,o" has the genre evolved into the ama%ing games "e en'oy today+ -f you#ve ever "ondered about these and other CRPG-related .uestions, of if you 'ust li$e reading the very best "riting you can find on the net about gaming--then grab a mug of your best ale and prepare to read an article only an author of /rmchair /rcade "ould ever dare to draft0

$rom Ta%letops to &es'tops


/lthough most people "ould probably thin$ it#s a trivial matter to trace the CRPG bac$ to its tabletop, paper-and-pencil based &e.uivalent,& doing so probably obscures more than it reveals about the t"o genres /s anyone "ho has actually played D&D is acutely a"are, the t"o games are as different as playing intramural bas$etball and College Hoops 2K7 -ndeed, the typical &CRPG& is not a &role-playing game& at all, or, if it is, that#s generally the least distinctive thing about it /fter all, you &play a role& "hen you play P!C"#!$ or %P!C&

'$(!D&R%, and even in games li$e )etris you#re playing a role--the unseen force that causes those falling bloc$s to shift and rotate -t#s probably more accurate to describe first-person &interactive fiction& games li$e Zor* or #yst as a &role-playing games,& since in those games the player literally assumes an important fictional role "ithin the game 1i$e"ise, a firstperson shooter li$e Half"+ife seems to come much closer to the ideal of &playing a role& than a game li$e 'ce,ind Dale, in "hich you only indirectly control a "hole group of characters

Strat-O-Matic: Paper-based games li$e this paved the "ay for 232 and CRPGs Taxonomic .uibbling aside, there is no doubt that "hile they are not direct descendents, CRPGs "ere deeply inspired by D&D /t the very least, it#s obviously more than a coincidence that so many of the themes and trappings are shared by both genres, and both are highly absorbing and addictive 4ne "onders if Gary Gygax and 2ave /rneson $ne" the full implications of "hat they "ere doing "hen they sprung Dungeons & Dragons on an unsuspecting public bac$ in 5678 ,o"ever, Gygax and /rneson#s classic tabletop &role-playing game& didn#t come out of no"here /s near as - can tell, the clearest precedents "ere "ar games li$e /valon ,ill#s )actics '' 956:;< and sports simulation games li$e =trat-o->atic 956?5< ,o"ever, "hile D&D certainly borro"ed 9"hether intentionally or not< many of the conventions of these older games 9especially an emphasis on caculation<, it contained some radical ne" innovations !or one thing, instead of recreating painfully-accurate historical Civil War battles or the World =eries, D&D "as set in a fantasy "orld populated by elves, d"arves, and dragons /lthough there#s some .uestion about ho" deeply @ R R Tol$ien#s Ring trilogy played in the

development of D&D, most players of the game "ere hardcore fans of >iddle (arth, obsessively reading and re-reading the novels -ndeed, for countless Tol$ien-enamored

teenagers of the 7As and ;As, D&D "as simply a more enthralling "ay to experience these lavish fictional places /fter all, it#s one thing to read about !rodo and *ilbo going on fantastic .uests, but the appeal of going on one themselves "as simply too much for many teenagers to resist

/uthors *rad Bing and @ohn *orland, authors of Dungeons and Drea-ers. /ro- 0ee* to C1ic, claim that &it#s almost impossible to overstate the role of 2ungeons 3 2ragons in the rise of computer gaming & What could be more true+ The &gamer& as "e $no" him or her today "as born in the D&D era /lthough there have al"ays been games, none of them had the dra"ing po"er of D&D While cards and dice can certainly become disastrously addictive 9see

Gamblers /nonymous<, gambling games "ere al"ays about pri%es the players could "in, not the games themselves =trategy games li$e chess, mean"hile, are so abstract and &mental& that it#s often not clear "hether they are true amusements or really 'ust exercises in logic !urthermore, the fact that you can become a professional chess player indicates that chess lost its status as a mere &game & -f you can earn a living doing something, you can no longer describe it as a &pure amusement&--it#s become a sport "ith real earning potential !inally, board games li$e #onopoly and R'%K, "hile certainly fun and engaging, are only very rarely en'oyed over extended periods for any significant amount of time These are games that get hauled off the top shelf of a closet a fe" days out of the year to $eep idle hands busy during the holidays Though you can find large, highly devoted communities of 2$3 and R33K players, these seem more li$e exceptions rather than the rule (very childhood has its talismans, the sacred ob'ects that loo$ innocuous enough to the outside "orld, but that trigger an onslaught of vivid memories "hen the gro"n child confronts them !or me, it#s a sheaf of xeroxed numbers my father brought home from his la" firm "hen - "as nine -- =teven @ohnson, &4eryt1ing Bad is 0ood for 5ou Cot so "ith D&D -n so many "ays, D&D "as more of a lifestyle choice than a &harmless diversion & -ndeed, the closest e.uivalent - can thin$ of is the children#s game of &ma$e believe,& in "hich a group of $ids pretend to be in various social and occupational roles--such as a father, doctor, superhero, and so on The other $ids "ill &go along& "ith the fantasy, helping to perpetuate it 9generally in return for similar reinforcement from the other children< !or instance, t"o boys "ill ta$e turns being the &co"boy or the -ndian,& or - suppose no"adays the &Republican and the terrorist& or some such nonsense 4ften enough, these games can get .uite elaborate, "ith imaginary pals, exotic fictional settings, and plenty of simulated action - must confess to having played many such games "ith my younger sister, "hen "e &"ent on vacation& to all sorts of fantastic locales 4f course, once a $id gets to a certain age, playing &ma$e believe& seems too 'uvenile or irrational to engage in 9at least openly<, so all of these impulses are repressed--at least until D&D comes onto the scene =uddenly, playing &ma$e believe& is bac$, and players can en'oy the activity "ithout being accused of being immature or schi%o -ndeed, the strength of D&D lies in its combination of

ma$e-believe, play-acting, and a logical, math-based rule system

/s @ohan ,ui%inga

illustrates in his boo$ Ho-o +udens, such play is a vitally important part of learning The more $ids get to play &ma$e believe,& the more intelligent they become0 /s =teven @ohnson "ould say, playing D&D ma$es you smarter0 =adly, "hen enough &concerned& citi%ens reali%ed that so many young people "ere having so much fun playing this ne" game, they began insinuating and then outright accusing players of engaging in a &=atanic ritual& or, at the very least, dangerously influenced by hidden subliminal content 9for a sic$ening example, see this analysis of a Chic$ tract< We might perhaps be more sympathetic to these fol$sD they $ne" 'ust enough about D&D to ma$e them dangerous !or instance, they .uic$ly learned that they involved graphic violence, magic 9or, &"itchcraft&<, and often demonic forces 9dragons, hell hounds, demons< Co doubt, "al$ing by and hearing a 7-year old cry, &- summon forth a blac$ demon to annihilate your cleric0& "as enough to convince any "ell-meaning parent that something odd "as going on here !urthermore, as then as "ell as no", occasionally ne"s surfaced of some genuinely disturbed gamer performing some horrific crime and then blaming it all on the game The same could be said about the D&D"themed &heavy metal& music of the era 4bviously, -ron >aiden or @udas Priest "as a po"erful catalyst for evil during all those dice rolls for initiative The fact that so many people are still "illing to buy into this rubbish is far more fearful than any demonic foe encountered in a D&D session0 -ronically enough, many of the friends - played D&D "ith "ere far more devout Christians than anyone else - $ne" (ven the ones "ho "eren#t religious tended to live more morally upright and ethical lives than most other fol$s--another reason, no doubt, for religious hypocrites to despise them =till, no matter ho" someone feels about the moral influence of D&D, no one can deny it played a highly constructive role in developing the computer game industry *esides creating a ne" type of person--the &gamer,& and so"ing a generation "ith seeds of creativity and imagination, adapting D&D for computers became one of the ,oly Grails of early computer programming /lthough many game historians cite Richard Garriott#s !*alabet1 as the first CRPG, "e can find earlier precedents in the "orld of mainframes

The (ainframe Era (The &ar' )ges#


,ac$ers on university mainframes got an early start on developing CRPGs, trotting out games as early as 5678 9the same year Gygax and /rneson released the first Dungeons & Dragons< Enfortunately, the history here seems a bit mur$y 9thus the title &2ar$ /ges&<, and declaring "hich game "as the &first& seems a bit foolhardy What is clear is that there "ere several

CRPGs on machines li$e 2(C#s PDP"67 and P+!)3, a computeri%ed learning system The first of these appears to be Rusty Rutherford#s pedit8 for P+!)3 Pedit8 had most of the basic features of the genre, such as an explorable dungeon, monstrous foes, collectible treasures, and a magic system Enfortunately, "e "ill li$ely never learn much more about this game o"ing to the short-sightedness of P+!)3 administrators, "ho had a rather nasty habit of deleting this game "herever they found it 9the many $ids "ho managed to stay a step ahead of these party-poopers "ere denigrated as &%brats&< There may very "ell have been textbased CRPGs before Pedit8 that may have simply been lost to history 1ater that year, t"o programmers at =outhern -llinois Eniversity named Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood created dnd, also designed for P+!)3 This graphical game contains many features that "ould become staples of the genre, such as the ability to create a character and assign stats for characteristics li$e strength, intelligence, and so on There "as also a &level up& system based on experience points >onsters got tougher the deeper players "ent in the dungeon This game also mar$s the first appearance of the &general store& "here players can purchase e.uipment Perhaps most important, dnd featured a story and a .uest--$ill the dragon and fetch the 4rb -t is certainly no surprise that fetching an all-po"erful &orb& "ill sho" up again and again as the defining .uest of CRPGs0 Whisenhunt and Wood#s game "ould later be the inspiration for 2aniel 1a"rence#s famous )elengard game for the TR=-;A and Commodore ?8 platforms We#ll have more to say about )elengard momentarily

dnd (mainframe): Pic from Wi$ipedia 9public domain<>ean"hile, a student at Claremont Graduate Eniversity in California, had designed a game called Dungeon, "hich ran on the university#s PDP"67 mainframes 1i$e dnd, Dungeon featured a level-up system ,o"ever, one $ey innovation "as the ability to create and operate a "hole party of adventurers rather than 'ust a single character To this day, there is debate about "hether it#s more fun to control a single character or a "hole party of them Dungeon also featured a graphical map

system "ith &line of sight& vision, "hich meant that players could only see in the direction their characters "ere facing--and too$ lightness and dar$ness into account 9elves and other creatures "ith infravision could see in the dar$< Perhaps the most famous of all CRPGs, ho"ever, is the 2$'9 game Rogue Created in 56;A by >ichael Toy, Glenn Wichman, and Ben /rnold, Rogue "as $no"n for its randomi%ed dungeons, /=C---based graphics, and complicated gameplay Rogue represented the player#s character "ith an at sign 9F<, and monsters "ere designated by the first letter of their name 9Z for %ombie< The story "as simple and "ould be copied 9"ith slight modifications< in later games li$e The ="ord of !argoal: descend to a specific level of the dungeon 9in this case G?<, retrieve a magic item 9in this case the /mulet of )endor<, and escape the dungeon ,o"ever, players might have 'ust as much "ith the game even if they aren#t a"are of this .uestD 'ust "andering about $illing monsters and gaining treasure and experience points are plenty of fun =till, Rogue is a very challenging game "ith a steep learning curve !or one thing, there#s an abundance of confusing $eyboard commands to learn 9 R for remove a ring and r for reading a scroll<, and players practically need a legend to ma$e sense of the &graphical& display =econdly, besides dealing successfully "ith the many monsters and traps in the game, the character must also be constantly fed Cevertheless, Rogue "as so successful that it spa"ned a near limitless number of ports and derivatives called &Rogueli$es & =everal of these games have also achieved lasting fame, such as Hac*, #oria, +arn, and 3-ega -t#s very easy to find a version of Rogue or at least a rogueli$e on 'ust about any computing platform 9indeed, -#m not even sure "e could call something that didn#t have some form of Rogue a &computer platform& at all0< - spent any number of hours sloughing my "ay through both +arn and Hac* on my Commodore /miga computer, even though - also had access to games "ith &better& graphics / boy "ith an imagination is content "ith a "arm bo"l of /=C-every evening 9though /C=- is .uite nice once and a"hile< The .uestion that seldom gets as$ed about these early &CRPGs& is to "hat extent they really recreate the tabletop D&D experience /lthough they do manage to mimic some parts .uite effectively--particularly the dice rolling and number crunching--they seem to fall rather flat in the play-acting department =omeho" - doubt that anyone sitting do"n for an evening of Rogue ever donned a pair of cheap elf ears and a faux leather 'er$in, though such accouterments are common enough at real D&D games !urthermore, although dnd players might belt out an obscenity every so often, - doubt any of them did so in a 2"arvish accent What "as clearly missing "as the element of &role play& that "as such a huge part of the tabletop game /t best, the computeri%ed versions could simulate the mathematics of D&D

combat and to some extent the strategy and exploration components, but the inherent abstractness and aloofness of the medium seemed to stop true role-playing at the gate /lthough later on "e#ll discuss CRPGs that have tried to address these issues in interesting "ays, it#s important to see for no" that D&D and its computeri%ed &e.uivalents& actually have far less in common than most people thin$

The *ron+e Era (19,9-19 !#


/lthough thousands of people may have had their first CRPG experience on a mainframe, most of us "ould $ill our first digital dragon on a personal computer /lthough exact dates are hard to come by, "e can say that as early as 5676, at least t"o commercially-published CRPGs "ere available for home computers 4ne of these "as developed by a high schooler named Richard Garriott, "ho "as sufficiently enamored "ith D&D to call himself &1ord *ritish & Garriot#s game, !*alabet1. World of Doo-, featured "ire-frame graphics in firstperson perspective 9other parts offer top-do"n perspective<, and "as, in many "ays, far ahead of its time !*alabet1 "as only available for the /pple --, and some controversy exists over "hether it "as first published in 5676 or a year later Garriott insists that it "as released in 5676, although the first dis$s and cassettes had copyright 56;A on their label The other game "as Dun:on;uest. )e-ple of !ps1ai, by /utomated =imulations, -nc 9later re-named (pyx< )e-ple of !ps1ai "as the first of a five-game series, though only the three games ma$ing up the &/pshai trilogy& are "ell $no"n today )e-ple of !ps1ai "as first available on the TR=-;A platform, then the Commodore P(T, but "as later ported to the /pple -- 956;A<, /tari home computer 956;5<, 24= 956;G<, and finally to the Commodore ?8 and Hic GA in 56;I 1et#s ta$e a loo$ at !*alabet1 first

Akalabeth (1980): Bill this thief .uic$ly, or he#ll s"ipe your gear0*y all accounts, Garriott "as both a big fan of Tol$ien and of Dungeons & Dragons The name !*alabet1, for instance, is ta$en from one of Tol$ien#s more obscure "or$s, )1e %il-arillion The game "as "ritten in

B!%'C, a fact that ma$es the game all the more impressive from a technical perspective 9and allo"ed players to cheat or modify the game as they sa" fit< /s mentioned above, the game features "ire-frame first-person perspective, but s"itches to a top-do"n vie" "hen the player is on the surface This innovation "ould be seen in countless later CRPGs !*alabet1<s story is straightfor"ard enough 1ord *ritish, &*earer of the White 1ight,& has recently driven the evil "i%ard named >ondain from the $ingdom of /$alabeth, but >ondain#s monsters still d"ell in dungeons belo" the surface The player#s tas$ is to descend into these dungeons, slaughtering foes and venturing to the surface to purchase e.uipment and procure ne" .uests from *ritish *ritish "ill raise the character#s attributes upon completing .uest--as "ell as give him 9or her+< opportunities to advance in ran$, such as from peasant to $night These .uests involve finding and $illing increasingly difficult critters When players begin !*alabet1, they are presented "ith a fe" text screens "ith information about the game The first establishes the bac$ story =ubse.uent screens tell players "hat &strength& and &dexterity& are good for, a list of $eyboard commands, and so on !inally, players are given the choice bet"een playing a fighter or a magi /s might be expected, the fighter can#t use &the magic amulet,& "hereas the magi can#t fight "ith rapiers or bo"s 9though axes are allo"ed< The magic amulet "as an unpredictable item--sometimes it even turned the player into a po"erful 1i%ard >an !inally, although the players can select a difficulty level from 5 to 5A, the game is still challenging since the character gobbles up food "ith every step -f the food supply runs out, it#s game over--a situation that can easily put even the most po"erful players into an un"innable situation To ma$e matters even "orse, thieves roaming about the dungeons are more than adept at s"iping your character#s gear-carrying a fe" extra of each item is probably a "ise precaution - can#t spell, have no grammar techni.ues, and have read less than t"enty-five boo$s in my life -- Richard Garriot 91ord *ritish<, as .uoted in Hac*ers by =teven 1evy Enli$e !*alabet1, "hich is easily found online and also available in some 2lti-a compilations, Dun:on;uest. )e-ple of !ps1ai is a very difficult game to come by (pyx re-released three games in this series as the !ps1ai )rilogy in 56;I, "hich featured updated graphics Try as might, the only version of the original game - could find in "or$ing condition "as the Coleco /dam version0 Enfortunately, that version is comparatively crude to the versions offered on other platforms and probably not very representative The )rilogy is very easy to find on a variety of platforms, ho"ever - played the /pple -- version, "hich - hope is at least similar to the original

/ny"ay, - "as able to find a scan of the original manual, "hich is a true treasure for any historian interested in the early history of CRPGs *ac$ in 5676, game developers couldn#t expect players to already be familiar "ith most of the conventions of the genre 9they didn#t even exist, yet0< What#s interesting about the !ps1ai manual is the great lengths it goes to try to convince players they should give RPGs a chance -#ll .uote an excerpt here from the manual#s introduction: 2id you gro" up in the company of the *rothers Grimm, =no" White, the Red !airy *oo$, !lash Gordon serials, The Three >us$eteers, the $nights of the Round Table, or any of the three versions of the The Thief of *agdad+ ,ave you read the 1ord of the Rings, the Worm 4uroboros, The -ncomplete (nchanter, or Conan the Con.ueror+ ,ave you ever "ished you could cross s"ords--'ust for fun--"ith Cyrano or 2#/rtagnan, or stand by their sides in the chill light of da"n, a"aiting the arrival of the Cardinal#s Guard+ (ver "ondered ho" you#d have done against the Gorgon, the hydra, the bane of ,eorot ,all, or the bull that "al$s li$e a man+ 9 < -f any or all of your ans"ers are &yes,& you#re a player of role-playing games--or

you ought to be The manual goes on at some length in this vein &RPGs allo" you a chance to step outside a "orld gro"n too prosaic for magic and monsters,& it claims /lthough players may be total losers in the &real "orld,& the RPG offers them a chance to test their true mettle !urthermore, RPGs &can and often do become, for both you and your character, a "ay of life & What#s even more interesting is ho" the manual introduces CRPGs as a more convenient "ay to role-play &4rdinary role-playing games re.uire a group of reasonably experienced players, an imaginative dun'onmaster "illing to put in the tremendous amount of time necessary to construct a functioning fantasy "orld, and large chun$s of playing time & -ndeed, &t"entyhour marathons are not unheard of & What the CRPG offers is a pre-constructed "orld and automatic handling of all those complicated math problems &While there are greater practical limits to your actions that is usually the case in a non-computer RPG, there are still a large number of options to choose from & -ndeed, many of the more intriguing features of the game seem to be attempts to bridge the gap bet"een RPGs and CRPGs !or instance, instead of merely buying items for a set price, players must haggle "ith the store$eeper !urthermore, much of the in-game text is &in character,& "ith &>edieval& tendencies li$e using &ye& for &you& and &thy& for &your & The manual also includes textual descriptions of each room of the dungeon--probably a concession to the limited memory of early home computers

-nterestingly, though, this same &feature& "ould sho" up in some later games, particularly

Pool of Radiance >y guess is that by then, placing important information in a game manual "as a subtle form of copy protection

Temple of Ap hai: Players could get textual descriptions by loo$ing up the &Room Co & in the manual Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the !ps1ai series is its combat system The manual claims that the developers "ere inspired by &historical research, a $no"ledge of various martial arts, and practical experience in the =ociety for Creative /nachronisms & /t any rate, a &fatigue& system that limits ho" often you can attac$ and ho" far you can run 9your character#s "ounds and the "eight of his e.uipment also influences the fatigue rate< The character can also &hear$en,& or listen for the presence of a monster in an ad'oining room, and even try to tal$ monsters out of combat -f your character dies, he "ill suffer one of four fates--either consumption by a roaming monster, or rescue by a d"arf, mage, or cleric -f it#s the d"arf or mage, your character "ill lose e.uipment )e-ple of !ps1ai "as .uic$ly follo"ed up by Datestones of Ryn, #orloc<s )o,er, and Curse or Ra The other !ps1ai games included 2pper Reac1es of !ps1ai and 0ate,ay to !ps1ai (pyx released the )rilogy compilation for a variety of platforms in 56;I, but perhaps the best of these "as the Commodore /miga version released in 56;? /nyone seriously desiring to play the series today "ill prefer the /miga version#s enhanced graphics and control scheme - 'umped every time one of those s"amp rats appeared >y s"ord arm got sore from gripping the hilt of the 'oystic$, and there are "rin$les in my permanent-press armor from hours in front of the monitor -- =teve ,udson on 0ate,ay to !ps1ai, from C3#P2)&= -==E( ?A J >/) 56;: J P/G( :? /lthough neither )e-ple of !ps1ai nor !*alabet1 are particularly playable today, their historical value cannot be overestimated *oth games "ere successful in their o"n right, and helped launch vitally important series 9particularly !*alabet1, "hich led to the 2lti-a series< ,o"ever, the genre "as still crude and left much to be desired in terms of interface and

design There "as tremendous room for extensive development /lthough the &Golden /ge& of CRPGs "ouldn#t happen until the mid to late ;As, the &=ilver /ge&--"hich "e#ll discuss next-introduced some games that are still playable and re"arding today

The -il.er )ge (19 1-19 "#


-n 56;5, the CRPG "asn#t nearly as recogni%able as a genre as it is today 4nly a precious fe" commercial games too$ on the title, and these "ere cumbersome and hard to play compared to arcade and adventure games What the genre really needed "as a definitive game 9or preferably a series< that "ould help garner momentum for the genre This boost "ould

happen in 56;A "ith the release of 2lti-a '. )1e /irst !ge of Dar*ness, developed by Richard Garriott and published by California Pacific Computer Co 2lti-a, of course, "ould .uic$ly become the premier CRPG series "hich en'oyed some t"o decades of installments /nother series that spa"ned an important franchise "as =ir-Tech#s Wi>ardry, "hich began in 56;5 "ith Wi>ardry. Pro4ing 0rounds of t1e #ad 34erlord Wi>ardry "ould also en'oy a very long career--the eighth installment arrived in GAA5 Together, these t"o series helped define the genre ,o"ever, 2lti-a and Wi>ardry "eren#t the only CRPGs on the shelf 2aniel 1a"rence released his )elengard in 56;G, a game based on the old mainframe dnd game described above T"o other important games released in 56;G are )unnels of Doo- for the T--66J8/, and Dungeons of Daggorat1 for the Tandy CoCo Rounding out this era are )1e %,ord of /argoal, released in 56;I by (pyx, and 2lti-a ''', a game that many CRPG enthusiasts cite as the first modern CRPG 1et#s start, then, "ith the 2lti-a series

The Ultima Series


2lti-a '. )1e /irst !ge of Dar*ness mar$s a number of important firsts for the genre Perhaps the most important is the game#s use of tiled graphics Tiled graphics re.uired much less storage space and allo"ed for large, colorful environments 1i$e !*alabet1, the game "as originally available only for the !pple '' platform, though =ierra 4n-1ine released an /tari ;bit port in 56;G, "ith more ports to follo" in 56;? /t the time, the game "as hailed for its immense si%e and &evolutionary& aspect--players started off in the >iddle /ges, but later traveled through time What other game started "ith daggers and leather and ended up "ith blasters and spaceships+ -t "as truly an ambitious game The game also abandoned the &parser& control scheme of !*alabet1 and "as played by simple $eystro$es li$e !ps1ai The game even features some arcade space combat action0

!ltima " (#-$%): Tile-based graphics for CRPGs "ould become a distinguishing feature of console RPGs The storyline is related very much to !*alabet1<s, and features many of the same characters The player#s mission is to see$ out and destroy the evil "i%ard >ondain#s &gem of po"er,& "hich he#s used to enslave the lands of =osaria ,o"ever, 2lti-a is a much more sophisticated game than its predecessor, and players soon learned the values of creative gameplay !or instance, players could steal po"erful items from the shops that "ould ma$e them nearly invulnerable--at least at the early stages of the game 4f course,

successful thieving might re.uire a fe" reloads, but for frustrated players, it "as a price "orth paying 2lti-a ''. )1e Re4enge of t1e &nc1antress, released in 56;G, is an even more ambitious game than its pre.uel 1i$e the first game, this one involves both fantasy and sci-fi elements, particular space and time travel The basic plot here is that >ondain#s apprentice, >inax, has come of age and is no" threatening the space-time continuum itself The fact that the player has to travel to so many different places and times brings to mind =ierra 4n-1ine#s colossal )i-e Zone, released the same year Enfortunately, 2lti-a '' "as riddled "ith bugs, and some critics thin$ that Garriott#s deteriorating relationship "ith =ierra led to a less-than-polished product /pparently, Garriott didn#t feel that =ierra "as playing fair "ith royalties from the -*> PC version of the game The final 2lti-a game of the %il4er !ge "as 2lti-a '''. &?odus, released in 56;I The game is aptly named because, by this time, Garriott had left =ierra and formed his o"n company, 4rigin =ystems -t#s often hailed as one of the most influential games ever made, both on /merican and @apanese CRPG development 9a fact that#s almost painfully clear in console games li$e Dragon @uest and /inal /antasy< The story this time is that >ondain and >inax#s evil progeny, (xodus 9after all, anybody "ho names their $id &(xodus& should $no" from "hence it came< The game differs from the earlier 2lti-a games in a number of "ays !or one thing, the player controls a party of adventurers rather than 'ust a single avatar The

combat system is also enhanced and gets its o"n special gameplay screen, so that players must battle multiple creatures and develop much more complicated tactics The player also spent time tal$ing to to"nspeople to gather clues and information !urthermore, this game features coherent dungeons that don#t change across sessions, so that players are encouraged to ma$e their o"n maps on graph paper !inally, the characters# actions are much more unified to"ards a single goal than in the other games, "here many dungeons "ere simply &irrelevant & The game "as a tremendous success for Garriott and 4rigin, and versions "ere available for most ma'or computing platforms and even the C(=

Wizardry
/lthough 2lti-a "as .uic$ly laying the foundations of the genre, it "asn#t the only $id on the bloc$ / company named =ir-Tech began publishing a prominent rival series in regular

installments starting in 56;5 While it had much in common "ith !*alabet1, it differed in some $ey respects !irst off, it "as a party-based rather than a single-character dungeoncra"ler 1i$e Rogue, the mission here "as to descend into a dungeon and find an magical amulet, smashing "hatever got in the "ay ,o"ever, this game had better graphics and a very intuitive layout While most of the screen "as ta$en up by relevant statistics and other information, the top left corner offered a first-person, I-2 perspective of the dungeon 9or a picture of the enemy during combat< The dungeons "ere al"ays the same from game to game, so again players "ere re"arded by ma$ing their o"n maps 9or purchasing them<

&i'ard( ()*S): The C(= version has the best graphics and is probably the most reliable version The second installment, )1e Knig1t of Dia-onds, "as published in 56;G, and re.uired that players complete the former game to play--a &feature& that "as .uic$ly corrected in later versions -n modern parlance, the game "as an &expansion pac$& for the first game

!urthermore, players had to visit every part of the game, collecting six pieces of magical

armor needed to fight off a city#s besiegers, to complete the game The third game, +egacy of +lylga-yn, released in 56;I, is yet another &dungeon cra"ler,& but this time players begin at the bottom of a volcano and "or$ their "ay up The goal is to find a dragon named 1#Bbreth, "ho can save the city of 1lyamyn from earth.ua$es and the volcano#s eruption /gain

characters had to be imported from previous games, but "ere stripped of their experience !urthermore, players had to choose moral alignments for their characters, a fact that determined "hich parts of the "orld could be visited /ll in all, the first three Wi>ardry games are much more consistent across titles than the 2lti-a series Enli$e Garriott, "ho seemed determined to revolutioni%e the series "ith each installment, =ir-Tech seemed to follo" the old &if it ain#t bro$e, don#t fix it& adage Regardless, the Wi>ardry games are still fairly playable today, though perhaps more for historical or nostalgic value than pure en'oyment

One-Shots
There are at least four other games that ma$e up the =ilver /ge of CRPGs These include )elengard, )1e %,ord of /argoal, )unnels of Doo-, and Dungeons of Daggorat1 While these games are perhaps not as "ell $no"n as the above mentioned series, they are nevertheless significant and deserve our attention The first of these, 2aniel 1a"rence#s )elengard, "as released by /valon ,ill in 56;G for the Commodore P(T 9though .uic$ly ported to many other platforms, most popularly the C-?8< )elengard "as directly inspired by the P1/T4 dnd game mentioned above, "ith minimal graphics and randomi%ed dungeons The game contains many features that "ere repeated in many later games, such as fountains, thrones, altars, and teleportation cubes, all of "hich characters could interact "ith 9"ith random and occasionally .uite nasty results< The game is also set in real-time 9players "ho ta$e a bathroom brea$ during their game "ill li$ely find their character dead "hen they return0< 4ne of the game#s $ey selling points "as its huge dungeon 9:A levels "ith G million rooms0<, GA different monster types, and I? spells The author claims that his game &predates& most of the early computer &adventure games, including Temple of /pshai and the Wi%ardry series & /gain, it#s very difficult to ascertain precise dates here, but it#s hard to see ho" a game published in 56;G could have influenced games published years earlier--assuming these dates are any"here close to accurate -t#s more li$ely that 2aniel#s mainframe conversions of the aforementioned dnd, "hich he called

D$D, may have been played by contemporary developers Regardless, )elengard is a fine game that still en'oys considerable appreciation today Perhaps ==- and 1ord *ritish and all the others already $no" ho" to create such a fantasy *ut if they ever did publish a game in "hich "e "eren#t al"ays concentrating on the details of house$eeping, maybe "e#d notice the fact that nobody in this "hole genre has thought of a ne" idea since 56:5 -- 4rson =cott Card, from C3#P2)&= -==E( 55: J 2(C(>*(R 56;6 J P/G( 6G )elengard is about as close to a pure &dungeon cra"ler& as you can get There are no ultimate .uests or missionsD the focus is entirely on survival and gaining enough experience to improve your character @eff >cCord#s )1e %,ord of /argoal, released in 56;G for the

Commodore H-C-GA 9the more familiar C-?8 version follo"ed in 56;I<, shares many of )elengard<s features, but restores the .uest--this time, to descend into a dungeon, retrieve the eponymous blade, and escape To my mind, it#s one of the more accessible and playable of the early CRPGs =ince - revie"ed the game in some detail in an earlier article, -#ll focus here on "hat ma$es the game significant amidst all this competition 4ne nice feature is the &fog of "ar& effect, "hich essentially amounts to an auto-mapping feature /lthough the game is set in third-person, top-do"n perspective, the inability to see parts of the map that haven#t been explored add tension, particularly since the game is in real-time !or some reason, )1e %,ord of /argoal doesn#t seem to get as much attention as its contemporaries, even though its interface is more intuitive -ndeed, - could easily see a version of this game for mobile phones -f you habitually toss aside the instruction boo$ in a game pac$age, resist the urge this time -n fact, set aside an afternoon in "hich to play the game -- =herrie Han Tyle and @oe 2evlin on )unnels of Doo- in CR&!)'(& C3#P2)'$0 H41 6, C4 6 J =(PT(>*(R 56;I J P/G( 5I: )unnels of Doo-, li$e Dungeons of Daggorat1, are relatively obscure titles because they "ere released only for a single platform Cevertheless, they became highly successful and are considered some of the best games for the T--66J8/ and Tandy CoCo, respectively )unnels of Doo- might be best described as a mix of themes from )elengard and Wi>ardry 1i$e )elengard, there are fountains, altars, and thrones that have random effects on players "illing to experiment "ith them ,o"ever, )unnels of Doo- follo"ed Wi>ardry<s example by allo"ing the player to control a party rather than a single adventurer )unnels of Doo- also predated 2lti-a ''' in the use of a separate screens for combat and dungeon exploration se.uences When the player is merely "andering the dungeon, the vie" is first-person, I-2 perspective

-n combat, the vie" shifts to a top-do"n, third-person perspective This mode "ould sho" up in plenty of later games *esides 2lti-a ''', it "as also a defining characteristic of ==-#s Pool of Radiance and later &Gold *ox Games,& released after 56;; 9!or more information about this game, see my earlier revie" in /rmchair /rcade <

T+nnel of ,oom (T"-99-%A): =eparate gameJexploration gameplay screens "ould become standard in many later CRPGs Dungeons of Daggorat1, developed by 2yna>icro, is more li$e !*alabet1 in the use of "ire-frame, first-person, I-2 perspective ,o"ever, this game is in real-time, and features a fatigue system similar to the one found in the !ps1ai series / pulsing heart at the bottom of the screen beats faster or slo"er depending on the stress of the character Ta$ing too much damage or moving too .uic$ly "ill cause the player to faint, thus becoming monster meat Dungeons of Daggorat1 also departs a bit from the D&D

convention by esche"ing so much emphasis on math -nstead of sho"ing ho" many &hit points& the character has left, players must listen to the heart to determine ho" much damage their character can ta$e before submitting -t#s a fine system that adds a great deal of realism and intensity to the game0 9/gain, -#ll point eager readers to my earlier revie" of this game< !inally, - might mention that by 56;I a number of commercial ports of the mainframe classic Rogue had appeared on personal computers 4ne set "as published by a company named /rtificial -ntelligence 2esign, "ho released it for platforms as diverse as the Tandy CoCo and Commodore /miga platforms 1ater, (pyx bought the rights to distribute these /=C---based games 4f course, there "ere li$ely do%ens 9if not hundreds< of &Rogueli$es& available in share"are or public domain form, though exact information on these is much harder to ac.uire =uffice it to say, anyone "ho really "anted to play Rogue could do so on a personal computer after 56;I

$inal Thoughts
Whe"0 Co", you have to admit, it ta$es a "riter of some diligence 9or should "e say, dalliance+< to bite off so much in one che" -n some "ays, the first three years of CRPG development on home computers represented more progress than "e#ll see in the latter G? /lthough no single game really contained all of the .ualities that "e associate "ith a good CPRG today, you could already pic$ and choose the elements from individual games What is Pool of Radiance, "e might as$, but a combination of )unnels of Doo- and Wi>ardry+ What is Diablo but an updated )elengard+ ,o" far have "e really come from the days of Pedit8, dnd, and DungeonA -ndeed, it#s in this spirit that "e should prepare for the next installment in this series--the Golden /ge of CRPGs Things really began heating up for the genre as the 2lti-a and Wi>ardry series continued to refine their formulas in subse.uent installments, but the really exciting stuff "as ta$ing place at different companies--most notably, (lectronic /rts, ==-, and Ce" World Computing Cext time, "e#ll tal$ about classic titles li$e P1antasie, Pool of Radiance, )1e Bard<s )ale, #ig1t and #agic, Dungeon #aster, and Wasteland 2o - need to beg and plead "ith you to $eep your eyes on this site for the =(C4C2 massive installment in our series on the history of the CRPG+ - didn#t thin$ so0 =o, stay on your guard, friend--the best is yet to come0

The .i tor( of #omp+ter

/ole-0la(in1

2ame 0art3: The 2olden A1e (19841995)

B$ote.)1e follo,ing is Barton<s in"dept1 of co-puter role" 1ig1ly reco--end )1e &arly 5ears before

part t,o of #att series on t1e 1istory playing ga-es We referring to Part 3ne. reading t1is article=C

Welcome bac$, brave adventurer, to the second part of my history of our favorite genre of computer game--the Computer RolePlaying Game 9the CRPG< 1ast time, "e explored the CRPG#s mur$y precursors, "hich included tabletop "ar and sports games li$e )actics and %trat"3"#atic 4f course, - also discussed the CRPG#s most direct ancestor, Gary Gygax and 2ave /rneson#s Dungeons & Dragons game, "hich itself derived mostly from their earlier fantasy-based strategy game called C1ain-ail =ince so much of D&D consists of mathematics, programmers reali%ed at once that a considerable bul$ of the game "as "ell suited for play on a computer The first CRPGs appeared on mainframes li$e the P2P-5A and a special educational platform called P1/T4 *y the early 56;As, these graphically simplistic but technically masterful games had been adapted or ported to almost every home computer on the mar$et /lthough the first commercial CRPGs for home computers 9!*alabet1 for the /pple -- and )e-ple of !ps1ai for the Commodore P(T and TR=-;A< are hardly ever played today, they laid the ground"or$ for much of "hat "ould follo" Throughout the &=ilver /ge,& "hich lasted from 56;5 until 56;I, change "ould come gradually and mostly consist of improvements in graphics and user interface -mportant series li$e 2lti-a and Wi>ardry appeared on the mar$et, solidifying every gamer#s expectations about "hat a CRPG should be >ean"hile, innovative games li$e )elengard, Dungeons of Daggorat1 9Tandy CoCo<, )unnels of Doo- 9T--66J8/D, and )1e %,ord of /argoal 9H-C-GA, C-?8< offered ne" alternatives to gamers and ne" models for developers -n short, by 56;I, the field "as so"n "ith great ideas and impressive examples, but everyone $ne" that the best "as yet to come

Bard's Tale (Apple ""): A en ible6 +ncl+ttered la(o+t and an e(e-catchin1 1ame 7orld helped propel thi erie to the top of the chart 8

*y 56;:, the CRPG "ould enter "hat - have chosen to call &The Golden /ge,& the period from 56;: to 566I, "hen the very best CRPG ma$ers "ere steadily releasing masterpieces in an orgiastic fren%y of creative development -ndeed, the triumphs of this period "ould not be matched until the &Platinum /ge& of the mid-6As, "hen outstanding developers *io"are, *ethesda, and *li%%ard arrived on the scene ,o"ever, although Baldur<s 0ate and Diablo may receive far more attention and interest today than Golden /ge classics li$e )1e Bard<s )ale or )1e Pool of Radiance, "e must forever $eep in mind that these earlier games "ere their direct ancestors 1ater developers "ould only refine, not re-define, the genre /nyone "ho truly desires to understand the CRPG must turn her attention to the Golden /ge, the era in "hich to"ering developers li$e -nterplay, ==-, Ce" World Computing, and !T1 released games so superbly designed that they are still actively played by tens of thousands of gamers even today There are fe" games that can arouse more passion than venerable Golden /ge titles li$e Wasteland, Dungeon #aster, and @uest for 0lory *ut enough of this build-upD it#s time to enter the Golden /ge of CRPGs0

The Tran ition to the 2olden A1e


1et#s travel bac$ for a moment and put ourselves in the shoes of a hardcore CRPG gamer living in 56;I -f "e "ere as$ed to "ager on "hich company "ould dominate the CRPG mar$et for the next five years, the sensible choice "ould be Richard Garriott#s 4rigin =ystems, and indeed, that company did achieve great things -n 56;I, 4rigin#s 2lti-a series "as the undisputed mar$et leader, and the games 'ust $ept getting better "ith each installment 2lti-a '''. &?odus "as "idely hailed as the best CRPG ever made, and there "as a good chance that the upcoming fourth game "ould ma$e it loo$ li$e !*alabet1 -f "e "anted to hedge a bit, "e might put some money on =ir-Tech, "hose difficult Wi>ardry series "as .uite respectable and had its fair share of %ealous, hardcore fans 1i$e 2lti-a, Wi>ardry "as a long "ay from dead and had not yet released its most famous games -n short, if anyone had suggested to us that t"o hitherto un$no"n developers---nterplay Productions and =trategic =imulations, -nc --"ould soon challenge Garriott#s throne and put Wi>ardry in the &"here are they no" file,& "e#d have either laughed or scratched our heads )et, by 566A, gamers "ere 'ust as li$ely to beg their parents for the next Bard<s )ale or ==- &Gold *ox& game as anything from 4rigin or =irTech -n any case, 56;: remains one of the most historically significant years for the CRPG

Oubliette (#-$%): )ot a prett( 1ame6 b+t 7ho care 7hen (o+ ha9e an option to Sed+ce:

Cevertheless, there "as some exciting stuff going on before 56;: >ore of the old mainframe games "ere being ported 9ever more faithfully< to home computers @im =ch"aiger#s company *ear =ystems released 3ubliette for the Commodore ?8 and >=24= platform in 56;I 3ubliette, li$e so many other mainframe CRPGs, had been developed for the P1/T4 system, but is more directly based on the "or$s of @ R R Tol$ien and T=R#s official dungeon guides 9i e , the &real& D&D rules< 3ubliette had originally been a multiplayer game, and the home version retained the ability to create many characters and select groups of them for each &dungeon romp & !urthermore, although it is .uite limited graphically, it is .uite sophisticated in terms of gameplay )ou could choose among ten classes 9including peasant0< "hen creating characters, and then 'oin guilds to further refine them -n short, 3ubliette offers a range of options and depth of play that really "ouldn#t be e.ualed until the >odern /ge / company named R 4 =oft"are also ported the mainframe classic D$D to >=-24=, offering it under a &share"are& license /lthough the author, a mysterious 2igital contractor $no"n simply as &*ill,& charged KG: for his game, he did not bother to get permission to do so from 2aniel 1a"rence, the author of the original version =ince 1a"rence "as trying to earn his fortune selling his o"n commercial version for home computers-- )elengard""he bitterly resented "hat he sa" as unfair competition *ill claimed that he deserved the compensation for cleaning up 1a"rence#s &spaghetti& code R 4 =oft"are released an update in 56;; called Dungeon of t1e $ecro-ancer<s Do-ain, a &ground-up re"rite& of the game that apparently differed enough to avoid future conflict "ith 1a"rence !or more information about this .uarrel, see the Enofficial 2C2 page, "here, incidentally, you can also do"nload many of the games in .uestion /nother interesting text-based game from this period is Zyll, a game =cott (d"ards and >arshal 1inder "rote "hile they "or$ing for -*> 9the game "as submitted to -*>#s employee submissions program< Zyll is essentially a hybrid text-adventure "ith realtime, CRPG elements !urthermore, it allo"s t"o players to either compete or cooperate "ith each other to find the *lac$ 4rb 9the game is of the fetch-the-ob'ect variety< /lthough it "as intended for -*>#s short-lived PC'r computer, "hich featured advanced graphics and sound capabilities, Zyll "as a text game that "ould run on 'ust about any PC-compatible 9though there are issues "ith the $eyboard layout, since the menus are based on -*>#s old PCJLT function $ey setup< ,o"ever, these games are of little interest to modern gamers and are more the domain of historians and older gamers suffering from nostalgia Co, it "as a ne" game from (lectronic /rts that "as about to stri$e a ne" chord, changing the CRPG forever, and in the meantime, the best CRPGs ever made "ere looming on the hori%on CRPG fans 'ust hadn#t seen anything yet

The ,a7n of the 2olden A1e


-f you "ere a CRPG fan living in 56;:, you "ere one of the luc$iest gamers in history Cever before had such a torrent of high-.uality commercial titles appeared simultaneously on the shelf Perhaps the most significant of these "as the launch of -nterplay#s )ales of t1e 2n*no,n (ol 6. )1e Bard<s )ale, "hich introduced the famous Bard<s )ale trilogy /lthough there "ere certainly excellent CRPGs before it, )1e Bard<s )ale "as intuitive and addictive enough to attract a mainstream audience, no doubt due in part to the mar$eting might of its publisher, (lectronic /rts 56;: also sa" the launch of ==-#s P1antasie series, as "ell as their game Wi>ard<s Cro,n /lthough ==- "ouldn#t reach its %enith until it ac.uired the priceless T=R license and began mar$eting official !D&D games, their early games are far from shabby E)1ere ,as a ti-e ,1en any co-puter fantasy ga-e beca-e an i--ediate bestseller due to t1e genre<s popularity and t1e scarcity of suc1 products )1at is no longer t1e caseFco-puter fantasy ga-es no, co-pete in a buyer<s -ar*et ,1ere t1ey -ust -eet certain standards if t1ey 1ope to sell E M@ames H Trun%o, Co-pute=, /ugust 56;7 4ther significant games of 56;: include 4rigin#s 2lti-a '(. @uest of t1e !4atar, as "ell as !utoduel and #oebius. )1e 3rb of Celestial Har-ony 1i$e !utoduel, 2ata=oft#s !lternate Reality. )1e City offered gamers an alternative to the traditional s"ords and sorcery theme of so many CRPGs -n short, 56;: and 56;? "ere some of the most formative years for the CRPG, and there are many important developments to cover 1et#s get started then "ith )1e Bard<s )ale trilogy

&o/n an0 1ut in -'ara *rae

*ar02s Tale III (C-64): The third game is probably the best in the series, ith great graphi!s and "#st the right le$el o% !omple&ity'

/lthough the 2lti-a and Wi>ardry series did more to establish the CRPG#s basic conventions, it "as -nterplay that really refined and demonstrated that the genre "asn#t 'ust for &hardcore& gamers )ales of t1e 2n*no,n (ol 6. )1e Bard<s )ale, released in 56;: for the Commodore ?8 and /pple -- 9ports for other platforms "ould follo" until 566A<, is probably the first CRPG that many readers "ill recogni%e from their youth -ndeed, )1e Bard<s )ale<s undeniable mainstream appeal "as probably not matched by another company until *li%%ard#s Diablo in 5667 The game "as so successful, in fact, that *aen *oo$s launched a series of eight novels based on the games, some penned by such "ell-$no"n fantasy authors as >ercedes 1ac$ey0 /lthough the final Bard<s )ale game "as released in 5665, in GAA8 *rian !argo and -nLile (ntertainment revived the franchise "ith a &spiritual se.uel& for the P=G, Lbox, and Windo"s *ut "hat "as it about this series that made it so enduring+

EW1en t1e going gets toug1, t1e bard goes drin*ing E Mfrom )1e Bard<s )ale instruction manual /fter all, li$e Wi>ardry, the first Bard<s )ale is a challenging game even for expert D&D players The difficulty is particularly felt during the crucial initial stage of the game, "hen the player#s characters 9up to six< are "ea$, poorly e.uipped, and inexperienced - can#t remember ho" many times - created an entire party of adventurers, only to have them all perish in a random encounter before - could ma$e it to Garth#s "eapons shop0 The game is also rather lac$ing in terms of narrative or story elements--it#s a &dungeon cra"ler& "ith an emphasis on fighting random encounters "ith monsters, building up character stats and inventories, and mapping out dungeons -n many "ays, the game is merely an updated Wi>ardry "ith better graphics and sound 9indeed, some versions of the game even let players import their Wi>ardry or 2lti-a characters0< The story--find and depose an evil "i%ard named >angar the 2ar$, "ho is threatening the to"n of =$ara *rae--is hardly novel Perhaps the only true innovation is the addition of the bard character, a sort of 'ac$-of-all-trades character "ho could perform party-boosting songs during combat and dungeon exploration The classes available to magic users "ere also sophisticatedD players started off as simple con'urers or magicians, but could eventually upgrade to sorcerers and "i%ards Truly ambitious players could even combine all these to create fearsome archmages Cevertheless, anyone "ho has played the game for any length of time discovers that it is much greater than the sum of its parts There#s 'ust an indefinable .uality that seems to hold the game together Co doubt, much of the game#s playability is o"ed to the clean interface and stri$ing color graphics 9many of "hich are animated< (ven novice players can learn the game#s rules in a fe" sessions, and if the characters can survive to reach a fe" levels, the difficulty eases up considerably--and it#s .uite re"arding to go about "homping monsters "ho made a meal out of your former parties !urthermore, the ability to travel outdoors as "ell as indoors lends a certain coherence to the game "orld Enli$e other CRPGs in "hich cities and to"ns "ere little more than places to buy e.uipment, =$ara *rae felt li$e a real place /gain, this coherence is almost surely an effect of the game#s rich graphics (ven if the graphics loo$ primitive today, in 56;: they "ere stunning (ach building in =$ara *rae loo$ed li$e it belonged there -nterplay follo"ed up its success "ith t"o se.uels, )1e Destiny Knig1t 956;?< and )1e )1ief of /ate 95665< )1e Destiny Knig1t "as essentially a rehash of the first game, using the same engine but expanding the game "orld to include five other cities 9the first game had occurred entirely in =$ara *rae< and a "ilderness area -t also added ban$s and casinos to the services available in the to"ns, special spells for archmages, timed pu%%les, and ranged combat Though players can import their characters from the first game, the difficulty level is better balanced for ne" parties 9i e , you have a much better chance of ma$ing it to Garth#s store to buy e.uipment before dying< /lthough the characters dispatched the evil >angar the 2ar$ in the first game, another evil mage named 1agoth Nanta decides to shatter the &2estiny Wand& into seven pieces, scattering them across the land =ince the "and has protected the "orld for some 7AA years, things don#t bode "ell unless your characters can restore the "and and use it to slay 1agoth Nanta 9one "onders "hat the "and "as doing during the first game, but so it goes< =olving the game "ill re.uire gaining insights from a =age, a process that utili%es a rather infantile and frustrating text parser )1e )1ief of /ate is probably the overall best designed game of the series, since it incorporates helpful ne" features li$e auto-mapping and the ability to use items to solve pu%%les, thus opening up many interesting opportunities for thoughtful gameplay The third game is also the most ambitious in terms of the game "orldD no" the players must explore "hole different &universes,& including a trip to Ca%i *erlin0

(lectronic /rts also published -nterplay#s )1e Bard<s )ale Construction %et for Commodore#s /miga and the >=-24= platforms This construction set included an updated version of the first game in the series 9rechristened the %tar +ig1t /esti4al< ,o"ever, more importantly, the set allo"ed CRPG fans to construct their o"n ne" games based on the enhanced )1ief of /ate engine The construction $it "as popular on many platforms, but the most useful version available for >=-24= , "hich had support for hard drives, HG/, mouse, and the usual sle" of sound cards =trangely, "hile music "as played through the sound card, all sound effects "ere delegated to the PC#s totally inade.uate internal spea$er The t"o most "ell-$no"n games created "ith the set include )1e Bard<s +ore. )1e Warrior and t1e Dragon created by @ohn , Wigforss, and $utilan by 2ennis Payne *oth of these games "ere for the PC version 4f course, there "ere undoubtedly many thousands of other &homebre"& titles created by other fans, but the -nternet as "e $no" it had not yet arrived on the scene =ince these hobbyist developers had no "ay to cheaply distribute their games, most are lost to history Than$fully, at least one ambitious developer is still releasing games built "ith the system--see Warrior#s Tale, released in GAA? While (lectronic /rts# initial foray into CRPGs played a pivotal role in the development of the genre, )1e Bard<s )ale "as not alone /nother company that "as beginning to flex its muscles "as ==-, an old publisher of "ar games "ho had no" set their sights on the budding CRPG mar$et

The

Infant Phantasies 5uestrons6

of

-trategi3

-imulations4

In3:

)ny

Today, =trategic =imulations, -nc 9==-< is best $no"n for its fabulous &Gold *ox& games, a series of CRPGs that bore the official seal of T=R, holder of the sacred Dungeons & Dragon copyrights and trademar$s This invaluable license "as sought after by nearly every other CRPG developer, but ==- emerged victorious Co doubt T=R#s decision "as s"ayed by ==-#s legacy as a developer and publisher of computer-based &"ar games& 9as you remember, D&D emerged from tabletop "ar games< ==-#s first game "as Co-puter Bis-arc*, published in 5676 for the /pple -- ==- .uic$ly became the mar$et leader in this niche, even "ith the premier "argames publisher /valon ,ill competing against them ==-#s most famous non-CRPG game is probably Cytron #asters 956;G<, one of the first 9if not t1e first< real-time strategy games -t "as designed by 2ani *unten, creator of >E1( ==-#s first CRPGs "ere published in 56;8: 87 #ission Crus1 and @uestron 87 #ission Crus1 is more li$e a traditional "ar game than most CRPGs, and is probably better described as a turn-based strategy game The game consists of fifty *57 bomber missions flo"n in World War --, and the player assigns each position in the plane to his characters 9i e , tail-gunner, bomber< These characters receive experience points each time they survive a mission, eventually gaining competence and "inning promotions The maga%ine Co-puter 0a-ing World published an intriguing revie" of the game "ritten by an actual *-G8 bombardier named 1eroy W Ce"by, "ho found it realistic enough to evo$e do%ens of "artime memories, "hich he duly 'uxtaposes alongside his gameplay narrative 9see issue OI:<

Phantasie (#-$%)8 "t took SS" a 7hile to reall( 1et a7a( from the model e tabli hed b( !ltima8

While 87 #ission Crus1 is a highly innovative and even uni.ue game, @uestron is an unimaginative 2lti-a clone -ndeed, ==- even secured a license from Richard Garriott for the game#s &structure and style & /t the time, @uestron "as noted for being much easier and simpler to play than 2lti-a, and one contemporary revie"er even remar$ed that it "as a &perfect "arm-up& for 2lti-a ''' 9>ichael Ciraolo in !ntic Hol I, Co 7< Cevertheless, @uestron had some promising features !or instance, to"ns and cities contained &mini-games& that let s$illed players boost their character#s stats There "ere also casinos "here players could gamble for gold !inally, @uestron "as one of the first games "ith monsters that could only be defeated "ith certain types of "eapons Perhaps the most unusual and disturbing &feature& is the option to &$ill self,& featured prominently in the main menu ==- "ould publish a popular se.uel to @uestron in 56;;, "hich "as developed by West"ood /ssociates The game follo"ed the same basic formula as the first, but "as set in the past The mission this time "as to depose six insane sorcerers and prevent the creation of the &*oo$ of >agic & /n auto-mapper "as added and the dungeons "ere rendered in I2, but it#s essentially the same game in a ne" costume 1et#s tal$ next about the P1antasie and Wi>ard<s Cro,n games, "hich are more direct precursors to the famous Gold *ox games -n 56;:, ==- published the first of "hat "ould become a trilogy of P1antasie games These games allo" players to create and control a party of up to six adventurers, "ith several classes and races to choose from 9including unli$able critters li$e goblins and minotaurs0< /nother nice feature is separate screens and menus for purchasing e.uipment, exploring dungeons, roaming the "orld map, and van.uishing foes There#s even a ban$ "here characters can store their money--a nice trade-off for the limited coin-carrying capacity of the characters 9try saying that three times fast< !urthermore, the game trac$s "here your characters have been, eliminating the need for graph paper There "ere also ne" problems--the characters aged, and could even die from old age if the player too$ too long to complete the adventure Combat in P1antasie is handled in much the same "ay as console CRPGs li$e /inal /antasy The player first chooses from a menu "hat each character "ill do, then enters the next round of combat / simple animation sho"s "hich character 9or enemy< is attac$ing and ho" much damage "as dealt 9or received< -f the players "in, they do a comical dance "hich again reminds one of so many console CRPGs /lthough the combat system is simplistic compared to Wi>ard<s Cro,n, "hich "e#ll discuss in a moment, it nevertheless offers players fine control over ho" characters attac$ !or instance, fighters can choose to attac$, thrust, slash, and lunge These options control ho" many s"ings the character ta$es at an enemy, "ith varying degrees of damage and li$eliness of a hit &1unge& attempts to hit a monster standing behind the first ro" of enemies The story behind the first P1antasie is simple enough--$ill the &*lac$ Bnights& and their

master, the evil sorcerer Ci$ademus, "ho supplied the $nights "ith po"erful but soulsuc$ing magic rings 9ring a bell+< ,o"ever, to accomplish this, the characters must round up t"enty scrolls, each of "hich contains vital clues to help the characters accomplish their goal The story is more deeply inter"oven into the game than in most CRPGs, and the player#s choices ma$e a real difference in ho" the game unfolds The many riffs on Tol$ien and occasional humor help distinguish P1antasie from the typical dungeon-cra"ler EP1antasie, fro- %trategic %i-ulations, -ay be t1e best fantasy role"playing ga-e to co-e do,n t1e silicon pi*e since %ir")ec1 con:ured up Wi>ardry !s a -atter of factFat t1e ris* of sounding blasp1e-ousFin so-e ,ays P1antasie surpasses Wi>ardry EF @ames H Trun%o in Co-pute=, 2ecember 56;: ==- follo"ed up the first game "ith P1antasie '' in 56;? The plot this time "as even less imaginative than the first--Ci$ademus is bac$, and this time he#s used a magical orb to enslave an island and its population Caturally, the party must find and destroy the orb 4ther than a revamped story, there is little difference bet"een this game and its pre.uel, save the ability of characters to hurl roc$s at an enemies during combat Players of the first game could also import their old characters The final P1antasie PsicQ "as released in 56;7 for the /pple --, and given the subtitle )1e Wrat1 of $i*ade-us 9West"ood /ssociates ported it to other platforms< Ci$ademus has returned, and after t"o defeats his ambition has only gro"n--this time he#s out to control the "orld The third game offered better graphics and more sophisticated combat, such as the ability to target specific body regions, a "ound system, and better tactics /ll in all, the third part is probably the best game in the series, even if it is noticeably shorter than the first t"o games -n 566A, a company named Wi%ardWor$s released the first games in a &retrostyled& pac$age called P1antasie Bonus &dition for the D3% and Commodore /miga platforms Enfortunately, despite its initial popularity and many innovations, the P1antasie series has not managed to attain the enduring legacy it deserves, and has been long overshado"ed by ==-#s later &Gold *ox& CRPGs

Questron (#-$%)8 The 1ame ma( 1et fr+ tratin16 b+t i the ;kill elf; option reall( nece ar(:

-n 56;:, ==- released another party-based fantasy CRPG called Wi>ard<s Cro,n, "hich "as probably the most &hardcore& CRPG of its time Players could create up to ; players, and multi-class them as much as they li$ed 9i e , a character could be a thiefJfighterJmageJcleric< -nstead of &levels,& characters improved their stats and s$ills, such as hunting, haggling, alchemy, and s"imming This s$ill system "ould sho" up again in modern games li$e /all 3ut and $e4er,inter $ig1ts 1i$e"ise, the combat system "as more dynamic than anything offered up to that time There "ere over GA combat commands alone, including unusual ones li$e &!all Prone,& "hich made a character harder to hit "ith arro"s but easier to hit "ith melee "eapons 1i$e @uestron and P1antasie, different situations called for different "eapons ,o"ever, Wi>ard<s Cro,n "ent a step beyond "ith added realism--shields only "or$ed if the character "as facing

the right direction, for instance, and characters "ere still vulnerable to axes and flails, "hich could destroy or circumvent a shield, respectively Ranged "eapons "ere implemented, as "ell as an intelligent magic system /lthough a ma'or battle could last up to 8A minutes, players could also choose &.uic$ combat,& "hich "ould automatically resolve the combat in seconds While the storyline "as droll 9find a "i%ard, $ill him, and ta$e bac$ a cro"n<, the extraordinary attention to character development and strategic combat made up for it -t remains one of the most complicated CRPGs and a strategist#s dream ==- released a se.uel to the game called )1e &ternal Dagger in 56;7 2emons from another dimension are invading the "orld, and the only item that can seal the portal is the titular dagger *esides the ne" storyline, the se.uel is nearly identical to the first game, though some elements li$e the &fall prone& option mentioned above "ere omitted

Wizard's Crown (Apple "")8 Thi combat creen and interface i an earl( form of the one SS" emplo(ed in the 2old Bo< 1ame 8

There are at least t"o other early ==- CRPGs "orth mentioning: %1ard of %pring and Rings of Zilfin, both released in 56;? %1ard of %pring is a game "ritten for the /pple -by Craig Roth and 2avid =tar$, and ported to >=-24= by 2 R Gilman, 1eslie ,ill, and >artin deCastongrene--"ho did the "hole game in >icrosoft Ruic$*asic0 -t#s a bit crude compared to the other ==- games of the era, and falls some"here in bet"een Wi>ard<s Cro,n and P1antasie in terms of complexity The story is that an evil sorceress has stolen the =hard of =pring, a magical item that brings eternal springtime to the land Co" that it#s gone, the "orld has fallen into chaos, and the solution is obvious Roth and =tar$ "rote a se.uel called De-on<s Winter, "hich "as published by ==- in 56;; While very similar to the first game, De-on<s Winter features an exponentially larger game "orld and t"o ne" characters classes, the scholar and the visionary Hisionaries have some unusual abilities, mostly dealing "ith reconnaissance--for instance, they can vie" a room to chec$ for monsters "ithout being seen The story this time is perhaps even more straightfor"ard than the first--the land of )mros is faced "ith eternal "inter unless the characters can find and destroy the evil demon god >alifon *oth games feature some interesting t"ists on religion, allo"ing characters to become acolytes of different gods and pray to them for aid during combat Enfortunately, neither game had polished graphics or .uality sound 9even on the /miga platform<, factors that no doubt led to lac$luster revie"s in most game maga%ines

The Shard of Spring (,OS)8 Ah6 killin1 rat 7ith 7ord 8 The f+n ne9er end 8

E!not1er co--on proble- in CRP0s -ay be an e-p1asis in glit> and gla-our rat1er t1an substance 'f it is pretty, t1e assu-ption is t1at people ,ill buy it )1e ;uestion is, 1o,e4er, do t1ese beautiful grap1ics really add anyt1ing substantial to t1e ga-eA E M 2avid 1 /rneson in Co-puter 0a-ing World, >ay 56;;

Rings of Ziflin (Apple "")8 *arl( c+t- cene like thi helped e tabli h a tor( and carr( it alon18

/li /tabe$#s Rings of Ziflin, released in 56;?, is a game intended for novices--and thus focuses more on story and atmosphere than tactics and stats -t features plenty of amusing &cut scenes& that establish and maintain the storyline, "hich amounts to $eeping an evil necromancer named 1ord 2ragos from finding both rings of po"er and using them to ta$e over the "orld 9sound familiar+< Rings of Zilfin puts the player in the role of Reis 9though the name can be changed<, a budding magic user "ho must develop his abilities and ta$e on 2ragos and his minions Players are spared the bother of creating characters and rolling for stats, and the combat se.uences are more li$e miniarcade games than tactical combat >ost of the game is spent traveling bet"een to"ns, and along the "ay the character can collect plants--such as magic mushrooms, as "ell as drin$ from pools 4verall, it#s an interesting game and .uite different from most of ==-#s other offerings /tabe$ "ould go on to create a trilogy of 2lti-a"li$e games called )1e #agic Candle The first of these, published by >indcraft =oft"are, appeared in 56;6, "ith

the se.uels follo"ing in 5665 and 566G--both published by (lectronic /rts 4f these, the first is generally considered the best, and is $no"n for its creative storyline and abundance of mini .uests The gist is that a demon is trapped in a candle, but once the candle burns do"n lo" enough, it "ill escape--and then al hell "ill brea$ loose 1i$e Rings of Zilfin, )1e #agic Candle did not allo" players to roll their o"n characters, but did allo" them to build a party by selecting non-player characters 9CPCs< found at the castle *y the "ay, an &CPC& means a character that that may assist the player, but cannot be directly controlledD it is controlled instead by the computer -n this "ay, )1e #agic Candle series predates the &henchman& system of later games li$e $e4er,inter $ig1ts ==- also experimented "ith hybrid CRPGs, mixing together adventure and arcade elements to varying degrees of success 0e-stone Warrior 956;8< and 0e-stone Healer 956;?<, both developed by Paradigm Creators, are t"o fairly "ell-$no"n examples These games are perhaps best described as CRPGJshooter games ==- also released one game solely for the Commodore ?8 called Real-s of Dar*ness 956;7< This very rare game, "ritten by Gary =mith, is a hybrid adventureJCRPG ,o"ever, these games are aberrations from the type of CRPGs ==- "ould become famous for ma$ing--namely, the celebrated &Gold *ox Games,& "hich "e#ll discuss next

7nforgetta%le Realms: --I2s 8Gol0 *o98 Games


/s "e#ve seen, ==- had developed and published several significant CRPGs before it "on the exclusive license from T=R to mar$et official !D&D computer games @uestron, P1antasie, Wi>ard<s Cro,n, and even %1ard of %pring all have elements that sho" up in one form or another in ==-#s later productions The Gold *ox combat system, for instance, is essentially a streamlined version of the one found in Wi>ard<s Cro,n ,o"ever, "e#re getting a bit ahead of ourselves 1et#s bac$ up to the year 56;;, "hen the Gold *ox series first debuted

Pool of Radiance (#-$%)8 The 1ame= mooth6 caref+ll(-laid o+t interface made +p for the rather ;paper doll; look of the character 8

The first Gold *ox game is Pool of Radiance, a game "hich mar$ed an important turning point in CRPG history The game shipped in a distinctive gold-colored box 9hence the nic$name for the series<, "hich sported art"or$ by celebrated fantasy illustrator Clyde Cald"ell 9Cald"ell also designed the covers for Curse of t1e !>ure Bonds and several other T=R-licensed games and boo$s< -t "as initially available only on the /tari =T and Commodore ?8 platforms, though soon ports "ere available for most ma'or platforms, including the C(= Pool of Radiance "as an instant best-seller, and not 'ust because it "as the first officially licensed !D&D computer game /"ash "ith strong competition, ==- too$ the sensible approach--ta$e the very best elements of its o"n and rival CRPGs and pool them together -ndeed, the Gold *ox engine is essentially a medley of Bard<s

)ale and Wi>ard<s Cro,n, "hich can trace their o"n ancestry bac$ to 2lti-a, Wi>ardry, and )unnels of Doo- Cevertheless, Pool of Radiance is much greater than the sum of its parts, and more than deserves its reputation among serious CRPG critics as one of the best 9if not the very best< CRPG ever designed Though later Gold *ox games "ould refine the engine and address some annoying fla"s in the interface, all of the .ualities that made the Gold *ox games so legendary are present in Pool of Radiance *efore - go on, let me put my cards 9or, should - say, dice+< on the table here (very critic has those fe" games that it#s 'ust impossible to be truly ob'ective about We all have that &first love,& that first game that taught us that playing computer games "as something "e#d be doing for the rest of our lives !or me, that game is most certainly Pool of Radiance /lthough - had played earlier CRPGs li$e )1e Bard<s )ale and 2lti-a, there "as 'ust something about Pool of Radiance that made these other games loo$ hopelessly mundane - loved the game so much that - bought every other Gold *ox game and even the pulpy novels that "ere based on them - "ould#ve bought the brea$fast cereal and the under"ear if they#d made them -n short, Pool of Radiance a"a$ened me to a "hole ne" "orld--the "orld of D&D, fantasy, Tol$ien, Dragonlance, and, most importantly, CRPGs ,o" can - be ob'ective about a game that shaped me into the man am today+ - adore Pool of Radiance, and so should you0 /fter all, you "ouldn#t be reading this article if had never played it ,o"ever, -#ll dry my eyes no", ta$e a deep breath, and try to brea$ this game do"n into its constituent parts /s - see it, the game#s $ey strengths lie in its game "orld, story, combat system, and overall game structure =ince the game "orld and story are so closely related, let#s discuss those first -n a nutshell, the characters# tas$ is to help rebuild Phlan, a once-proud city that has long lain in ruins The characters arrive at Ce" Phlan, the part of the city that has already been cleared, and begin accepting commissions from the City Council to perform various .uests, such as clearing the slums of monsters and recovering legendary artifacts The .uests vary "idely and all ma$e sense in the context of the story (ventually, the player learns that an evil dragon named Tyranthraxus is at the root of Phlan#s problems, but defeating him is going to ta$e much more than a longs"ord S5 1i$e )1e Bard<s )ale, Pool of Radiance features a coherent game "orld that feels li$e a real place Co doubt much of this realism is caused by the I-2, first-person perspective players see in &exploration& mode The interface has a rectangle on the top left that sho"s "here the characters are currently facing, and the rest of the screen is neatly divided to display pertinent information ,o"ever, no interface can ma$e a dull and repetitive game fun to explore ==- "as luc$ily able to dra" upon the rich body of literature T=R had created for its /orgotten Real-s universe of tabletop !D&D games The /orgotten Real-s "orld "as nearly as "ell-developed as @ R R Tol$ien#s #iddle &art1, and possibilities for ne" stories "ere virtually unlimited--indeed, novels set in this fictional universe are still being published, most notably those by R / =alvatore The /orgotten Real-s are an ideal environment for CRPGs, and added great depth to Pool of Radiance and its se.uels

Pool of Radiance (,OS)8 The 2old Bo< 1ame

are noted for their +perb tactical combat ( tem8

When the characters must engage in combat, the screen changes to a top-do"n mode very similar to the one found in )1e Wi>ard<s Cro,n (ach round, or &turn,& the player decides "hat action his characters "ill underta$e, though these actions are ta$en immediately rather than after all the commands have been issued 9as in P1antasie or Wi>ardry< There are plenty of options available to each character depending on his or her class !or instance, fighters can "ield melee or ranged "eapons, and magic-users function li$e artillery or sharpshooters, depending on the spell 9fireball vs magic missile, for instance< Thieves also have the option to &bac$-stab& an opponent, a devastating move that re.uires very strategic positioning !urthermore, retreating characters 9or enemies< are penali%ed by giving all surrounding enemies a free s"ipe at their bac$side /n intense battle can easily last 8: minutes to an hour, and even simple battles can .uic$ly turn disastrous if the player rushes through them 9or, "orse, puts his characters in computer controlled &.uic$& mode< -f a character#s hit-points fall belo" A, he or she is "ounded and must be bandaged by another character to avoid death >uch of "hat ma$es Pool of Radiance different is its adherence to official !D&D rules !or instance, instead of &magic points,& magic-users are given a set number of spells to memori%e ,o" many spells they get per slot depends on their level of experience and intelligence 9or "isdom in the case of clerics< /lthough mages receive one ne" spell per level, they "ill learn most of them by scribing them from scrolls found in the unsettled areas 4nce a spell is cast, it erases itself from the magic-user#s memory and must be relearned >emori%ing spells 9and restoring hit points< ta$es several hours of inactivity, "hich means setting up camp /lthough there are many safe spots "here the characters can rest unmolested, many of the more dangerous areas all but prevent it Thus, a player can#t 'ust focus on one battle at the timeD she must al"ays plan ahead !or instance, &"asting& all of a mage#s fireball spells on a group of "impy $obolds might leave the party totally vulnerable to a troll attac$ !inally, some creatures are more vulnerable 9or invulnerable< to certain $inds of attac$--i e , the undead can be &turned& by clerics or dealt extra damage by silver "eapons E%o-e ,ill undoubtedly see t1e strict enforce-ent of t1ese rules as a nuisance, but it see-s to us li*e a logical e?tension of t1e *ind of resource -anage-ent ,1ic1 is necessary to any sop1isticated strategy ga-e E M@ohnny 1 Wilson in Co-puter 0a-ing World, @uly 56;; The city of Phlan has many intriguing areas to explore, such as a bi%arre pyramid and a haunted library *ut eventually players "ill get to go across country in &"ilderness& mode, "hich anyone familiar "ith older ==- games li$e @uestron and P1antasie or 2lti-a "ill instantly recogni%e 1ater ==- games experimented "ith different &"ilderness& modes, such as sho"ing the player a large map and having him clic$ on different regions -n any case, the "ilderness mode ma$es Pool of Radiance seem even larger, and gives gamers something to do after they#ve completed the game 9e g , slaughtering groups of "andering monsters<

Buc Rogers (,OS)8 &ith a fe7 co metic chan1e 6 SS"= 2old Bo< en1ine became the perfect 9ehicle for ci-fi ad9ent+re8

==- eventually released three se.uels: Curse of t1e !>ure Bonds 956;6<, %ecret of t1e %il4er Blades 9566A<, and Pools of Dar*ness 95665< -t also spun-off a series based on T=R#s Dragonlance universe These include C1a-pions of Krynn 9566A<, Deat1 Knig1ts of Krynn 95665<, and Dar* @ueen of Krynn 9566G< While these games give players a chance to meet beloved Dragonlance characters li$e Tanis ,alf-(ven and Raistlin >a'ere, the trade-off is more rigidly linear gameplay There "ere also t"o more /orgotten Real-s games that too$ place in another part of the realm: 0ate,ay to t1e %a4age /rontier 95665< and )reasures of t1e %a4age /rontier 9566G< !inally, as if ==- "asn#t already mil$ing its Gold *ox engine enough, it released t"o games set in T=R#s Buc* Rogers universe: Buc* Rogers. Countdo,n to Doo-sday 9566A< and Buc* Rogers. #atri? Cubed 9566G< ==- finally retired the Gold *ox engine in 566G, though it "ould continue to release various compilations for years after"ards (ven if ==- "as finished "ith the engine, players could still create their o"n &Gold *ox& games using >icro>agic#s 2nli-ited !d4entures, published by ==- in 566I The Gold *ox games defined the Golden /ge, and set the bar against "hich all later games "ould be 'udged ,o"ever, ==- $ne" it "as time to move on -ts next big series debuted "ith &ye of t1e Be1older 95665< ,o"ever, since that game has much in common "ith an earlier game called Dungeon #aster, it#s only fair to pause our coverage of ==- here and tal$ about other CRPGs of the Golden /ge

-i3' of -/or0s an0 -or3ery: :on-$antasy CRPGs


*efore moving on such important CRPG classics as !T1#s Dungeon #aster and the later 2lti-a and Wi>ardry titles, "e should ta$e a loo$ at some of the CRPGs that departed from the &s"ords and sorcery& conventions that dominate the genre We#ve already mentioned a fe" in passing, such as ==-#s 87 #ission Crus1, set in World War --, the Buc* Rogers games, and 4rigin#s 2lti-a series, "hich featured many sci-fi elements as "ell as fantasy /nother game "orth mentioning is Polar"are#s &?pedition !-a>on 956;I< /lthough it suffers from some pretty serious design fla"s, &?pedition !-a>on explored ne" possibilities for the CRPG =et in modern times, the goal of &?pedition !-a>on is to guide a team of four explorers 9>edic, !ield /ssistant, Radio 4perator, and Guard< as they study ancient -ncan ruins -nstead of dragons and orcs, players fought "ith recalcitrant natives and malaria-carrying mos.uitoes ,o"ever, the game "asn#t a success, and can hardly be said to have much influence on the CRPG genre Than$fully, other CRPG developers "ere "illing to try to push the CRPG out of the >iddle /ges

!lternate Realit" (Atari 8-Bit)8 A colorf+l interface and co+ntle inno9ati9e feat+re make thi ci-fi themed #/02 a cla ic8

-n 56;:, a 2atasoft published Philip Price#s !lternate Reality. )1e City, the first of a planned series of five games based on the same premise: aliens abducting the character and transporting him to different &realities & (ven though only t"o of the games "ere ever published 9the second part, )1e Dungeon, appeared in 56;7<, the series maintains a cult status, particularly among fans of /tari ;-bit computers 9"here it originated< !tari !ge even hosts a competition for the game that is still going strong0 The games feature first-person perspective and nice graphics, and are in many "ays much ahead of their time *oth )1e City and )1e Dungeon are located on >edieval "orlds, so most of the standard fantasy conventions still apply 9mages, d"arves, etc < ,o"ever, !lternate Reality is more realistic than most CRPGs of its era--the avatar gets thirsty, hungry, and tired The only "ay to address these problems 9and get better e.uipment< is to raise capital Than$fully, players can store their money and earn interest at ban$s, though the really profitable investment plans are ris$y (ven the treasures "eren#t al"ays goodD many items "ere cursed and had dire conse.uences for un"ary players /nd, as if all this isn#t enough--it often rains, "hich apparently brings out the truly dangerous deni%ens of Lebec#s 2emise !rustrated 9or evil< players are free to prey upon the innocent -n any case, the high degree of realism and complexity ma$es !lternate Reality one of the most challenging of all CRPGs 2o"nloads and emulator information is available here /nother unfinished series is %tar %aga, a highly innovative game developed by >asterplay and published by (lectronic /rts %tar %aga "as intended to be a trilogy, but only t"o games "ere made %tar %aga is interesting because of its determined effort to more closely emulate tabletop role-playing games 9it#s allegedly based on a tabletop game called Re*on< The approach "as to heavily integrate extra-game materials, such as a hefty collection of printed texts 9&textlets&< and even a game board and pieces The idea "as that players could enrich their computer game experience by referring to these materials during game sessionsD for instance, by moving the to$ens around on the map /ll that appears on the screen is text describing the current situation and the effects of the players# actions %tar %aga is intended to be played by more than one player 9up to six<, and each player has a uni.ue role and set of tas$s -n so many "ays, the game functions as a robotic &dungeon master,& and the real action ta$es place on the tabletop 4bviously, the game 'ust can#t be properly played via an emulator, so anyone interested in learning more about this game should find an original copy "ith all the included printed material 9nearly three pounds "orth0<--a collector#s dream *y all accounts, the "riting is .uite excellent and the story simply fascinating EB%tar %agaC is probably t1e -ost uni;ue and ,ell",ritten role"playing e?perience yet to appear in a co-puter ga-e 't ,ill also stand up to any 1u-an ga-e"-astered role" playing ga-e on t1e -ar*et EFWilliam &*iff& Brit%en in Co-puter 0a-ing World, /ug 56;;

4n a side note, one of my favorite science fiction-themed CRPGs of the mid 56;As is @ag"are#s !lien /ires. 26GG !D, a very obscure first-person, single-character game that originated on the Commodore /miga 956;?< but "as later ported to the /tari =T and >=24= /lmost no one tal$s about this game today, and - "as unable to find any version but the graphically inept 24= version online Cevertheless, - find its premise interesting 9you play as a Time 1ord "ho must stop a 2r Burt% from traveling bac$ in time to see the *ig *ang < The game is fast and difficult, and involves .uite a bit of interaction "ith a rather odd and colorful cast of characters 9mostly aliens< !urthermore, the /miga version#s digiti%ed soundtrac$ is absolutely hypnotic, and the design decision to use the /miga#s built-in speech synthesi%er adds a distinctly &alien,& psychedelic feel to the game !lien /ires is a .uir$y and extremely difficult game, and the lac$ of a good save option compounds the problem exponentially - certainly "ouldn#t recommend it to everyone, but -#ve never played another game that had the same other"orldly ambiance Try to find the /miga version if you#re determined to try this game yourself

!lien #ires $%&& !'(' (,OS)8 The Ami1a 9er ion ha ha a more + er-friendl( interface8

the be t 1raphic 6 b+t the ,OS port

/fter fantasy and science fiction, the most popular genre for CRPGs is post-apocalyptic fiction Generally spea$ing, this genre is occupied "ith the future of civili%ation after a nuclear holocaust 9or some other type of "orld"ide catastrophe< The genre has been popular in boo$s and movies, such as #ad #a? 95676<, Da-nation !lley 95677<, and Deat1 Race 2777 9567:< The reason - mention these particular movies is that they seem to have had such a strong influence on the developers of early post-apocalyptic CRPGs, such as !utoduel 956;:<, "hich "as itself based on a =teve @ac$son game called Car Wars 9c 56;A< -n !utoduel, the point is not to slay dragons, but rather to build the most deadly vehicle on the road /ccomplishing that goal re.uires forethought, luc$, and .uic$ reflexes--thin$ of it as a cross bet"een *ally >id"ay#s arcade hit %py Hunter and 2lti-a -nstead of strength, dexterity, and constitution, characters are assigned points for driving s$ill, mar$smanship, and mechanics

!utoduel (Apple "")8 &hate9er (o+ do6 don=t a( ;c+te8;

!utoduel is also $no"n for being one of the first &open-ended& computer games 9though of course the mainframe &rogueli$es& "ere much earlier in this regard, and !irebird#s &lite 956;8< "as a year earlier< /t any rate, it#s up to the player to decide "hat goals are "orth pursuing and ho" he should go about pursuing them Players are encouraged to experiment !or instance, the player could stic$ to &courier& missions, ris$ing life and limb on the deadly high"ays 4ther players might prefer "inning money in the arena, or engaging in a bit of vigilante 'ustice--or even become an outla" 1i$e"ise, players can build fast and highly maneuverable cars, or virtual tan$s on "heels -n so many "ays, "hat#s en'oyable about !utoduel is not so much being part of a story or completing a .uest, but rather 'ust gaining expertise of the game#s logic and creative possibilities 4h, and if any of this sounds familiar to you 0rand )1eft !uto fans out there, don#t get too excited--there#s no &,ot Coffee >od& in !utoduel 4r is there+ !utoduel "as a very popular and successful game despite its simple graphics, and other games "ould follo" in its tra'ectory -nterstel#s %ca4engers of t1e #utant World, released in 56;; for >=-24=, echoes the nuclear "asteland setting and build-a-vehicle concept ,o"ever, this time the only purpose in doing so is to escape to a radiation-free %one, $illing anything or anyone that gets in the "ay While the game had some good ideas 9using old high"ay signs for shields, for instance<, terrible graphics and repetitive gameplay prevented it from achieving much success !urthermore, the monsters gre" tougher as the party gained experience--and eventually became so strong that the player had no choice but to create a "hole ne" party and resume -n short, there#s more disaster here than the one serving as the game#s premise -n 56;7, 4rigin published another post-apocalyptic game set in the far future called 2H77 ! D The story here is that alien robots called the T%org have overrun the "orld of >etropolis and must be stopped The player assumes the role of a rebel, and must find a "ay to ta$e do"n the robots# central control 9perhaps the developer, Chuc$ *ueche, "as inspired by the 56;8 film )1e )er-inator+< -nstead of long s"ords and chainmail, players get to play "ith a "hole host of curious gadgets, such as a holopro'ector "hich casts a hologram of the character to confuse the robots, and a 'etpac$ to ma$e travel a bree%e /ll and all, it#s a very creative game that should have been a great deal more successful Enfortunately, some legal issues prevented the game from ever being released for the C?8, and apparently the game flopped on the /pple -- 4n a side note, @ohn Romero of Doo- fame is often credited "ith the C-?8 port, though some controversy exists about his involvement

Wasteland (,OS)8 B+t Mom6 " am pla(in1 o+t ide> ee:

Probably the most famous of all the post-apocalyptic CRPGs, /allout, can trace its roots bac$ to -nterplay#s Wasteland, released in 56;; for the C-?8, >=-24= , and /pple --, and published by (lectronic /rts Wasteland is set in the devastating aftermath of World War --- Players start out "ith a party of four &2esert Rangers,& though up to three more characters can be recruited later on ,o"ever, these additional members cannot be controlled directly, and have their o"n goals that play a strong role in ho" the game unfolds T"o of the developers, Ben =t /ndre and >ichael =tac$pole, had designed their o"n tabletop role-playing games 9)unnels and )rolls and #ercenaries, %pies, and Pri4ate &yes, respectively<, and many of their ideas ended up in Wasteland /s in ==-#s Wi>ard<s Cro,n 956;:<, character development "as based not only on &stats& but also s$ills--G7 of them, to be precise These abilities range from combat s$ills to sleight-of-hand and metallurgy 4bviously, sensible players "ill "ant to ensure their party has a "ide spread of talents, since there#s no telling "hat they#ll be up against--though the game is flexible enough to let players overcome obstacles in a variety of "ays, such as pic$ing a loc$ versus climbing a gate 1i$e"ise, the game has several situations in "hich an individual character must &go it alone,& thus further helping players form coherent identities for their party -nterface-"ise, Wasteland can be described as a mix bet"een )1e Bard<s )ale 9for combat and character info screens< and top-do"n games li$e 2lti-a 9for travel and exploration< -t#s a nice setup that "or$s "ell, even if it doesn#t allo" players .uite the tactical combat possibilities of Pool of Radiance or )1e Wi>ard<s Cro,n /t any rate, the appeal of Wasteland stems more from its fascinating game "orld and intricate character development than combat stratagems 1i$e Pool of Radiance and several other games of the era, much of the context for the action ta$es place in a printed manual "ith numbered paragraphs The manual "arns against reading ahead, but notes that once the game is finished &you can $ic$ bac$ in your best lounge chair under a shady cactus and read the rest of the fictional vignettes & -ndeed, players "ho did either found some funny paragraphs designed to catch cheaters, including the first one /fter several torrid descriptions of an impending sex scene, a "ould-be seductress proclaims, &=top reading paragraphs you#re not supposed to read, creeps Cext time -#m going to demand they put me in a *ard#s Tale game, this Wasteland duty is dangerous & Wasteland remains the favorite CRPG of many a gamer "ho played in bac$ in the late 56;As, and for good reason--it#s a captivating and highly innovative game that deserves its place beside 9if not above0< -nterplay#s other CRPG classic, )1e Bard<s )ale -t#s more than a testament to the game#s enduring legacy that the best-selling /allout, released in 5667, is in many "ays little more than a graphical revamp of the older engine Wasteland is a classic game that remains highly playable and re"arding even today might note that (lectronic /rts released an alleged se.uel to the game called /ountain of Drea-s in 566A, but none of Wasteland<s developers "ere involved The publisher made an uncharacteristic decision to do"nplay the &se.uel& aspect as much as possible, and

the game 9"hich, by all accounts, is something of a lemon< made very little impression on the mar$et The last non-fantasy CRPGs -#ll mention for no" are Battletec1. )1e Crescent Ha,*<s 'nception and %entinel Worlds '. /uture #agic )1e Crescent Ha,*<s 'nception, developed by West"ood /ssociates and published by -nfocom in 56;; This top-do"n CRPG put players in the role of @ason )oungblood, "hose mission "as to locate his lost father and "in bac$ the land of Pacifica -n some "ays, this game is similar to 4rigin#s much earlier release !utoduel, in that players spend most of their time trying to build the best mobile death machines ,ere, ho"ever, combat is turn-based and much closer to games li$e Pool of Radiance /lthough the game "as generally "ell received, other games based on the Battletec1 franchise "ere either strategy or arcadeJsimulation games 9 #ec1,arrior, for instance< West"ood /ssociates also developed a game called #ars %aga in 56;; that "as published by (lectronic /rts #ars %aga is seldom mentioned game today, though it "as West"ood#s first game that "asn#t based on a license %entinel Worlds, developed by Barl *uiter and published by (lectronic /rts in 56;6, is something of a cross bet"een )1e Bard<s )ale and !irebird#s &lite Players begin by assembling a five-person cre", "ho are then assigned &s$ill points& in areas as diverse as gunnery, bribery, and /TH repair Combat can ta$e place either on the ground or in space, but there "as more to this game than "ho had the bigger gun Players also had to choose the right options from conversation menus, "here a fe" bad choices could force restoring to an older saved game 1i$e many other Golden /ge CRPGs , %entinel Worlds included a boo$ of numbered passages "hich the players "ere as$ed to consult at certain points in the game These passages added literary texture to the game, but "ere obviously much more of an interruption than the &cut scenes& "e so often see in modern games 1i$e ==-#s )1e Wi>ard<s Cro,n, %entinel Worlds is complicated game "ith a steep learning curve--factors that might explain "hy the game has not received the appreciation it deserves *uiter follo"ed up "ith Hard $o4a, released in 566A and also published by (lectronic /rts This game has more of a &cyberpun$& theme, and isn#t an official se.uel to %entinel Worlds despite sharing most of its gameplay concepts =uffice it to say, the Golden /ge of CRPGs "asn#t 'ust about orcs, prismatic sprays, and vorpal blades There "as a smorgasbord of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic games to choose from, including triumphs li$e Wasteland Games li$e %tar %aga and !utoduel really pushed the boundaries of the genre and demonstrated ne" concepts--some of "hich are no" cliches and others mere curiosities ,o"ever, "e#re still not done "ith the Golden /ge yet Rounding out the /ge are a collection of pioneering efforts into a more intense CRPG featuring real-time, I2 gameplay

The ?ate 2olden A1e: The /i e of /eal-Time 5,


-n GAA7, "e might find it difficult to imagine a time "hen real-time, I2 games "ere a novelty /lthough these games had existed for home computers for some time--I2 >onster >a%e 956;5<, 2ungeons of 2aggorath 956;G<, the great ma'ority of CRPGs "ere either top-do"n, turn-based I2, or some mixture of the t"o ,o"ever, by the late 56;As, computer gamers "ere steadily replacing their ;-bit machines "ith /tari =T and Commodore /miga computers These ne" machines offered better graphics, sound, memory, and storage options--facts that "ere not lost on aspiring game developers Cevertheless, it too$ a"hile for real-time, first-person I-2 to really catch-on, and even no" the .uestion of "hether it really leads to better CRPGs is open for discussion Gamers "ere 'ust as divided in 56;; over games li$e Pool of Radiance and Dungeon #aster as they are about $e4er,inter $ig1ts 2 and )1e &lder %crolls '( There has 9and probably never "ill be< a single, shared vision for a CRPG engine and interface =ome

players seem to privilege the &immersion& experience of first-person perspective, "hereas others prefer to see their characters moving about on the screen 1i$e"ise, there are CRPG fans "ho en'oy contemplative turn-based combat 9as seen recently in )1e )e-ple of &le-ental &4il <, though most modern gamers seem to prefer real-time action

(ungeon )aster (Atari ST)8 #an (o+ o9ercome (o+r carpal t+nnel thi 1ame:

(ndrome lon1 eno+1h to beat

E/e, ga-es 1a4e generated as -uc1 affection as Dungeon #aster, e4en to t1e point of t1ird"party products I1int boo*s and -apsD 't<s 1ard not to li*e D# E M-an Chad"ic$ in %)"+og, !ebruary 56;6 =ince these issues remain so central to CRPG development, !T1 Games# classic Dungeon #aster 956;7< is one of the most historically significant CRPGs, and there are many CRPG critics "ho consider it the greatest CRPG ever made -t "as first released for the ne" /tari =T, "here it became the best-selling game ever for the platform -t "as promptly ported to the rival Commodore /miga , and some"hat later to the >=-24= and even the =C(= platforms Though it is hailed for its innovative use of sound and a bac$ story by a professional novelist 9Cancy ,older<, for our purposes the most important feature is the game#s I-2 interface The bul$ of the screen is composed of a first-person vie" of the party#s current perspective This screen is updated in real-time as the player explores the dungeon, much li$e the setup of a first-person shooter 4n the top of this "indo" are four boxes sho"ing the current status of the four characters, the items they are holding, and their relative position 9i e , "ho is in front and bac$< The rest of the screen is dedicated to the magic system, attac$ mode, and directional buttons /lthough the directional $eys are a bit cumbersome on the =T version 9players must clic$ them "ith the mouse<, later versions allo" all movement 9including rotating< to be executed from the $eyboard Enli$e most games of the era, Dungeon #aster offers combat in realtime When the party is attac$ed, the player must "or$ frantically to issue orders 9e g , attac$, cast a spell, .uaff a potion<, al"ays ta$ing into consideration ho" long it "ill ta$e each character to perform and recover =ince very fe" of these actions can be automated or prepared beforehand, players need rapid reflexes and considerable endurance to complete the game Without a doubt, many gamers suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome today have Dungeon #aster to blame0

,o"ever, Dungeon #aster is far from a simple &clic$fest & >ost noticeably, the game#s magic system is complex and arguably more logical than simple point-based 9 )1e Bard<s )ale< or slot systems 9Pool of Radiance, Wi>ardry< -n Dungeon #aster, players cast spells by stringing together runes /lthough only certain predetermined se.uences produce effects, players can determine the potency of any spell 9or potion< and subse.uently ho" much magical energy to expend in the process !urthermore, although any character can try to cast a spell, only practiced mages and priests can pull off really effective feats of magic ,o"ever, the manual doesn#t include a magical recipe boo$, so players must either find them sprin$led throughout the vast dungeon, experiment in a trial-and-error fashion, or consult a hint boo$ -n any case, it#s an versatile if some"hat daunting spell system for novices / similar 9probably derived< system sho"s up in 2ynamix#s Betrayal at Krondor 9566I< /dding to the &real-time& aspect is the necessity to ac.uire food and "ater for the characters--a gameplay element seen in many earlier games, including Rogue and 2lti-a Than$fully, the need to eat drin$ are infre.uent enough to $eep this aspect from becoming a nuisance ,ungry characters can even gobble do"n the carcasses of many of the slain monsters, though it#s best to collect the tur$ey legs and other foods left lying about the dungeon 9sanitation not re.uired0< Dungeon #aster "as an un.ualified success, and !T1 follo"ed up "ith C1aos %tri*es Bac* in 56;6 ,o"ever, other developers "ere .uic$ to follo" their example -n 566A, ==- published the first of "hat "ould become a trilogy of &*lac$ *ox& &ye of t1e Be1older games, developed by West"ood =tudios 9formerly West"ood /ssociates< and based on the Gnd edition of the !D&D official rules !irst available for >=-24= but later for the /miga, =ega C2 9featuring a famous soundtrac$ by )u%o Boshiro<, and =C(=, &ye of t1e Be1older "as un.uestionably influenced by !T1#s brea$through title The games are set in T=R#s !orgotten Realms, the same universe used in Pool of Radiance and its se.uels 1i$e Dungeon #aster, the player controls a party of four characters--ho"ever, in &ye of t1e Be1older, t"o non-player characters can also 'oin the group /nother important difference is that players get to create their o"n characters rather than select them from a &,all of ,eroes,& as in D# !urther differences are a built-in compass 9players must find the compass in D#< and a slot-style spell system Players select "hich spells they "ish their mages to memori%e or clerics to pray for, then &camp& until they#ve done so

*"e of the Beholder (,OS)8 An( re emblance to ,+n1eon Ma ter i p+rel( coincidental8

The story in the first game is .uite simple--a mysterious evil presence has been detected underneath the city of Waterdeep 1ittle is $no"n about the nature of this evil, but the name &Lanathar& seems relevant Caturally, the characters are instructed to investigate, but a sudden cave-in leaves them stranded in the se"ers beneath the city The second game, )1e +egend of Dar*-oon 95665<, added outdoor areas and focused more on narrative and interaction "ith non-player characters Perhaps most importantly, the second game has a much more user-friendly saved game setupD instead of replacing a single saved game "ith each save, players choose among six different slots Though the story starts off as vaguely as the first 9you#re to explore a mysterious evil in the To"er of 2ar$moon<, most fans of the series consider )1e +egend of Dar*-oon the best of the lot The final game, released in 566I, "as not developed by West"ood =tudios, but rather internally by ==- -t has some nice innovations, such as an &/11 /TT/CB& button allo"ing all available characters to attac$ "ith one clic$, and the ability of characters standing in the rear to attac$ "ith pole-arms ,o"ever, it is by all accounts a disappointment and a terrible "ay to end the glorious trilogy The culprits are a lac$luster story, repetitive gameplay, and inconsistent difficulty

+ired ,uns (Ami1a)8 "=ll take fo+r6 thank (o+ 9er( m+ch8

/nother company to mimic the successful Dungeon #aster formula "as 2>/ 2esign, a premier !-iga developer -n 566I, Psygnosis published their Hired 0uns for >=-24= and /miga =et in a grim, futuristic "orld called Graveyard, Hired 0uns .uic$ly became many gamers# favorite CRPG, and can be found on countless &*est 4f& charts of /miga games The story is simple if a bit t"isted--four mercenaries are hired to allegedly rescue some hostages, but soon discover they have been selected to test the pro"ess of deadly, genetically engineered creatures 4ne of the most popular features of the game is its multiplayer mode, "hich allo"s up to four players to play at once, and a &deathmatch& mode provides en'oyment long after players complete the campaign /lthough many CRPGs claim to have &multiplayer& options, "hat this usually amounts to is one player sitting at the $eyboard ta$ing orders from the assembled group 4nly a fe" games prior to the rise of 1/C and internet gaming allo"ed more direct controls Though Hired 0uns is one of the most famous of these, a very early example is Ruality =oft"are#s !li Baba and t1e /orty )1ie4es 956;50<, an /tari ;-bit game 9later ported to /pple --< "hich allo"ed simultaneous play for up to four people / later but only slightly less obscure example is %,ords of ),ilig1t, developed by !ree !all /ssociates and published by (lectronic /rts in 56;6 /n /miga-only title, %,ords of ),ilig1t is a real-time isometric RPG that allo"s up to three simultaneous players /lso appearing in 56;6 "as >irrosoft#s Blood,yc1, published by Bonami Blood,yc1, a first-person game in the vein of Dungeon #aster, "as available for a variety of platforms, and features a split-screen option for t"o players to en'oy the game simultaneously The game is also $no"n for its emphasis on dialog "ith non-player characters and enormous maps The developers 9Philip > and /nthony Taglione< "ent on to create a follo"-up called He??. Heresy of t1e Wi>ard, "hich "as published by Psygnosis in 5668 Co" that "e#ve covered some of the most groundbrea$ing ne" games and developments, let#s "rap up "ith a glance at "hat "as happening "ith the t"o foundational CRPG series, Wi>ardry and 2lti-a, as "ell as an important ne"comer: #ig1t and #agic

!ltima6 &i'ardr(6 and Mi1ht and Ma1ic in the 2olden A1e


Caturally, =ir-Tech and 4rigin "ere not content to let the premier CRPG series fall by the "ayside !rom 56;:-5668, 4rigin published five ne" 2lti-a titles, and =ir-Tech gave us four additions to the Wi>ardry canon >ean"hile, a ne" developer of CRPGs, Ce" World Computing, introduced its "ell-$no"n #ig1t and #agic series in 56;?, "hich had expanded to five games by the end of 566I 1et#s start "ith 2lti-a and see ho" the series evolved during the Golden /ge

Gol0en )ge 7ltima: The Great Enlightenment

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/lthough some 2lti-a fans consider 2lti-a ''' to be the best game in the series, 2lti-a '(. @uest of t1e !4atar, released in 56;:, is probably better $no"n and admired today -ndeed, as late as 566?, Co-puter 0a-ing World "as naming it the OG *est Game of /ll Time for PC, and Richard Garriott 9creator of 2lti-a< cites it as one of his top t"o favorites games of the series -t certainly mar$ed a turning point in the series, and "as recogni%ed as such--it "as the first game set in the &/ge of (nlightenment& trilogy !rom here on out, 2lti-a "ould be best $no"n for its strong emphasis on morality and important cultural and social issues What does it mean to lead a good life+ -f you don#t see ho" that .uestion could pertain to a CRPG, you have some home"or$ to do0 Perhaps the $ey aspect that ma$es @uest of t1e !4atar uni.ue is the unusual goal it sets for the player /lmost every CRPG "e care to list is ultimately concerned "ith building up enough strength, experience, and resources to overcome some uber-po"erful foe &Character development,& if "e can call it that, amounts to gaining levels and t"ea$ing stats @uest of t1e !4atar departs radically from this convention, instead having the player focus on the character#s morality, boiled do"n to eight essential virtues: ,onesty, Compassion, Halor, =pirituality, ,umility, =acrifice, @ustice, and ,onor The game actually &punished& players "ho acted in typical &hac$#n slash& fashion, mindlessly looting and $illing 4n the other hand, all CRPGs can be seen as &.uests for self-improvement,& and @uest of t1e !4atar merely demonstrates a ne" method of achieving the ultimate such improvement--enlightenment The character#s .uest is to become a &shining example& to the people of =osoria @ust ho" different @uest of t1e !4atar is from other CRPGs is evident as soon as the player tries to create a character -nstead of &rolling die& and generating stats, players ans"er a series of .uestions about moral dilemmas /ns"ering the .uestions one "ay results in the character#s becoming a bard, druid, shepherd, and so on /lthough it#s perhaps dangerous to speculate about ho" much Richard Garriott thought his game might have a real-life impact on players, the after"ord he penned for the manual seems clear: &The Ruest for the /vatar is the search for a ne" standard, a ne" vision of life for "hich our people may strive We see$ the person "ho can becoming a shining example for our nation and guide us from the /ge of 2ar$ness into the /ge of 1ight & =ome critics claim that Garriott "as reacting against the stereotypes that RPGs "ere necessarily satanic or immoral, and my guess is that they#re at least partially correct >uch "as made of the ne" moral and philosophical element of the game, and contemporary revie"ers praised 4rigin for bringing ne" vitality to the genre /nother interesting innovation is the magic system, "hich re.uires that mages find reagents 9ingredients li$e ginseng and garlic< to cast spells This reagent business is an integral part of many tabletop !D&D campaigns, but is omitted from most CRPGs, including ==-#s &Gold *ox& games E)o -e, 2lti-a 1as beco-e -ore t1an :ust a collection of pu>>les to sol4e, but an en4iron-ent, an entire ,orld if you ,ill, a gate,ay to a life a-ong t1e peoples and cultures of a different ti-e and place E MRichard Garriott in an intervie" published in Co-puter 0a-ing World, @uly 56;; @uest of t1e !4atar also depends heavily on conversations "ith non-player characters, some of "hom can even 'oin the /vatar on his .uest 9up to eight, or one of each character class< -n some "ays, it started the 9infamous< tradition of CRPGs that literally re.uired players to try tal$ing to everyone /ccordingly, players must ta$e copious notes if they hope to progress very far in the game--and it#s a huge game, at that, estimated at some 5:A to GAA hours to finish Than$fully, players have many "ays to get about in the "orld--horses, ships, and &moon gates& 'ust to name a fe" - should also add that game included a cloth map and a small metal an$h in addition to t"o manuals *y the "ay, the manuals for each of the &nlig1ten-ent games are .uite lengthy and loaded "ith information that is either directly useful or helpful in establishing context for the games !or instance, besides lengthy discussions of virtues, ethics, combat, and magic, 2lti-a

(<s manual includes lyrics to a song called &=tones,& penned by G"enllian G"alch#gaeaf, "ife of the famous fol$ musician -olo !it%o"en -n short, if you don#t have the printed materials that "ere included "ith these games, you#re missing out on a large chun$ of the 2lti-a experience 4n a positive note, though, this is the only game of the series that#s legally available for free do"nload on the net, and several teams have created versions that are much easier to run on modern operating systems -f you#re interested, be sure to chec$ out the rema$e xu8, "here you can also do"nload the original The next entry in the series, Warriors of Destiny 956;;< is even more deeply steeped in morality play than its pre.uel This time, the theme is fundamentalism /n evil tyrant named *lac$thorn has ta$en over the land of *ritannia, and is terrori%ing the people by enforcing too strict of a moral code 9i e , &Thou shalt donate half of they income to charity, or thou shalt have no income &< /lthough most of the core elements are identical to the earlier game, the "riting here is more polished and professional, and interaction "ith non-player characters is more meaningful Players "ill need to be very careful to "rite do"n any potential &$ey"ords& that might trigger a crucial response from a nonplayer character >a$ing matters even more difficult is a running cloc$ that determines "hether it#s night or day on *rittannia >any events can only ta$e place if the /vatar is in the right place at the right timeD a fact that ma$es a hint boo$ nearly indispensable There are some other important differences bet"een the t"o games The number of classes has been cut from ; to I 9fighter, bard, and mage< This limitation is particularly felt "hen important characters from the previous gameD the speciali%ed classes can their magical abilities The magic system has also been revamped a bitD no" reagents can be purchased in stores, and the spell system is no" structured around eight &circles& and strings of syllables 1i$e Dungeon #aster, players can no" fine-tune their spells by combining different se.uences of magical incantations The combat system is also more realistic and complex, and characters can even accidentally stri$e their comrades0 Warriors of Destiny also mar$s a fe" important turning points--it#s the last of the series to originate on the /pple -- and the last time Garriott too$ a hand in coding 2lti-a ('. )1e /alse Prop1et, "as released in 566A for >=-24=, and mar$ed the end of the &/ge of (nlightenment& trilogy begun "ith @uest of t1e !4atar *y 566A, the /pple -"as really sho"ing its age, and 4rigin "as convinced that /pple#s --gs 'ust didn#t have a large enough user-base to "arrant their attention )1e /alse Prop1et too$ advantage of the PC#s ne" HG/ cards, "hich 4rigin correctly determined "ould mar$ the beginning of the end for competing platforms ,o"ever, though the game features enhanced graphics compared to its predecessors, in some "ays it#s actually more limited--the dungeons, for instance, are rendered entirely in G2, in some "ays a step bac$ from the G2JI2 s"itching that occurs in earlier games The interface "as also cleaned up, and the old alphabetical list of commands "as replaced by a ne" streamlined menu Contemporary players "ere impressed "ith the immense si%e of the "orld, "hich "as al"ays displayed on screen along "ith the characters 9i e , there#s no &"orld map& mode< -nteraction is enhanced "ith small portraits of the interlocutors, and $ey"ords are mar$ed in red for easy recognition /n abundance of &cinematics& also adds to the ambiance The to"ns and villages are also better populated and seem more realistic--in addition to the usual assortment of taverns and blac$smiths, there are also "eavers and ba$ers plying their trades 1i$e"ise, ob'ects li$e chairs can be moved around, and "alls and doors have &hit points& and can be destroyed / player so inclined can even grind f"heat into flour and ba$e bread0 !inally, &random monsters& are no" extinct, and there are sensible limits concerning "hen and "here the party can be attac$ed

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The moral imperative this time is based on racism and xenophobia--the player must learn about an alien culture and explore issues that of cultural relativism ,o"ever, some players felt the story "as unfocused, and critici%ed the gameplay for being too heavily invested in menial side-.uests Though combat is not especially difficult, players can easily find themselves "andering aimlessly, "ithout a clear sense of purpose or direction =till, the game "as a hit and still cherished by many fans, although the next 2lti-a game--the first in the &/ge of /rmageddon& games, featured a graphical overhaul and controls and tends to ma$e the accomplishments of )1e /alse Prop1et pale in comparison -#ll discuss the !r-ageddon games in our next installment, so stay tuned0 Co", let#s turn our attention to the Wi>ardry series

Gol0en )ge ;i+ar0ry: The &ar' -a.ant


-f 4rigin#s 2lti-a series "as becoming increasingly moralistic and even dogmatic, =irTech#s Wi>ardry "as about to ta$e the opposite approach !our years had passed since +egacy of +lylga-yn 956;I<, and "hen Wi>ardry '(. )1e Return of Werdna 956;7< finally arrived, it no doubt too$ most fans of the series by surprise--this time, you get to be the evil "i%ard hellbent on getting his revenge The plot is perhaps the only of its type in the history of CRPGs To ma$e a long story short, Werdna 9the "i%ard defeated in the first Wi>ardry< has a"a$ened, but he#s no" "ithout his po"ers and trapped in the bottom of his ten-level dungeon !urthermore, all of the monsters and traps that existed to $eep out "ily adventurers no" serve the opposite purpose--to $eep Werdna imprisoned Getting Werdna out of the dungeon "ill ta$e time and patience, but the revenge "ill no doubt be s"eet Than$fully, Werdna is able to summon monsters to help him out, though you are unable to control them directly )1e Return of Werdna is "idely considered to be the most difficult CRPG ever created, and it#s definitely a game suited only for veterans of the first three games The dungeon is resistant to mapping, and there are several brain-stumping pu%%les sprin$led throughout To ma$e matters "orse, the ghost of one of your slain enemies, Trebor, haunts the dungeon and "ill instantly $ill you if you encounter him !inally, every save of the game resets all the monsters on the current level =uffice it to say, rumors of this

game#s difficulty have not been exaggerated0 There#s also a nice bit of history here that#s not often discussed in modern revie"s of this gameT=ir-Tech used some of the characters from dis$s it had received from gamers, "ho either "anted them repaired or to sho" they had indeed solved the game The company used some of these purloined characters as do-gooder enemies for Werdna *esides the unusual plot setup and insane difficulty, )1e Return of Werdna varied little from the previous three games The next game, Heart of t1e #aelstro- 956;;<, featured a fe" enhancements, including ne" character abilities, spells, and bigger ma%es -t "as designed by 2avid *radley, "ho too$ over from Robert Woodhead and /ndre" Greenberg The plot involves descending into the titular maelstrom torn open by an evil "oman named =orn, "hose purpose in life has become to put an end to the "hole universe The game "as released for the =C(= in 566G, "here it seems to have fared a bit better than on other platforms

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The Wi>ardry series really got a boost in 566A "ith the publication of the sixth game, Bane of t1e Cos-ic /orge, "hich set off a great ne" trilogy by 2avid *radley focused on an enigmatic character called the 2ar$ =avant The aged Wi>ardry engine finally got an overhaul, "ith better graphics and a slee$, mouse-driven interface designed for the &0! era !urthermore, it "as some four times larger than any previous Wi>ardry and "as meant to represent some"hat of a brea$ "ith the previous games !or instance, this is one of the fe" games in the series that doesn#t allo" players to import characters from the pre.uel -t also features an innovative storyline, "hich concerns a magical pen "hose scribbled "ords become realityTa similar conceit underlies the #yst series The game emphasi%es pu%%le solving almost as much as combat, and offers multiple endings Character creation also became more central to the game, since race and gender had direct effects on gameplay -t also offers on-screen dice rolls, a nice thro"-bac$ to traditional D&D ERole playing is :ust as it sounds 5ou play t1e role of so-et1ing or so-eone ot1er t1an yourself Just li*e professional actors and actresses, you pretend to be a c1aracter, acting and reacting to situations as 1e or s1e ,ould E Mfrom the Bane of t1e Cos-ic /orge instruction manual Bane of t1e Cos-ic /orge also introduced a more nuanced combat and leveling-up system, t"o components critical to the success of any CRPG engine 4ne obvious addition is an intuitive s$ill-based system, divided into three large categories 9Weaponry, Physical, /cademia< and further subdivided into minutiae li$e ="ord, 4ratory, and >ythology Combat is similarly complexD there are eight different &modes& li$e thrust, bash, lashing, and punching, each "ith their o"n pros and cons The manual goes on for some 5IA pages, and it#s "ell advised for anyone serious about the game to read it cover-to-cover The next game, Crusaders of t1e Dar* %a4ant, released in 566G for >=-24= and repac$ed in 566? as Wi>ardry 0old for Windo"s 6:, is another highpoint in the series,

and mar$ed the first expansion into G:?-color HG/ graphics Perhaps ta$ing a page from the 2lti-a series, this game contains a blend of fantasy and sci-fi elements The po"erful pen introduced in the last game has been captured by a cyborg named /letheides The disappearance of the pen has revealed a secret it "as guardingTthe lost planet of Guardia =ome"here on Guardia is the secret to incredible po"er, and several groups 9including the player#s party and the &2ar$ =avant&< set out to find it This aspect of competing "ith other groups for the same pri%e "as .uite novel, and opened up several ne" gameplay possibilitiesTshould you 'oin one of these groups or slaughter them+ /nother nice development "as &multiple beginnings,& a t"ist on the multiple endings of the pre.uel !our different beginnings "ere available, but "hich one you experienced depended on ho" your imported party completed the previous game 9or "hether you started fresh< 1i$e its predecessors, Crusaders of t1e Dar* %a4ant is a difficult, complicated game that it .uite intimidating to beginners, even if it does feature auto-mapping and a mousedriven interface The combat engine even factors in the characters# mental and physical fatigue, "hich steadily gro"s during the many protracted battles Pic$ing loc$s is li$e"ise no easy tas$, but re.uires .uic$ reflexes 9you must hit the button at 'ust the right moment as the tumblers roll< Cevertheless, Crusaders of t1e Dar* %a4ant "as praised by critics and "as not really eclipsed until the release of Wi>ardry K in GAA5, "hich -#ll discuss in the next installment

Might and Magic: A Brave New World


/lthough there have been do%ens and do%ens of successful CRPG series over the decades, the most long-lived are 2lti-a, Wi>ardry, and Ce" World Computing#s #ig1t and #agic -ndeed, each of these series received installments into the GAAA#s 4f the three, ho"ever, #ig1t and #agic seems at times to lie too much in the shado" of its older brothers Cevertheless, it#s an interesting series that made several $ey developments to the genre

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The first #ig1t and #agic, subtitled Boo* '. )1e %ecret of t1e 'nner %anctu-, "as clearly a labor of love by developer @on Han Caneghem and his "ife >ichaela Caneghem did the bul$ of the coding and design himself, and then co-founded Ce" World Computing "ith >ichaela and >ar$ Cald"ell The game debuted on the /pple -- in 56;?, follo"ed by ports for the C-?8, >=-24=, and >ac platforms a year later Contemporary revie"ers praised it highly, comparing it very favorably to the competition 9this "as "hen )1e Bard<s )ale "as "inning over huge audiences for the genre< The biggest dra" seemed to be the immense si%e of the game "orld, HarnD there "ere over 8,AAA locations and :: areas to explore0 !urthermore, the game "as much more liberal than most in allo"ing players to explore the map ho"ever they "anted, rather than the fixed se.uences of

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#ig1t and #agic pioneered several gameplay elements that "ould sho" up in later games li$e Bane of t1e Cos-ic /orge, such as having the characters# race and gender play a strong role in the gameplay !or instance, one of the $ingdoms in #ig1t and #agic is stringently anti-male, and an all-male party "ill not be "elcomed 1i$e"ise, character alignment 9i e , good, neutral, or evil< plays a role in "hich locations the party can visit !inally, the game#s difficulty "as considerably lo"er than most other games on the shelf, and "as thus .uite popular "ith gamers not yet ready to tac$le Wi>ard<s Cro,n or )1e Bard<s )ale 9- should note that the early releases of the game started the characters off "ith no money and no "eapons but clubsD ne" versions "ere .uic$ly released that offered a much better prepared starting party< Combat is a simple text-driven affair, "ith the strengths of the monsters balanced so as not to over"helm the player#s party (ven if the party died, players could easily restore the game at the most recently visited inn E#uc1 of t1e fun of any fantasy ga-e, 1o,e4er, lies in t1e creation of t1e c1aracters ,it1 ,1o- you go ad4enturing E Mfrom the #ig1t and #agic instruction manual The plot focuses on six adventurers in a .uest to discover the secret of the &-nner =anctum,& though little information is offered upfront about this .uest or its ob'ect -ndeed, the ultimate .uest is $ept intentionally vague, and left for players to gradually piece together as they explore Harn 1i$e the early 2lti-a games, #ig1t and #agic contains a mixture of fantasy and sci-fi elements -t also featured one of the best manuals of any of the early CRPGs, a spiral-bound affair "ith a fold-out map of Harn -n short, the first #ig1t and #agic game made a great impression on critics and gamers

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Ce" World Computing released the first se.uel, 0ates to !not1er World, in 56;; /lthough the engine "as left mostly untouched, the graphics received a boost to (G/T and the already vast "orld "as expanded The biggest changes "ere auto-mapping, ne" character classes, more spells, and the ability to allo" t"o non-player characters called &hirelings& into the party -nterestingly, the auto-mapping tool is a s$ill 9Cartography< that must be learned by a characterD it#s not active by default 1i$e its predecessor, 0ates to !not1er World is a loosely-$nit game that offers players considerable freedom to move about the game "orld 9this time, &Cron&< (ventually, though, players learn that =heltem, the villain from the first game, is set to destroy Cron by forcing it into the sun *eating the game re.uires not only thoroughly traversing Cron, but also traveling through four elemental planes and even in time There are plenty of surprises in store for the player, including devices that change the characters# gender0 1i$e ==-#s earlier P1antasie games, the characters aged and "ould died soon after reaching 7:

#ig1t and #agic '''. 'sles of )erra "as released in 5665, and "as the first game in the series to utili%e the PC#s ne" HG/ graphic cards, as "ell as sound card for effects and digiti%ed speech -t#s also the first #ig1t and #agic to offer support for the mouse There are several nice features "orth mentioning, such as on-screen character portraits that change to reflect the status and mood of each character 9i e , content, asleep, turned to stone<, story-boosting cinematics, and &life stones & These &life stones& simplified the traditional hit point system "ith a color code systemTgreen for good, yello" for not so good, and red for nearly dead 9monster labels used the same system< 4ther enhancements include ranged combat, a more liberal save-game scheme, and a chec$list of incomplete .uests / last nod to novices is a button that, "hen pressed, instantly transports the party bac$ to an inn ,o"ever, this panic button has a costTeach character loses a level of experience With the fourth game, Clouds of 9een 9566G<, Ce" World .uietly dropped support for other platforms and focused on >=-24= 9though a special 5668 combo called World of 9een "as ported to >acintosh< Clouds of 9een and Dar*side of 9een 9566I< are really one large .uest bro$en into t"o chun$sTthe ultimate goal is the destruction of =heltem -ndeed, both games can be combined into a single game called World of 9een, "hich grants access to areas unavailable in either stand-alone game 9adding up to about U the si%e of the game< *oth games offer only slight enhancements to the core engine used in 'sles of )erra, but Ce" World made good use of the ne" C2-R4> storage medium by adding .uality soundtrac$s -n 566?, Ce" World Computing "as bought by I2A, and continued to publish ne" #ig1t and #agic CRPGs 9of varying .uality< as late as GAAG ,o"ever, in GAAI the rights passed to Ebisoft The latest #ig1t and #agic game, Dar* #essia1 9GAA?<, is a firstperson shooter style game developed by the !rench company !r*ane %tudios, and seems to have little in common "ith its famed predecessors

Sierra's Genre-Bending CRPGs


=ierra 4n-1ine is much better $no"n for its graphical adventure games 9G/Gs< than its CRPGs, though it did publish at least t"o influential series: @uest for 0lory and the Krondor games *oth of these games are noted for their blurring of the line bet"een CRPG and G/Gs, and are far more invested in story and pu%%le elements than most CRPGs

+ero's Quest (,OS)8 .e(6 +h6 ta( till6 7ill (o+:

The first @uest for 0lory game "as originally titled Hero<s @uest. %o 5ou Want to be a Hero, and released for >=-24= in 566A 9ports for !-iga and !tari %) follo"ed later that year< =ierra later got into a .uandary over the name 9>ilton *radley released a board game also named Hero<s @uest< and decided to enhance and re-release it in 566G as @uest for 0lory The game loo$s very much li$e a typical =ierra G/G 9i e , King<s @uest, %pace @uest<, but offers CRPG elements li$e the ability to select a character class

9fighter, mage, thief< and "or$ gradually to improve his s$ills There are several nice innovations "orth mentioningTfor instance, players solve pu%%les differently depending on "hat type of character they are playing !or instance, fighters and thieves can climb a tree to fetch a ring in a bird#s nest, but magic-users must cast a spell 4f course, combat is approached much differently as "ell >ages and thieves should avoid close combat 9melee<, "hereas fighters are encouraged to 'ump right in -n any case, combat is a timed, almost arcade-li$e affair that involves choosing appropriate moves and countermoves 9i e , stri$e "hen the monster isn#t bloc$ing< Gameplay changes considerably depending on the character#s class, so the replay value of this game is much higher than in most G/Gs or CRPGs The tone of the game is decidedly satirical and often do"nright silly !or instance, the to"n is named =pielburg, ruled by *aron =tefan Hon =pielburg, and thieves can attempt to practice their pic$-loc$ s$ill by typing &pic$ nose & -t#s definitely not a game that ta$es itself seriously or puts on literary airs Hero<s @uest originally implemented a simple text-parser to carry on dialogues or perform actionsTfor instance, &as$ about the brigands& and &climb tree & The re-release replaced the text parser "ith an icon-based, mouse-controlled interface 4f course, some fans of the original version "ere outraged by this &enhancement,& arguing that it severely limits their ability to interact "ith the "orld =ierra responded by releasing both versions in its @uest for 0lory !nt1ology released in 566? -n any case, the game is appropriately described as a true &cult classic,& and regularly sho"s up on many critics# top-ten lists of their favorite games =ierra released four other @uest for 0lory games, beginning "ith )rial by /ire in 566A and ending "ith Dragon /ire in 566; )rial by /ire introduces the ne" paladin character class, and the third game, Wages of War 9566G<, is the first to ma$e the transition into G:?-color graphics, digiti%ed sound effects, and the ne", icon-based interface mentioned above -n addition, an &over"orld& map "as added that simulates travel across great distances, during "hich the character is sub'ect to random encounters Cot surprisingly, all of these changes met "ith mixed reactions among fans, some calling it the best and others the "orst of the series The criticisms are many, but seem to mostly emphasi%e the rather banal pu%%les and repetitious combat The combat system "as revamped in the fourth game, %1ado,s of Dar*ness, released in 566I The perspective shifts to a side vie" during battles, ma$ing the experience even more arcade-li$e, though it#s important to note that there is an option to let the computer fight the battles instead /s the title implies, this is a much dar$er game than the rest, and featured voice actors 9most notably @ohn Rhys-2avies< -#ll discuss the final game, Dragon /ire, in the next installment EDyna-i? didn<t :ust license a ga-e, 1ang c1aracter na-es on generic icons and call it a Rift,ar ga-e= )1ey spent 1ours tal*ing to -e about all -anner of t1ings in a 1eartfelt atte-pt to <get it rig1t < )1e ob:ect of t1e e?ercise ,as to be t1e first co-puter ga-e t1at felt li*e it ,as part of a good ad4enture no4el E MRaymond ( !eist in the Betrayal at Krondor instruction manual

Betra"al at 2rondor (,OS)8 The pol(1onal #/02= hot at the bi1 time8

cener( prett( m+ch r+ined thi

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=ierra also published the Krondor series, beginning "ith 2ynamix#s Betrayal at Krondor in 566I These games are perhaps most note"orthy for being based on Raymond ( !eist#s "orld of >id$emia, made famous by !eist#s celebrated Rift,ar saga !eist himself even "rote a noveli%ation of the game -t features turn-based combat, a s$ill-based character system 9no &levels&<, clever riddles, and a good deal of !eist-inspired text and cutscenes Enfortunately, the graphics "eren#t up to many gamers# standards even in 566I, a sad fact that limited the game#s success Trees and mountains loo$ 'agged and &polygonal & The second game, Betrayal in !ntara 95667<, is not actually based on !eist#s "orld at allT=ierra temporarily lost its license and had to create a ne" "orld called Ramar This game is also plagued "ith substandard graphics for the time, and "as roundly dismissed by critics, even though - found it .uite en'oyable =ierra released Betrayal at Krondor for free distribution in a valiant effort to promote the game, but it seemed almost doomed from the start The third game, Return to Krondor, released in 566;, right most of the "rongs and is considered by many fans to be the best of the three We#ll discuss it next time as "ell, though, since it#s clearly part of the Platinum rather than the Golden /ge 4ther companies experimented "ith CRPGJadventure hybrids, including ==- Real-s of Dar*ness 956;7< is an interesting mix of fantasy and sci-fi themes, "ith clever pu%%les and a fairly sophisticated parser -nfocom also experimented "ith CRPG elements Beyond Zor*. )1e Coconut of @uendor 956;7< is loaded "ith hilarious satire and comedy, but many adventure fans "ere turned off by the CRPG elements even though they did ostensibly add more replay value !urthermore, players got discouraged "hen they discovered they had gotten the game into an &un-"innable& state and had to start over While this possibility is common enough in older adventure games, it "as unacceptable in a game that re.uired hours and hours of dedicated gameplay to build up a character#s experience -ncidentally, there has never been a consensus among fans "hether narratives and pu%%les enhance or detract from the CRPG experience Cevertheless, 'ust about all CRPGs feature some $ind of story, no matter ho" minimal and clichVd, and a great many involve challenges beyond the usual hac$#n slash -t#s a dispute that "ill probably never be

settled, but "ho cares+ - certainly appreciate variety and find myself preferring one type of game one moment and another the next0

Golden /ge >iscellanies


/s you can clearly see, CRPG development during the Golden /ge "as at an all-time high Though some of the best-$no"n and celebrated titles "ouldn#t sho" up for a fe" more years, by that time 9the &Platinum /ge,&< things had "ound do"n considerably !rom here on out, stand-alone, one-player CRPGs "ould become rarer and thus more precious, replaced in large part by >>4RPGs and other types of games "ith CRPG &elements & ,o"ever, before "e close up our discussion of the Golden /ge, - must at least mention a fe" more brilliant CRPGs, even if they aren#t as "ell $no"n as the ones -#ve discussed above Throughout this piece, -#ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but still couldn#t manage to mention e4ery CRPG released bet"een 56;:-566I -nstead, -#ve tried to spend more time tal$ing about really important 9sub'ective, - $no"< CRPGs Co doubt many of my more, shall "e say, temperamental readers "ill be foaming at the mouth because - neglected even to mention the obscure game that they consider the greatest CRPG ever made

#aer" Tale !d3enture (Ami1a)8 /eal-time6 third-per on combat ain=t ea ( 7hen (o+ don=t kno7 7hich b+tton attack 8

There are games li$e >icro-llusion#s /aery )ale !d4enture 956;7<, a real-time thirdperson CRPG that in many "ays anticipates Diablo and Baldur<s 0ate /nd ho" could anyone be so crass as to mention !lien /ires and not -nfogrames# Dra**1en, (lectronic /rts# Keef t1e )1ief, or +egacy of t1e !ncientsA Hillsfar, hello+ Where is )i-es of +oreA Dragon WarsA !ge of !d4entureA (ven though this article is explicitly concerned "ith co-puter RPGs, isn#t it foolish not to at least cover console classics Dragon Warrior, )1e

+egend of Zelda, and /inal /antasyA -f - someho" failed to mention the CRPG you love more dearly than life itself, please accept my humble apologyT- sincerely tried my best ,o"ever, "hile - can almost see the hate piling up before in my email .ueue, there is one last game - simply -ust discuss if -#m to escape an angry lynch mob, and that#s +egend of t1e Red Dragon 9there, you can unclench your stiletto no"0< +egend of t1e Red Dragon 9henceforth +oRD<, a game that many of us "ill remember from our dial-up **= days, "as released in 56;6 by Robinson Technologies, a company founded by =eth /ble Robinson +oRD "as one of the best-$no"n **= &door games,& "hich "ere compact online games played mostly by fol$s in the pre-WWW era 9and "ho didn#t belong to big net"or$ li$e !-erica 3nline, 0&nie, Portal, or Prodigy, "hich featured a selection of "onderful >E2s and even some pioneering graphical >>4RPGs< 2oor games "ere necessary small because of the slo" speed of most dial-up connections 9- remember thin$ing my G8AA */E2 modem "as a gift from the God of *and"idth<, but also the strain a large game "ould put on the **= server Cevertheless, though the game lac$s graphics and is simplistic compared even to &Rogueli$es,& its colorful text and humor resulted in a highly playable and memorable game Who could flirting "ith Hiolet the *armaid or =eth the *ard in the local inn+ !urthermore, +oRD is an easy game to modify via third-party add-ons, and .uite a fe" of these -n-Game >odules "ere created and distributed "idely The soft"are "as available first for the !-iga platform, but .uic$ly ported to #%"D3% Robinson even released a se.uel in 566G called $e, World, "hich departed "ildly from the first game -n fact, it#s a real-time, multiplayer game that#s much more &Rogueli$e & !ol$s "anting to get a taste for +oRD may "ant to chec$ out 1egend of the Green 2ragon, a bro"ser-based game that pays homage to the classic

Concluding Thoughts
=ome fol$s have "ondered 9rather loudly, - might add< "hy - chose to call this era the &Golden /ge,& arguing either that anything truly &golden& happened either before 56;: or after 566I - can#t deny that, at some point, - had to ma$e some tough calls Clearly, not e4ery or even -ost games released during this time period are "orthy of reverenceD many are mindless clones or absolute crap =ome of the masterpieces of the Golden /ge are hardly "hat "e#d call &original,& but merely successful combinations of elements ta$en from older and contemporary games Cevertheless, "hat - see happening bet"een 56;: and 566I is a huge outpouring of ne" games and ne" ideas, and, more importantly, innovation at every level CRPG developers "ere forced to re-invent the "heel to $eep up "ith ne" hard"are and soft"are developments, such as the "idespread adoption of the modern GE-, hard drive, and C2-R4> -t#s ama%ing to thin$ ho" challenging it "as for developers even to learn ho" to implement a mouse effectively, much less deal "ith an exponentially gro"ing color palette and ne" sound cards Gamers "ere expecting more and more, and it really "asn#t until after the Golden /ge that developers li$e *ioWare "ere finally able to consolidate all the gains made by earlier developers and produce really modern CRPGs Co"adays, it#s all too easy to loo$ at games li$e )1e Bard<s )ale, @uest of t1e !4atar, Bane of t1e Cos-ic /orge, )1e Pool of Radiance, Wasteland, or even Dungeon #aster and "onder "hat all the fuss "as about Cevertheless, these are the games that led directly to the modern CRPG, and no one "ho en'oys the latest &lder %crolls, Diablo, or Dungeon %iege should fail to doff his cap to Wi>ard<s Cro,n and !lternate Reality -n the third installment, -#ll be covering the &Platinum /ge,& "hich "ill cover all classics promised above and many more li$e Baldur<s 0ate and )1e &lder %crolls, as "ell as Diablo and Planescape. )or-ent =ee you there0

The .i tor( of #omp+ter /ole-0la(in1 2ame 0art """: The 0latin+m and Modern A1e (199%-300%)

Welcome bac$, brave adventurer, to the third and final installment of my history of our favorite computer game genre-the Computer RolePlaying Game, or CRPG for short -f you are ne" to this series, -#d suggest you stop no" and read The (arly )ears, "hich covers the dar$ origins of the genre, such as Richard Garriott#s !*alabet1 and =ir-Tech#s Wi>ardry series, and of course early mainframe CRPGs li$e dnd )ou should then chec$ out The Golden /ge, "hich pic$s up from 56;I and extends all the "ay to 566I, a period "hich represents the pea$ of CRPG development ,undreds of games and do%ens of series appeared during this time, several of "hich extend into the Platinum and >odern /ges The Golden /ge includes classics li$e ==-#s Pool of Radiance 956;;< and P1antasie 956;:<, or -nterplay#s )1e Bard<s )ale 956;:< and Wasteland 956;;<, and plenty of highly innovative titles li$e =ierra#s Hero<s @uest 956;6< and >asterplay#s %tar %aga 956;7< Without a good grounding in the CRPGs of these earlier periods, you might suffer from the all-too-common delusion that recent games li$e Diablo, $e4er,inter $ig1ts, and 3bli4ion came out of no"here WCRPGs are natural extensions of their traditional pen-and-paper games or table-top miniatures -nstead of simply imagining monsters and moss-covered labyrinths, computer games burst "ith ethereal life, than$s to ever-evolving graphics and sound effects ,ard-liners may complain that the real magic has been lostD for the rest of us, ho"ever, CRPGs are the reali%ation of our dreams - or more often, our nightmares X M=cott / >ay in Co-pute=, @an 5668 -nstead, these games can all trace their lineage bac$ to Golden /ge games, "hich can in turn trace their lineage bac$ to the late 567As -ndeed, although it#s a commonplace in game history to blurt out things li$e, &We#ve sure have come a long "ay since !*alabet10&, at one level "e really haven#t ta$en more than a fe" timid steps =ure, there have been enormous changes in graphics, sound, interface, and so on, but much of "hat "e cherish in a modern CRPG "as already present in games li$e 2yna>icro#s Dungeons of Daggorat1 and Texas -nstruments# )unnels of Doo- 9both 56;G< !urthermore, many games that come fairly late in the time line actually seem to some critics to be steps bac*,ards !or instance, although !T1 introduced Dungeon #aster in 56;7, "hich featured real-time, I-2 graphics in full color, other developers continued to release best-selling turn-based and tile-based games "ell into the 566As /nd even in GAA7, many critics argue that /=C-- or /C=- games li$e Rogue have never been surpassed, since sna%%y graphics and intricate story lines 'ust distract from "hat they thin$ ma$es CRPGs fun to play

-n short, rather than vie" the history of CRPGs as a neat time line that begins "ith total crap and 'ust $eeps getting less crappy all the time, - see it as a treasure-filled, monsterinfested dungeon While you can get from one point on that path to any other, you#ll never travel in a straight line--and you never $no" "hat#s "aiting for you around the next corner 1et#s 'ust hope you brought your lo.uacious old pal 1ilarcor0 To my mind, the games that really represent the best of the genre appeared during the period -#ve termed the &Platinum /ge,& "hich begins in 566? "ith the publication of three very important games, 4rigin#s 2lti-a 2nder,orld. )1e %tygian !byss 9566G<, *li%%ard#s Diablo, and *ethesda#s &lder %crolls. Daggerfall 9both 566?< 4ther high points of the age include -nterplay#s /allout 95667<, *lac$ -sleYs Planescape. )or-ent 95666<, *ioWare#s Baldur<s 0ate 9566;< and Baldur<s 0ate '' 9GAAA<, Troi$a#s !rcanu- 9GAA5< and =irTech#s Wi>ardy K 9GAA5< The single-player, standalone CRPG reached its %enith during this period, and -#ve begun to doubt if Baldur<s 0ate '' "ill ever be surpassed (ven in many of these games, though, the presence of online, multi-player options signaled the impending doom of the old CRPG "e $ne" and loved /t the end of the platinum age, the >assively >ultiplayer 4nline Role-Playing Game, or the >>4RPG, dominated the scene, and, at least to this critic, the future of the CRPG is grimmer than anything ever dreamed up by 1ord *ritish

Bio&are= Baldur's ,ate in1le-handedl( bro+1ht A,C, back to the ma

e 8

Cot all that glitters is platinum, ho"ever -tYs during the early 566As that "e really begin to see games marred by sloppy code, particularly on the 24= and Windo"s platforms >any other"ise impressive games "ere doomed at the start by hundreds of gamecrashing glitches, "hich infuriated gamers and united critics against them The li$eliest explanation for the preponderance of bugs during this era is an industry"ide shift in development methods -nstead of 'ust a handful or even a single person in

charge of the coding, games "ere being built by increasingly large teams of speciali%ed programmers, "ho "ould "or$ on individual parts and then 'am everything together While this process occasionally "ent smoothly, more often that not bits of the code "ere incompatible, and finding bugs in such massive piles of code "as li$e finding the proverbial unassigned pointer in the memory stac$ /nother $ey issue "as the lac$ of industry standards among early graphic and sound card manufacturersD developers had to slap together code to support do%ens of different standardsTor ris$ alienating hordes of money-"aving gamers While it#s no" relatively easy to do"nload and install a patch to address such issues, most people "eren#t online until "ell after many of these bug-infested games had passed out of circulation The period -#ve termed the &>odern /ge& begins in GAAG "ith the publication of *ioWare#s $e4er,inter $ig1ts, and includes games li$e >icrosoft#s Dungeon %iege and Troi$a#s )1e )e-ple of &le-ental &4il /lthough these games have probably sold many thousands more copies than games from earlier periods, they seem to represent more of a loo$ing bac$ than a loo$ing for"ard, and -#m increasingly "orried by the large number of CRPG fans migrating to"ards >>4RPGs -n fact, - don#t even consider these games to be part of the same genre, a point -#ll get to to"ards the end of this article Ep to no", -#ve tried to simplify things by postponing my discussion of >E2s 9>ulti-Eser 2ungeons< and >>4RPGs 9>assively >ulti-player 4nline Role-Playing Games<, "hich can actually trace their history as far bac$ as the stand-alone CRPG -#ll explain "hy at the end of this article 1et#s pic$ up our story, then, in 566G, a year "hich culminated in 4rigin#s 2lti-a 2nder,orld. )1e %tygian !byss, a progressive game that demonstrated ne" and exciting possibilities and "ould set the tone for much of "hat "ould follo"

To7ard the 0latin+m A1e


The early 566As sa" the publication of do%ens of CRPGs from many different developers, many of "hom are virtually un$no"n today /lthough the D3% and later Windo,s platforms "ould soon dominate the computer game industry, for no" both the !tari %) and Co--odore !-iga "ere going strong /lthough highly polished, many of the CRPGs developed during this time are highly derivative and offer little innovation, but a fe" have managed to attain cult classic status W/ thousand years ago, tuc$ed deep in the beautiful "oods to the southeast of 1yramion, there "as a small village called !or$broo$ The people "ho lived there "ere blond haired and good naturedD they lived by fishing and hunting and traded "ith the nearest to"n "hich lay t"o days travel to the "est -n this village lived a small boy named Tar X M from the !-berstar manual =everal of these early 566As games "ere German imports 4ne such game, !-berstar by German developer Thalion, features good graphics, a great auto-mapping tool, and a huge "orld to explore -t seemed to offer much promise, but even a "ell-$no"n soundtrac$ by chipmaestro @ochen ,ippel "as not enough to "in it much fame in the E= The se.uel, !-ber-oon, "as only released in Germany, and the third game 9the series "as planned as a trilogy< "as never completed Cevertheless, !-berstar is among the best CRPGs for the !-iga platform

-n 566G, =ir-Tech published an (nglish translation of Real-s of !r*ania. Blade of Destiny, another successful German game based on the RPG system Das %c1,ar>e !uge 9)1e Dar* &ye< )1e Dar* &ye system "as a strong competitor for Dungeons & Dragons in Germany, and offered gamers a viable alternative to T=R#s rules 4ne nice innovation is that characters suffer from a variety of negative attributes, such as fear of the dead or a hot temper, "hich have direct effects on gameplay The game sold "ell enough to "arrant t"o se.uels, %tar )rail 95668< and %1ado,s 34er Ri4a 9566?<, both of "hich "ere only available on the D3% platform 9the first "as available on the !-iga and !tari %) platforms< The last game too$ advantage of the bythen "idely adopted C2-R4>, and boasted =HG/ graphics, but all of the games s"itch bet"een I-2, first-person perspective in exploration mode and isometric vie" in combat mode 9&isometric vie"& or &IJ8 perspective& is a "ay of portraying a I-2 ob'ect on a flat surfaceD consider the familiar line dra"ing of a cube< The combat system is highly tactical and turn-based 9reminiscent of an ==- Goldbox game< 4f the three, most critics agree that %1ado,s o4er Ri4a is the most excellent, and -#ll have more to say about it later 4ther interesting games of the early 566As are -magitec#s Dae-onsgate, >icroprose#s Dar*lands, and !lair#s W1ale<s (oyage Dae-onsgate 9566G< seems to be an exercise in poor design, and is only note"orthy for its unusual mar$eting gimmic$s -t suffered from a ghastly interface, and its most note"orthy characteristic is that it shipped "ith a H,= tape The tape contained a goofy video entitled &Travis =e"erbreath& that had only a tenuous connection to the game Dae-onsgate also featured a &conversation system& allegedly capable of understanding over 7A,AAA "ords 9fe" critics seem to believe this blurb on the game#s box< -f Dae-onsgate is all hype and no substance, Dar*lands, a meticulously historical CRPG set in medieval Germany, is all substance "ithout enough hype -ndeed, it is undeservedly obscure despite its mind-boggling attention to detail !or instance, not only does the game include historically accurate arms and armor, but even the "eights and relative effectiveness are incorporated into the gameplay -t also boasts of a huge game"orld "ith over 6A German cities and to"ns, all "ith historically accurate place names The goal of the game is simply to "in fame and fortuneD the game is .uite open-ended and avoids many of the stale 232 clichVs >agic, for instance, is based on the ancient art of alchemy and is .uite intricate, and clerics can call on 58A different saints, each "ith a uni.ue personality >any gamers appreciated its intelligent character generation system, "hich involved adding years on to the character#s starting age in return for valuable s$ills Enfortunately, the game#s code "as riddled "ith sho"-stopping bugs, and gamers found the save game system irritating at best Cevertheless, it remains a cult classic "ith a small but highly dedicated follo"ing

(ar lands i the mo t hi toricall( acc+rate and detailed #/02 (et de i1ned8

W1ale<s (oyage is perhaps best described as a combination of !irebird#s epic spacetrading game &lite and ==-#s &ye of t1e Be1older, and vaguely reminiscent of *inary =ystem#s earlier and much more successful %tarflig1t series 956;?, 56;6< and (lectronic /rt#s %entinel Worlds 956;6< W1ale<s (oyage did not fare "ell among critics, many of "hom bashed it for its cumbersome control scheme, "hich re.uired do%ens of mouse clic$s 'ust to get one of the player#s four characters to attac$ The game does feature a uni.ue character generation method involving eugenics and 2C/ manipulation /fter choosing an appropriate set of parents, players can &mutate& their characters# 2C/ in exchange for better stats The trade-off, ho"ever, is greater susceptibility to disease Players also get to choose "hich schools and universities their characters attend -n any case, the game "as not a hit, and although there "as a se.uel released in Germany, an (nglish version never arrived on /merican shores While "e#re on the sub'ect of rotten tomatoes, "e should probably mention Cybertech#s %pell:a--er. Pirates of Real-space, "hich almost certainly contributed to its publisher ==-#s fall from grace /lthough T=R#s %pell:a--er universe "as successful among tabletop role-playing gamers, Cybertech#s effort to bring the "orld to D3% failed 'ust as miserably at Cybertech#s, and for much the same reason *esides lac$luster graphics and the lac$ of a good plot, the game "as not properly play-tested and frustrated gamers "ith bug-infested code

!ltima and !ltima !nder7orld: &ho= )o7:

the ,+n1eon Ma ter

We sa" in the last installment ho" !T1#s Dungeon #aster represented a significant brea$through for I2 CRPGs /lthough there had been plenty of other I2, first-person perspective CRPGs before 9including the real-time game Dungeons of Daggorat1<, turnbased games "ere by far the ma'ority ,o"ever, even though Dungeon #aster "as the best-selling game of all-time for the !tari %) platform, and achieved remar$able success

on other platforms li$e the Co--odore !-iga, many gamers and developers seemed reluctant to 'ump on the real-time I-2 band"agon The first big developer to do so in ma'or "ay "as West"ood /ssociates, "ho developed an extremely successful series called )1e &ye of t1e Be1older, published by ==- 9their socalled &*lac$ *ox& games< ,o"ever, although these games "ere set in real-time, movement "as not fluid but discrete !or instance, if your party turned left, the perspective instantly shifted 6A degrees, cutting rather than panning to the ne" vie"point Cevertheless, many Dungeon #aster clones "ere published in the early 566As, such as Raven#s Blac* Crypt, /rtGame#s !bandoned Places. ! )i-e for Heroes, and =ilmaris# 's1ar. +egend of t1e /ortress 9all 566G<, a highly-polished game that "as successful enough to spa"n t"o se.uels 9 #essengers of Doo- in 566I and )1e %e4en 0ates of 'nfinity in 5668< /nother popular game from this period is Hirgin Games# +ands of +ore. )1e )1rone of C1aos, developed by West"ood =tudio--the same company that produced &ye of t1e Be1older )1rone of C1aos "as noted for its excellent graphics, music, and interfaceD West"ood "as an experienced CRPG ma$er at the height of their game West"ood developed t"o se.uels, 0uardians of Destiny 95667< and +ands of +ore ''' 95666<, "hich "e#ll discuss later

#+te6 9ibrant 1raphic and h+mor di tin1+i h the 4ands of 4ore erie from mo t #/02 of it da(8

4rigin#s 2lti-a 2nder,orld. )1e %tygian !byss "as the first I2 CRPG to finally achieve fluid camera movement 9and is said to have inspired id#s famous first-person shooter engine< 2eveloped by *lue =$y Productions 9later 1oo$ing Glass Technologies<, )1e %tygian !byss is a spin-off of 4rigin#s celebrated 2lti-a series, but its gameplay focuses more on .uic$ physical reflexes than its predecessors 4n the surface, it seems li$e 4rigin#s attempt to mimic Dungeon #aster -t#s set deep in a dungeon, and the /vatar needs to constantly search for food and light sources 9e g , torches< (ven the magic system is similarD spells are cast by arranging se.uences of

&rune stones& found sprin$led throughout the dungeon ,o"ever, unli$e Dungeon #aster, 2lti-a 2nder,orld features fluid I-2 movement Players can not only turn left and right smoothly, but also loo$ up and do"n, climb up, and even s"im Players also have more direct control during combat: The type of attac$ 9slash, stab, hac$< is indicated by the position of the mouse pointer, and the strength by ho" long the player holds do"n the mouse button >any gamers and critics argued that these innovations made the game realistic and thus more immersive, as though players "ere actually in the game rather than simply controlling it from a distance /nother nice feature "as a &map,& "hich not only trac$ed movement but allo"ed players to enter notes -n any case, you don#t have to be a game historian to see ho" this game paved the "ay for the &lder %crolls series

The -nderworld erie 7a ahead of it time6 b+t that= immer ion doe it take to kill rat 7ith a hatchet:

not al7a(

a 1ood thin18 .o7 m+ch

The storyline is fairly straightfor"ard =omeho", the /vatar has found himself bac$ in *ritannia 'ust in time to "itness a creature carting off a *aron#s daughter in a sac$ Caturally enough, the guards suspect the /vatar of being an accomplice !ortunately, he#s spared the noose, but only on the condition that he enter a fearsome dungeon called the &Great =tygian /byss&, and return "ith the *aron#s daughter =oon enough, the /vatar encounters some survivors of a failed colony, and eventually learns that the $idnapping is only part of a much more sinister plot -t#s a good storyline that ma$es the game more than 'ust a I2 coding feat -n designing the 2nder,orld system, one of the things "e attempted to do "as to merge traditional fantasy RPG elements, such as .uests and combats and explorations, "ith a sophisticated three-dimensional simulation of a sensible and believable "orld M from the 2lti-a 2nder,orld '' manual

4rigin follo"ed up in 566I "ith a se.uel named +abyrint1 of Worlds The se.uel made fe" innovations other than the implementation of digital sound effects and an expanded vie"ing area The storyline is also more complex and more closely related to the main 2lti-a series / magical crystal of &blac$roc$& has formed over 1ord *ritish#s castle, isolating the land of *ritannia from its foremost defenders !ortunately, the /vatar can use a smaller crystal to travel to eight different dimensions in search of a solution to the dilemma -t#s a massive game, and the alternate dimensions allo" for many intriguing scenarios, such as a fortress floating in the s$y, an icy "asteland, and a surreal &(thereal Hoid & =urprisingly, the 2lti-a 2nder,orld series is not as "ell $no"n today as later games of its type, such as the &lder %crolls series Perhaps the $ey reason for this is that the games demanded more computer po"er than most PC gamers could afford in 566G -t#s a rare case of "hen a lengthy production delay could have resulted in better sales %tygian !byss "as released for =ony#s Playstation in 5667 and "as ported to Windo,s #obile by Nio -nteractive in GAAG

/scending Pagans at the *lac$ Gate


We might expect that 4rigin "ould have incorporated 2lti-a 2nder,orld<s I-2 engine into its main 2lti-a series, but this "as not the case 2lti-a (''. )1e Blac* 0ate, released the same year as )1e %tygian !byss, featured much better graphics than its predecessors, but still relied on the familiar top-do"n perspective Perhaps the biggest interface change "as a s"itch to real-time gameplay, "hich drastically altered the "ay combat is handled -t "as also the first game in the series that can be controlled entirely by the mouse--the manual indicates that mouse play is &highly recommended by 1ord *ritish & We might not thin$ much of this issue today, but this "as at a time "hen many PC o"ners didn#t even o"n mice, much less see them as a game device

0erhap the be t of all the -lti.a 2ame 6 The Blac 1ame7orld e9er pre ented in a 9ideo 1ame 8

,ate

port

one of the mo t f+ll( interacti9e

(ven though Blac* 0ate didn#t ta$e the leap into I2, it is still "idely hailed as the best 2lti-a game, rivaled only by 2lti-a ''' in terms of popularity The $ey assets are the game#s gripping plot, "ell-developed characters, and painsta$ingly-detailed environments >uch "as made of the game#s high level of interactivity ,o" many CRPGs do you $no" that "ill let you mil$ co"s and change a baby#s diapers 'ust for the hec$ of it+ To put it mildly, )1e Blac* 0ate is an unforgettable experience to those "ho have ta$en ?AS hours re.uired to complete it, and "ill probably al"ays en'oy a loyal and dedicated fan base Enfortunately, the original games exploited some memory routines that render them incompatible on modern Windo,s-based systems Than$fully, gamers can play 2lti-a ('' using (xult, a GP1-licensed program that attempts to recreate the game on modern operating systems )1e Blac* 0ate<s plot is .uite sophisticated compared to most games of the era, and li$e most other 2lti-a games, it has plenty of references and allusions to religion and politics /s the game opens, the /vatar is taunted by the infamous Guardian, then "his$ed a"ay to the land of *ritannia some GAA years after your visit, 'ust in time to investigate the scene of a ritualistic murder (ventually he learns about a cult called &The !ello"ship,& "hich some critics argue satiri%es the Church of =cientology Perhaps more endearing than the plot are the characters, "ho are far better developed here than in almost any other CRPG -nstead of merely standing in one place for all eternity 'ust to offer you a thinly disguised hint or geographical tidbit, the characters are sho"n "al$ing about, engaging in their daily activities--they even to go to bed at night Conversations "ith these characters are also more convincing, and can spea$ about several topics The game is also praised for its open-ended gameplay There are very fe" guard rails in )1e Blac* 0ate, a fact that can either thrill or intimidate inexperienced players -t#s .uite easy for players to end up "andering about the game "ithout the faintest clue "hat they#re &supposed& to do 4bviously, this lac$ of clear direction "ouldn#t bother players

"eaned on Rogue and other &sandbox& style games, but players more accustomed to &2o L, ), and then N& type games may find themselves .uite disoriented @ust to give you some idea of ho" intriguing the "orld of Blac* 0ate can be, -#ll .uote a bit from 4leg Roschin#s detailed revie" of the game on #obyga-es /t one point in the game, Roschin#s party met up "ith a unicorn, "ho, as legend has it, can only communicate "ith virgins The first time around, Roschin#s /vatar "as, in fact, a virgin, and admitted as much to the unicorn, "ho then tal$ed to him 4n a later visit, ho"ever, the /vatar had slept "ith a harlot at *uccaneer#s 2en, and the Enicorn refused to spea$ "ith him /s usual, "e see that Garriott subtletyD sure, you can do sinful things, but you "on#t al"ays get a"ay "ith it 1ater on, *ethesda "ould capitali%e on this high level of interactivity in its celebrated &lder %crolls series 4rigin released an expansion for the game called )1e /orge of (irtue later that year, but it "asn#t until 566I that %erpent 'sle appeared -nstead of calling this game 2lti-a (''', 4rigin chose to label it as 2lti-a (''. Part ),o This odd naming convention seems to arise from Garriott#s principle that no t"o Eltima games should share the same game engine %erpent 'sle may have shared the same game engine, but "as much more linear and story-based than )1e Blac* 0ate, a fact "hich divided critics pretty evenly bet"een the t"o games The story begins 5; months after the first part, and involves traveling to a land named &=erpent -sle& to restore the balance destroyed there by the Guardian /pparently, the game "as rushed through production by 4rigin#s ne" o"ner, (lectronic /rts, and thus contained many dead ends 9players "ho found themselves in one had to restore to earlier saved games< 4rigin#s struggle "ith (lectronic /rts bear an uncanny resemblance to Garriott#s earlier conflict "ith =ierra 4n-1ine That conflict had also led to a lac$luster entry in the series, 2lti-a '' 4rigin did release an expansion to the game called %il4er %eed in 566I 4n a side note, in 5667 released its 2lti-a Collection for 24= and Windo"s, "hich includes the first 6 games 9including a PC port of !*alabet1< and both expansions Enfortunately, not all of the games run properly in Windo"s, but "ith a little "or$ and a tool li$e 24=*ox can run them under emulation -n 5668, 4rigin released 2lti-a ('''. Pagan, a game "ith a some"hat controversial title that aroused even more controversy among long-term fans of the series /gain, Garriott seems to have returned to the dra"ing board and decided that "hat players really needed "as more physical than intellectual challenges Thus, li$e so many console hits of the day, in Pagan the /vatar can run, 'ump, and climb across moving platforms Combat "as reduced 9or, enhanced, depending on your perspective< to a series of rapidfire mouse clic$s, re.uiring more dexterity than strategy to "in /s you might expect, the game gravely disappointed some fans and thrilled others, but the general consensus "as that the game "asn#t up to the 2lti-a standard >any of the $ey innovations that had made )1e Blac* 0ate so successful, such as a realistic night and day system, "ere abridged or altogether omitted /s if these faults "eren#t enough to commit Pagan to the flames, a plethora of bugs surfaced, frustrating even fanatical 2lti-a fans /gain, Garriott blamed the problems on (lectronic /rts and a rushed production schedule ,o"ever, the "orst "as yet to come The last and "orst of the single-player 2lti-a games, 2lti-a '9. !scension, "as published in 5666, and fans "ere even more disappointed than they had been "ith

Pagan The problem this time seems to lie mostly in a bait-and-s"itch game played by Garriott, "ho had promised a game more in line "ith the classic 2lti-a games, and "ent to fans for adviceT"ho provided it, diligently Enfortunately, the production cycle hit gravel early on, and the code "ent through at least four different versions and no small amount of drama 2lti-a 3nline "as also in production as this time, and no doubt added to the chaos 9-#ll have more to say about that game in a later section of this article< The end product "as a buggy and even more action-oriented game than Pagan, and abandoned the by-then conventional isometric perspective for a fully I-2 "orld in Ird-person perspective >ost 2lti-a critics bitterly dismissed !scension out of hand, but the game has managed to attract a small but dedicated fan base The complaints and defenses are many 4ne of the most often heard is that it#s really more of an &action adventure& than a true CRPG, a claim based on !scension<s rather limited &leveling up& capabilities and rather linear plot structure !ans of )1e Blac* 0ate "ere also irritated by the rigidity of many of the game#s events, such as a love story that some felt "as &shoved do"n their throats & /t any rate, no one complained about the game#s lush graphics, and the dayJnight cycle returned, and the music is .uite excellent There is also a high level of interactivity "ith ob'ects ,o"ever, a combination of poor voice acting, lac$luster dialog, and rather banal characters certainly haven#t helped the game "in over diehard 2lti-a fans, much less large audiences -ndeed, even a special &2ragon (dition& large-box version of the game that included several trin$ets--a nod to"ards older and more revered 2lti-a games--"asn#t enough to "in over 'aded fans Ceedless to say, !scension "as a sad "ay for this grand old series to end -t "as as if George 1ucas had died 'ust after rushing Jar Jar and t1e &,o*s %a4e C1rist-as into theaters

Tran cendin1 A cen ion: The 2othic Serie


(ven though !scension failed miserably, German developer Pirahna *ytes "as able to follo" more successfully in its footsteps, pushing the WactionX and WadventureX boundaries even further The 0ot1ic series debuted in Covember of GAA5, and features a real-time, I2 "orld set in Ird-person Wover the shoulderX perspective Gameplay focuses on inventory-based pu%%les as "ell as a difficult arcade-style combat system The game is most noted for its dar$, realistic ambiance and open-ended gameplay, "hich seems similar to that found in the &lder %crolls series but "ith more focus on character interaction 2espite some irritating interface problems and bugs, the game attracted a loyal and dedicated follo"ing Pirahna *ytes follo"ed up "ith 0ot1ic '' in GAAI and 'ust released 0ot1ic L in GAA? *oth games offered graphical and interface enhancements over their predecessors WWhen the scenery loo$s li$e a postcard, but the ,ero "ears his shield inside of his humerus, there are some ma'or .uality control issues going on X M Tim Tac$ett revie"ing 0ot1ic L on 0a-e Re4olution, 2ec 5;, GAA? -n some "ays, these games har$ bac$ to those aforementioned German imports, the Real-s of !r*ania series The games have much to offer, but for some reason havenYt received the attention they deserve While the strong competition has undoubtedly been a factor, there are other rationales for 0ot1icMs mediocre ratings The second game suffers from bad voice acting and poor translations, and the third game has enough bugs to ma$e an entomologistYs career

Critics have remained un"illing to forgive the a"$"ard combat system, though there doesnYt seem to be any hope for a general consensus on the overall .uality of these games

SS"= !tterl( Eor1ettable /ealm


-f the 2lti-a series "as sho"ing its age by 5666, ==- had entered a much steeper do"n"ard spiral by 566I /lthough the publisher and developer had triumphed during the Golden /ge "ith its T=R-licensed &Gold *ox& and &*lac$ *ox& titles, unimpressive games li$e %pell:a--er. Pirates of Real-space turned fans a"ay in droves Cevertheless, ==- trudged on for several more years, though they "ould eventually shift their focus bac$ to strategy games before officially entering the &Where are they no"+& file

The Pirates of Real.space introd+ced 1amer to ; teamp+nk6; b+t nobod( paid m+ch attention8

==- developed and published other T=R-licensed titles after their Gold and *lac$ *ox heydays, but none seemed to command the respect of their earlier games -n 566I, ==published Dar* %un. %1attered +ands, a top-do"n CRPG based on T=R#s post-apocalyptic Dar* %un campaign 2espite an intuitive interface and intriguing setting, the game#s mediocre graphics, 'er$y animation, typos, and buggy code $ept it out of the limelight ==- released a se.uel called Wa*e of t1e Ra4ager in 5668, but even though the graphics "ere improved, the bugs "ere bac$ 4ne particularly bad one "as .uic$ly dubbed &The *ug& among the many players "ho encountered it The *ug "ould suddenly prevent monsters from attac$ing the avatar, ma$ing the game a ca$e"al$ rather than the intense experience it "as supposed to be

/lthough such bugs "ould be easily enough addressed today by do"nloadable patches, such a practice "asn#t "idely practiced in the early 566As -f you "ere unluc$y enough to buy an early version of the game, you 'ust had to live "ith the bugs

Set in one of the le an( record 8

er-kno7n of TS/= campai1n ettin1 6 (ar

Sun5 Shattered 4ands didn=t break

==- also published games based on T=R#s horror-themed Ra4enloft campaign The first of these, Ra4enloft. %tra1d<s Possession, "as developed by 2ream!orge and published in 5668 1i$e 2lti-a 2nder,orld, %trad1<s Possession is a first-person perspective, I2 game "ith smooth scrolling, though a &step& mode is available / se.uel named %tone Prop1et appeared in 566:, offering enhanced graphics and some ne" abilities li$e flying and levitating *oth of these games are based on &Gothic& themes and seemed poised to ta$e advantage of the vampire fad spurred by Ceil @ordan#s 'nter4ie, ,it1 t1e (a-pire, "hich descended into pac$ed theaters on Covember of 5668 Why these games didn#t receive more recognition is a bit hard to determine Perhaps they "ere damned by faint praise from critics, "ho couldn#t find anything particularly good or bad about the series -n any case, these games are surely better than Ta$e-T"o -nteractive#s 'ron & Blood. Warriors of Ra4enloft, a truly rotten fighting game published by /cclaim in 566? for D3% and =ony#s Play%tation The last T=R-licensed game ==- published "as the infamously "retched 9and hard to spell< #en>oberran>an, "hich appeared in 5668 for D3% /nother first-person, I-2 game in the style of the Ra4enloft games, #en>oberran>an seemed to have all the ingredients necessary for a hit -t featured one of T=R#s most famous characters, 2ri%%t 2o#Erden, a dar$ elf of the Enderdar$ populari%ed by the novelist R / =alvatore !urthermore, the developer 92reamforge< had responded to earlier criticism and improved the game engine considerably Cevertheless, gamers .uic$ly complained about the endless number of boring battles that dragged out the game and ruined its pacing This is particularly noticeable in the crucial first stages of the gameD the game re.uires considerable patience before anything remotely interesting happens

The lac$ of strong sales in these games, and ==-#s t"o dismal console action titles %layer 95668< and Deat1*eep 9566:< "ere no doubt the stra" that bro$e ==-#s lucrative licensing agreement "ith T=R T=R decided to esche" exclusive licensing and extended the franchise to several rival companies, most notably -nterplay, "ho along "ith *lac$ -sle =tudios published *ioWare#s Baldur<s 0ate in 566; -#ll discuss some of these games in a moment ==- also published several other CRPGs during this era, mostly developed by (vent ,ori%on 9later 2reamforge< These include )1e %u--oning 9566G< and (eil of Dar*ness 9566I<, both isometric games that again met "ith faint praise from gamers and critics ==- released !lien +ogic in 5668, an isometric game developed by Ceridus soft"are based on the tabletop %*yreal-s of Jorune RPG 2espite being praised for its innovative premise and gameplay, critics complained about the difficult install procedure and steep learning curve of the game#s interface, and the game has faded into obscurity -n 566:, ==- developed World of !den. )1underscape and co-developed 9"ith Cyberlore< &nto-orp1. Plague of t1e Dar*fall *oth of these games are based on a "orld similar to the one found later in =ierra#s !rcanu-N it#s s"ords and sorcery meets &steampun$ & The first game features first-person perspective, but the second reverts bac$ to the familiar isometric perspective =adly for ==-, these "ell-crafted and highly playable games seem to have attracted little interest from CRPG fans then or no"

" it a #/02 or an ad9ent+re 1ame: A+ t h+t +p and kill the 9ampire8

The story of ==-#s slo" but steady demise can probably be summed up in one phrase: 2eath by mediocrity The company 'ust couldn#t seem to develop or publish another masterpiece li$e Pool of Radiance or &ye of t1e Be1older Games li$e #en>oberran>an and %1attered +ands 'ust lac$ed the glamour of games from rival companies, and even better graphics and updated interfaces couldn#t disguise the old engine under the hood =loppy coding and play-testing nailed the coffin shut

,on=t let the ;rin1; b+ ine fool (o+--Arcan+m= tereot(pical ;Tolkien-in pired; #/028

; teamp+nk; ma terpiece i

far from the

A,C, 2et ,+mber and ,+mberer


/lthough T=R "as li$ely correct in their assumption that ==- "as no longer the best company to represent their interests, they didn#t exactly stri$e gold "ith their next fe" licensees >any of these games "ere action or strategy titles, but there "ere a fe" CRPGs in the mix, such as =ierra#s Birt1rig1t. )1e 0orgon<s !lliance 9566?< and -nterplay#s Descent to 2nder-ountain 9566;< Birt1rig1t "as developed by =ynergistic =oft"are and is a mix of adventure and strategy as "ell as more conventional CRPG elements -tYs based on T=R#s highly successful Birt1rig1t game, and features a great story about a menace named &The Gorgon,& "ho is hellbent on $illing and extracting the divine blood of $ings to secure his po"er The game promised plenty of political intrigue and many multifaceted characters, and players can control not 'ust single heroes but an entire $ingdom !inally, Birt1rig1t had =ierra#s po"erful name recognition behind it, "hich included their stunningly successful and highly innovative @uest for 0lory series Enfortunately, Birt1rig1t. )1e 0orgon<s !lliance failed for rather banal reasons )et again, a promising game "as stymied "ith game-crashing bugs that irritated even the most forgiving players, but the bigger problem is that the game is a &'ac$ of all trades, master of none & Birt1rig1t "asn#t content "ith being a strategy, CRPG, or adventure game--it tried to please fans of each of these genres The result "as a learning curve steeper than >t (verest, a fact that eliminated all but the most dedicated gamers right from the start The so-called &adventure mode& is also rather tac$ed-on, and isn#t "ell integrated into the gameplay as it should have been

/lthough it has its moments, Birt1rig1t amounts to little more than a fe" frec$les and a mole

Think of a 1iant landfill6 and tho+ and of +n old 1ame de cendin1 into it8

-nterplay#s Descent to 2nder-ountain is an even less satisfying game than Birt1rig1t Descent to 2nder-ountain attempted to ride some of the hype surrounding their immensely popular Descent series by modifying its I-2, first-person shooter engine for use in a CRPG The plan may have seemed li$e a good one, but an apparently harried production schedule resulted in one of the "orst CRPGs of all time The tas$ of transforming Parallax =oft"are#s brilliant !P= engine into a CRPG platform proved far more formidable than anyone had assumed *esides sloppy coding and countless game-stopping bugs, the game suffered in general from a lac$ of polish The levels "ere dreary and loo$ed too much ali$e, and many players didn#t appreciate their confusing, ma%e-li$e arrangement Poor graphics coupled "ith "orse artificial intelligence added up to "hat "e might expect--the game promptly descended into the landfill Endoubtedly, T=R "as beginning to "onder if it hadn#t been better off "ith ==-0 !ortunately, things "ould soon ta$e a ma'or turn for the better "ith the publication of Baldur<s 0ate, the game that finally returned T=R-licensed CRPGs to the public eye -#ll return to this game momentarily

The ,a7n of the 0latin+m A1e


=o far, -#ve painted a pretty blea$ picture of CRPG development in the early to mid 566As, but things "ere not all bad

Perhaps the $ey problems developers faced "as ho" to bring the CRPG &up to date& after id#s Doo- and Cyan#s #yst hit the scene These t"o games had ta$en the industry by storm, and publishers "ere frantic to rush anything that loo$ed li$e them onto the shelves *y 566?, almost all serious PC gamers 9and plenty of not so serious ones0< had upgraded their computers "ith the latest game hard"are, "hich included C2-R4>s and expensive graphics and sound cards !urthermore, "hat "as formerly a forbidding mess of incompatible cards "as solidifying into a fe" recogni%ed industry standards, and a huge mar$et "as opening up for games that could really push this advanced hard"are The publisher#s creed "as simple: Real-time, first-person perspective I2 or share"are 4rigin#s 2lti-a 2nder,orld series fit the bill, but "as too far ahead of the curve for most gamers to appreciate Therefore, the field "as open for some talented ne"comers "ho could bring Doo-"style graphics and gameplay to the CRPG, and a company named *ethesda soon had their foot in the door

*ethes0a an0 The El0er -3rolls


*ethesda entered the fray in a really big "ay "ith its &lder %crolls series, "hich is still going strong today The fourth game in the series, 3bli4ion "as 'ust released in GAA? and is selling .uite "ell ,o"ever, those ne" to this fine series might not $no" much about its origins, or that it played an important role in the ongoing development of the genre The first &lder %crolls game, !rena, "as published by E = Gold in 5668 for D3% 1i$e its many se.uels, !rena features real-time I-2 graphics in first-person perspective -t also boasts of a huge game"orld "ith over 8AA cities, to"ns, and villages, all of "hich can be explored--it#s a veritable cornucopia of CRPG delights /lthough it is not as "ell $no"n today as #orro,ind or even Daggerfall, you don#t have to loo$ too hard to find fans "ho ran$ it as not only the best game in the series, but the best CRPG, period While - "ouldn#t go that far in my praise, it#s hard to deny it a venerable place in the CRPG canon

An( +fficientl( ad9anced technolo1( i indi tin1+i hable from Bethe da8

4ne "ay of thin$ing about !rena is as a combination of t"o 2lti-a games: )1e %tygian !byss and )1e Blac* 0ate While !rena offered real-time, I2, first-person perspective li$e )1e %tygian !byss, it also features a realistic game "orld li$e )1e Blac* 0ate<s Cot only do players observe the passing of time from night and day, but it even rains and sno"s according to the season0 -ndeed, it#s really the sophistication of this virtual "orld that ma$es the game so notable The plot--find the eight missing pieces of the &=taff of Chaos& and use it to rescue the (mperor from a dimensional prison--is hardly original What impressed gamers "as the incredible si%e of the "orld, the open-ended nature of the gameplay, and the supposedly high replay value 9starting a ne" game reset the locations of .uest items--though it#s truly debatable ho" much this added to the game#s replay value< Though the game offers considerably more freedom of action than most games of its type 9particularly regarding stealing items from merchants<, players hoping to "in still need to perform a fairly linear se.uence of .uests !rena also has a nice combat system, in "hich the position of the mouse pointer determines "hich of eight types of attac$s the avatar performs Cevertheless, the game is far from perfect 1i$e so many other games of this period, it suffers from bug-infested code The battles are also .uite a bit tougher than some gamers could handle, and the game#s formidable specs limited its appeal to those "ith cutting-edge machines -n any case, the game set a ne" standard for this type of CRPG, and demonstrated 'ust ho" much room "as left for innovation *ethesda has been $ind enough to re-release the game as free"are, and currently offers it for free do"nload on their "ebsite - only "ish more CRPG developers "ould follo" their lead0 &Co longer forced to play the "ay The >an "ants, "e are no" free to ignore the pleadings of the princess, "ander off, and get involved in other complex tales that change and evolve in response to our actions0&

- Trent C Ward in 0a-e%pot, =ep G?, 566? *ethesda follo"ed up the modestly successful !rena "ith Daggerfall in 566?, a game that is still "idely regarded as one of the most immersive CRPGs ever designed Players "ere offered Tamriel, one of the largest game"orlds ever seen in a CRPG, and almost limitless possibilities for gameplay The leveling system "as also made more dynamicD players improved their s$ills simply by practicing it !urthermore, the old rigid &class structure& "as abandoned in favor of a much more open-ended guild system Players can customi%e their characters ho"ever they see fit, letting their creativity run "ild There is even an 2lti-a"style morality .ui% option for players "ho don#t "ant "ish to muc$ about "ith statistics -n fact, many 9if not most< players soon forgot all about the game#s storyline and devoted their time simply to exploring Tamriel and honing their character Enfortunately, gamers "ere again presented "ith irresponsibly buggy code, though by this time they could probably use the net to find and install a patch to fix the "orst /nother big problem is the lac$ of balance in the game#s difficulty -t doesn#t ta$e experienced players long to gain enough experience to simply "al$ through the game, obliterating even the most po"erful enemies "ith ease *ethesda developed and published t"o spin-offs before releasing the third entry in the official &lder %crolls series These "ere !n &lder %crolls +egend. Battlespire 95667< and )1e &lder %crolls !d4entures. Redguard 9566;< Battlespire is in many "ays a simplified version of Daggerfall, and is often described more as a first-person shooter than a true CRPG Redguard departs from the first-person perspective of the other games in favor of a third-person vie", "ith the player#s avatar visible on screen -f Battlespire leans to"ards the !P=, Redguard leans to"ards the traditional adventure game Completing the game re.uires conversing "ith a great many characters and plenty of bac$trac$ing, but also some )o-b Raider"li$e action se.uences including climbing, 'umping, and s"imming /lthough both games have their good points, neither seems to have "on over as many fans as the main series -n any case, it#s li$ely that *ethesda#s team used these games as an opportunity to experiment "ith different interface and gameplay techni.ues Perhaps the best $no"n of all the &lder %crolls games appeared in GAAG: )1e &lder %crolls '''. #orro,ind #orro,ind combined the first-person perspective of the earlier Daggerfall "ith the third-person of Redguard"-for the first time, players could choose bet"een the different perspectives as they sa" fit Players soon discovered that each mode had its advantages !or example, third-person perspective ma$es it easier to dodge ranged attac$s The leveling system had also been revamped a bit, and split into t"o: Primary =tats 9speed, personality, luc$, etc < and =econdary /bilities 9combat arts, magic arts, etc < Primary stats only rose "hen the character gains a level, but secondary abilities improve "ith use The system may sound complicated, but it#s actually .uite intuitive Characters "ho run and 'ump often "ill see a spi$e in their acrobatics score Characters "ho "ield an axe "ill see their &axe& score raised, and so on *esides 'ust practicing a s$ill to gain experience, characters can also buy training or read special boo$s sprin$led throughout the game

&Co matter "hat your preference, there#s no right or "rong "ay to play >orro"ind & - !rom the (lder =crolls ---: >orro"ind >anual -ndeed, there have been very fe" CRPGs as complex and flexible as #orro,ind#s (ven after - had completed the main .uest, - still hadn#t explored but maybe ?AZ of the incredibly massive and diverse game "orld Enfortunately, #orro,ind has its problems 1i$e Daggerfall, players "ill eventually reach a level of experience that reduces even the game#s most formidable foes into pushovers There are also many "ays to exploit the game#s leveling system, such as standing in one place and casting the same spell over and over again Cevertheless, the game continues to attract gamers and is still actively played today *ethesda produced t"o expansions for its third game: )ribunal 9GAAG< and Blood-oon 9GAAI< *oth expansions met "ith fairly good revie"s, though the latter is perhaps the better of the t"o -#ll discuss the fourth game in a later section of this article

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/lthough *ethesda#s CRPGs didn#t necessarily bring anything ne" to the genre, they did introduce a nice alternative to the highly linear, story-based games that dominate CRPGs (ven though each of the games has a plot and a &main .uest,& players could choose to entirely ignore it, and many did so >ore importantly, players "ere invited to indulge their creativity "hen selecting and developing their charactersD the fun of these games is in customi%ation )ou build your character, not play someone else#s =ome critics argue that this degree of freedom puts these games closer to the original D&D tabletop game, in "hich good dungeon masters encourage players to ta$e a more creative role in the unfolding of the adventure Why not let a player dash past the monster, grab the treasure, and ma$e a run for it+ Why not let her s"ipe that armor

"hen the merchantYs bac$ is turned+ >ost games "ould re.uire players to do the WrightX thing, but &lder %crolls let the player decide

Other Real-Ti e !-" CRPGs


Caturally, other developers "eren#t content to let *ethesda dominate the real-time sector of the CRPG mar$et /s soon as games li$e !rena and Daggerfall demonstrated the technical and commercial feasibility of real-time I2 graphics and the immersive potential of first-person perspective, several other companies 'umped on the band"agon =ome of these games "e#ve already mentioned, such as %1ado,s 34er Ri4a and the last t"o +ands of +ore games %1ado,s 34er Ri4a hedged a bitD although exploration ta$es place in first-person perspective, combat is offered only in a some"hat cramped thirdperson isometric / more ambitious 9though perhaps more misguided< effort "as West"ood#s 0uardians of Destiny, the second game in their +ands of +ore series Released in 5667, the game tried to ta$e ride the "ave of full motion video games and is loaded "ith live action scenes 9thin$ )1e 7t1 0uest or 0abriel Knig1t ''< -t also incorporates many arcade elements, including some timed se.uences and lots of running and 'umping The last game in the series, +ands of +ore ''', ditched the live action actors for motioncaptured animation and voice acting, but most critics consider it the "ea$est of the three )ou are not allo"ed to create your o"n character, and critics complained about the repetitive gameplay, unbalanced graphics, and constant need to find food for the main character -t "as also plagued "ith bugs, "hich certainly didn#t improve the game#s reputation

(ight an0 (agi3: The Pinna3le an0 the Pre3ipi3e


*y far the best $no"n company to follo" in !rena<s "a$e is Ce" World Computing, "hich adopted *ethesda#s model starting "ith #ig1t and #agic ('. )1e #andate of Hea4en 9566;< Co doubt, #ig1t and #agic fans "ere glad to see a ne" installment after some five years of "aiting, and the game#s coherent storyline and slightly more structured gameplay offered a viable alternative to Daggerfall The box and manual sport beautiful art"or$ by the famed fantasy artist 1arry (lmore, "hose "or$ graces many an !d4anced Dungeons & Dragons product Enli$e the &lder %crolls series, ho"ever, the player controls four characters instead of one 9"ith the option to add t"o non-player characters later<, and combat can be played in either turn-based or real-time modes #andate of Hea4en also gave players considerable lee"ay in ho" they developed their charactersD after an initial choice of class, players decide ho" to expend &s$ill points & =$ills are divided into four basic areas: Weapon, /rmor, >agic, and >iscellaneous This last category includes some [ber-s$ills li$e learning, "hich affects all the other s$ills by boosting the experiences points a"arded after a battle /ll in all, it#s an intuitive and highly customi%able "ay to handle the &leveling& issue - should add that the #ig1t and #agic series also adopted the age-old convention of re.uiring players to first "in enough battles to .ualify for training, and then come up "ith enough cash to hire a trainer 9many games simply &give& characters a level "hen they gain enough experience< =ince cash is relatively hard for ne" parties to come by,

players have to ma$e strategic decisions about ho" to spend it--does it ma$e more sense to buy a ne" "eapon, magic scroll, or level up a character+ /lthough the combat system isn#t perfect--all four characters are al"ays on the front line and susceptible to frontal assaults--the game nevertheless "on high praise from critics, and for good reason Who can forget the first time their "i%ard cast a &fly& spell, sending the party soaring high above (nroth+ &-t doesnYt matter "hat you call these instruments: crystal ball, computer, the =cry of =iliconD the 4rdered Runes of *inaria, a $eyboard, the /bacus of Turing / rat, a mouse, the Rodent of Parc They are /rtifacts of Trans-2imensional >anipulation and, "ith $no"ledge, you can command them to do your bidding X M !rom the #andate of Hea4en manual !inally, and perhaps most importantly, #ig1t and #agic (' "as blissfully free of bugs /t a time "hen almost every other ma'or CRPG "as so riddled "ith errors that manuals advised players to routinely save the game every thirty minutes, such stability is nothing short of remar$able Enfortunately, Ce" World#s .uality assurance team soon lo"ered their standards to match the competition Ce" World#s next entry in the series, /or Blood and Honor, is often hailed as the last good #ig1t and #agic CRPG, even though it offers fe" innovations over its predecessor 4nly a year had passed since the previous game, but the graphics engine "as already loo$ing dated >oreover, the voice acting is more ingratiating than enduring, particularly after hearing the same fe" digiti%ed samples for the ten-thousandth time ,o"ever, the sound is redeemed by an excellent operatic score by Paul Romero, produced by Robert Bing The game also offers more races to choose from and a fe" other nice features, such as t"o possible endings /fter /or Blood and Honor, the series entered a steep do"n"ard spiral The next game, Day of t1e Destroyer, "as released in GAAA, and Ce" World again decided to rehash the #ig1t and #agic (' engine The result of that decision "as a game hopelessly behind the times graphically, but that "asn#t the only problem /t least for old fans of the series, there "as little thrill in starting over once again "ith a ne" set of characters and ta$ing them through the motions once again /lthough the earlier games had certainly had their share of dull moments, Day of t1e Destroyer is almost painfully repetitive (ven the surprising decision to allo" the player to create only one character 9the rest of the party must be recruited later< does little to affect the monotony, since the additional characters are almost entirely devoid of personality and impact on the story The ability to add a dragon to the party might have been a nice feature, but doing so ruins the game#s balance, reducing it to an unbearably dull "al$ through /s if these problems "eren#t enough to doom the game, other features li$e a three-tiered teacher system 9expert, master, and grand-master< made long-suffering virtues out of noteta$ing and tedious bac$-trac$ing Ceedless to say, very fe" fans "ere pleased "ith the game =adder still is the unforgivably buggy code, of "hich random crashes are some of the least ir$some &-t#s a safe bet that nobody "ill ever "ax nostalgic about #ig1t and #agic '9 & - *rett Todd in 0a-e%pot, /pril 5G, GAAG

Day of t1e Destroyer may have destroyed most fans# faith in Ce" World, but the company must have figured the horse "as still "orth one more beating Perhaps it#s a testament to the 6th game#s overall lac$ of ambition that it lac$s a proper nameD it#s simply #ig1t and #agic '9 The box promised &stunning& I2 graphics, and they "ere--indeed, "ho could believe that the company "ould release a game in GAAG "ith graphics that loo$ed little better than #andate of Hea4en<s, published four years previously The game "orld also feels cramped compared to its predecessors /pplying the term &artificial intelligence& to the game#s non-player characters results in an oxymoron !inally, there are more sho"-stopping bugs in the code than there are bloc$y polygons in the game =uffice it to say, #ig1t and #agic '9 is 'ust as tragic a "ay for a grand old CRPG series to end as 2lti-a '9. !scension

(a" of the (estro"er 7a a di appointment6 b+t the ne<t 1ame 7a do7nri1ht embarra

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4ne fascinating aspect of the Platinum /ge is ho" many companies managed to reach both their apex and their nadir "ithin such a short span of years, but for different reasons !rom my vantage point, 4rigin#s 2lti-a series ultimately faltered because Garriott and his development team $ept attempting radical revisions to the game engine 2uring each transformation, more and more fans felt betrayed, until at last they could no longer ac$no"ledge a game li$e !scension as part of their beloved series Ce" World Computing, on the other hand, "ere a bit too comfortable "ith their engine and gameplay mechanics and $ept recycling them, much li$e =ir-Tech had done nearly a decade previously "ith its first three Wi>ardry titles (ventually, even dedicated fans of

#ig1t and #agic gre" bored "ith the repetition, and ne" gamers "eren#t li$ely to be "on over "ith graphics that loo$ed over five years old at release Thus, "e might sum up this part of the story as a &Tale of T"o 2evelopers,& noting ho" the first "as defeated by ambition, the second by its lac$ 4nly *ethesda seems to have found the right balance of innovation and repetition re.uired to $eep a series going strong over a period of many years, though only time "ill tale if )1e &lder %crolls survives as long as 2lti-a and #ig1t and #agic

*li++ar0 *lo/s In
=o far, the best Platinum /ge innovations in the CRPG genre have been in t"o realms: The rise of real-time, I2 graphics in first-person perspective, and the development of huge, highly interactive game "orlds CRPG developers had climbed aboard the band"agon begun by first-person shooter games li$e Doo- and @ua*e The usual refrain heard from fans of this type of game are that they are inherently more &immersive & )ou don#t 'ust play a characterD you enact a role -f this "ere true, you might expect that all successful CRPGs released after 2lti-a 2nder,orld and !rena "ould follo" their example ,o"ever, three of the most celebrated CRPGs of all time that emerged from this period offered only an isometric, third-person perspective: Diablo, /allout, and Baldur<s 0ate *li%%ard is probably better $no"n today for World of Warcraft >>4RPG, "hich is loosely based on the company#s best-selling real-time strategy series, Warcraft, "hich launched in 5668 "ith Warcraft. 3rcs & Hu-ans *li%%ard also made gaming history "ith the release of %tarCraft in 566;, "hich "as immensely successful and is "idely regarded as the finest real-time strategy game ever developed Cevertheless, the publication of Diablo in 566? remains one of the most divisive moments in CRPG history (ven today, nearly a decade later, no other game has polari%ed CRPG fans more than Diablo /re Diablo and its se.uel the best CRPGs ever made or the "orst+ /t least among experienced fans of the genre, the 'ury is still out 1et#s ta$e a closer loo$ and see if "e can understand the source of this contention

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Diablo is usually described as an &action& CPRG, set in real-time -t#s also features a vastly simplified character development system compared to most CRPGs The player only controls a single character, "ho can be one of three basic types 9Warrior, Rogue, and =orcerer< The differences among these types are some"hat superficialD "arriors can cast spells and sorcerers can "ear armor ,o"ever, the choice of class does determine the best strategies for surviving battles, and, as usual, it#s the magic-using class that starts off "ea$est and ends up strongest (ach time the character gains a ne" level, the player receives five points to distribute among the four attributes: strength, magic, dexterity, and vitality /lthough seemingly .uite simple on the surface, *li%%ard#s genius "as doing more "ith less -nstead of baffling players "ith a complicated s$ill system li$e those in the &lder %crolls or latter #ig1t & #agic games, Diablo offers fe"er choices but made them more significant The result "as a game that met the grand old .ualification, &(asy to learn, hard to master & To put it bluntly, if you can clic$ a mouse button, you can play Diablo (ven gamers "ho had never played a CRPG before found it intuitive and addicting !urthermore, the production values "ere high, "ith great graphics, impressive cutscenes, and a magnificent musical score The game .uic$ly became a best-seller, and is still being sold as part of the Diablo Battle C1est0 &Diablo is the best game to come out in the past year, and you should o"n a copy Period -f you li$e PC games, you should go out right no" and experience "hat is li$ely to be the clone ma$er for the next t"o years & -Trent C Ward on 0a-e%pot, @an GI, 5667

Diablo is also noted for its high degree of randomi%ation (verything from the dungeons, monster locations, and item capabilities are randomi%ed, ensuring not only surprises but also upping the game#s replay value 4f course, readers of this series "ill be thin$ing bac$ to my earlier discussion of Rogue and games li$e )1e %,ord of /argoal, "hich also offer relatively simple &hac$#n slash& fun in randomi%ed environments -ndeed, one of the most common epithets given to the game is &a Rogue"li*e for the 6As,& though there are plenty of Rogue fans "ho "ould ob'ect to this comparison ==- had tried something similar "ith its Dungeon Hac* game and editor bac$ in 566I, "hich tried to marry the venerable old mainframe classic "ith its &ye of t1e Be1older engine /gain, one has to "onder "hy so many developers seem to miss the point that it#s precisely the lac$ of distracting graphics and complex interfaces that ma$e the classic Rogue games so novel and playable /nother aspect of Diablo that set it apart "as its support for multi-player, "hich ranged from the by-then common +!$ party setup to a ne" internet server named Battle net /lthough not "ithout its fla"s 9cheating "as rampant<, Diablo<s multi-player capability remained a significant factor in the game#s long-lasting popularity )et despite strong sales and praise from many prominent revie"ers, Diablo "as not "ithout its naysayers Cot surprisingly, the game#s popularity "ith &virgin& CRPG gamers dre" sneers from long-term fans of the genre, particularly those "ho#d cut their teeth on venerable old titles li$e ==-#s Pool of Radiance or -nterplay#s )1e Bard<s )ale *li%%ard had seemed to reduce the often intimidating CRPG genre to its bare essentials, then poured on the eye-candy 4ldsters scoffed, dismissing the game as a &clic$fest & >ean"hile, fans of games li$e =ierra#s @uest for 0lory "ere turned off by the lac$ of characters and interesting scenariosD for them, the constant clic$ing and $illing brought little more than tedium 4ther players complained about the &dar$& graphics, "hich "ere occasionally hard to ma$e out The on-screen automapping tool helped "ith navigation, but fre.uently obscured the battle se.uences !inally, some players complained about the game#s relatively short durationD gamers accustomed to the hundreds of hours re.uired to slough through an 2lti-a "eren#t happy about a game that could be completed in a mere t"o days What happens next in the Diablo story is .uite perplexing Rather than release a se.uel or their o"n expansion, *li%%ard let =ierra 4n-1ine publish an expansion named Hellfire, "hich had been developed by =ynergistic =oft"are 9the same team responsible for Birt1rig1t. )1e 0orgon<s !lliance < This expansion appeared in 5667, and added t"o ne" dungeons, ne" creatures, spells, items, and a >on$ character class Revie"ers "eren#t nearly as enthused about Hellfire as they had been about Diablo, and the lac$ of multi-player support vexed many players >any fans of the series don#t consider it an &official& expansion -t "asn#t until GAAA that *li%%ard finally released the true se.uel, Diablo '' This game "as more complex and larger than its predecessor, and the updated graphics "ere as impressive as Diablo<s had been in 566? Co", players could explore outdoor areas as "ell as dungeons >ore importantly, the randomi%ed .uests "ere replaced "ith more linear ones, "hich allo"ed for a more tightly integrated storyline and cut-scenes The class system had also been re"or$ed, "ith five 9Paladin, *arbarian, /ma%on, Cecromancer, =orceress< classes, each "ith their o"n uni.ue s$ills 1eveling up is also a bit more interesting "ith a graphical &s$ill tree& system that helps sustain a player#s long-

term interest in developing a character--there#s al"ays some ne" ama%ing ne" ability 'ust a fe" levels a"ay >ulti-player mode "as better supported this time, and cheating "as rarer Cevertheless, their Battle net server "as prone to lag, though that didn#t seem to slo" the onslaught of rabid Diablo '' fans desperate for online play--a fact that ran$led many gamers "ho had 'ust plun$ed do"n K?A or even K7A for the game !inally, some of the Carpal Tunnelinducing mouse clic$ing "as alleviated Players could simply hold do"n the mouse button to have their character repeatedly attac$ or move around

The econd 1ame 1a9e rabid fan e<actl( 7hat the( 7anted6 and then ome8 And then ome more8

*li%%ard decided to ma$e their o"n expansion this time, releasing +ord of Destruction in GAA5 *esides many ne" items and .uests, this expansion offered heightened screen resolution 9;AA x ?AA<, and t"o ne" character classes 9/ssassins and 2ruids< Revie"ers "ere pleased "ith the improved graphics, as "ell as many improvements to the Battle net server that improved the online multi-player experience

(iablo // 1reatl( e<panded the le9elin1 +p proce

7ith an in1enio+

kill tree ( tem8

-f the only criteria "e needed to evaluate a CRPG "ere its sales figures and enduring popularity, *li%%ard#s Diablo "ould represent one of the best 9if not the best< CRPG ever designed The game brought ne" blood to the genre, introducing it to thousands of gamers "ho had never played any of the classic CRPGs, much less a tabletop D&D game -t sent hordes of badly behaved teenagers 9and middle-aged men, no doubt< scampering to Battle net, &p"ning& each other and see$ing out the latest cheats and hac$s to gain an unfair advantage Diablo and Diablo '' are truly CRPGs for the masses /t the ris$ of sounding li$e a 'aded old curmudgeon, - can#t help but feel a pang of regret about the over"helming triumph of this series, since it seems to have come at the expense of the older, more sophisticated CRPGs of past eras

&ia%lo an0 the Rise of 8)3tion Role-Playing Games8


Given the unmitigated success of *li%%ard#s Diablo, even the dimmest mar$et analyst could predict the inevitable rush of clones that "ould follo" in its "a$e >any of these games "ere 'ust flashes in the pan These include =ilver 1ightning#s !ncient &4il series 9566;, GAA5<, -ridon#s Din* %-all,ood 9566;<, =trategy !irst#s Clans 95666<, and =ierra#s )1rone of Dar*ness 9GAA5< Though each game has .ualities that set it apart from Diablo, none have matched its success Din* %-all,ood "as programmed by =eth Robinson, "hose +egend of t1e Red Dragon game "e discussed in the last installment 1i$e that game, Robinson loaded up the game

"ith humor and satire, but it failed to ma$e much impression on the mar$et Clans introduced more adventure-style pu%%les into the mix, "hereas )1rone of Dar*ness is set in @apan#s >iddle /ges, 'ust as Pixel =tudio#s later Blade & %,ord 9GAAI< too$ players to ancient China Rebel /ct =tudios# Blade of Dar*ness 9GAA5< is $no"n only for its outrageous gore *etter $no"n Diablo clones include Gathering#s Dar*stone 95666<, (lectronic /rt#s $o? 9GAA5<, -rrational Games# /reedo- /orce 9GAAG<, 1arian#s Di4ine Di4inity 9GAAG<, and (ncore#s %acred series 9GAA8< Dar*stone introduced I2 graphics and the ability to control t"o characters, though only one at the time 9the other is controlled by the computer< The ability to %oom and spin the camera around eliminated many of the problems introduced by Diablo<s isometric vie" 9such as ob'ects getting lost behind structures $o?, developed by the famed West"ood =tudios, met "ith good revie"s and en'oyed modest success West"ood even offered an expansion for the game, $o? @uest, and in a surprising move made it available for free do"nload /reedo- /orce introduced comic boo$ style superheroes and is probably the best of the bunch -t offered a viable alternative to the &dar$& fantasy of Diablo and more tactical combat Hivendi published the se.uel in GAA:, /reedo- /orce 4s )1e Lrd Reic1 Di4ine Di4inity and its se.uel, Beyond Di4inity 9GAA8<, are essentially Diablo on steroids, "ith huge "orlds and a massive number of s$ills 9:AA0< These games also improve on Diablo<s sometimes confusing navigation interface Revie"ers tended to scoff at their derivative nature, but praised them for their addictive gameplay and attention to detail %acred goes a step further, offering full I2 vie"s and a "orld that ta$e hours to cross This game met "ith plenty of praise from critics as "ell, "ho applauded its more openended structure, but its bugs haven#t gone unnoticed -n any case, %acred seems to be the best action CRPG going, even if its depth and complexity go far beyond the model established by *li%%ard#s Diablo Co doubt it "ill be interesting to see ho" far developers can continue to push the boundaries of the action CRPG, since each layer of complexity alienates the type of gamer "ho "as so strongly dra"n to Diablo, "here the only thing you needed "as a fast button finger Taylor has, in essence, reinvented the fantasy adventure by creating a "orld that isn#t attached to stereotypical races and archetypes that are often more, than merely, inspired from the "or$s of Tol$ien or Dungeons & Dragons M Peter =uciu on 0a-e%py, /pr 5G, GAAG Perhaps the best $no"n of the more recent action-CRPG is Gas Po"ered GamesY Dungeon %iege series, "hich debuted in GAAG Conceived by Chris Taylor and published my >icrosoft Game =tudios, Dungeon %iege features a large, diverse game"orld rendered in real-time I2 !urthermore, the gameYs custom engine allo"s the game"orld to WstreamX rather than pre-load, "hich helps ma$e it feel more li$e a coherent "hole rather than a collection of discrete areas Dungeon %iegeMs leveling system is determined by the characterYs actions rather than a pre-selected class, an innovation also seen in the &lder %crolls series /lthough the player can only create one character, he or she can add up to eight other pre-rendered adventurers or loot-carrying mules to the party /lthough critics appreciated the lac$ of loading times and open-ended leveling system, they chided the simplistic Whands offX gameplay and straight'ac$et plot /n expansion

called +egends of !ranna follo"ed the next year, introduced a ne" campaign and several improvements, such as a global map tool, but "as greeted "ith lu$e"arm revie"s

(ungeon Siege look 1reat6 b+t man( critic panned the ;click and 7atch; 1amepla(8

Gas Po"ered Games released the first full se.uel, Dungeon %iege '', in GAA: /lthough the bul$ of the gameplay is similar to the first game, a ne" Diablo ''"li$e s$ill tree system gives players more refined options for leveling their character The first expansion to this game, Bro*en World, "as published by GB Games in GAA? /lthough itYs a bit early to tell "hat impact these games "ill have on the genre, along "ith %acred they are at least $eeping the Waction CRPGX alive and "ell on the PC

Interplay Goes Platinum


/fter Daggerfall and Diablo, the typical CRPG fan probably assumed that real-time gameplay, "hether I2 or isometric, "as the "ay of the future ,o"ever, as "e sa" in the last article after the publication of !T1#s Dungeon #aster, the evolution of CRPGs is anything but linear Eltimately, craft trumps innovation, and even though Dungeon #aster demonstrated as early as 56;7 the feasibility of first-person perspective in real-time, ==-#s turn-based Gold *ox games sold "ell into the 566As Therefore, there#s really nothing surprising about -nterplay#s brea$through success "ith /allout, a turn-based isometric game set in a post-apocalyptic "asteland

;astelan0 Re.isite0: $allout


1et#s cut right to it /allout and its se.uel, /allout 2, are t"o of the finest CRPGs ever made, and if the era that produced them isn#t "orthy of the name &Platinum,& - need a ne" dictionary 1i$e -nterplay#s previous masterpieces )1e Bard<s )ale and Wasteland, /allout is one of those preciously rare games that represents more than 'ust the sum of its parts -#ll offer the standard disclaimer--/allout is has no doubt blinded me to at least some that my praise is overblo"n, see$ out tremendously creative games that continue they first appeared on the shelf one of my favorite games, and my love for it of its fla"s >y advice is that if you suspect the game and try it yourself These are to "in over ne" players nearly a decade after

*ut "hat is about /allout that ma$es it so great+ ,aven#t there been plenty of other postapocalyptic games, such as the aforementioned Wasteland, 4rigin#s !utoduel, and even -nterstel#s %ca4engers of t1e #utant World+ 2oesn#t it also rip its leveling up system from games li$e #andate of Hea4en and Daggerfall+ &Welcome to Hault-5I, the latest in a series of public defense "or$s from Hault-Tec, your contractor of choice "hen it comes to the best in nuclear shelters Hault-Tec, /merica#s !inal Word in ,omes & -from the /allout manual -f - had to sum up /allout<s appeal in one "ord, it#d be &style & The governing aesthetic is a surreal mix of cheerfully morbid 56:As Cold War imagery and movies li$e #ad #a?, Planet of t1e !pes, and Dr %trangelo4e or. Ho, ' +earned to %top Worrying and +o4e t1e Bo-b There are even hints of )1e &4il Dead tossed in for good measure This 'uxtaposition ma$es for some of the most compelling moments in gaming history, and - doubt there is anyone "ho doesn#t get goosebumps the first time he "itnesses the introductory cut-scenes !urthermore, the aesthetics run all the "ay through the game, including the interface >ost games s"itch to a boring menu screen full of numbers "hen it comes time to level up /allout presented s$ills on &information cards& complete "ith chillingly cheerful illustrations to $eep up the disturbing ambiance (ven the game#s manual stayed &in character,& presenting itself as a &survival guide& designed to loo$ li$e a government publication -ndeed, the manual refers to the game as a &simulation& to help long-term Hault-2"ellers more comfortably prepare themselves for a return to the outside "orld -t even includes some &survival recipes& for &>ushroom Clouds& and &2esert =alad & -t#s more than obvious that the development team had a blast creating /allout, and their enthusiasm radiates throughout

Ee7 1ame are a ae theticall( plea in1--and di t+rbin1--a rat 7ith bra kn+ckle :

#allout8 Be ide 6 ain=t it cool to kill

The story is an intriguing blend of alternate history, dystopia, and science fiction, and good enough to $eep the "heels of your imagination spinning long after you#ve completed the game -t goes something li$e this =ome ;A years ago, a nuclear holocaust "iped out most of the civili%ed "orld, but your people survived by moving into a giant underground vault, "here they eventually developed their o"n society and culture 9thin$ +ogan<s Run< ,o"ever, no" the vault#s "ater purification chip has "orn out, and it#s your character#s 'ob to find a ne" one, fast That means leaving behind everything you#ve ever $no"n What seems li$e a fairly straightfor"ard fetch .uest soon becomes much more, and -#m not going to ruin the story here by giving a"ay any of the many t"ists and turns =uffice it to say, no one "ho has played this game "ill have trouble remembering "hat happens "hen you complete this mission /allout 2 "as developed by *lac$ -sle =tudios, -nterplay#s ne" division that speciali%ed in CRPGs The second game is set ;A years after the conclusion of the first game, and has echoes of the movie #ad #a?. Beyond )1underdo-e running through it )our avatar#s tribe is on the verge of extinction, and has been assigned the tas$ of hunting do"n the G ( C B 9Garden of (den Creation Bit< 4nce again you .uic$ly find yourself immersed in a moving and captivating story, and it#s hard not to get personally invested in its outcome The game culminates in one of the most heart-pounding 9and difficult< climaxes of any game -#ve ever played /allout 2 also offered better dialog options and plenty of ne" items and characters ,o"ever, the bul$ of the game#s engine "as left intact /lthough both /allout games "ere critically acclaimed and beloved by fans, -nterplay did

not produce a third game /allout )actics. Brot1er1ood of %teel 9GAA5< is a strategy game based on /allout<s combat mode, though it does have some CRPG elements / Diablo clone called /allout. Brot1er1ood of %teel appeared for the P%2 and 9bo? in GAA8, but most fans of the first t"o games don#t care to ac$no"ledge it /ccording to an official GAA8 press release, *ethesda is currently developing /allout L, though it may sadly turn out to be only radioactive dust in the "ind -n any case, it "ould be nothing short of a miracle for another team to match, much less surpass, *lac$ -sle#s post-apocalyptic masterpiece

!rcanu.: Steamp+nk and Ma1ick


*lac$ -sle "asnYt the only company releasing brave ne" CRPGs that "ere "illing to abandon the old s"ords and sorcery formula / company named Troi$a scored a triumph in GAA5 "ith !rcanu-. 3f %tea-,or*s & #agic* 3bscure, a game published by =ierra that .uic$ly gained a large and devoted cult follo"ing -t certainly "asnYt the first CRPG to try to marry magic and technologyD many of the early 2lti-a and #ig1t & #agic games blended the t"o .uite freely, but ==-Ys %pell:a--er. Pirates of Real-space is probably a more direct precursor /t any rate, !rcanu- is the game people thin$ of "hen they hear the "ord Wsteampun$,X and deservedly so !rcanu- is most often praised for its open-ended gameplay and intriguing game "orld, "hich is best described as an industrial revolution ta$ing place in the midst of a high fantasy setting Esually, magic and technology are pretty strange bedfello"s, but "hen done right 9as in !rcanu-<, the result is Wmagical realism,X in "hich ob'ects that "ould ordinarily loo$ familiar are placed in settings that ma$e them seem strange and exotic -t can be .uite exhilarating, for instance, for a d"arf to dra" a flintloc$ pistol rather than the clichVd old axe or hammer The outcome of the game depends on "hether players follo" the magical or the technological pathD the choice is left to the player &-f you#re serious about role-playing games--so serious that you don#t care about graphics but instead 'ust "ant to immerse yourself in a different "orld and try to explore it, perhaps even exploit it, as fully as possible--then !rcanu- is "ell "orth the investment of time, money, and effort X MGreg Basavin on 0a-e%pot, /ug G5, GAA5 Enfortunately, !rcanu- is not "ithout its fla"s, particularly in the all-important criteria of combat /s "eYve seen countless times, the combat system is often enough to ma$e or brea$ a CRPG /lthough the game offers three different modes 9real-time, turn-based, and WfastX turn-based<, none of them are perfect, though the third comes the closest The $ey problem is the "ay experience points are doled outD the player only "ins them by 1itting rather than defeating enemies This fact ma$es strength and dexterity allimportant, thus ruling out many of the more exciting possibilities The difficulty also seems a bit s$e"ed to"ards the magical pathD technologists had a tough time finding e.uipment and surviving long enough to use it Than$fully, there are usually alternatives to brute force combat

!rcanu- has much in common "ith the /allout series, no doubt due in part to sharing some $ey members on the development team *oth games also share the same "onderful sense of irony and humor, and the aesthetics are guided by a coherent and refreshing style that helps balance out the bugs and difficulty issues While not as polished and playable as /allout, !rcanu- nevertheless stands out as a viable alternative to the standard formula

*io;are: The :e/ --I


We#ve seen ho" T=R#s valuable license had fallen upon hard times after ==-#s last &*lac$ *ox& games, the &ye of t1e Be1older series created by West"ood =tudios ==-#s o"n efforts "ent from bad to "orse, ultimately costing them their exclusive license "ith T=R, and other companies fared little better despite plastering !D&D all over their products Cevertheless, cherished !D&D franchises li$e the /orgotten Real-s "ere 'ust too promising to remain out of sight for long, and many CRPG fans longed for a return to those halcyon days of Pool of Radiance and Curse of t1e !>ure Bonds, games "ith great stories and gameplay set in the familiar and beloved "orlds of high fantasy The problem "as ho" to &update& these hallo"ed games for the late 566As T"o possible models existed in &lder %crolls and Diablo, but these action-oriented games seemed to have little to offer fans of the hardcore, stat-tastic games of the 56;As The development team that "ould finally succeed in "inning players bac$ to the /orgotten Real-s "ould not be ==-, -nterplay, or =ierra, but rather a trio of Canadian medical doctors turned game developers: *ioWare *ioWare created "hat is perhaps the greatest CRPG engine ever designedD the famous 'nfinity &ngine, an isometric engine used in some of the greatest CRPGs of all time 1i$e *li%%ard, *ioWare#s first foray into CRPGs "as a critical success: Baldur<s 0ate, released in 566; 1i$e Diablo, Baldur<s 0ate features isometric perspective and allo"s players to create only a single character *oth games feature real-time gameplay, but "ith one $ey difference: Baldur<s 0ate s"itches to a hybrid turn-based mode for combat, "hich allo"s for much more tactical-style battles than Diablo The engine is designed to allo" most battles to be fought by a highly configurable artificial intelligence systemD the player need only sit bac$ and "atch ,o"ever, players can al"ays hit the space bar to pause the game and manually assign actions, then resume the game to see them carried out This compromise bet"een real-time and turnbased combat resulted in very compelling gameplay, and has much to offer both novices and aficionados of the genre &The entire game is played exactly li$e a true game of /232 "ith savings thro"s, armor classes and to-hit rolls and combat range and speed all computed "ith every scrap the party gets into The thing that ma$es this all so impressive 9and very different from ==-#s Gold *ox series< is that it all goes on behind the scenes "here it belongs Baldur<s 0ate is, simply put, the best computer representation of Dungeons and Dragons ever made & --Trent C Ward on '0$, @an 5;, 5666 !urthermore, Baldur<s 0ate turns "hat fans of ==-#s Gold and *lac$ *ox players might see as a limitation--creation of only a single character rather than a party--into a $ey story-telling asset /lthough players can only create and directly control one character, they can allo" up to five other characters to 'oin their party These characters not only have greatly varied s$ills, but uni.ue personalities and implications for the plot Characters of different political and ethical outloo$ may not get alongD a fe" characters may actually betray the party at a critical 'uncture

-n short, the gameplay changes considerably depending on "hich characters the player adds 9or doesn#t add< to the party Rather than simplify or dumb do"n battle tactics, the real-time aspect adds a ne" dimension to them--the time it ta$es to perform an action 9casting a spell, .uaffing a potion, s"itching "eapons, etc < may leave a character more vulnerable - lost trac$ of the times - started casting a po"erful magical spell, only to see it "asted on enemies "ho#d already died or fled !inally, to further s"eeten the pot, *ioWare offered a multi-player option "hich let players trade the non-player characters in their party for friends /lthough some"hat buggy and not perfectly integrated, this option helped the game compete against Diablo, "hose Battle net servers had become a s"irling vortex for daddy#s money 1i$e any great CRPG, Baldur<s 0ate features a rich, nuanced storyline that resists easy summary 9and, indeed, reading such a summary "ould ruin much of the fun of the gameD the point is to learn "hat#s happening as you play< The basic gist is that something 9or someone< has been causing a serious iron shortage, "hich has led to "idespread banditry across the countryside >ean"hile, t"o young "ards of a mage named Gorion 9the beautiful rogue -moen and the player#s character< have been separated from their guardian and left to fend for themselves Gradually, the player learns of a large conspiracy involving a secretive organi%ation named the -ron Throne *y the end of the game, the player learns that both the avatar and -moen are much more than "hat they seem -t#s a complex but not plausible story of political intrigue, and offers much more than the standard blac$ and "hite vie" of morality that runs through most CRPGs Baldur<s 0ate "as follo"ed up one year later "ith the )ales of t1e %,ord Coast expansion pac$ This pac$ added ne" areas, spells, "eapons, and made some minor improvements to the gameplay and interface >ore importantly, it added four ne" .uests The general consensus among revie"ers "as that the pac$ offered &a little more meat to che" on,& but "as certainly not to be mista$en as a full se.uel =ome gamers resented the lac$ of true story developments, but others "ere 'ust glad to have a little more Baldur<s 0ate to "het their appetites The true se.uel, Baldur<s 0ate ''. %1ado,s of !-n, appeared in GAAA and became an instant best-seller While the game continued to use the 'nfinity &ngine, the graphics "ere overhauled 9;AAx?AA as "ell as the old ?8Ax8;A< and too$ advantage of the ne" I2 accelerators that "ere all the rage among Windo,s gamers %1ado,s of !-n also added ne" classes, speciali%ations, and cool s$ills li$e fighting "ith t"o "eapons simultaneously !urthermore, several of the beloved characters are bac$ from the first game, including -moen, and this time personality 9and even romantic< conflicts among party members are even more instrumental to the gameplay Contemporary revie"ers fell over themselves praising the game and giving it the highest possible mar$sD it didn#t ta$e an orb of true seeing to $no" this game "as platinum !or "hat it#s "orth, consider it the finest CRPG ever designed

The econd Bald+r= #/02 e9er made8

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The story pic$s up "here the first Baldur<s 0ate leaves off 9"hich is all the more reason for ne" players to start "ith the first game< Enfortunately, it#s a bit difficult to tal$ about the story to %1ado,s of !-n "ithout giving a"ay the shoc$ing ending to part one, so -#ll 'ust briefly state that it#s mostly concerned "ith the sinister blood running through your avatar#s veins Enfortunately, your .uest for ans"ers is rudely halted by one @on -renicus, a "ic$ed mage "ho captures you and your friends in an effort to steal your po"ers for himself The story .uic$ly gets much more complicated and involved, but suffice it to say you#ll be going to hell and bac$ &There#s little doubt that Baldur<s 0ate ''. %1ado,s of !-n deserves to stand among the very best games of the era, or indeed among the greatest games of all time & -0a-e%pot &ditorial )ea-, >ar G7, GAA? 4ne of the most-praised aspects of %1ado,s of !-n is the degree of freedom it presents to players >any .uests are optional, and there are many different paths through the game that substantially alter events Players can either &stic$ to the main plot& and ignore these many diversions, or get so involved in them that they might lose trac$ of the main story altogether /nd, as "ith the original game, party dynamics play a huge role in the gameplay that goes far beyond 'ust simple combat tactics >ixing and matching characters "ith differing ethics and values can lead to some very interesting &drama& that everyone should experience at least once--particularly in a game "ith such good voice acting >ulti-player is also supported, so gamers "ith a fe" similarly-devoted friends can get even closer to the old tabletop experience via their home net"or$ -n GAA5, *ioWare released an expansion for Baldur<s 0ate '' called )1rone of Baal This important expansion represents the final chapter of the saga, and re.uired playing for any fan of the other games -t also adds ne" items, spells, and even more class abilities

The expansion also adds a dungeon named &Watcher#s Beep& that can be accessed during certain chapters in the %1ado,s of !-n game ,o"ever, perhaps the aspect most people remember of this game is the degree of god-li$e po"er your avatar has achieved by the game#s ending -t#s a fine ending for a fine series What ma$es the Baldur<s 0ate games so great+ /gain, - thin$ it#s clear it#s more a .uestion of craft than genius With Baldur<s 0ate "e get good stories, fun characters, meaningful .uests, high-sta$es combat, and an intuitive interface The graphics, sound, and music are appealing and add much to the game#s subtle ambiance Perhaps the best testament to the game#s lasting appeal is that no single element seems to rise above the others There are no gimmic$sD 'ust solid platinum gameplay -t 'ust doesn#t get better than Baldur<s 0ate

The <oys of Planes3ape: Torment


-f there#s one thing "e can say about the Platinum /ge of CRPGs, it#s that it has its fair share of cult classics - doubt you could find any group of CRPG fans that didn#t contain at least a fe" died-in-the-"ool fans of /allout and Planescape.)or-ent *oth games are "ildly different than the typical &high fantasy& game li$e Baldur<s 0ate, and both offer more introspective gameplay than Diablo, #andate of Hea4en, or Daggerfall -ndeed, although -#ve played my share of CRPGs, - can thin$ of very fe" that manage to rise above the status of &game& and into something approaching &art & 1i$e /allout, Planescape. )or-ent pushes at the boundaries and reclaims the !D&D rule set to serve its o"n ends /lthough )or-ent "as not as successful as the more conventional CRPGs available at the time, it#s nevertheless a true classic and one more good reason to call this era the &Platinum /ge &

&ith ma terpiece A1e of #/02 :

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*ioWare reali%ed that its marvelous 'nfinity &ngine "as the best of its $ind, and it made sense to license it out to *lac$ -sle, the elite CRPG division of -nterplay that had brought us /allout 2 *lac$ -sle "asted no time, and in Covember of 5666 released the cult classic Planescape. )or-ent The game is set in the Planescape campaign setting, a complex setting involving several interrelated planes of existence The game#s strange story and surreal ambiance lent the game considerable appeal among gamers "ho "ere ready for a dar$er and more metaphysical CRPG -ndeed, several revie"ers have commented that this game is really more of a graphical adventure game than a CRPG &People "ho have traditionally shied a"ay from Tol$eines.ue fantasy RPGs may find the Planescape "orld a little daunting at first, but may find that the game#s incredible script and po"erful characters "ill help them understand "hy the rest of us are so addicted to this type of game & --Trent C Ward on '0$, 2ec 57, 5666 1i$e any good story, the ma'ority of )or-ent<s appeal comes from its uni.ue setting, plot, and characters The game is set in a &multiverse,& or interconnected planes of existence The city of =igil serves as a sort of &portal port& to these other planes, but the player must find the &doors,& "hich can be disguised as any ob'ect !urthermore, the different planes are home to beings "ho tend to belong to the same &faction,& or political groups to"ards "hich they are extremely loyal 9e g , the &/narchists& and &Godsmen &< The player may choose to 'oin one of these factions, though doing so "ill "in him enemies as "ell as friends There is no clear blac$ and "hite division bet"een the good guys and the bad guys hereD the point is to really get the player thin$ing deeply about morality -t#s an interactive 'nferno, and it doesn#t ta$e a 2ante scholar to see the many allusions to that famous poem The story begins "hen the Cameless 4ne, the player#s character, a"a$es on a slab in a

giant mortuary ,e#s suffering from near-total amnesia, and the plot is concerned mostly "ith his rediscovery of "ho--or perhaps more accurately "hat--he is -t#s a nice contrivance that gives the player considerably lee"ay in role-playing the character, but it soon becomes obvious that the Cameless 4ne#s past deeds have "on him no small amount of animosity from the bi%arre characters he meets Than$fully, there are also plenty of characters "illing to 'oin the Cameless 4ne, including the infamous >orte, a floating head that becomes his "ise-crac$ing side$ic$ Then there#s !all-from-Grace, a succubus "ho#s turned from sex to philosophy, opening the &*rothel of =la$ing -ntellectual 1usts & There#s even a robot named Cordom, a rather nerdy crossbo" on legs Co doubt, part of )or-ent<s enduring popularity is the mix of serious and comedic themes running throughout /nother feature of )or-ent that sets it apart from most CRPGs is its heavy reliance on dialog not only to build the story, but to offer alternatives to standard combat >any potential conflicts can be resolved via intelligent conversation These conversations also help develop the characters into far more than 'ust &henchmen & There are plenty of other innovations - could mention, such as a truly uni.ue &tattoo& system that can boost stats as "ell as document the player#s progress, or the "ay the "orld changes according to the Cameless 4ne#s actions and beliefs =uffice it to say, there is no other game li$e Planescape. )or-ent, and - doubt there ever "ill be -t#s the perfect CRPG for gamers "ho prefer "it and "isdom to hac$ing and slashing

$ighting for Your Right to Party: I3e/in0 &ale


>ost of the best games of the Platinum /ge allo" players to create only a single character (ven though games li$e Baldur<s 0ate and /allout let players add characters to the party later on, these "ere pre-generated characters, often "ith their o"n personalities and agendas While this system allo"ed for more tightly controlled narrative and story-telling opportunities, some fans of old classics li$e Pool of Radiance and &ye of t1e Be1older felt cheated They "anted to create their o"n party of adventurers from scratch and control them directly *lac$ -sle heard their prayers, and in GAAA released 'ce,ind Dale, another game based on *ioWare#s 'nfinity &ngine and set in an arctic region of T=R#s /orgotten Real-s -t boasted great graphics, sound, and a score by @eremy =oule that is one of the finest musical scores ever composed for a video game /ll this sounded li$e a dream come true for old-school fans li$e yours truly

More character mean more d(namic part( mana1ementF 1et the balance ri1ht8

'ce,ind Dale lets players create and control six characters, and since the game is so focused on combat, building a properly balanced party is of paramount importance !urthermore, combat can be a very difficult affair, re.uiring careful coordination and team-"or$ !or example, one favorite strategy is to have a stealthy thief stride ahead, attract a fe" enemies, and lure them into an ambush /s usual, the magic-users function as artilleryD they dole out the most damage, but are virtually helpless in physical combat and must be protected >a'or battles can get .uite complex and intense, "ith a nearly infinite number of variables, especially during the preparation stage 9Which potions to give "hom+ =hould the mage learn enhancement or attac$ spells+< The only serious problem "ith the interface is $eeping the six characters aligned in a sensible formationD it#s easy to slip up and have a mage striding for"ard in a vulnerable position, or to un$no"ingly leave a character trapped behind an obstacle several rooms bac$ Enfortunately, 'ce,ind Dale is no masterpiece The heavy emphasis on combat and party dynamics came at the expense of an intriguing storyline or meaningful interaction "ith non-player characters This is a linear &hac$ and slash& game set in a some"hat dreary "orld of sno" and ice -ndeed, the game it reminded me of the most "as ==-#s utterly forgettable %ecret of t1e %il4er Blades The general consensus among revie"ers "as good, but not great, and it certainly didn#t help to be competing "ith mega-hits li$e Diablo '' and Baldur<s 0ate '', "hich "ere released the same year *lac$ -sle developed an expansion pac$ called Heart of Winter the follo"ing year, "hich adds five ne" areas and plenty of ne" items, s$ills, and spells -t also features higher resolution and better artificial intelligence -t#s a .uality expansion for fans of the first game -n GAAG, -nterplay published 'ce,ind Dale '', "hich differs from the original in several "ays Perhaps most noticeable is the s"itch to !D&D Lrd &dition rules, "hich greatly affect ho" characters are created and developed Gone is the old random dice thro"s for statsD players instead are given a certain number of points to distribute as they see fit

,o"ever, the catch is that pushing a stat above &average& re.uires a greater share of pointsD it#s an exponential system that "or$s .uite "ell There is also a ne" &feats& system, "hich is a terrific innovation that seems ripped straight out of /allout Cevertheless, the &feats& system ma$es leveling up a much more interesting and customi%able process, and adds greatly to that &'ust one more level, then -#ll stop for the night& $ind of thin$ing that $eeps you playing until your alarm cloc$ goes off There is also a s$ill system that allo"s further customi%ation and trade-offsD a thief "ho puts too many points into &open loc$& may be rotten at disabling traps or moving stealthily !inally, players can &multi-class& their characters ho"ever they "ish, even to the point of giving each character a level in fighting or thieving 'ust for $ic$s ,o"ever, again there#s a trade-offD really cool abilities are available only to very high-level members of a certain class Too much hybridi%ation results in a &'ac$ of all trades, master of none& type character that is mostly "orthless &-s your Wi%ard loo$ing a little unhealthy, "ith that sallo" s$in coloration that comes from lac$ of physical exercise+ Give him a level or t"o as a !ighter, buff up his "eapon feats, and "atch that cauldron belly vanish0 -s your 2ruid#s "inter "olf form guilty of unsightly molt in battle+ Give her a level of training as a *arbarian, and "atch her "olf tear each of those yetis a ne" ice hole after summoning forth her Rage0& -- *arry *renesal on -GC, =ep :, GAAG 'ce,ind Dale '' offers other enhancements as "ell, particularly more meaningful interaction "ith non-player characters and better diversity in settings The voice talent is also top-notch, an important aspect that tends to get overloo$ed by many revie"ers 9unless it#s bad, in "hich case it becomes the focus of such revie"s< /lthough the story is slightly more nuanced than the original, this is still primarily a &hac$ and slash& game more concerned "ith combat tactics than dramatic tension Tellingly, most contemporary revie"ers spend far more time tal$ing about the feat and s$ill system than the story arcs

The ne7 ;feat ; ( tem made le9elin1 +p m+ch more intere tin1 than the old r+le ( tem8

4f course, the other big game of GAAG "as *ioWare#s $e4er,inter $ig1ts, game that threatened to ma$e 'ce,ind Dale '' loo$ old-fashioned before gamers# hard drives -#ll have more to say about $e4er,inter $ig1ts later in but suffice it to say, 'ce,ind Dale '' is the last of the great 'nfinity &ngine brought so much 'oy to CRPG fans

a fully I-2 it even hit this article, games that

1ther T-R-=i3ense0 Games of the Platinum )ge


/lthough by far the most popular T=R-licensed games "ere of this era "ere based on *ioWare#s 'nfinity &ngine, there "ere other contenders: =tormfront =tudio#s Pool of Radiance. Ruins of #yt1 Drannor 9GAA5< and Troi$a#s )1e )e-ple of &le-ental &4il. ! Classic 0rey1a,* !d4enture 9GAAI< Ceither of these games "ere very successful, though at least the latter achieved some fame for being the first computer game to allo" gay characters to marry Pool of Radiance. Ruins of #yt1 Drannor, published by Ebisoft, is perhaps the most disappointing game in CRPG history -t#s one of those games "hose sheer "retchedness is hard to describe to the uninitiated, "ho assume the critic has some grudge or personal motivation for launching a stream of flaming vitriol Co doubt, part of my o"n distaste for this game stems from its title, "hich represents a bra%en attempt to lure un"ary fans of the legendary Gold *ox game to this uninspired, insipid, and do"nright unplayable travesty -ndeed, my contempt for this game tempted me to omit it entirely from my history -#d heard about the game months before it "as released, and counted do"n the days until - could re-enter Phlan and challenge Tyranthraxus once again

/fter plun$ing do"n K7A and playing the game for several hours, - $ept telling myself that eventually it "ould get better @ust a fe" more battles "ith those slo"-mo s$eletons, and surely my party "ould emerge from those drab, loo$-ali$e dungeons and the game "ould start to get interesting (ventually - reali%ed that it "asn#t going to get any better, and that - had "asted some t"elve hours of my life that - "ould never get bac$ What ma$es Ruins of #yt1 Drannor so terrible+ *esides the utterly boring sameness to all but a tiny fraction of the game"orld, s"arms of bugs 9the game actually reformatted some gamers# hard drives0<, and fatiguing, repetitious battles--this is one of the slo,est games ever in a literal sense The turn-based combats .uic$ly become agony as the characters and endless sea of s$eletons lethargically plod into position ,ec$, the s$eletons loo$ about as lively as the player0 - "as frustrated enough to do"nload a hac$ to speed up the combats, "hich eased my frustration, but - can only blame my "illingness to actually complete this game as evidence of masochistic tendencies - hereby grant Pool of Radiance. Ruins of #yt1 Drannor the distinction of being the "orst CRPG of all time >ore importantly, it#s a grave insult to the legacy of its namesa$e, and - can only hope that any gamers unluc$y enough to play this game first "ill do themselves a favor by playing the original (ven though the older game has &obsolete& graphics and interface, it has one vital advantage over Ruins of #yt1 Drannor. -t#s fun Troi$a#s )e-ple of &le-ental &4il is a much better game, and "as certainly designed "ith the old-fashioned CRPG gamer in mind Troi$a had distinguished themselves in GAA5 "ith the steampun$ masterpiece !rcanu-, but )e-ple turned out to be too &hardcore& for gamers "eaned on Diablo and even Baldur<s 0ate 1i$e Ruins of #yt1 Drannor, )e-ple of &le-ental &4il is a party-based game set in Irdperson isometric perspective, and features turn-based rather than real-time battles /lthough it suffers from a some"hat cumbersome interface, the pace is much improved and the combat is sophisticated and challenging enough to $eep players on the edge of their seats Enfortunately, the game is riddled "ith bugs, and the lac$ of a really gripping storyline and interesting characters $ept it out of the spotlight -ndeed, even the surprising t"ist of allo"ing t"o male characters to marry 9see my earlier article Gay Characters in video games< failed to dra" much attention to this title 4bviously, not 'ust any developer has "hat it ta$es to produce an outstanding CRPG out of a T=R license Getting it right involves more than 'ust having an outstanding engineD significant craft is involved in creating a compelling story that ma$es the player#s actions meaningful The best games 9Curse of t1e !>ure Bonds, Baldur<s 0ate '', Planescape. )or-ent< offer far better re"ards than 'ust experience points and gold coins They dra" the player in, suc$ a"ay days of his life, and leave him desperately "anting more 4n the other hand, games li$e Descent to 2nder-ountain and Ruins of #yt1 Drannor demonstrate that these licenses are "orth nothing "ithout a solid team behind them

Mi cellaneo+ .i1hli1ht of the 0latin+m A1e


There are several other "orthy CRPGs released bet"een 5667 and GAA5, even if they do tend to get lost in the shado"s of 'uggernauts li$e Diablo, &lder %crolls, and BaldurMs 0ate 4ne such game is *ullfrogYs Dungeon Keeper 95667<, "hich turns the CRPG on its head by letting players assume the role of dungeon master -tYs a rare but startling instance of a developer ma$ing a game out of game development itself /lthough Dungeon Keeper is probably closer to a strategy game than a conventional CRPG, it still offers an invigorating ne" perspective on the old dungeon cra"l ,o" do those evil archmages manage to $eep so many orcs and dragons fed and under their control+ The

game "as praised by critics, and *ullfrog "asted little time producing an expansion, )1e Deeper Dungeons, later in 5667 Dungeon Keeper 2, released in 5666, borro"ed the bul$ of its gameplay from its predecessor, but "as still popular among gamers and revie"ers The Platinum /ge also sa" the end of three prominent Golden /ge series: Krondor, Wi>ardry, and @uest for 0lory Return to Krondor 9566;< brought players bac$ to >id$emia, Raymond ( !eistYs fantasy "orld This series is one of the more baffling in CRPG history, since the second game, Betrayal in !ntara, is not actually set in !eistYs "orld at all !or various reasons, =ierra lost its license and had to generate an entirely ne" "orld in "hat felt li$e a last-minute affair ,o"ever, they "ere able to resolve their differences, and the next year =ierra published the third and final chapter in this dis'ointed saga Return to Krondor is often hailed as the best of the three, "ith a good story 9as if youYd expect anything else from !eist< and lovable characters /lthough more linear and straightfor"ard than most CRPGs, players are still given plenty of room to develop their characters and decide "hich s$ills to emphasi%e The combat system is a highly intuitive turn-based procedure that offers a nice balance of ease and precision Enfortunately, the game suffers from a rather repetitive magic system that is poorly represented on-screen / some"hat promising alchemy system is made redundant by a plentitude of pre-made potions littered about the game "orld -n short, Return to Krondor is a game "ith a great story and characters marred by a less-than-satisfying game engine With Wi>ardry K, =ir-Tech "as able to finish up its series smelling much rosier than 4rigin or Ce" World had "ith their final 2lti-a and #ig1t and #agic games Released in Covember of GAA5, Wi>ardry K finally let players s.uash their old nemesis, the 2ar$ =avant, and for most fans represents the best game in the series, and itYs as fully loaded as a Cadillac -t contained a mix of sci-fi and fantasy themes, and let gamers ma$e real decisions that affected the story 1i$e the late #ig1t and #agic series, Wi>ardry K is set in real-time, "ith first-person perspective and fully reali%ed I-2 environments ,o"ever, the party si%e "as a full ; characters, selected from 5: classes -t also offers real-time and turn-based combat modes, and a fairly sophisticated spatial system 9i e , the party can attac$ or be attac$ed from all sides< The production values are .uite high, "ith excellent graphics, voice acting, and dialog What Wi%ardry ; does "ell is gives the player a solid role-playing experience -f youYve ever sat do"n "ith pen and paper dungeon and dragons, created your o"n characters, and led them into countless battles, this game "ill simulate that experience perfectly M =cott @eline$ on Just RP0, c GAA5 Enfortunately, even Wi>ardry K isnYt perfect, but suffers from some pretty nasty bugs caused by the infamous %afedis* Wcopy protectionX program This problem prevented several C2-R4> drives from running the game, and led to other less predictable crashes =ome revie"ers also complained that the battles became repetitive after a"hile, and slo"ed the gameYs pace to a near stand-still Cevertheless, itYs one of the last truly epicsi%ed party-based CRPGs, and a fitting end to a long and historically vital series -n 566;, =ierra released the fifth and final @uest for 0lory game, Dragon /ire The previous game, %1ado,s of Dar*ness 9566I<, met "ith mixed reactions from critics and didnYt sell "ell, but fans pleaded "ith =ierra to let 1ori Cole put an end to the much-loved series Enli$e the previous games, Dragon /ire places much more emphasis on conventional CRPG elements 9such as a "ider variety of arms, armor, and magic items< Critics tended to be $ind to the game despite its dated graphics, occasionally bad voice acting, and a"$"ard combat interface >uch "as made of Chance ThomasY musical score, "hich lasts over I hours

The ,a7n of the Modern A1e


The Platinum /ge certainly had its share of ups and do"ns, and gamers en'oyed a "ide variety of diverse games and game engines ,o"ever, by GAAG, CRPGs had lost most of their shelf space to the steadily encroaching >>4RPG and RT= genres, and the latest round of games seem 9to this critic, at least< to be more about loo$ing bac$ than loo$ing for"ard CRPG development hasnYt ground to a halt, but the grooves have "orn deep >ost of the CRPGs published in the past five years have either been unimaginative se.uels or games so derivative they may as "ell have been To put it bluntly, "eYve entered a stage "here games are one of three typesT Diablo"inspired WactionX games, #orro,ind-style W!P=X games, and the endless sea of me-too >>4RPGs Perhaps the t"o most important games "eYve seen so far in the modern age are *ioWareYs $e4er,inter $ig1ts 9GAAG< and %tar Wars. Knig1ts of t1e 3ld Republic 9GAAI< /lthough the long-term impact of these games is hard to predict, they seem 9to me, at least< to be the most direct heirs of traditions going bac$ at least to BaldurMs 0ate, and perhaps even to ==-Ys Gold *ox games

)e9er7inter )i1ht 7a no Bald+r= 2ate6 b+t it po7erf+l 5-, en1ine pa7ned the Modern A1e of #/02 8

:e.er/inter :ights an0 >nights of the 1l0 Repu%li3


$e4er,inter $ig1ts features *ioWareYs !urora &ngine, a fully I-2 engine that promised more advanced graphics than the beloved old 'nfinity &ngine used in BaldurMs 0ate !or the first time, players had a free-moving camera they could position ho"ever they "anted *ioWare also included a toolset to let players easily create their o"n $e4er,inter $ig1ts campaign 1i$e BaldurMs 0ate, $e4er,inter $ig1ts only allo"s players to create and control a single character, though they can add Wassociates,X such as familiars and up to t"o computer-controlled characters $e4er,inter $ig1ts also follo"ed

the Lrd &dition !D&D Rules seen in 'ce,ind Dale '', "ith a fun and intuitive leveling system based on s$ills, feats, and stats /lthough the t"o games have much in common, there are many important differences bet"een $e4er,inter $ig1ts and BaldurMs 0ate '' Perhaps the most significant is that the playerYs avatar isnYt "oven so integrally into the plot -nstead, the playerYs character starts off as a Wblan$ slateX adventurer "ho has responded to a call by 1ady /ribeth to help the city of Cever"inter Cever"inter has come under a deadly plague -t doesnYt ta$e the player long to learn that the plague is only part of a much larger conspiracy to ta$e over the city of Cever"inter, and the roots of treachery run deep The player is allo"ed some lee"ay in directing the avatarYs actionD he or she can be a saintly type, a ruthless mercenary, or a hell-bent sociopath These choices are mostly played out in dialog options, but also in "hich side-.uests the player accepts or re'ects (xpansion pac$s for the highly successful game "ere not long in coming The first "as %1ado,s of 2ndrentide, developed by !loodgate (ntertainment and published by /tari 9-nfogrames< in GAAI %1ado,s of 2ndrentide "asnYt "hat most players expected at the timeD rather than extending the original campaign, it added an entirely ne" one that "as recommended for ne" characters *esides the addition of five ne" WprestigeX classes for advanced characters, the expansion met "ith generally favorable 9but not over the top< revie"s from critics The next expansion, Hordes of t1e 2nderdar*, appeared a fe" months later Than$fully, this trip to the dro"Ys homeland fared much better than the aforementioned Descent to 2nder-ountain *esides a fe" epic battles that no player "ill li$ely forget, Hordes of t1e 2nderdar* also added plenty of ne" assets to the game, including :A ne" feats and 8A ne" spells The massive expansion "as met "ith good to great revie"s from critics, some of "hom consider it an even better game than the original campaign King-a*er, an expansion released in GAA:, offers three additional Wpremium modulesX for $e4er,inter $ig1ts *ioWareYs most celebrated game of the >odern /ge is %tar Wars. Knig1ts of t1e 3ld Republic, published in GAAI by 1ucas/rts /s the title implies, this game is based on the %tar Wars franchise and the %tar Wars Roleplaying 0a-e developed Wi%ards of the Coast 9the heirs of T=R< -tYs a highly ambitious game based on a highly modified !urora engine called 3dyssey, and offers round-based combat /lthough $e4er,inter $ig1ts had impressed critics, Knig1ts of t1e 3ld Republic $noc$ed them off their feet, "ith several claiming it as one of the best CRPGs ever made 4n my second day of playing, - sat do"n at my des$ and started playing the game at 5A am !rom then on, - didn#t get up for anything until ? pm that night Cot lunch, not even the bathroom That#s ho" good Knig1ts of t1e 3ld Republic is M /llen Rausch on 0a-e%py, Cov GI, GAAI Knig1ts of t1e 3ld Republic is set some 8,AAA years before the movies, but this is still a @edi thing -ndeed, the player can decide "hich side of the !orce to follo" >uch li$e $e4er,inter $ig1ts, players are allo"ed to select among side-.uests, many of "hich help identify them as good or evil The game is drenched "ith detail and story, and some thirty odd hours of highly addictive gameplay Critics raved about the excellent "riting and dialog, "hich any CRPG gamer $no"s is .uite rare indeed -t "on countless a"ards, and is probably the most celebrated CRPG of the >odern /ge

Ee7 licen ed title ha9e en@o(ed the impact 2OTOR ha made on the 1ame ind+ tr(8

The se.uels to $e4er,inter $ig1ts and Knig1ts of t1e 3ld Republic "ere developed by a company named 4bsidian (ntertainment, "hich formed after the demise of *lac$ -sle =tudios *oth games "ere created "ith *ioWareYs 3dyssey &ngine Enfortunately, neither Knig1ts of t1e 3ld Republic ''. )1e %it1 +ords 9GAA:< nor $e4er,inter $ig1ts 2 9GAA?< have attracted the fanfare of their pre.uels

Con3lu0ing Thoughts on CRPG History


/lthough the CRPG has certainly suffered its share of ups and do"ns over the decades, history sho"s that "hen things are at their blea$est, there is al"ays a ne" company poised to spring onto the scene "ith an ama%ing ne" title that brings every true CRPG fan bac$ to the table Perhaps "eYre at such a point no"D ma'or CRPG titles have slo"ed to a tric$le, and some critics seem all but convinced that online games li$e *li%%ardYs World of Warcraft are the logical heirs of the Wolds$oolX CRPG ,o"ever, rather than trace the lineage of games li$e World of Warcraft or &4er@uest bac$ to CRPG classics li$e 2lti-a or Wi>ardry, - see them more as the descendents of another genre called the W>E2,Xor the multi-user dungeon >E2s appeared on the gaming scene almost simultaneously "ith text adventures and the first CRPGs, but "ere mostly played by college students and others "ith access to a mainframe 9or subscribers to services li$e !-erica 3nline or Co-pu%er4e< /lthough itYs beyond the scope of this article to discuss >E2s in any detail, suffice it to say that the appeal of these games is based far more on the thrill of playing "ith other people than anything else / case in point is the original $e4er,inter $ig1ts, an online game available on /41 bet"een 5665-5667 that "as based on ==-Ys Gold *ox engine Rather than get excited about stories or .uests, players spent time creating and participating in a player-created WguildX systemD the bul$ of the gameYs appeal consisted in sociali%ing and building up oneYs social status -n short, the difference bet"een the

typical >>4RPG and the traditional CRPG is as sharp as that bet"een attending a Renaissance !air and reading a good fantasy novel /lthough both offer no small share of delights, it 'ust doesnYt ma$e sense to claim that people should prefer one to the other, or that they are someho" e.uivalent @ust as selfrespecting RPG fan might "ish to avoid a cro"d of drun$en nincompoops at a WRen !airX, a CRPG fan may have aspirations beyond being Wp"nedX by rapacious adolescents 4f course, there is the .uestion of "hether the single-player, stand-alone CRPG is still commercially viable as a genre, and many Wolds$oolX fans ta$e a cynical vie" Co doubt, the culture of PC gaming has changed drastically since players "ere cra"ling through Wi>ardry, )1e BardMs )ale, or Curse of t1e !>ure Bonds These games had steep learning curves and re.uired long attention spansTaspects "hich ma$e them seem .uaintly WoldfashionedX compared to games "e find on the shelves today >any modern gamers find even BaldurMs 0ate '' simply too contemplativeD it fails to provide enough rapid-fire bursts of instant gratification to $eep them from a"a$e Can you imagine these fol$s ta$ing the time to map out a dungeon on graph paper or reaching the level of tactical expertise necessary to complete Wi>ardMs Cro,n+ There "as a point in gaming history "hen the CRPG "as vie"ed as the WhardX genreD the genre that re.uired the largest investment in time and energy but "hich offered the greatest re"ards These "ere games for the Whardcore,X the computer gee$ "ho "as proud of her esoteric $no"ledge and superior intelligence =ome cynics claim that this began to change "ith the increasing dominance of console RPGs, "hich by the late 6As "ere influencing CRPGs more than the other "ay around 9indeed, several RPGs originating on consoles "ere later ported to PCs, and "ith much success< Caturally, adapting the CRPG for use on a console re.uired ma$ing concessions in almost every area, particularly the interface, "hich had to be simple enough to "or$ "ith a handheld controller 1i$e"ise, these games had to appeal to a much "ider demographic than PC games, "hose developers could expect much more technical $no"ledge and sophistication than their console counterparts /lthough the difference bet"een consoles and computers has been steadily narro"ing since the Wfifth generationX or Play%tation era, many oldfashioned CRPG fans still resent the mar$ed @apanese influence on their beloved genre 9see my earlier article, Ba"aisa0: / Caive Glance at Western and (astern RPGs< )et, there are plenty of gamers out there still playing Rogue and running the classics on emulators or via nifty ne" services li$e 0a-e)ap 9see this list of GameTapYs RPGs< Games li$e 3bli4ion, Dungeon %iege '', and $e4er,inter $ig1ts '' continue to sho" up on the charts, and an undisputed masterpiece li$e Knig1ts of t1e 3ld Republic is still enough to "in over old fans and introduce hordes of ne" gamers to the genre >y guess is that the next big revolution in CRPGs is 'ust around the corner, though itYs impossible to tell from "hich company it might arise, or "hat form it might ta$e ,o"ever, - canYt emphasi%e enough that the best CRPGs of all time have been far more a matter of craft than revolution, of paradigms coming together rather than brea$ing apart 1i$e Pool of Radiance, BaldurMs 0ate, or /allout, the next big CRPG "onYt be so much about doing something ne", but doing something right