Bringing you the latest RPG news from other worlds plus the latest role-playing gamne reviews from the old classics to the newest blockbuster titles.
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RPGs or Role Playing Games are without a doubt the cornerstone and pinnacle of elite PC gaming. In fact, they have become so popular that the current top 5 adrenaline-drenching games in 2017 are RPG-oriented. But long before the evolution of real-time strategy and pixelated shooters, the earliest game developers relied on replicating tabletop RPGs on a software platform to come up with addictive adventures sprawling through wizards, orcs and foul dungeons. Those early games - which are a far cry from what we have almost four decades later - slowly evolved into fully-fledged organized role-playing games. And their elements have since spread to other close gaming genres. But where exactly did computer RPGs come from? Here is a comprehensive look at The History of RPG PC Gaming.
Tabletops can be easily termed as the paper-and-pencil version of new-age RPGs. I say paper-and-pencil because as much as it represents some of the main tenets of modern RPGs, it also obscures a little more of than it reveals. Take the example of 'D&D' - a classical tabletop and 'College Hoops 2K7' or 'Half-Life' - typical computer RPGs. Although all of them share the element of a first-person narrative 'playing a role,' the new-age RPGs are by far more interactive, addictive, immersive, and most importantly, offer a better gameplay tactile feedback. That aside, the inception of the first basic version of RPGs ( the 'Dungeons & Dragons' ) can be traced to some time back in 1974.
The authors of 'Dungeons & Dragons,' John Borland and Brad King, can, therefore, be unanimously be termed as the fathers of computer RPG. If anything, it is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of the role that 'Dungeons & Dragons' played in the rise of the popularity of computer gaming. Of course, we could argue that back then there were still other basic versions of computer RPGs such as computerized dice and cards games, remember 'Solitaire'?
However, the truth is that none of these games had the immense drawing power that 'Dungeons & Dragons' wielded. Then don't forget that gambling-inspired RPGs have always been centered around the intention of winning potential prizes rather than the enjoyment of playing the game itself. On the other end of the spectrum, purely computer strategy games such as 'Chess' are generally considered to be so 'mental' and abstract are played not for mere amusement/fun but the strain they put on one's logic and reasoning capabilities. In other words, 'Dungeons & Dragons' seems to be the earliest game that was a perfect culmination of strategy, story, and gameplay, hence its qualification as the forefather of the modern warfare RPGs.
'Dungeons & Dragons' may have set the precedence of RPGs, but it is the rapid computer advancements that were witnessed in the 80s and 90s that created a relatively stable framework to encourage the evolution of RPGs. As early as 1979, there were at least two computer RPGs that were commercially produced and marketed specifically for home computers. One of these was a classical developed a Richard Garriot - a high school coder who loved to refer to himself as 'Lord British' from one of the fictitious characters of 'Dungeons & Dragons'. Richard Garriot's game - 'Akalabeth: Word of Doom' employed wire-frame graphics that were twisted to a first-person perspective. Until them, all computer simulated RPGs only offered a top-down view. In many ways, 'Akalabeth: Word of Doom' was largely ahead of the prevailing times, and was only available for Apple II users.
The release of 'Akalabeth' inspired more programmers to join the bandwagon, and soon, another computer RPG 'Dunjonquest: Temple of Apshai' was published by Automated Simulations, INC. This one was a five-game sequel or series that was first made available on the equally new TRS-80 platform. By 1984, it had been ported to Apple II, DOS, Vic 20, and Commodore 64. Although neither 'Akalabeth' and 'Temple of Apshai' are technically playable today, the value which they played in the history of computer RPGs cannot be overstated. For starters, both games are widely successful and influential in their own right.
Secondly, they also helped launch the culture of now-popular game series or sequels ( 'Akalabeth' gave birth to the 'Ultima' series ). Nonetheless, the genre by itself was still primitive and crude. A far cry from what we have today in terms of design and the presence/absence of an interactive user interface. There were still a lot of room for improvement, something that ushered the next era of the evolution of RPGs - The Silver Age
Despite the promising developments that were witnessed in the mid-1980s, computer RPGs were barely a recognizable genre as they are in 2017. In place of the adventure and arcade games we have today, there were only a few hard and cumbersome commercial games that dominated the gaming realm. And it wasn't until the unveiling of the 'Ultima I' series that computer RPGs begin to take the shape that we can recognize today. On seeing the success and popularity that this trailblazing game franchise enjoyed, other developers took up the challenge and, soon enough, new series cropped up in the gaming arena. One of them is 1981's 'Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord' created by one Sir-Tech. Just as you would expect, 'Wizardry' enjoyed unprecedented popularity spanning over two decades. Two other crucial games were released during this era: 'Dungeons of Daggorath' and the 'Tunnels of Doom.' A few versions of these two sequels are still reasonably playable and rewarding to this day.
All in all, these four years of early computer RPG development was characterized by a steeper growth curve than we will see in the next 30 years. At this juncture, it is safe to say that although there wasn't any single game that contained all ( or most ) of the sought-after qualities that represent an ideal computer RPG today, you could already choose and pick some of these elements from one or two individual games of this era. These demure precursors of modern computer role-playing games then ushered the way for the Golden Age.
It was barely 1985 and never before had there been such an unprecedented increase of comparatively high-quality commercial computer games available to the common man. A good instance was the 1985 release of 'Tales of the Unknown Vol. 1: The Bard's Tale' by Interplay. This RPG, which then morphed into a hugely popular trilogy, was by then the most advanced, addictive and intuitive computer franchise in the late 80s. It was challenging enough to keep you on toes throughout a gameplay session, yet intriguing enough to attract a middle-class mainstream audience. It was so far from the shabby entrants of the late 70s that computer fantasy games became overnight bestsellers as developers tapped on the genre's immense popularity and the natural scarcity of these games.
That being said, even though 'Wizardly' and 'Ultima' established the convention of RPG computer PC gaming in the early 80s, it was Interplay that really demonstrated that this genre was not just a reserve for hardcore gamers. By 1990, 'The Bard's Tale' was available for both Apple II and enjoy an impressive mainstream appeal from different factions of consumers. In fact, most of you can recognize it as one of the first computer RPG from their youth. The last 'Bard's Tale' game might have been released back in 1991, but it was until 2004 InXile Entertainment reworked the franchise for Xbox, PS2, and Windows with a 'spiritual sequel' angle.
'The Bards Tale' appeal was unmatched until the release of 'Diablo' by Blizzard in 1997. Like the earthshattering ' The Bard's Tale' trilogy before it, this game was so popular that Baen Books, one of the major publishers at the time, launched a sequel of 8 novels just based on the game. Other noteworthy games to published in this era include 'Autoduel' and 'Spy Hunter.' Speaking of which, 'Autoduel' is in the books of history for being one of the pioneering 'open ended' design RPGs. Unlike what we have seen all through, there was now the flexibility of one deciding what goals they wanted to pursue and how they wanted to go about pursuing these goals. Despite its simple and basic graphics, 'Autoduel' drew a significant trajectory that would see other modern warfare RPGs follow even as late as 2006.
The Golden Age of Western RPG also witnessed the rise and rise of post-apocalyptic and sci-fi games such as 'Wasteland' and 'Star Saga.' Apart from ushering in the last modern era of computer games, these two really pushed the boundaries of this fast-rising genre and also demonstrated the tremendous potential and possibilities that RPGs harbored.
The Golden Age was without a shred of doubt the peak of RPG development. Dozens of games, some not entirely RPGs, surfaced during this time. A good pick of them even saw the dawn of the new millennium. Nevertheless, the real gameplay was not witnessed until the late 90s to early 2000s. This was when three equally important games as far as the framework and structure of RPGs go, were published within a span of 3 years. These are 'Ultima Underworld,' 'The Elder Scrolls' and Bardur's Gate.' It was during this time that the standalone, single-player computer RPG reached its apex and gave room for the development of 3D gaming. But before that, Multiplayer Online RPGs took center stage thanks to the flames of the unexpected advancement of the Internet.
It was also during this era that we saw the release of games marred and doomed by sloppy coding, bugs, and easily avoidable glitches. And this was particularly the norm for games developed for Windows and DOS. If anything, there was a time during the late 90s that almost all games had an array of game-crashing glitches that infuriated both critics and avid gamers alike. Debugging and restoration support by the responsible developer was still a thing of a novelty back then. The likeliest explanation for this otherwise surprising preponderance of glitches and bugs in games produced during this era was the culture of employing specialized gaming programmers to work on several aspects of the software's framework. And in their hurry to outdo one another, they would then jam these individual parts us instead of delegating the entire coding project to one or a handful of experienced coders.
Still, on this, there was a dire lack of robust industry standards among sound and graphic card manufacturers. That implies that developers had to try to re-optimized their hefty codes for it to be accommodated by these primitive electronic platforms. Otherwise, they would risk driving away thousands of avid gamers who could access periodical updates as it is the norm today.
That said, by 2002, a majority of Computer RPGs from the old era had lost most of their appeal to the newer, more fascinated and enthralling RTS and MMORPG ( Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games ) series. Up to now, a majority of these RPGs were either unimaginative sequels or creative series running on a well-trodden path of a predictable script. That marked the entrance of online games such as Blizzard's 'World of Warcraft' and 'EverQuest.' These new entrants not only built on the foundation that was set by RPG PC classics such as 'Wizardry' and 'Ultima' but were also seen as the descendants of MUDs - Multi-user Dungeons. However, it is to be remembered that the appeal of MUDs is based more on the thrill of multi-play rather than the gaming dynamics. Consequently, the bulk of MUDs mostly consists of building up one's player status and socializing instead of engaging in direct action - something that a few new-age computer and console-based RPGs borrow slightly.
History has shown time, and again that change is always at the corner when things are at their bleakest. The story doesn't read any different for RPGs. In fact, there was a time when computer RPGs were viewed as 'hard' or 'non-interesting'; games that required a gargantuan investment in energy and time while offering a meager reward in return. Nonetheless, the advancement of electronic component technology has made it possible for the logic of computer role-playing games to be adopted even on consoles and high-end gaming machines. And the inception of the handheld controller and a very interactive user interface meant that PC role-playing gaming was now a genre in its own right.
All factors held constant, I have a strong feeling that the next biggest CRPG trend is just around the corner. And it won't be surprising if this came from the unlikeliest of quotas. Think of revolutionary paradigms of breaking apart other than coming together, as we're used to. Think of doing 'something the right way' rather than 'something new.' As usual, only time can tell.