Hello, readers! Welcome to my blog, in which I play all computer role-playing games in roughly chronological order from the beginning of time to the modern age. As I write this paragraph, I'm currently in 1989 playing Starflight II.I find that many people who stumble upon my blog start with this entry, since it was the first, so I wanted to give you a bit of an introduction before letting you go ahead and read it, as it was originally published, after the line break below.When I first posted this, I was new to blogging and new to this particular project, and so it took a while for me to find my voice, figure out what I wanted to do, and mature as both a player and blogger. I reflected on these topics--as well as my overall CRPG addiction--in a third anniversary posting called "Past, Present, and Future" that might be worth reading if you think you might want to stick with me for the long haul.Beyond that, let me offer three things:1. In my opinion, the blog doesn't get good for a while. My early entries are too short, they're poorly-formatted, and in all-too-many cases, I don't know what I'm talking about. As I started, I hadn't discovered excellent online sources like MobyGames yet, I didn't spend enough time talking about developers and companies, I didn't cover the games in enough detail, and I didn't have the same large base of excellent commenters who were helping me find my voice. I don't really start getting proud of my postings until my April 2010 entry on "Ultima IV and Virtue." My point is, if you like the concept of this blog, stick with it and I promise that it improves.2. Although I intended at the outset to play only DOS or PC games in chronological order, I began to relax my "DOS-only" rule as time went on, and I went through a time towards the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 where I picked up a lot of games earlier than the ones I started with here.3. As you read the postings on my blog, do be sure to read the comments as well. I get fantastic commenters on this blog. Hardly anyone posts anything trite or juvenile or insulting. We have great discussions that elaborate on the postings, and many of my commenters offer context, clarification, and corroboration of the things I post. Also feel free to comment yourself on old postings. I get a notification on every comment, and I'll usually respond.Thanks for reading this update. Below you'll find the posting I originally offered in February 2010.
Chester ("Chet") Bolingbroke
1 March 2013
I don't have time for this.
Honestly, in real life, I'm a busy guy. The average visitor to this blog will assume I'm a fat, 20s-something guy who lives with his mom in a dark basement apartment and, if he has a job at all, probably works at a 7-11, making just enough money to buy his geeky computer stuff.
It's an unfortunate stereotype that victimizes plenty of young men who are no more absurd in their interests than lummoxes who spend all weekend watching football or bobos who outfit themselves with $1,500 in "sportswear" to "get in touch with nature." In my case, in any event, it simply isn't true. I'm in my late 30s. I'm at the top of my field. I make a good living, work about 14 hours per day at several different jobs, and live in a nice house with my wife and pets. I exercise 8-10 hours per week and, for both work and fun, I travel a lot.
But I have, always have had, always will have a weakness for computer RPGs. I don't know why. This weakness does not extend to regular RPGs nor to other computer games (I've played my share of first-person shooters and whatnot, and they are occasionally enjoyable, but they don't occupy my attention the way CRPGs do). There is something about the immersiveness of the CRPG story coupled with the active participation and imagination it requires. And I must emphasize "imagination." When I play a CRPG, I visualize the setting. I narrate the scene to myself. I create conversations among my characters. I write parts of the story that don't exist, send my characters off on quests that the game doesn't provide, and otherwise act like a five-year-old playing with his "Star Wars" figures.
When I said, "weakness," though, I meant it literally, with all of the baggage that comes with it. Ever since I was a kid and got hold of my first RPG--Questron for my Commodore 64--I have indulged my addiction to my detriment. This was quite clear in my junior high and high school report cards, not to mention my social life. I knew every corridor of VARN but was weak in world geography; while other people my age took philosphy courses, I was learning how Ultima IV's Three Principles of Virtue combined to form the Eight Virtues, and while my schoolmates struggled through teen love, first dates, and losing their virginity, I was "dating" the clerk of New Phlan.
|The RPG that hooked me on the genre.|
Probably all that saved me was how much computers sucked back then. The C64 disk drive alone, which always seemed to be failing, cost more than I made in a month. One day, my computer died, and I simply couldn't afford a new one. Instead, I got some hobbies, got a girlfriend, and went to college, got my first job, and forgot about CRPGs for a while.
Then, in the late 1990s, I began to investigate how the field had progressed since I stopped playing a decade earlier. Oh, wow. Why hadn't anyone told me? I updated myself on the Might and Magic series and couldn't believe how good the sixth installment was. Then I discovered Baldur's Gate and its sequel--have two better CRPGs ever been developed? I spent hours exploring the dungeons and towns of Morrowind and was blown away, like everyone else, by Oblivion.
But with these new discoveries came the same old problems: tasks undone or done poorly, bleary-eyed confusion two out of three mornings a week at work, disapproving tuts from my wife. Fortunately, by the time I rediscovered CRPGs, I was far enough along in my career, with its attendant obligations, that a sense of professionalism keeps me from sliding completely into chaos and insolvency. At the same time, however, the truth is stark and undeniable: every hour I spend playing a CRPG is an hour that would have been better spent on any one of a hundred other tasks.
This came to a head in the fall of 2009. My wife went out of town for a three-day business meeting, and I had planned to use the time to finish editing a book that I'd promised to the publisher a couple of weeks prior. The first morning, I worked maybe an hour on it before deciding to take a break for a "little" bit of Oblivion. 72 hours later, when my wife returned, I had done essentially nothing else. I was disgusted with myself. I took the opportunity this feeling provided, grabbed a large trash bag, and before I could stop myself, I stuffed all of my games into it--including almost a dozen that were unopened inside their plastic wrappers. I promised myself I wouldn't waste any more time on such absurdities.
This lasted about three weeks, but like all addictions, it proved impossible to fully shake. So I announced to myself a new plan--the epic opposite of what, by throwing a way all of my games, I had intended. Instead of dedicating myself to a life of CRPG abstinence, I would instead go the full distance. Assisted by DOSBox, abandonware web sites, and Wikipedia, I would play every CRPG that has ever existed for the PC. If my problem was that CRPGs were competing with my to do list, they would become part of my to do list. Stupid, I know, but that's why I'm here and that's why you're reading.
I hadn't intended to make a blog out of this, but it actually makes the project seem more legitimate somehow, more respectable, like the difference between being a movie watcher and a "film historian." Maybe people will read this and re-discover old gems from the past. And, frankly, I think it will be a lot of fun.
There must be rules. Otherwise we have chaos. These are my rules as I work my way through every PC CRPG ever published.
1. Wikipedia's list is my Bible. The titles on this list are heavily biased towards CRPGs commercially released through established publishers. I understand there are some really good freeware, browser-based, and otherwise noncommercial RPGs out there, but honestly this project is taking enough time as it is. I'm also going to work through the list based on initial publication date, even if the version I'm playing is a re-release or newer port. [Much later edit: This seemed like a good idea when I was just starting, but it soon turned out that Wikipedia's list was not remotely comprehensive. My list ended up being a combination of Wikipedia, MobyGames, and a few other sources.]
2. Only PC RPGs. To appear on my play list, the game has to have been released for DOS or the PC, if only as a port. I'm not going to frig around with C64 or Apple II emulators. [Much later edit: This rule also started to go out the window, although my primary list is still composed of DOS/PC games.]
3. No hints, no cheats, no walkthroughs. We didn't have these in the 1980s, and I don't need them now. If I make mistakes, or it takes me a little longer, well that's part of the fun of the game. I will only use the Internet to solve technical problems. I will allow myself one exception: if anyone reading this blog wants to post non-spoiler gameplay hints to problems I've posed, I'll use them.
4. I don't have to win every game, but I must at least make a sincere effort to play it. I'm writing this initial posting after already starting on my project. The second game I played (as you'll soon read) was an early version of Rogue. It took me four months of playing to beat it. It became almost an obsession. Four months is an acceptable time to beat some games if the world is big enough (think Daggerfall), but the reason it took so long to beat Rogue is that the game is punishingly difficult. After even a few days of playing it, there was really nothing new left to discover. I won't do this for every game. I will devote a minimum of six hours to each one, but if after that I'm having no fun or the play is repetitive, it's on to the next game.
4. If the game is still available commercially, I will buy it. I believe in rewarding game developers and publishers for their hard work. But if it is not avaiable commercially, I will have no compunction downloading it from abandonware sites or otherwise obtaining it illegally.
With these rules in mind, I embark on adventure!