Friday, February 24, 2012

Game 69: The Game of Dungeons/dnd (1975)



The interesting thing about role playing games--computer and otherwise--is how they marry the left and right brain, the quantitative and the qualitative. For people who like calculations, tactics, and probabilities, you have the statistics-based combat and magic systems, adapted from wargames like Chainmail. For people that like open-ended narratives, histories, quest, and dialogue, you have--well, all the rest. Just as I suppose there are some (demented) people who prefer their chocolate and peanut butter separate, there are those who prefer these game elements separate. If you just like the left-brained stuff, you play strategy games; if you just like the right-brained stuff, you play adventure games.

It's inescapable, though, that the earliest CRPGs were more about the left brain than the right. (Yes, I know that the idea of "left-brain" and "right-brain" has been discredited; I'm using them as metaphors.) The world-building and story-telling of the PLATO games, Wizardry, The Bard's Tale, and other early CRPGs are not nearly as well-developed as their combat systems. One is tempted to cite programming limitations for this, but we have the problem of Zork rearing its head in 1977. Zork offered an interesting game world, detailed descriptions of rooms, persistent inventories, and some quasi-NPCs--essentially, the right-brained half of an RPG. It is no less an "RPG" than computer games that adopted that designation, and yet, somehow, it wasn't considered as such. The left-brainers won out.

The union of tactical combat with interesting game worlds happened so slowly that it's hard to pinpoint when the first full, synthesized "CRPG," as we currently think about that term, first appeared. I suppose we have to give the honor to Ultima, but the game loses points with me by offering a game world that's so stupid. (Ultima II was more offensively dumb than Ultima I, but Ultima I was still dumb.) Regardless, Origin deserves credit for a string of games from 1983-1986 (Ultima III, Ultima IV, Autoduel, Moebius, 2400 A.D.) that included plenty of elements from both sides of the brain. SSI leaped on the scene during the same period with Wizard's Crown, Rings of Zilfin, and Shard of Spring. These were not all great games, but my point is that this era marked the end of the period in which a "CRPG" was about combat and virtually nothing else.

To play these early PLATO games is to look through a window on a time in which not only were CRPGs new, but the earliest developers had decided that the most important aspect of a "computer role-playing game" was not the story but the monsters and weapons. I wonder if this caused any backlash from pen-and-paper RPG players. Certainly, some of them must have complained that the programmers had stripped the soul from RPGs. That doesn't mean they're not fun; they just lack a major element of the game--Dungeons & Dragons--from which many of them take their names.


The "finders of the orb" seem to have a common theme going.



The title screen calls the game The Game of Dungeons, but the file name was just dnd, and this is what has stuck in history and legend. Developed in 1975 by Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood (who named the dungeon "Whisenwood"), this may be the first CRPG developed openly as a game, without having to hide under fake file names on the PLATO mainframe (cf. PEDIT5). It has existed continually since its first edition.

For the history of the game, I am indebted to Dirk Pellett and Flint Pellett. Dirk wrote a history of the game on Cyber1's preserved PLATO system, which I quoted in December. Dirk and Flint both exchanged e-mails with me following this posting and fleshed out the history a bit more. Whisenhunt and Wood were inspired by both the tabletop Dungeons & Dragons, first released the previous year, and the PEDIT5 dungeon, which I reviewed in December. They improved upon PEDIT5 with a multi-level dungeon, more monsters, and more spells. Dirk Pellett arrived at the University in late 1975, started playing dnd, and had so many suggestions that Whisenhunt and Wood gave him editing privileges to implement them. He improved a number of aspects of the game mechanics and added a host of items, potions, and encounters. Dirk's brother, Flint, attended the university starting in 1977 and helped program subsequent editions. They were kind enough to send me a bit of the original source code, of which Flint says he has a "pile of printouts."


To me, this appears as Είμαι ένα άγριο ζώο. Ακούστε με βρυχηθμό!.


The earliest version still around (5.4) is from 1977. The manual describes the game in language that inescapably marks it as the progenitor of almost all CRPGs that followed:

[Adventurers] wander around in a maze and pick up any gold they happen to find lying around. They can also find magic items and treasure chests! Unfortunately, recent years have seen the dungeon become inhabited with strange and deadly monsters...

Characters have four attributes--strength, dexterity, intelligence, and wisdom--which, like D&D, are on a scale from 3 to 18. PEDIT5 didn't allow you to re-roll, but dnd does. It's also fairly generous with the stats. I got these after only a few rolls:





After you accept the statistics and assign a name to your character, the game dumps you in the entrance to the dungeon, and the adventure begins. Your character is simultaneously a fighter, magic user, and cleric, with power depending on level and attributes.




When I reviewed PEDIT5, I noted:

I would have forgiven the first CRPG for being really basic and dumb: perhaps a text-only game in which you managed some basic attributes against some random encounters... Instead, we get a fairly large dungeon, a solid set of attributes, challenging random encounters, 8 spells, monsters with resistances based on type, and graphics that the DOS platform won't surpass until Ultima III.

dnd fits this description, only more so. The programming complexity here is not only impressive, but the various options and quirks are so numerous that I'm honestly having trouble keeping them all straight. Some examples:

  • When you encounter a monster, you can fight, evade, or cast a spell. If you try to "evade," your chances are based on the configuration of the surrounding walls, your dexterity, and your encumbrance.


A demon reacts to my attempt to evade.


  • Encumbrance also affects your ability to fight. There are various options for stashing and hiding gold to temporarily reduce encumbrance.
  • There are bottomless pits in the dungeon. Falling into one gives you a chance to "grab" onto each level as you plummet into the depths.
  • Treasure chests and magic items are often trapped.
  • The game says that the amount of gold you "bring out of the dungeon" affects your experience and spell levels, but I can't seem to re-find the entrance to the dungeon after I start.




  • There is a selection of magical weapons, armor, and accessories with different powers and + levels.
  • You occasionally encounter random books that either raise or lower your attributes.
  • When finding potions, you can study, examine, or just drink ("quaff") them, with 11 possible effects, including "astral form," which allows you to pass through walls and floors.




And there are occasional special encounters, like this:


Any CRPG Addict who says "yes" here doesn't deserve to have readers.


The ultimate goal of the game is to find the "ORB," guarded by a dragon, on Levels 17-20. The game warns that the dragon can do up to 100,000 hit points of damage. I'd be happy if I could just survive more than three combats. So far, the game is proving extremely hard. When you die, the game tells you how many other kills that particular creature has made before you, although I don't know when this counter was last reset. Either I'm the only one playing the game tonight, or everyone's having a lot more luck than me (these screenshots were about an hour apart):




I just hope I don't encounter a creature named "Barney Stinson."


The influence on dnd games is obvious, and as I previously covered, informed by my conversations with Dirk Pellett, it's tough to see sometimes where "influence" ends and "plagiarism" begins. In his text file history of dnd (available only on the PLATO system), Dirk says bluntly that Daniel Lawrence plagiarized dnd in making his own DND, later commercialized as Telengard. In e-mails to me, Dirk says that he later had a chance to look at Lawrence's source code and gives him a little more credit for some original programming. Nonetheless, the influence of this dnd on DND/Telengard is obvious to me, including the random encounters with portals, monsters, and potions, the discovery of random treasure on the ground, and the overall feel of the gameplay. Yes, DND introduced some more complexity in the encounters, but it still very obviously a descendant of dnd, whether by plagiarism or homage. Rogue also owes a lot to this game and it's continually more challenging levels, culminating in the retrieval of a McGuffin from the bottom.

It would be cool, but I suspect impossible, to win this one. I'm going to fire up the Cyber1 terminal now and then and see how far I can get (and do a separate posting on Version 8), but otherwise don't look for a lot of postings here. I definitely recommend that every true CRPG lover sign up for a Cyber1 account and play a few rounds.

*****

Further reading: Posts on the entire DND line: The Dungeon (aka "pedit5," 1975); Dungeon of Death (1979); Telengard (1982); Caverns of Zoarre (1984); DND (1984); and the Heathkit DND (1985). For a discussion of Lawrence and plagiarism, see this account by one of The Game of Dungeons's original authors. 

Other posts on the PLATO series include The Dungeon (1975), Orthanc (1975), Moria (1975), Oubliette (1977), and Avatar (1979).

Over at "CRPG Adventures," Nathan Mahney spent three months and over 200 characters winning the game. Check out his series of posts starting here.

67 comments:

  1. This is really interesting stuff, and I'm glad you're playing it.

    Just out of curiosity, did these have any impact on Garriott and Akalabeth/Ultima?

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    1. If it did, I don't see it. Akalabeth is palpably more primitive than either dnd or PEDIT5, and the series goes a different direction starting with Ultima. A book that I read on the subject, Dungeons & Dreamers, suggests that Garriott created his games without ever playing other CRPGs (which makes sense, as the PLATO games were only available to a limited number of people at that particular university).

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    2. Yeah, that's the basic sense I have. It's just interesting to trace the genre to its original roots, and Garriott seems to be a seed all by himself. Even without the later Ultima (>3) games, that's quite an accomplishment on its own.

      Still, it feels like these early games still had an impact on the greater genre through roguelikes.

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  2. This'll be pretty random, but this game reminds me of a game my brother and I used to play on the Prodigy portal. It had a bunch of games that were pay to play (like $5 an hour IIRC), but we'd play some MUDs and basic dungeon crawler much like this. However, the graphics were even more primitive (think ASCII characters). It sounds like it had most of the same mechanics.

    You'd create a character with D&D stats, delve into the dungeon, get back to the exit to raise your level based on treasure and enemies encountered, and go back in for more. I can't remember the name of the game, or getting very far, but this post sparked that memory.

    It's a little sad to see such games fade into obscurity. I wish people would do more to maintain the history of games like they do with film or books. Games released on tape media are probably lost to time for the most part. My dad had hundreds of cassettes that we'd throw into tape players, and hear high pitched noises before we knew the difference. He never had a working tape system during our time of interest, and I'll probably never know what Dungeon Campaign or Beneath Apple Manor, yet the manuals in themselves were fun to read.

    Thanks for the look into the past. I think I'll take you up on that link, and try this game out.

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    1. Does it sound like any of the games I covered here?

      http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2010/07/backtracking-dnd-1984-caverns-of-zoarre.html

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    2. It sounds like and resembles DND (1984) the most, but the graphics were slightly "better" (walls were | and - instead of I) and the game was out in 1990's. There's very little information on Prodigy games, so I can't just pull up a list. I remember the game being something like "Legend of the Black Knight." I don't recall exactly, and that could have been a different game.

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    3. I was mistaken, and the game I'm remembering was on the CompuServ platform. I spoke to my brother, and he reminded me of this. Still, no clue which game it was.

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    4. Sounds like either "Dungeons of Kesmai" or, more likely, "Castle Telengrad".

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  3. Ahhhh....a Saturday morning. I've got my coffee and a long post from the Addict. Life is as it should be.

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  4. Great post, Mr. Addict. Your musings on the left/right brain sides of CRPGs were very interesting. Have you considered a post exploring the differences between JPRGs and CRPGs? I don't remember your level of experience with the JRPGs but, it seems like the might fall more towards the right side of the alignment, but not as far to the right as adventure games.

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    1. I have extremely limited experience with JRPGs. They haven't really popped on the scene yet in my current play order, and my only experience with a modern one was about two hours with Lost Odyssey and about 15 minutes with one of the recent Final Fantasies. I found them both torturous.

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    2. Jay Barnson posted about that very topic Tom B.
      http://rampantgames.com/blog/?p=3963

      I disagree with his conclusions but his stuff is usually an interesting read regardless.

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    3. I don't think most of them will be your scene, since they are very, very linear: You can probably fail them on lack of being able to choose your path. That said, some are quite interesting (Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior for example sound very similar to some of the ones you've played, but with simpler combat. Some of the later ones got very complex tactical combat I think, though most are pretty linear. Luckily most of them didn't get translated to English until after Final Fantasy VII was a smash hit, so you can avoid most of them.

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    4. Looking at your list you have Final Fantasy VII and Suikoden II (looks like not an English release though), so you'll get some eventually. I think Final Fantasy VIII was released on PC as well.

      I think you might actually like Suikoden 1 & 2. With over 100 characters, you're bound to find 6 for your party that you like even if you can't create them yourself.

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    5. You should definitely squeeze as much out of Final Fantasy VII as you can, simply because that game was a landmark title. It brought RPGs into the gaming mainstream for the first time.

      It's also interesting to see how very similar to D&D the original Final Fantasy was, but that one was NES only.

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    6. No one ever complains that you can't play your own character when reading a book or watching a movie. If a CRPG is like playing a D&D module, think of playing a JRPG as reading a book. You have to accept and embrace the nonlineararity; it defines the genre.

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    7. Edit: Linearity :P

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    8. I guess, but modern CRPGs take upwards of 100 hours to finish these days. You could almost read the entire Wheel of Time series in that much time, let alone a single novel. If I'm going to invest that much time in a game, I want interesting choices and the ability to role-play, not just be told a story that could be told much quicker on paper.

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    9. In the FF games at least much of the 'play time' is spent getting past random battles and looking for sidequest/easter egg/otherwise unnecessary mcguffins.

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    10. @Addict: You pretty much expressed my feelings about console RPGs, except I become frustrated & bored with the lack of control, interesting choices, & role-play within the first hour or two.

      @Maldeus: Full proper RPGs were part of the computer gaming mainstream even in the early 80s, and the console equivalent was very common (if not mainstream) for that platform by the mid-late 80s. They became fairly scarce starting sometime in the early 90s, so their entry into the mainstream is actually a return to it.

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    11. The only JRPG, in my opinion, that was really fun--I completed it multiple times--was "Chrono Trigger". Great music, great story, great music; a fun game all-around. When you finished it the first time, you could begin again, but with your advanced levels. After a couple of times doing that, you could start a new game, go directly to the end boss, and fight it. The ending was different based on what point in the story you were when you decided to fight the end boss.

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    12. There are a couple early console RPGs that might interest you. I haven't played them myself yet, but in researching them I've found they have more in common with computer RPG sensibilities.

      The games I'm thinking of are both on the Genesis:

      Rings of Power
      Shadowrun

      Maybe someone with more experience with them can say more. I'm not sure how interested you actually are in exploring console RPGs, but I'll check back once I've played them to give a more detailed account.

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  5. A bit off topic, but I think you might enjoy using http://pyromancers.com/dungeon-painter-online/ instead of excel. It is a bit faster to make maps I think, and you can save them to JPEG or PNG to upload them to the blog. You can also easily add stairs, doors, etc.

    Zenic was talking about making a flash map maker at allconsolerpgs.blogspot.com/2012/01/making-maps-better-part-1.html , and I thought someone must have done it already, so I asked the tabletop gaming community at http://rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/12608/software-for-on-the-fly-mapping . While most of the answers I got were to make nice looking maps, this software seems to work quite well, and is a web interface so you can try it out quite easily.

    I meant to boast about how quickly I could make a fast map, but I got distracted playing with the program and spent 5 or 10 min on this. I had the basic body done in well under a min, then spent the rest of the time adding chests and tables and such.

    http://rpgamer.ru/media/map/1259/img.png

    I think you might like the 'Old School D&D' icons, since they are designed for dungon mapping: http://rpgamer.ru/media/map/1260/img.png shows 4 pillars, an up stairs, down stairs, spiral stair case, secret door, and two types of traps.

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    1. That is legitimately pretty cool. I'll give it a try next time I map. I do like to make annotations on the map, though, which seems to be a bit harder with this tool.

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  6. Very good written and very informative. Keep on the good work!

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  7. I have played a lot of this very game, on this very system. I think it's definitely possible to win it if you put the time it -- I stopped playing when I got distracted away from it when I was regularly exploring dungeon level 7.

    To escape the dungeon, assuming the maze is the same as when I played, go to the upper-left corner of the first level and just walk off the maze up or left. (There might be another exit too? It's been a couple of years.)

    I wrote an article about my experiences with it: http://www.gamesetwatch.com/2008/12/column_pixel_journeys_dnd.php

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    1. This entry was a TON of help. I don't know if I'll have much more to say on the game that you didn't cover!

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  8. I would recommend you to finish Lost Odyssey, as I have heard so much good about it, but my brother and I have had a little too much of it as well.

    Most of the time I watched him play to the beginning of the final dungeon, while I only made to disk 2. However, our problems were the same:

    ! There are parts where you need to grind and you feel like you are walking back and forth forever just to get an encounter.

    ! There is nothing really special done with the ring system of attacking. It just becomes annoying doing it over and over again.

    ! You have to change equipment far too often to be any good in battles. One might think this is not a problem having only two areas (much more with assignign skills to immortals) of equipment and giving the battle system added tactical depth. However, given the frequency of mixed-type and element groups of tough to kill enemies in random encounters necessary to level up enough to beat some of the bosses, this becomes extremely frustrating micromanagement.

    Final Fantasy 13 actually hooked me, surprisingly because I had a lot of fun kicking the crap out of every single thing in the game. I can see why you and not many people like it and agree that it sucks at being an RPG.

    I hope these two games have not colored your view against tackling Final Fantasy 3 on a NES emulator when you hit 1990 (you did say in the blog birthday comments that you would give it a look; also make me a character name in The Magic Candle when you get to it). While linear, it is a much more old schoolish game with a good amount of charm that I hope you will experience, too.

    Anyway, great dnd post.

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    1. I think we need a rule that to recommend a non-PC/DOS game you have to be willing to mail the addict a copy of the original, and a system to play it on ^^

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    2. Really, it doesn't matter if he doesn't want to do it. There are just a ton of games on the PC alone. Though if he did decide to follow through, my suggestion would come before that rule since this was way back in 2011 (also its physical form is only in Japanese, and you probably know so don't be mean).

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    3. Speaking about walking back and forth desperately searching for an encounter, that's what I was doing in Pool of Radiance last time I played. The bastards over at the Rope Guild always kill my whole party, but there's not many encounters left elsewhere. The bugbears kill me and the undead are horrible too. I have some magic items, the shop keeper is willing to pay a lot, but I don't like that guy, never gives me a fair deal.

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    4. Final Fantasy III was my least favorite Final Fantasy game. I found it necessary to grind a lot of levels in order to beat the game. Maybe I chose the wrong classes though.

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    5. I would recommend against playing Lost Oddysey and FF3. If we want to get him interested in JRPGs then we should ask him to play nothing less than Chrono Trigger and not risk him getting fed up with lesser games.

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    6. Taylor: Yeah, probably every RPG enthusiast should play Chrono Trigger as it's just great, but getting CA into JRPGs is not my intention. I have spent time on the RPG Codex, and I am convinced people definitely require different things to enjoy RPGs.

      The main reasons I loved FF3 so many months ago is its world and level design. I thought the world had a really neat backstory directly concerning everything you do in the game plus a few memorable events, like (SPOILERS)

      getting blown out of the sky in your airship over a HUMONGOUS city.

      (/SPOILERS)

      The level design concerns towns, dungeons, and other areas having so many hidden passages and treasures. This really struck a chord with me when CA was talking about the same feel-good gameplay in Ultima 5.

      Other than that, FF3's interface was really tight for being such an early game despite one niggle about how you assign magic to your guys. Also, powerleveling is not nearly required as much as it was in something like Wizardry or the first Phantasy Star.

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  9. I signed up for a Cyber1 account some time ago, to investigate early CRPGs. No word back from them yet. I'm not sure they want to use resources on no-name CRPG buffs who won't likely stick around the community.

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  10. I meant you say "hello" again back to you when you first "arrived" back, but I guess better late than never. I am glad that you are back and in a way, kind of sad. Glad because I never wanted you to leave, and sad because that means that what you had thought you wanted to do, wasn't what you wanted to do. Sad for you, rather than sad you are back. If that makes any sense. Greedily for all of us, of course, ecstatic. Your writing is of course wonderful because of the thought you put into and behind all of it. Any other of us trying to do this blog would have had maybe ten readers after all these years. You, of course, have all of us: your minions, eager to carry out your orders at a moments wish.

    Anyways. Glad to see you back. Maybe I should bring my blog out of sabbatical as well. You remember the blog, dont'cha? www.bloggingtheoldies.blogspot.com ?

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    1. 10 readers?!? Why not 2? Or 0? I got like zero, but it's a more boring subject perhaps and I havn't quite got off to a start yet.

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    2. Hi, william. Good to hear from you again. Don't worry about me; I'll manage. Seeing the same game on your NES emulator was fascinating, and I'd love to see how it ends if you ever get a chance.

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  11. I play a lot of strategy games and I don't think they're about the left part exclusively. Sure there's some numbers there, when I play Civilization I frequently do some math in my head to micro manage my civilization. But what I really enjoy about strategy games is the graphics, gold isn't really gold unless there's a picture of a gold coin or something like that. And I definitely wouldn't play the games if they just had number for gold, or if the graphics didn't convince me. I watched Huw Dawson's EU3 LP on youtube recently, and it made me wanna play the game again, and it was the visuals that sucked me in. It is the artistic beauty that makes a game, that and believable story (or mechanics if it's a strategy game), tactics is just a necessary part or it wouldn't be a game.

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    1. That's an interesting take. I always imagined that for strategy gamers, the visuals took a back seat to the tactics.

      I probably erred in trying to assign any particular game genre exclusively to one hemisphere or the other. It just seems to me that good RPGs manage to hit the balance point better than most other genres.

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  12. Don't go back to finish anything (at least for now). Your enthusiasm (and, as a result, your post quality) suffers whenever you start grinding. Forward to uncharted waters!

    On a separate note, I have no idea whether you "should" continue the blog, but I am always thrilled to see a new post. Best to you.

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  13. Just to pass along some news:

    Wasteland 2!
    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/116045-Brian-Fargo-Explains-Wasteland-Kickstarter

    He plans to raise funds via Kickstarter next month to do a proper sequel.

    And since its moderately related, I'll share one of my recent time-sinks:
    http://www.desktopdungeons.net/

    Its an interesting take on the Rogue/NetHack family. It turns the basic ideas into something of a puzzle game(single screen, limited resources, exploration provides health/magic, multiple variant characters, bonus challenges).

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  14. Welcome back CRPGA, I enjoy your blog immensely. I grew up playing most of the games on your list, and it's been great to read about your experience doing what I only fantasize about: going back and playing all those old games to see how they hold up.

    Btw, I didn't notice one of my favorites on your list: Ragnarok (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragnarok_%28video_game%29).

    It's also too bad that Apple games are not allowed on your, admittedly long, list. I would have been interested in reading your take on Deathlord.

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    1. It's actually on there twice. First under the misspelling of Ragnorok, and also under its European title Valhalla.

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  15. Glad to have you back Addict. If Wizardry 5 is really as much of a pain in the ass as you say it is then you shouldn't bother even finishing it.

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  16. First: yay, you're back! So cool. I just happened to check back without meaning to, because I'd forgotten to take this bookmark off my bar on this browser, and lo and behold!

    Okay, so, I was a big computer geek during these years (still am, of course, but it started back then), so I can opine with some actual knowledge here:

    One is tempted to cite programming limitations for this, but we have the problem of Zork rearing its head in 1977.

    But it was programming limitations. Well, rather, computer limitations. Remember, 8-bit systems could only (easily) have 64K of RAM ... 255 pages of 255 bytes each. And that had to hold all the code AND all the data that was presently being worked on. That's an incredibly tiny amount of space to work with, and a huge, huge amount of programming effort went into writing algorithms, in pure assembly, that could fit in such tiny windows. So you could have some graphics and a tactical combat system of sorts, OR you could have Zork, which almost completely filled the memory of a 64K machine to run. You couldn't reasonably have both in the same game, or you'd have spent endless waiting time while the machine swapped in new code from disk. On the C64, that was not reasonably possible, because a full load of 64K from floppy could take several minutes. Even the Apple ][ would take a good 15 or 20 seconds to load 64K. And then you'd have to do it again, and again, and again.

    I mean, yes, you COULD run a fairly modern game on an 8-bit machine, just like you could decode modern movie files. They're Turing-complete, so they can run any algorithm. But you'd have had to wait weeks per rendered frame. In a year of playtime, you might get one second of the runtime of a modern machine.

    So, it was either-or. Tactical combat, or lots of text. And those genres, once established, tended to stick around into later eras, even though the memory spaces were no longer as tight. It probably wasn't until Baldur's Gate that you truly had compelling text to go with your tactical combat system.

    I think the reason that the left-brainers won is because the games like Zork were about staring at the computer, being frustrated, for hours. Incredibly evocative, but fundamentally about frustrating the player. Tactical combat gave you much more immediate feedback, and was a lot more gratifying. So that type of game sold better, and as computers got more powerful, the tactical possibilities ended up being far more interesting than staring at a wall of text.

    (ooh, comments are pretty limited in size....going to a second one.)

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    1. The point about hardware limits is pretty much what I was thinking in reading that part of the post/article. Zork was originally a mainframe multiplayer by MIT students that played similar games; after graduating, they coded the home computer port as a trilogy, leaving a lot out. Ultima 1 was written for the Apple II by a University of Texas freshman as he learned AppleSoft BASIC; I don't believe he had any experience with CRPGs, so he had to come up with the elements on his own (with a friend writing the subroutine for the tile graphics). So Ultima 1 has plenty of flaws, but if we're comparing it to other games of its time, keeping the circumstances it was written under into account seems fair.

      I do disagree with one thing: interactive fiction/IF (as it's called now) faded into obscurity because graphical text adventures took its place, and as you pointed out, they became increasingly popular for a while as computers became stronger. People played whichever genres they preferred -- I enjoyed CRPGs but primarily got gratification from playing IF and the imagination-reliant elements CRPGs shared with IF, as I found combat fairly boring (less so if it was tactical, but still).

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    2. Malor, I'm sorry I didn't respond back when you first posted. I really appreciate the perspective from someone who was there. I guess when I posted, I was thinking along the lines of something like Beyond Zork, which combined RPG-style statistics and inventory with adventure-game-style area descriptions and puzzles. It really is unique in the pantheon of CRPGs, and I wish there had been more games using interfaces like it that took their material seriously, instead of goofing around link Zork is wont to do. But if you say that would have been too intensive in disc space and memory, I have to trust you on that.

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  17. the earliest developers had decided that the most important aspect of a "computer role-playing game" was not the story but the monsters and weapons. I wonder if this caused any backlash from pen-and-paper RPG players.

    Well, in my group, yes and no. We all talked about how computer games could never have the flexibility of a human DM, and how limited the plotting was. And D&D was an incredibly complex game to try to put into computer code, so the various iterations of the Gold Box kept improving things. It wasn't until Baldur's Gate II that they really completely got everything. But the Gold Box games were a good stab at it, and you could use many of the same fighting tactics that you could in pen-and-paper games. If your P&P sessions were combat-heavy, as ours tended to be, Pool of Radiance wasn't a bad substitute on days when you couldn't hang out with your friends and roll dice. Not as good as the real thing, but it'd do in a pinch.

    Certainly, some of them must have complained that the programmers had stripped the soul from RPGs.

    Well, yes, in a sense, but we understood it was a supremely difficult problem. Mostly, we were just happy for what we were getting, rather than angry about missing things that were, at that time, impossible to do. We thought it was neat that they fit so much of D&D in there. D&D! In the computer! It was way cool to have ANYTHING inside a box on your desk.

    It's hard to explain how fascinating the concept was to modern minds, because we do it constantly. But when you've grown up with paper and pencil, and calculators are high-tech and kind of fun, the idea of a box that could just sit on your desk and be ANYTHING was world-changing in a very fundamental way. It could be a calculator, or a typewriter, or balance your checkbook, or even have little people living inside it. Little people! INSIDE the computer!

    For someone coming from Moleskine, this was a big deal.

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  18. I enjoy the postings about the mainframe CRPGs greatly, thanks for them!

    One thing that popped out was the capitalization of "ORB" (the MacGuffin) - some of the monster speech lines in Dungeon Crawl have that too. I wonder if it's a reference, and if so does it come directly from dnd. I believe I also saw "Orb of Zot" in another early game you covered - that's the MacGuffin in Dungeon Crawl as well.

    --Eino

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  19. "You found $1210 in gold"? What did you do with that 2/3rds of an ounce?

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    1. Ha! It actually makes more sense, though, than the idea of my character hauling around 1,210 gold pieces.

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    2. Yeah, gold is really heavy. I don't know if you've ever had a chance to lift it (I haven't) but I've lifted lead bars, which are pretty close in terms of weight, and man. Those things are heavy. Like, 3-4 times heavier then a brick or rock of the same size, possibly more.

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  20. Hey, for those interested in PLATO, Matt Barton did a Matt Chat on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5k_QQV9sj4I

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  21. This is kind of a late post on the topic but until the late 80's/early 90's, computer role playing games were usually called "Adventure games" along with what we now exclusively call adventure games (zork, Maniac mansion etc). Look at "Adventure construction set" It's a progam to make simple crpg's but they call it advenure. Magazines and books of the era also lump rps's and real adventure games in the same category. Therefore, each type could have been called rpg or adventure.

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    1. I agree that this happened, but I don't think it extended as late as you suggest. I was aware of the term "computer role-playing game" in the mid-1980s, at least, and my friends and I readily distinguished them from adventure games like King's Quest.

      I just took a look at samples from Computer Gaming World. It looks like in their "Hall of Fame" list, they lumped adventure and RPGs until 1989, but that doesn't mean they considered them the same thing; it's just that the had only two categories: "Strategy" and "Adventure/Action." In-text, it's clear they were making distinctions. For instance, in the 1984 issue covering Questron, the "type" is listed as "fantasy role-playing."

      Anyway, whether publishers (or even developers) recognized it or not, there was a clear distinction in the earliest days between games like Zork and games like Wizardry, so our retroactive terminology and distinctions make sense even if they weren't embraced at the time.

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    2. I would agree that they were called crpg's before the late 80's but by about 1989 or so magazines etc began making a more clear distinction between the two genre's where as earlier they would often lumped them together as adventure games.

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  22. the earliest developers had decided that the most important aspect of a "computer role-playing game" was not the story but the monsters and weapons. I wonder if this caused any backlash from pen-and-paper RPG players. Certainly, some of them must have complained that the programmers had stripped the soul from RPGs.

    Well, the thing is that pen-and-paper RPGs have evolved over time, too. And back then, they weren't much about the story either. The earliest D&D modules were largely haphazard dungeon complexes with little raison d'être other than to be a place for adventurers to wander through and kill monsters and gather treasure. Sure, they had a thin veneer of backstory, but it wasn't their strong suit. Pen-and-paper RPGs didn't put a lot of emphasis on character and story until later. So it wouldn't have really been likely for pnp players back then to complain too strenuously about the computer games stripping the soul from the game—the pnp game was mostly about the monsters and weapons too, albeit perhaps not quite to the same degree.

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    1. Whoops, meant to include this in my post: You may already be aware of this, but D&D's most direct inspiration was wargames. The germ of the idea was to take wargames, focus on single characters instead of armies, and put them in a fantasy setting. So that's more or less what the earliest versions of D&D were, single-character wargames, with the focus on the combat. No doubt even in the early days there were players who enjoyed role-playing their characters, but there was little or nothing about that built into the rules or the adventures. So, again, dnd wasn't nearly as different from the version of D&D that existed at the time as it is from the PnP RPGs of today.

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    2. Blargh, sorry for making so many posts here, but one more clarification: when I say "single character", I don't of course mean that D&D was played with only one character and the DM. Even in the early days, there were, of course, multiple players, each with their own character, and in those days even more than today a party would often include a number of hireling/henchman NPCs as well. What I meant by "single character" was only that each character was treated separately, rather than being lumped into armies as in the wargames that preceded it.

      That may have already been clear, but I figured I'd worded it badly and should probably clarify just in case...

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    3. I don't mind at all. These were good posts. As someone who never got into PnP roleplaying much in ANY era, I appreciate some better historical perspective, and everything you say makes sense. D&D had only come out in 1974, so the original developers of dnd didn't exactly have years of epic roleplaying experience to draw on. It makes sense that they'd focus on the mechanical aspects of the game, which would have come through better in the manuals, than in the storytelling aspects, which hadn't been fully developed among players. Thanks for the insight!

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    4. One more detail of possible interest: the first-edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide included a section on random dungeon generation, with tables to randomly generate rooms and corridors and dungeon features through rolls of the dice. There was even a bit about using these tables in conjunction with the random encounter tables to play D&D solo, with no dungeon master, just randomly generating the dungeon and its contents as you go.

      I'm not saying this random dungeon generation section inspired dnd—it couldn't have, because dnd predates the Dungeon Master's Guide. But it does help show to what extent plotless dungeon crawls were still a big part of the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, so dnd wasn't really that great a deviation from the pnp game...

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    5. Sort of. D&D was made by two people: Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Gygax was a wargamer, and his games are *very* much like what you were describing. Large parties with lots of hirelings went into dungeons searching for treasure. Lots of attention paid for formations, putting the right people with the right AC in positions, etc.

      Dave Arneson also played wargames, but his early Blackmore games were more like modern games; One early one was where he gave each player a role in a small island nation, and they had an objective to fulfill. The winning player cut deals with everyone, wound up very rich and left the island in a helicoper and a ton of money. His goal? Distribute a bunch of pamplets over town. As he leaves he banks over town, opens the briefcase of pamphlets and shakes them out.

      Arneson then started using Gary's Chainmail system, and using a fantasy setting and I think his games might have gotten more wargamy from there, I don't know much as interviews with him are much harder to find due to the legal restrictions on him after a few lawsuits and him basically leaving the RPG industry.

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    6. I think this is worth correcting--you are describing the game that inspired Dave Arneson to create Blackmoor, not Blackmoor itself (understandable, as the history is pretty weird back then). David Wesely, who incidentally is still alive and goes to Gen-Con every year to run a scenario of the very game you are describing, is the person who first ran "Braunstein," a scenario where the players were given different victory tasks for a wild night in a Banana Republic near a coup, and where Dave Arneson himself was the helicopter-escapee tossing pamphlets down behind him as he fled.

      Also worth noting is that the players apparently universally demanded more of the same, and they called them "Braunsteins" even though that was just supposed to be the name of that one scenario. I think they played one or two more before Wesely was drafted or otherwise militarily removed from the area, and Dave Arneson picked up the slack, and look where we are now!

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  23. Another very popular dungeon, probably the 3rd or 4th dungeon written on PLATO, is m199h. The strange lesson names came from the courses (m199h was a course from the foreign languages department). It had some of the best charsets and originated a flying dragon picture used in many subsequent dungeons, I believe. There was a wilderness dungeon game called at first, Think2 (Jim Mayeda) and then Think14 (author unknown). The Think lessons belong to University High School students. When Think14 was deleted I wrote a 3rd implementation of the game, nsorcery, in 1977-78 (later changed to simply "sorcery") which was a Swords and Sorcery game (modeled after the 1960's star trek games on a 10x10 quadrant in a 10x10 universe) see https://www.facebook.com/donald.gillies/media_set?set=a.1195624175369.2030274.1371401938&type=3 for screen shots.

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    1. Don, you may want to have a look at some other posts I did on the PLATO RPGs, including this first one, where I mention "m119h":

      http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2011/12/earliest-cprgs.html

      Every account I've ever read about m119h has mentioend the file name and nothing else. Your comment is the first thing I've ever read that says anything at all about the game's content. Did you have any personal exposure to it, and if so, do you remember anything else?

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    2. Oh, and almost ever source that discusses the issue lists "m199h" as the FIRST PLATO RPG. It's a bit of a revelation that there were more before it.

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