Friday, June 22, 2012

1988/1989

 
I started playing 1988 games in February 2011, which means that I lost significant ground in the last year and a half. Of course, I covered 1979-1987 in my first year of blogging, so I guess I'm still averaging about 3.6 game years for every real year.

1988 was a year of contrasts. The year produced four of my highest rated games so far--Pool of Radiance, Ultima V, Might & Magic II, and Wasteland--but also a host of games I found tiresome and frustrating, including most of those that I've featured since my return to blogging after my January hiatus: Sentinel Worlds, BattleTech, The Bard's Tale III, Wizardry V. (If I seem to have been in a bad mood for the last four months, remember that I was playing games I had deliberately postponed. No more of that.) Ratings for new games in 1988 range from a low of 18 to a high of 69; the largest variance so far in my blog.

Many of the games produced in 1988 were the last gasps of dated series. Demon's Winter, SSI's sequel to Shard of Spring, was interesting but was soon blown away by Pool of Radiance. (It amuses me that the same company was responsible for Star Command, Demon's Winter, Questron II, and Pool of Radiance, all in the same year.) The gameplay for The Bard's Tale III and Wizardry V hadn't advanced enough since the earlier installments in the series to be fun and memorable. Questron II offered nothing that its predecessor didn't except slightly better graphics. Of the classic series, only Ultima V and Might & Magic II managed to get through the year with honor, primarily because they overhauled their engines to keep up with the times. They will continue to improve and expand as their series progress.

Questron's insistence that every game need include the merciless slaughter of castle guards just seems obscene in the post-Ultima IV era.
 
In a comment, PetrusOctavianus suggested that I designate a "Game of the Year" every time I make a transition. The clear GOTY for 1988 is Pool of Radiance. It wasn't my highest-rated game (that went to Ultima V), but I think it was the most important game of 1988. It was the first Dungeons & Dragons game that really captured anyone's imagination. It led to the plentiful "Gold Box" series and served as a spiritual ancestor to the entire Forgotten Realms line. The tactical combat system is one of the best I've ever seen, surpassing even many modern games, and it offers a depth of experience in encounters and quests that simply blows away everything that came before. It is one of the few games of any era that don't insist on a single interface: dungeon exploration is first-person; combat is isometric; and outdoor exploration is top-down. It isn't perfect--the economy is notably bad--but I had more fun playing it than any other game since I started this blog.

I can't think of a single CRPG combat system that I like better than the Gold Box games. I perhaps like the Infinity engine games as much, but not better.
 
If I had to do honorable mentions, though, they would go to Ultima V and Wasteland. Both offer unique experiences. Ultima V has a compelling, complex quest, an interactive environment (even few modern games allow you to move furniture!), and the first appearance of NPCs that keep a daily schedule. Wasteland offers the first digestible post-apocalyptic setting, gun combat, and an extremely innovative way of employing skills and attributes. They're both great games, but I don't think either had the lasting impact on the genre that Pool of Radiance did.

I don't think I'll ever truly love Wasteland, the way some of you do, but I certainly learned to appreciate it.
 
Should I do a worst game of the year? It would be a tough decision. Times of Lore was my lowest rated, and I think it sets up a theme that's going to become common in my blog: I don't really take to action RPGs. But no one had any real expectations for Times of Lore, so it seems disingenuous to rank it "worst." The Bard's Tale III offered one of the worst gameplay experiences of the year, improving nothing on the first or second games but making its world 10 times larger. Ultimately, though, I have to go with BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception. What seemed like an original setting and promising gameplay elements collapsed into a ridiculous story, no character development, and the most bafflingly stupid ending I've ever witnessed in a game.

I spent all that time building my mech fleet so I could do this for 90 minutes.
 
Petrus had also suggested that I offer my opinions on Games of the Year for earlier years. Briefly:

1981: Wizardry, of course. There were so many "firsts" here that I've lost count. We owe Might & Magic, The Bard's Tale, and Ultima III to this game. If only it had inspired its own developers as much as its competitors.

1982: Telengard. Understand, there isn't much to choose from this year. I pick Telengard because it represents the most commercial version of a long line of games that started with dnd. Unfortunately, it was also the end of the line.

It would be years before we saw random miscellaneous encounters like this in CRPGs again.
 
1983: Exodus: Ultima III. The first good Ultima game and the first iconographic game to offer multiple party members. The combat and magic system were very advanced for the time.

1984: There were only a few games this year and none of them really stand out.

1985: So many franchises started this year, but I have to go with Ultima IV. It still offers a quest and a gameplay experience unmatched in the genre.

1986: It's a tough choice between Might & Magic I and Starflight. The former took the best of Wizardry and improved on it, creating a series that would churn out fantastic games for 20 years. The latter is an ahead-of-its-time science fiction game with an incredible plot and extremely memorable NPCs and encounters. In terms of sheer influence, I think I'd have to go with Starflight.

1987: I know a lot of people would root for Dungeon Master, but I have to choose NetHack. It wasn't the first roguelike, of course, but it's probably the most successful. It showed that a roguelike could be as large, complex, and full of true role-playing opportunities as other CRPGs.

I'm looking forward to the next edition.

For 1989, I've structured my game list so that a game I know (or at least strongly suspect) that I'll like comes up every four or five games. These cornerstones include NetHack (version 3), Magic Candle, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Starflight 2, Dragon Wars, and Hero's Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero (the game that was later re-named Quest for Glory). There are 36 games on my list for the year, although I expect some of them (Girlfriend Construction Set, Star Saga: Two) won't hold up to CRPG scrutiny, and others (Dragons of Flame) might prove impossible to play. Despite that 1989 has about 50% more games than 1988, I want to set a goal of completing 1989 in less than a year.

If I had to pick a game I'm looking most forward to in 1989, it would be a toss-up between Curse of the Azure Bonds and Magic Candle--the former because I know I'll love it based on my Pool of Radiance experience, and the latter because so many of you keep telling me how good it is.

I'm starting with NetHack because I don't expect to "win" it right away. Instead, I expect that I'll keep it active throughout most of the year, dipping into it here and there, and hopefully ascending before the year is completed. Let's get going.


49 comments:

  1. I totally agree with your pick for Pool of Radiance to be the game of the year for 1988. My friends and I took a staggering 9 months to complete the game as we each controlled different characters and made decisions as a party. It was a true Advanced Dungeons & Dragons session come to life...we didn't even consider playing it as a solo-player game until much later...when I discovered that nobody was playing it like we did.

    If you truly want a fun experience, try playing the Gold Box games in a group.

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    1. Yeah, the moment I have 5 friends in their 40s who like CRPGs and can coordinate their schedules long enough to get together for a 40-hour game, I'll be all over that.

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    2. (Lame Brain Says:)
      I really like how you covered Pools of Radience, and I hope you consider putting LameBrain into your party again for Curse...

      It was so much fun seeing my character grow!

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    3. @Chet: Isn't that what gaming conventions are for?

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  2. Excellent discussion! I am glad you took Petrus' advice. I am looking forward to your postings for the next year.

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  3. I predict you will find Magic Candle to be your GOTY. In fact, it's so good it will suprass Pool of Radiance. It's that good. I spent five straight weeks back in the day on this game, and finished it. One of the best games ever made.

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    1. Y'all are setting this game up so much that I'm a bit worried.

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    2. I liked Magic Candle, but it has some flaws; it is a bit too long and after a while combat get repetitive. I don;t quite see it as GOTY material; Azure Bonds is a better game.

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    3. PetrusOctavianusJune 23, 2012 at 6:15 PM

      Banshee, I agree with your comments about Magic Candle. I played it for the first time last year, and I had to take a break midway before I finished it. But from what I've read on this blog the game should be right up Chet's alley, with its NPC interactions and the novel time management aspect. And it should get a high GIMLET score since it's a good blend of exploration, NPC interaction, economy and combat.

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  4. I can't believe I am posting this but as much as I love the Quest for Glory series, it really is far more of an adventure game then a RPG.

    When you play it you will know what I mean.

    Character customization: ~2 dozen or so skills to raise (although you won't need them all for each character class).
    Weapons & Armor: It's there... very very limited though
    Combat based on skills: yup, and you will need to get better at combat no matter which class you choose if you want to really get anywhere in the game.
    game progress through combat/dialogue: this one is a bit iffy, LOTS of puzzle solving going on here, but as I said above you DO have to get better at combat (particularly if you choose fighter)
    NPC interaction: lots of fun NPCs, Sierra-style comedy
    Random Encounters: yes, and also not so random encounters
    Choice of Actions: multiple puzzle solutions, people will remember the things you do etc.

    Despite tentatively meeting the requirements for CRPG, the game really is an adventure game. Fair warning, there are time-sensitive scripted events in the game that you can miss (and even worse the game does not provide any clues about where and when they will be).

    Overall though, this series was one of my favorite game series of all time (with the exception of QfG V, that was a poor conclusion to the series).

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    1. Yes I also consider Quest for Glory as a Adventure game with RPG elements. Nevertheless it could be interesting to compare cRPGAddict's view with The Trickster view of it, who has the game also on his list and is only 13 games far from.

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    2. Quest for Glory is as much a role playing game as anything in the canon. I do not understand the complaint about it being 'more of' an adventure game. There are multiple solutions to most puzzles, based on what sort of character you are building. You can't do that in most other adventure games but it's a staple for RPGs. There are modular quests. Meaning, you can finish the game without solving 70% of it. How many adventure games do you know that do this? You can 'brute force' some puzzles just by grinding to get your skills up. You can roleplay your interactions with the world and the NPCs, helping some, avoiding others, you can steal from houses if you want or be lawful, you can optimally solve quests or semi-fail them. There's morals and gradiations of success.

      The Coles - the developer due that wrote the game - had and still have a strong background in Dungeons and Dragons and they tried to bring that sort of experience to the SCI Sierra engine. It's one of the *best games every made*, easily one of the best crpgs in the truest sense of the word. I contest your claims, sirs! :P But we'll get there when we'll get there.

      Chet, I got your back on *all* things Quest for Glory. I do not suspect you will get stuck a lot, but it's the sort of game which you can finish in a day once you know the ins and outs of it and there's so much more stuff to do in it besides solve the major quests. It's packed with jokes, hidden bits, different techniques and variations. An absolute marvel of game design, nothing like it to this day that even reaches what it effortlessly achieved.

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    3. I agree it is more adventure than RPG, but The Addict has played hybrid games before on this blog with even less RPG credentials than Quest for Glory.

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    4. Even though it's not exactly exclusively within a CRPG framework, I think Chet will play through it because it's a good game. He's done that with Pirates! and he mentioned possibly moving the game up to coincide with Trickster's playthrough. Seems fun, and I'm going to take a stab at playing through it at the same time. We should get everyone in on this. ;)

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    5. Heh, I would be all for playing it through with you guys ^^

      As I said the QfG series is one of my favorite ones.

      I've been eyeing that QfG 1-V over at GOG.com greedily for some time now. Hoping that my wife will agree to play that one with me too (currently working on Torin's Passage atm, an old 90s game that I never finished when I was younger).

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    6. Oh, I suppose I should note that in my original post I warned of time sensitive events. None of them (as best as I can recall) are actually needed to beat the game. They only help you understand what is going on and provide a few hints.

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    7. That same bundle has been tempting me since I signed up for GOG... been hoping it'd go on sale.

      There is one instance in one of the games where you can miss a timed event and not be able to complete the game according to Wikipedia. I believe it was the third game.

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    8. Definitely an RPG in my book, even if it's presented in an adventure game style. Plenty of other RPGs are heavy on story and puzzle elements after all (Ultima in particular! which is probably why they are two of my favourite game series of all time).

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    9. I haven't played 3 or 4 yet, but QFG 2 had certain events scheduled to certain days. Mostly they will be pretty obvious. But I believe if you don't cross the desert to the second city within a certain number of days then it will end automatically.

      Addict-
      Out of curiosity, how do you plan handle the VGA remake of Quest for Glory 1? It updates the graphics and gameplay engine (allowing primarily mouse-driven interaction instead of typing), but the rest of the gameplay is identical.

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    10. I'd suggest playing as a different class for the VGA remake? (and the same for the free QFG2 remake?)

      I'm also wondering if the CRPG addict will take the same character through the series?

      Also, each game gives you a slightly different experience depending on the class you choose, so that choice might affect the score a bit...

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    11. If Chet does the same thing as Nethack, then he'll probably play the latest version. Although, he does have the original title on his list, so maybe not.

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    12. I should mention that I have played the QFG series already, in the late 1990s. I agree that they're hybrids of RPGs and adventure games, but hybrids are okay. I have lots of them on my list.

      Kellandros, I've been mulling over your question. There are very few games like it in which the game was entirely "remade" but with the same gameplay and plot elements. (It looks like Baldur's Gate is about to be another one.) It seems wrong to play the 1992 remake when I'm in year 1989, but it seems silly to play the game again in 1992. Andy might have hit upon a good solution: play the original with one character class and the remake with another.

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    13. It sounds like a good solution- I'd just suggest thief not on the first playthrough then- they have the easiest time using other class's methods for solutions.

      The QFG2 remake did add a few extra things (like a 5th elemental). Their King's Quest 2 remake was an amazing update that greatly expanded upon the original game(which to be fair was pretty small).

      And thinking more about it, the gameplay probably did change a little more than I'm stating- if nothing else the move away from a text parser changes the speed at which you can perform actions and limited the number of wrong interactions possible.

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    14. Since I've already played it, I'll probably give myself an original experience and go through as a mage. I almost never play a mage.

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    15. Man... with all the games I have in my backlog, I hope it takes awhile to get to QfG. All this talk of it here is already making me want to replay all 5 again.

      One of the best game series of all time! :O

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  5. You made the right decision with Pool of Radiance it greatly enhanes the whole genre in most areas and specifically at tactical combat and storywise. Besides, all the books they are based on is also a good read.

    Saintus from http://crpgrevisited.blogspot.se/

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  6. I think you are going to really enjoy Curse of the Azure Bonds - if only for the FIX command and the fun of killing Drow!I also look forward to your take on Ultima VI - the graphics are much improved and the storyline is a wonderful inversion of IV and V.

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  7. Glad to see that you seem revitalized for 1989, it only gets better from here

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  8. I'm interested to see what you'll think of each successive version of Nethack. That game suffers from some serious "let's throw in everything and the kitchen sink" issues. Not to mention the annoying attitude of many hardcore Nethack players who think that it must be played in "The One True Permadeath no hints or cheats" way or the player is not worthy.
    Personally, I think that not reading the hints (or "manual" as I think of it) before you play a roguelike just means that the hardcore player is willing to spend dozens of hours in pointless torment while I'm actually having fun playing the game. I like to play games with permadeath if they don't force me to also die 1000 times before having the ability to survive more than 30 consecutive minutes of game play.

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  9. Yay! Hero's Quest coming up! I love that series, well, at least the first two games and 4. It seems that adventure games and RPGs are the best two types of games to hybridize, after all they're both about puzzles.

    I am looking forward to seeing you play Starflight 2, I never actually got around to it.

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  10. PetrusOctavianusJune 22, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    Good post! :-)

    I mostly agree with your choices. In my more limited chronology project I'm some years ahead of you and these are my personal choices for GOTYs:

    1985: Ultima IV. Back in the days I enjoyed Bard's Tale more, but I think Ultima IV has aged better, and is a more original and groundbreaking game.

    1986: I agree the choice is between Might&Magic and Starflight, but for me MM1 is the GOTY, since I love the whole Might&Magic franchise.

    1987: Definetely Dungeon Master. This game was a giant leap forward in just about any category but combat. Graphics, sound, puzzles, immersion and user interface. Chaos Strikes Back was DM on steroid, but it wasn't until Ultima Underworld in 1992 that these game met their match and then some, with its true 3D, NPC interaction and an automap that still hasn't been improved on.

    1988: Pool of Radiance, definitely.

    I must comment this, though:
    "Of the classic series, only Ultima V and Might & Magic II managed to get through the year [1988] with honor, primarily because they overhauled their engines to keep up with the times. They will continue to improve and expand as their series progress."

    Actually I think Ultima V was better then VI. To me it was a perfect blend of exploration, NPC interaction and combat. It had the best combat system of all the Ultimas and the encounter design was much improved compared to Ultima IV. In contrast Ultima VI has impressive graphics (first CRPG with VGA graphics, AFAIK), but the playing area is claustrophobically small, the inventory system is needlessly clunky and combat is downright boring (thankfully there doesn't seem to be much of it, though). I played both U5 and U6 for the first time recently, and I was disappointed with U6. I'm actaully waiting for one of the U6 projects to be finished, so that I can finally play it.

    Of the old Might&Magics (pre MM6) I think MM2 was the peak, due to it having the best (as in most tactical) combat system. MM3 to MM5 use a simpler combat system which is less tactical.

    To use RPG Codex lingo, I'm a "combatfag", which should explain my love for U5 and MM2. :-)

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    1. Perhaps I should have reserved "improve and expand" until I actually played those games, but I have reasonably fond memories of U6, and I guess I just assumed MM improve in a linear way from II to VI. The point is that neither of the series let the grass grow. Origin could have easily released U6 with the same engine, and the fans probably would have loved it, but they seemed so insistent that every game get a new engine that when they released U7P2, which is unquestionably a wholly different game and should have been U8, they refused to call it such because the engine hadn't changed.

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  11. It's a nice feeling moving on to the next year. I'm not so sure about ending the year on the sequel to Moebius, and if you end up swapping Quest for Glory to an earlier spot to play with Trickster, then you have a lot of questionable games right in a row. It seems like you have a good plan though.

    Sometimes I think your journey through all of these PC RPGs is more fun than my own through consoles because of all the unknown games. I'm so familiar with console RPGs that I know what to expect most of the time.

    Looking forward to an exciting year.

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  12. While I can agree with most of the choices, in my book, Ultima V beats Pool of Radiance hands down.
    I liked both, but the latter, once you know one of the SSI AD&D games, is merely a not-too interactive story interrupted by combat none of which are too difficult.
    Ultima V is *hard*, really hard and offers things still not readily seen in modern crpgs. Plus, I liked the idea of "ok, Lord British is gone, so what now?" where you do not have any pointers to anything.

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    1. It was a tough choice. I made my decision mostly based on the games' respective influences. I have trouble detecting the influence of U5 in later games, whereas some of the conventions established in the Gold Box series lasted for the next two decades.

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    2. I can't compare both games since I haven't played Pool of Radiance (though I may just pick it up after having read your review of it.)

      If U5 had any influence on the genre, it served as a launchpad for interactivity in the later Ultimas (at least until U8.) Any I've heard somewhere that the developers of the Elder Scrolls series really enjoyed and were influenced by U7 - non-linearity, NPC schedules, sandbox style gameplay.

      Ok, it's a stretch. I agree U5 didn't significantly influence the genre (though perhaps it *should* have in retrospect.)

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  13. Great post... I completely agree with your comments about Pool of Radiance... I played it when it came out (and was a huge PnP D&D fan) and it captured the feel of D&D perfectly. To this day it's one of my all time favorites.

    Can't wait to read your playthroughs of 1989.

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  14. For your time with Nethack you could always aim for a trophy at junethack.rawrnix.com. Not sure the seven remaining days before the competition ends is enough time to master the game though!

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    1. I like a challenge, but that might be pushing it even for me.

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  15. Hmm, Addict, if your goal is to get through every year in a year's time, that would mean you never get caught up to the present day. Have you thought of that, or is it time to revise said plan?

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    1. That's only if he sticks to this plan, if it actually takes him a year to get through each year, and if the number of games released each year is steady or increases. Also need to take into account the amount of time it takes to get through each game, and the amount of time Chet puts into games each week/month/year.

      I'm facing similar troubles, and unless I turn my playing into full-time hours I'm not catching up either. Personally, I don't see a problem with this, but I can see how it'd be nice to get through the games and caught up enough to play through games as they're released. Most of those are already covered quite extensively though. I think it's the older games that need more exposure.

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    2. He knows. He recently said he would get to Diablo 3 in 2025 or so.

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    3. I guess. I'm thinking now too that this project allows him to go back and forth between older and newer games, and that maybe that's another goal of his.

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    4. If so, he's definitely keeping it a secret...

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    5. Rotgrub has a point. My goal needs to be to get through a year's worth of games in slightly less than a year. But after the past year, I'll consider this year a success even if I keep up.

      I played Skyrim but I'm not otherwise playing modern games. I can't promise I won't dip into the Baldur's Gate remake when it shows up, though.

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  16. I'm very interested by your blog, because I'm make the full list of Western-style RGP Computer Games (All platforms) 1978-2002. Now it consists of near 800 items, but sometimes it's really difficult to take a proof of RPG elements in a game. So you work is really helpfull for all role-playing games lover. Unfortunately, you wrote that you could not get control to work for "Dragons of Flame". Perhaps this Reference Card for PC(DOS) will help you.
    http://www.mocagh.org/ssi/dragonsofflameuk-refcard.jpg
    It suits for my 2 5 inch diskette version.
    For full cover art of the edition you may explore Canadian Computer Adventure Games Museum
    http://www.mocagh.org/loadpage.php?getgame=dragonsofflameuk

    Dragons of Flame is not really RPG (I think maybe Action/RPG) but if you include Zeliard (which I pretty love 'cause it's my first PC game ever), I suppose you should include this one.

    I agree that Mobygames.com is the best site about computer games, gives lots of information.

    But for broadening of the view it can be usefull to look following sites
    http://www.thelegacy.de
    http://www.gamebanshee.com/

    If you didn't read yet, Matt Barton's book - The History of Computer Role-Playing Games
    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3623/the_history_of_computer_.php

    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/130124/the_history_of_computer_.php

    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/130124/the_history_of_computer_.php

    And in the end http://www.cgwmuseum.org/
    with all issue of vintage computer games magazine "Computer Gaming World". Amazing reading for old-school game lovers.

    Good Luck

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  17. Excellent post except for the small detail about PoR's combat being isometric. As far as I can tell, it's displayed in the cavalier perspective. Isometric would require a very specific diagonal angle and presentation, examples of which you can find via image search. Don't worry though, it's a common mistake.

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    1. Thanks for that last bit. I was going to be up all night.

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