|Don't ask me why the original had a color intro screen and the latter didn't.|
A few weeks ago, in an attempt to fill in some holes in my CRPG history, I played Beneath Apple Manor, the first commercial CRPG, released for the Apple II in 1978. It was a pre-Rogue roguelike with a randomly-generated dungeon and an icongraphic display.
A very different approach was taken with Space, probably the second commercial CRPG, released in either 1978 or 1979 (sources differ). Space II followed within a year, and it's more of an expansion pack than a sequel; the gameplay is identical between the two versions.
Space was an evolutionary dead-end: an entirely text-based game that focuses more on character attributes and development than any game we've seen since then. You begin by giving your character a name, at which point you are immediately drafted into military service.
|Most games at least pretend like it's your choice to save the world.|
At the outset, you choose among the navy, army, marines, scouts, merchant marines, "other services," or a random draft.
After service assignment, the game makes a series of behind-the-scenes rolls to determine your attributes, strengths, and weaknesses. These include strength, dexterity, intelligence, education, and "social standing" as attributes; various health variables; and a psychological evaluation. It's entirely possible--probable, even--to get an unplayable character at the outset. My first version of Chester had an IQ of 40 and "severe heart problems" that led the examiner to recommend "immediate discharge."
|Well, it was nice playing...|
Following the creation, you spend a number of terms in training, with options for personal development (increases in attributes and also some skills like brawling and gambling), service skills (blade combat, gun combat), advanced education (ATV operation, mechanics, electronics, tactics), and professional education (medical, computer, leadership, administrative). For each development option that you choose, the game makes a roll as to whether you pass a psych evaluation (!) first.
And you can die during training:
|I like that the memo is addressed to me, the "characters [sic] player."|
It takes a long time to get a playable character. My second attempt was "legally blind" and "totally deaf." My third was too high-strung for combat and had a moderate heart problem. My fourth also had heart problems and was "prone to extreme violence" (the game recommended a military police assignment). Another....well, you really have to read it.
|It's like the game knows me!|
Occasionally, the character doesn't die, but the game warns you that he'll be an "inferior product" and gives you the chance to start over.
Each "term" consists of 3 training segments. The number of terms you spend in service seems to be random. My various characters were anywhere from 1 to 8. After every term, you have the option to leave the service with a monetary accrual, at other times you get discharged for various reasons (bad conduct, service needs to save money, and so on), and at still others you get killed during the service. Sometimes, you choose to leave, but the game won't let you because of a "state of war." The ultimate goal of the training period, I think, is to leave service honorably, while still in good health, with a decent selection of skills.
My eighth or ninth character, a marine, had pretty good stats and no severe physical or psychological problems. I developed him in tactics, blade combat, gun combat, gambling, and leadership, then mustered him out after two years.
The game really "begins" when you're discharged and "enter civilian life," whether by your choice or the game's. At that point, the game saves the character, and you can choose to "play through his adventures."
|The five original Space missions.|
The "adventures" consist of five scenarios: First Blood, Defend, Explore, Trader, and High Finance, each calling upon a different selection of skills, and with a different selection of game options and outcomes. In "First Blood," for instance, you choose your weapon and armor, your mode of attack, your attack range (close combat or ranged), and your attack speed. The game takes you through a series of "battle rounds," part random, part based on your skills and attributes.
My first attempt at "First Blood" went fairly well; I defeated the enemy and got all his money and equipment. The game didn't bother to tell me who it was. But I gather from the input screens that you can fight other characters on the server or computer-controlled characters. I think I made the mistake of specifying "Chester" as both the attacker and defender, because even though I won, my character was deleted.
I tried another character who was said to be unfit for combat, so I trained him in computer, electronics, gambling, and administrative skills, left service after one year, and tried the "High Finance" scenario. Your character has to manage a series of stock market investments after first reviewing a number of company prospectuses.
Time passes in quarters, during which you can buy and sell stock, take loans, and repay loans. Occasionally, you get news about galactic happenings that will affect stock prices (diseases, alien attacks, wars, corruption investigations, radiation alerts, blights). Companies can split or merge, and your character can go through periods of ill health that cause him to miss quarters.
It takes a long time to build up enough cash reserves to make initial investments, but after a number of successful quarters go by, you have more options. Over time, you watch your net worth grow or shrink.
|A galactic war has been good for munitions investments.|
I was doing great for a while--up to $323 million net worth--but then I got a sudden notice that Chester had died.
|That seems a little unfair.|
Because it takes so long to create a viable character, I haven't explored all of the scenarios, and probably won't. But from other sources, I get the impression that "Explore" is about finding food and minerals on planets, "Trader" has the character buying and selling cargo and transporting passengers, and "Defend" casts the player managing the defense against an alien invasion. The two new scenarios with Space II are very bizarre: "Shaman" has you collecting followers to a religious cult, and "Psychodelia" is about experimenting with magic mushrooms to boost attributes. All of the scenarios are menu-driven; in that sense, you don't really "play" the game.
Space is not really a CRPG in a classic sense. Of my three core criteria, it has only two: character development--and even then, only during training--and statistics-driven combat. But it does represent one direction that CRPGs could have gone. The type of gameplay introduced by Space would find its way into simulation games, albeit rarely with character attributes and skills. Pirates!, for instance, had a dynamic world in which randomly-generated bits of "news" would affect buying and selling prices as well as the political and martial situation in various ports. The only influence I can detect in later CRPGs is the opening of Star Command, where the characters go through a series of training segments (though far less lethal) before the game begins.
Neither Space nor Space II was around long enough to have much of an influence. The game was so obviously stolen from the Traveller role-playing game series that Traveller's creator, Game Designers Workshop, successfully sued Space's creator, Edu-Ware. The game was pulled from the market. A licensed version of Traveller, MegaTraveller, was released in 1990 (I'll play it in the next year). The chastened Edu-Ware came back with an original trilogy called Empire between 1981 and 1984. They were all Apple II games, but MobyGames calls them CRPGs, and I might get around to trying them.
Let me know if you detect any other influences of Space, or if you have an interesting experiences playing the game on your own. If you want to try, check out Virtual Apple II, which boasts that it has "almost every Apple II and Apple IIgs game every made, ready to play in your browser." I did have some crashing problems, so ultimately I downloaded the game to play in an emulator--but Virtual Apple II makes it easy to download the disc images, too.
I'm moving on to Dragons of Flame now, as promised, but I do have one more early Apple II CRPG to check out at some point: a game called Dungeon Campaign, which also claims a 1978 release.