Wednesday, April 14, 2021

1992/1993

      
It's been over three years since I've done one of these yearly transitions, which you'd think would be proof positive that I'm "losing ground"--unable to cover a year's worth of games in a year's worth of blogging. While this is almost certainly true, I've accidentally confounded the issue by making so much of my playing recursive. In the same three years that I covered 46 games from 1992, I also covered 77 games from earlier than 1992, not even counting the BRIEFs. 
   
As I review 1992, it's worth recalling something I said about the then-forthcoming year at the end of 1991:
   
If 1991 was a disappointing year, 1992 promises to be the absolute opposite. I'm practically giddy at the list before me. Every franchise had a release this year. We get the final D&D Gold Box title (aside from the Unlimited Adventures construction set) with The Dark Queen of Krynn. The Ishar series begins. The Realms of Arkania series begins. We get the second Interplay Lord of the Rings title. We get the third Magic Candle title. We get a Might and Magic, a Wizardry, a Quest for Glory, and two Ultimas! And in between these surefire hits are a ton of titles that I feel like I've heard good things about, among them Amberstar, Black Crypt, Darklands, Four Crystals of Trazere, and Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace. Surely, one of these games is destined to unseat Ultima V at the top of the list.
    
My feelings at the end of the year are more tempered. I found a lot of the titles listed above disappointing. The Dark Queen of Krynn, Quest for Glory III, Crusaders of the Dark Savant, and Ultima VII performed as expected. Only Amberstar and Darklands really exceeded my expectations. In the same entry, I wrote that to start the year:
 
I've chosen Ultima Underworld. It's a groundbreaking game that makes us feel that we've stepped into a new era, but parts of it haven't aged well, and I thus doubt it will be the highest-rated game of a very competitive year.
   
I was wrong: Ultima Underworld ended up with the top rating for the year. So in many ways, 1992 was all downhill, more the last vestige of a previous era than the beginning of a new one. 
     
Ultima Underworld was the first game to make it feel like you were exploring a real place. Unfortunately, it was the only game of the year to do that.
       
And yet we saw the glimmerings of a new future in 1992. Ultima Underworld is the most significant example technologically, with its continuous movement in a truly three-dimensional space. But there were other positive developments, none appearing here for the first time but all appearing more frequently than in previous years. These include:
   
  • More freedom. "Open world" was this year's default. Ultima Underworld, Darklands, Crusaders of the Dark Savant, Star Control II, Ultima VII, Ragnarok, Amberstar, The Magic Candle III, Realms of Arkania, Legends of Valor, Challenge of the Five Realms, Ishar, Lords of Time, and Planet's Edge were among the games with open worlds. It's easier to count the ones that constrained movement than those that allowed for freedom.
     
There were things I didn't like about Realms of Arkania, but the open world wasn't one of them.
     
  • More interesting encounters and side quests. These days, plentiful side quests are the norm in CRPGs. They've even become the norm in action-adventure games. But before 1992, a lot of franchises didn't really understand the concept. You had a mission, and your only "quest" was to get strong enough to complete that mission. This is the first year in which side-quests became the norm.
           
One of the complex encounters of Darklands.
        
  • More interesting endings. For a game to culminate in a simple combat with the evil wizard is by now so 1980s. It was startling to see it again in Clouds of Xeen. 1992 gave us rituals (Ultima VII, Ultima Underworld, The Magic Candle III), epic encounters that change the rules (Darklands, Realms of Arkania, Ragnarok), and other non-traditional choices. Again, not for the first time, but for the first time usually.
  • More plot complexity. This is the first year that the average game made us pay attention to what was going on. Even Dungeon Master derivatives like Black Crypt and Abandoned Places introduced a certain level of plot complexity not found in predecessors. 
        
Black Crypt tried to provide an actual story with its Dungeon Master gameplay.
      
The year did have the highest average GIMLET rating, at 36. This means that for the first time, the average game crossed my "recommended" threshold. That's nice to finally see. The question is, which one deserves the reward?
     
Game of the Year: Ultima Underworld
   
Yeah, sorry about the lack of suspense, but there's no way to even pretend on this one. Ultima Underworld changed all the rules. From the moment it appeared, every developer working with tiles and static views knew that it would have to shape up or ship out. (I'm not suggesting that tiles are always hopelessly obsolete, or that good games can't be made with them. They represent one technique, and you can still make excellent games with that technique the same way you can still make excellent black and white films. It will just never be the norm again.) But as I noted in my entry, the game doesn't just win because of its technological innovations. Although it could have rested on those laurels, instead the developers offered a fantastic experience on multiple fronts, including a realistic dungeon ecosystem, memorable NPCs and NPC dialogue, interesting quest stages and puzzles, and strong system for combat, magic, and inventory. And yes, I will defend what I just said about combat; anyone who describes it as "simple hack and slash" is not thinking hard enough about all the possibilities inherent in a game that uses the same mechanics and interface for combat as it does for exploration.
    
My only complaint about Ultima Underworld is that it's an Ultima game. It has no business being set on Britannia or involving the Avatar, and if there's one thing that I can't stand about ORIGIN, it's how they've come to insist that the Avatar is involved in everything. ORIGIN should have had the confidence to let their motto--"We Create Worlds"--stand on its own without implicitly adding "and then shoehorn the Avatar into them."
   
I am not insensitive to the fact that four of fourteen "Games of the Year" are Ultima games, and I looked for any reason to make it not so, but there's no helping it. If it's any consolation, Ultima Underworld isn't really an Ultima game. It wasn't developed by ORIGIN and the setting on Britannia is so obviously a late edition that the Ultima part is just so much marketing.
    
Game of the Year: Second Place
     
Considering "Game of the Year" for 1992 is like trying to name the greatest American composer. Of course it's Duke Ellington. But ask me to name the second greatest composer, and I'm lost. There are at least 30 names that seem equally worthy--Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Richard Rodgers, John Philip Sousa, Scott Joplin, Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, John Williams, Danny Elfman, and John Cage are those that spring to mind without my even having to really think about it--for different reasons. 
    
1992 is similarly full of worthy runners up that would make it an extremely difficult contest if not for Underworld. Not all of them got high ratings, but remember that "Game of the Year" is about more than ratings; it's about the trends that the game helped establish or solidify. With that criteria in mind, here are a bunch of titles that I find almost equally worthy:
   
  • Amberstar: Probably the best example of the "Disassembulet of Yendor" approach that we've seen. By modern standards, the game didn't do anything great, but it's rare in not having done anything bad. Together with Challenge of the Five Realms, it also pioneers the "create-a-main-character-and-enlist-NPCs" approach that we need a better name for.
  • Challenge of the Five Realms: Spellbound in the World of Nhagardia: Although the lowest-rated of the nominees, Challenge established a template in the way it handled exploration, sub-quests and side-quests, and NPC interaction (and enlistment) that anticipates later, better titles.  
     
Challenge of the Five Realms had 10 NPC slots.
        
  • Darklands: A fantastic blend of Pirates-like simulation, random encounters, and real-time-with-pause combat in an RPG setting. 
  • Legends of Valour: Unlike Underworld, it didn't give sufficient attention to core RPG elements. Otherwise, it has many of the strengths of Underworld and some of its own. The way it treats survival, factions, and the exploration of a living city will become open-world standards.

Valour's world needed a little work, but the concept was good.
          
  • Ragnarok: For me, the apex of the roguelike sub-genre, at least so far. It shows that a roguelike game can be a good commercial game. I guess I can't claim that it had a lot of influence, though.
  • Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters: The game needed to work on its RPG elements, but the title is notable as one of the earliest series to start as something other than an RPG and then become one, something we'll later see in everything from Assassin's Creed to Grand Theft Auto. It also has one of the best game worlds of the era.
            
Star Control II: tactical ship-to-ship combat in an RPG world.
      
  • Ultima VII: The Black Gate: Even if Ultima Underworld didn't exist, the series would be a strong contender for GOTY with this entry, although I didn't love it as much as some people do.
  • Wizardry: Crusaders of the Dark Savant. If Ultima Underworld was the herald of a new era, Crusaders is the zenith of an old one. Its approach to character development, combat, and magic have never been better in the first-person, tile-based genre.
      
A few potentially-worthy titles, including The Dark Queen of Krynn, Quest for Glory III: Wages of War (I still think about how inviting that inn/tavern looked), and Might and Magic: Clouds of Xeen are off the list simply because I already gave the prize to predecessors that were better games. But they all rank high in objective quality.
 
I suppose that in the end, I'm mostly torn between Darklands and Legends of Valour simply for the originality of their approaches, but I could honestly be persuaded on almost all of these. What interests me more is the sheer number of titles that I felt at least some urge to put on the list--not because they had any honest chance of winning but because they did something interesting enough that I know I'm going to be thinking about them for a long time. These include Defender of Boston: The Rock Island Mystery (I think that game may have honestly messed me up a little), Spellcraft: Aspects of Valor (despite my failure to finish), The Legacy, UnReal World, and even SpellJammer: Pirates of Realmspace.

Superlatives and other notes:

Games have been getting longer but slightly better.
        
  • I covered 46 games for the year, winning 43 (I left Legend, Spellcraft, and Shadowlands unfinished). That's a completion rate of 93%. (One game remains open.) I rejected only 2 games and marked 2 as "not playable." Three others are waiting for a BRIEF that will cover all three. Around 10 games that were originally on the list got deleted (their original sources having repudiated their RPG definitions), merged, or shunted to other years.
  • Strategic Simulations, Inc. was the real factory of the era. They published 6 games. MicroProse was second, with three.
  • The highest rated games were Ultima Underworld (62), Wizardry: Crusaders of the Dark Savant (60), Darklands (56), The Dark Queen of Krynn (52), Star Control II (51), Treasures of the Savage Frontier (51), and Ultima VII: The Black Gate (50).
  • Crusaders of the Dark Savant took the longest, at 108 hours. Average time to finish was 28 hours.
  • On the GIMLET, I didn't give a single 9 or 10, just lots of 8s. Only two games got two 8s: Ragnarok (equipment and gameplay) and Darklands (economy and gameplay).
  • The most erratic games (highest standard deviations in GIMLET scores) were Star Control II and Challenge of the Five Realms. Both games did a few things very well and a few things very badly. The most stable games, in contrast, were Sword Quest 1: The Search, and Shape Shifter, which did almost everything uniformly badly. 
  • There was no "bad game with a good category" this year. Anything I rated low was low across the board. 
  • I didn't rate any game harder than "hard." 
  • The average completion time for a completed game was 29 hours, lower than the average of 34 in 1991, although that number is heavily influenced by Fate: Gates of Dawn.
    
Looking Ahead
   
1993 offers 74 games--more than any other year until 2012--on the preliminary list. I have played only a few of them: Ultima Underworld II, Might and Magic: Darkside of Xeen, Quest for Glory IV, Ultima VII, Part Two: The Serpent Isle, and Warlords II. I don't remember much about most of the ones I have played. I've heard great things about a lot of the ones that I haven't played, including Angband, Betrayal at Krondor, and Dark Sun: Shattered Lands.
      
1993 not only has the highest number of RPGs (until 2012), but it's also the first year that offers more games I won't play than ones that I will.
        
1993 is also a milestone for offering, for the first time, more games with an "N" on the playlist than those with a "Y." Consoles have a lot to do with it, of course: there are 39 Nintendo exclusives (SNES and NES), 8 Sega exclusives, 12 TurboGrafx exclusives, and 4 handheld exclusives. There continue to be a lot of games for Japanese PCs that never received an English translation. Korea enters the market for the first time with two DOS games that I'm hoping will eventually be translated. Taiwan offered its first title in 1990 and offers three more in 1993. Again, it would be nice to eventually attempt some of these.
   
There are a lot of sequels on the 1993 list, but I can't really say I'm looking forward to many of them. While not remembering much about them, my recollections are that Ultima VII, Part Two and Ultima Underworld II have the great engines of their predecessors but are too long and bloated. Abandoned Places wasn't that great a game to begin with. Neither was Bandor, Ishar, Ormus Saga, Stone Mist, Sword Quest, or Ultizurk. I know the reputations of Eye of the Beholder III and Dungeon Master II.
 
But I still have the next NetHack entry, Ambermoon, and Quest for Glory IV to look forward to. We'll have to see about the rest. In general, I expect my enjoyment of 1993 to be carried more by brand new titles than new entries in venerable series.
 
SSI will offer five RPGs this year. The only other publisher with more than two is Sierra, which unexpectedly comes charging in with four--the biggest RPG year for the company. Germany and the United Kingdom will remain heavily represented among companies, and we'll see our first RPGs from Hungary and Austria.

The elephant in the room is the plan I announced over a year ago, on my tenth anniversary, to allow myself to move forward in the timeline without necessarily completing a year. When the time came to do that, I chickened out. It just felt wrong. Now that I stand on the cusp of a year that seems destined to take me at least three years to cover, I feel conflicted. All things being equal, I'd rather just continue with my original chronological plan. But every year that passes brings a slight probability of my own death or incapacitation, the end of blogging as a medium, the loss of reader interest, and the collapse of civilization.

I guess my inclination is to delay making a decision until I clean up the backlog. I still have 42 pre-1992 games to cover, many of which are destined for a BRIEF or a single entry. When I've caught up on those and have only present and future games to play, I'll assess what kind of progress I'm making and consider allowing some forward movement. This will naturally take a while, but a journey of a thousand games begins with the next entry. On to 1993!

237 comments:

  1. I personally would have given it to Star Control 2 as by far the most inventive, best-written, and most memorable game of the year, except for the fact that I still have uncertainty about classing it as an RPG. Despite several attempts, I've never been able to get into Ultima Underworld or enjoy it.

    In terms of what to look forward to, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands is very solid, and Betrayal at Krondor is very well regarded even if it didn't really work for me personally.

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    1. I'd say UU is plenty inventive, well-written, and memorable :P

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    2. I agree....and Darklands as a unique second.

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    3. I'm one of the biggest Star Con 2 fanboys out there. It's one of the few computer games I've played to win multiple times because it's so much fun. (Others in this category include Ultimas 4-5, the first few Might and Magics, and two from 1993: Ultima Underworld 2 and Betrayal at Krondor). While I agree it might be "Computer Game of the Year", it's simply not the "RPG of the Year." There are just so many things it doesn't do as an RPG to make it deserve that title. I'm surprised it actually got fifth, ahead of Ultima VII, which is a testament to its overall quality.

      Anyway, I didn't play Dark Sun, but my guess is that the RPG of 1993 will be Betrayal at Krondor. Hopefully it won't take another three years to find out...

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    4. I think UU makes sense as better in context, but plenty of better CRPGs like it have been made since. SC2 has aged much better, in part because there’s still nothing else quite like it.

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  2. Dark Sun is phenomenal and I look forward to the review. I remember so many "firsts" for a rounds based RPG based on the D&D.

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  3. "So in many ways, 1992 was all downhill, more the last vestige of a previous era than the beginning of a new one."

    I'd say 1992 and 1993 was the apex of an era, before the CRPG genre suddenly "died". I like to compare it to prog rock which reached its apex in 1973/1974, then it was almost full stop with the start of the punk era. Similarly, complex CRPGs had to give way to the simpler and more accessible Doom and its clones.

    I fully agree with you on choice of GOTY. UU was in a class of its own. Personally I'd rate Dark Queen of Krynn as runner up, since it's my favourite Gold Box game, or Darklands if I'd go for something more novel.

    I'm pleased to your blog is still going strong.

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    1. You've said the thing about the CRPG dying before - or someone has - but of course the 90s are an absolute golden age for console RPGs, particularly coming out of Japan, with basically every classic of the canon emerging between 1992 and 1998, and even in the west you've got Elder Scrolls Arena and System Shock in 1994, Diablo and Daggerfall in '96, Fallout in '97, Baldur's Gate and Fallout 2 in '98 - and you've got the whole original Exile/Avernum series in that period, you've got the latterday D&D games including Ravenloft and Menzoberannzan, the early Heroes of Might and Magic games...

      There is possibly not the glut of pointless shovelware that we've seen over the late 80s, but in terms of first-class quality RPGs, there's not really any shortage even if we're (for some reason) excluding the Japanese console market.

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    2. Almost all the big names in classic CRPGs came out in the 90's, I'll gladly take any of the games listed above over any of the dozens of Bard's Tale or Ultima clones Chet has played.

      Also forgetting that a big part of DOOM's appeal is the modding scene around it, making its shelf life practically infinite. If hundreds of people were churning out free content for Baldur's Gate or Fallout, those games might have lasted longer in the public consciousness.

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    3. I'm with Petrus on this one, 94 to 97 really was the dark ages for PC RPGs. You've mentioned basically all the good games (and some just OK games), and that's it for 4 years!

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    4. GregT, you have a point about console games. Obviously the Zelda games et al had a tremendous impact on many kids back then. But I see those games as kids stuff, and you are even playing kids or toddlers. So I think it was a different demographic. It was not until the X-Box and PS2 that the demographics started mergeding.

      To me the "Dark Ages" of CRPGs from 1994 until Diablo (1996) and Fallout (1997) was dominated by sub standard professional games (especially SSI did not manage to capture the magic of the Gold Box games), great strategy hybrids like Xcom, Jagged Alliance, and Heroes of Might and Magic, but also by some very good shareware titles like Aethra Chronicles and Nahlakh.

      So good games were still being made, but very few good traditional CRPGs by the professionals.

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    5. I have exactly the same memory about that era. You have to keep in mind that suddenly no more or no more good entries in the long running series of Ultima, Might & Magic, Wizardry, and the Gold Box were published in a regular fashion. If you only look for original and innovative new games you may have a different point of view.

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    6. It is also often said that baldurs gate reanimated the Genre, that was the perception at the time

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    7. "But I see those games as kids stuff, and you are even playing kids or toddlers."

      Shots fired, dude. And obviously it's not Zelda I'm talking about, but the combined output of Squaresoft, Enix, Capcom, Sega, and various others.

      I'm not sure that there's good evidence that the JRPG market in the 90s was demographically very different from the PC market. 90% of the market for videogames of any kind on any platform was aged 25 and under throughout the period. PC gamers weren't older, they were just richer.

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    8. Well, I said "Zelda et al" since I have only superficial knowledge about console games.

      Maybe demographics was not the right word. But I felt there was two different crowds or two different markets. And I don't think money was the main divisor. Before I got a PC I had a Spectrum and then an Amiga instead of a console, because I wanted something I could _do_ something with, except put a cartridge in it and hit the awesome button.
      My experience was that computer gamers were not nec'ly richer, only older and/or smarter. Maybe it was different in different countries.

      In hindsight I also see that computers offered much more freedom than a console where Sega and Nintendo had a final say in what you were allowed to play.

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    9. What is it with child characters on this blog? Just because the story (video game or not) features a child, doesn't mean the story is automatically childish. Lord of the Flies, The Tin Drum, To Kill a Mockingbird, Life of Pi, so on. I'm not saying Zelda is literature, but it's no more childish than any other formulaic video game plot--save the princess, defeat the wizard, get the amulet, etc.--except that the player character is usually a child or young adult.

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    10. The hybrids really come into play now. Apart from PetrusOctavianus's list, there's also Burntime and Syndicate. I wouldn't call them RPGs, but well, they can stay if it leads to X-Com and Heroes of Might and Magic getting played.

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  4. Who on earth is Duke Ellington? Or is that just before my time?

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    1. Different AnonymousApril 14, 2021 at 7:06 PM

      ...Bruh. BRUH.

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    2. He won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974.

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    3. Moreover can I say that I never understood the "you only know things that happened during your time" approach. We know Shakespeare, we know Jane Austen and we know Verdi though they died long ago.

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    4. 'Cause it's one of those things that lets you complain about them durned kids. Never mind the fact that "retro" is more profitable now than it has ever been, with big superhero movies licensing the 80s for soundtracks and Nintendo continuing to milk money from 30- and 40-year-old games.

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    5. I'm pretty sure Google and Wikipedia weren't before anybody's time.

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  5. Betrayal at Krondor is the greatest RPG of all time. You’re in for a treat.

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    2. Came to post exactly that. The whiplash suffered going from Betrayal at Krondor to Betrayal at Antara could kill a person though. Never looked at Return to Krondor after that.

      ...and I only now just learned that Betrayal at Antara has nothing to do with the first game. At all. Not even the same world. I genuinely didn't know that. Huh.

      Seems Sierra was all too willing to bank off that confusion though.

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    3. That bad, huh? I was always curious about Antara. Not curious enough to buy the game and try, mind you. Being already a fan of Feist's novels, I knew the two weren't the same setting.

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    4. Betrayal at Antara isn't a bad game, though I remember it shipped with an easy-to-find bug that generated infinite food. It would have been a better game if it hadn't been trying so hard to invoke Betrayal at Krondor.

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    5. Betrayal at Krondor has one of my least favorite game elements -- you perform worse as you get wounded. I understand this is realistic, but it tends to create a snowball effect in battles where you either win convincingly or you don't win. But this is based on memories of playing the game when it first came out so maybe it's not as bad as I remember.

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    6. Betrayal at Antara gets a lot of hate, I think it's just a mediocre and super linear game that would have not gotten much hate if they didn't tie it in as some sort of sequel to Krondor like they did.

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    7. I'm curious to see what Chet thinks if the puzzle chests. I spent hours on those as a kid, probably only figured out half of them.

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  6. Glad UU made GotY! It's certainly a key game in my memory. It was also the game coverage that initially led me to (and got me hooked on) this blog. Looking forward to an interesting 1993!

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    1. Yes, great to see UU take its place in the GOTY list. It's a shame it's sequel didn't quite live up to it, it's a good game but just seems to lack... I'm not sure to be honest but it just doesn't have the same feel.

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    2. The sequel is more bound into the Ultima setting/mythos, but the first one's doomed colony is a more oppressively (in a good way) cohesive setting of its own as long as you ignore the slapdash Ultima tie-in.

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    3. I agree with the Addict... Origin shoehorning everything into the world of the Avatar and Brittania really boxed them in. They could have done great things with some story lines that were unique with the engines used in Ultima 5-7 and UU.

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  7. 1993 isn't going to be the first time we'll see a Hungarian RPG, is it? IIRC Abandoned Places was Hungarian?

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  8. Also, I'm willing to bet that Dark Sun: Shattered Lands is going to win the 1993 GOTY. It's just *that* good. Takes the Gold Box formula but pushes it to the next level by adding more dialogues and quests. In many aspects it feels like an anticipation of Baldur's Gate... except it's *better* than BG in almost every aspect that counts. And it's set in a truly interesting fantasy world.

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    1. You're right, it's a shootout between Dark Sun and Betrayal at Krondor, but I think Dark Sun will hit a sweet spot for Chet's particular likes.

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  9. I'm putting money on either Quest for Glory IV, the height of the series, or Betrayal at Krondor based on its exceptionally strong narrative.

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    1. QfG4 is one of my personal faves but here's hoping he gets a patched version or it might not go too well.

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    2. QfG4, like Ultima Underworld, is one of my all-time favorite games, but I suspect it leans too far into the adventure game side of things to get GotY vs its competition.

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    3. Much as I love QFG4, its RPG side is largely irrelevant to the gameplay. So yeah, to me it's mostly an adventure game.

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    4. And I now just remembered the pain of Quest for Glory IV's combat system. Yeah, it's not making GoTY, but it'll be a great experience so long as the CD version is played.

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  10. Congratulations on another year down.

    I'm excited to read about NetHack again. As somebody that can never get past the first ten levels, it's entertaining to read the experience of somebody that actually has a clue.

    Of the games you've mentioned, U7 part 2 is the one I've played the most. I mostly remember the plot being very confusing; although I kept detailed notes, I lost the plot very quickly and my interest died soon after.

    "A few potentially-worthy titles, including The Dark Queen of Krynn, Quest for Glory III: Wages of War (I still think about how inviting that inn/tavern looked)"

    There's so many game locations that I wish were real, and almost all of them are various taverns and inns from RPGs. It's to the point where I hum the inn theme from Daggerfall (it's an ear worm) while I cook a favorite recipe.

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    1. U7 part 2 unfortunately ended up as an example of EA's meddling. Much of the second half of the game was dropped so it could be released "on time" (when EA thought they could make the most money from it).

      It's still a good game, but this is probably why you lost interest. The cut parts made much of the second half make no sense.

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    2. Drawde, out of curiosity, at what point in the game do you feel U7p2 goes downhill? For me it's jura lbh ernpu fxhyypehfure zbhagnva, which is more like 3/4th into the game, but I wonder if others think it goes wrong sooner. I admit looking at U7 parts 1 and 2 with very rose-tinted glasses.

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    3. That sounds about right. For me it's a bit earlier, nsgre pebffvat tbeyno fjnzc sbe zr gur srryvat bs "jub pnerf nobhg gurfr crbcyr" frgf va. Va zl ivrj, gur dhrfgf va funzvab'f pnfgyr, jvgu gung vaihyarenoyr xvat va gur sberfg, naq jvgu gur tjnav ner nyy engure haratntvat. Naq ng gung cbvag, lbh qba'g ernyyl unir n tbny nal zber bgure guna cbxvat nebhaq enaqbzyl naq ubcvat gb eha vagb ongyva.

      But yeah, I have rose-tinted glasses over the earlier parts of Serpent Isle.

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    4. It's been close to two decades since I last played it. And I don't think I beat it. But I do remember noticing things seemed rushed and less coherent at around the time of the disaster. And that the time before it seemed like a shaggy dog story.

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    5. Serpent Isle has a very strong first act (up to Gorlab), a somewhat uneven second act (up to Spinebreaker), and an obviously rushed third act that ends up being way too puzzle-heavy. That said, it has the best writing, story, and worldbuilding in the entire series (UU1 is the only real competition), and there are very important and memorable plot beats in that weak final third.

      As for motivation in the middle section, abg bayl ner lbh chefhvat Ongyva, ohg lbh'er nyfb gelvat gb fnir (be niratr) Tjraab naq Pnagen. That was sufficient for me.

      I would say that overall the biggest flaw with Serpent Isle is that they clearly handed out different areas to different people (Origin was still getting used to operating with much larger teams), which means that some areas feel very disconnected from the rest (both in theme and quality), and the schedule crunch meant that that lumpiness never got smoothed out.

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    6. Interestingly enough, there's a beta version of the game floating around from before the back half of it started getting cut down. Unfortunately, it hasn't really been dug into as far as I can tell, and because it's a currently obscure game from a series that hasn't been relevant since the 90s that probably won't change anytime soon

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    7. For me, the biggest reason why the last part of U7 feels so unconnected to the rest is that the region you go to is so empty. I guess there's a geographic reason for that, but the contrast with the 3 towns from the first part is too big for me.

      Of course it's not the only game that starts with a plot-heavy, character rich part and then moves to a more combat or exploration oriented part, but the difference here is huge.

      That said, Serpent Isle is a game of the year contender for me, along with Betrayal at Krondor. Never played Dark Sun, and very curious about hidden gems and surprises.

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    8. Serpent Isle is exemplary in it's design up to Gorlab Swamp. That part of the game is designed perfectly. Game designers should study that part. The player can explore freely in whatever order, the 3 three towns and he won't fuck up his game. The exploration restrictions make sense in in-world lore. Gorlab is a cursed place and you need the magical plot items. And solving Gorlab is satisfying, because it delivers some good fantasy storytelling. And it's then when the game starts dropping the ball occasionally. First sign of trouble was Shamino's Castle. You can go there before the necessary plot triggers and it will give you a weird huh... that was weird. What was that thing about the ghost? Okay, I guess. But you're still high on the first act, and it's still very strong in atmosphere. But then... Iolo doesn't react properly to Gwenno's turn. Okay, you let it slide. Then the plot twist happens. Awesome! What the hell! Cool! And then.... everyone's dead. And the few characters that are alive, don't react to the state of the world, making you wonder if their survival was a glitch. But then you meet the beauty queen, flayed alive, and she asks you: "He told me to ask the avatar, do you find me pretty!" And it's so fucked up... and then you read that the original third act was going to be this dark reversal of the central themes of each town. And then you shed a tear for a lost potential. And then you go on solving the puzzles in solitude, because everyone is dead, and you are alone, and this is the last true Ultima game.

      But it was good. Even with these major scars, it was a true beauty of a game.

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    9. Arguably they should have trimmed a lot between leaving Gorlab and that plot twist you mention (rssrpgviryl, rirelguvat orgjrra yrnivat tbeyno naq gur pbasebagngvba jvgu ongyva vf svyyre). Gura sbphf ba erivfvgvat gur pvgvrf va gurve arj sbez, vafgrnq bs gur haratntvat cebcurpl cybg naq nyy gubfr iveghr chmmyrf.

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    10. Gur jnl V erzrzore vg, gur frnepu bs Ongyva qbrfa'g gnxr gung ybat. Lbh trg gur fcnpr qbt juvfgyr sebz gur thl sebz Cntna, naq lbh hfr gur fcnpr qbt gb svaq Ongyva. Ba lbhe jnl, lbh zrrg gur tjnav, svaq bhg gung Tjraab'f qrnq, xvyy gur uhagre, tb guebhtu fbzr ghaaryf naq gura lbh'er nyernql ng gur Jryy bs Fbhyf.

      Some of the latter half problems are also due to the fact, that unlike the first half of the game, now doing things out of intended order can interrupt the proper flow.

      V guvax V jrag nsgre Tjraab orsber Ongyva. Vf gung cbffvoyr, be nz V erzrzorevat vg jebat? V whfg cynlrq guvf tnzr ynfg lrne, ohg pna'g erzrzore gur rknpg qrgnvyf bs gung cneg - juvyr V erzrzore gur svefg npg ivivqyl. Nyy V xabj vf gung jrer jnf fbzrguvat gung sryg jebat, yvxr V jnfa'g qbvat vg nf V jnf fhccbfrq gb. Naq pbzcnavba ernpgvbaf jrer aba-rkvfgnag, terng pbagenfg gb gur svefg unys, jurer gurl unq fzg gb fnl nobhg nyzbfg rirelguvat.

      There is also the ghost bug that gives you endgame content too soon.

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    11. I suppose it's not so much "long" as it is "tedious".

      Oh, and in the middle of that, there's gur tjnav dhrfg ba gur vpr vfynaq, naq gur cbvagyrff inzcver gb qrny jvgu. Cbffvoyl bgure fghss V sbetbg, fhpu nf trggvat ybfg ba gur jubyr abegurea pbagvarag.

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  11. I remember quite liking Serpent's Isle, so you might be pleasantly surprised by that one. And Dark Sun is definitely good.

    How do you plan to evaluate Unlimited Adventures?

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  12. Congrats on (mostly) completing the year and a good choice for GOTY. I also went back to Ultima Underworld relatively recently and was surprised how much of it holds up, given how experimental it was and how many games would successfully build on it (I actually really liked the sequel too; it has far more variety).

    1993 sounds like it'll be another good one. Overall, it has some of my favorite RPGs for both console and computer, so I hope you eventually take a glance at a few of the former (maybe consider making those dalliances a part of the BRIEF series, so you're not saddled with a full playthrough of something like Lagoon or Deadly Towers again? That way I won't be too offended if you bounced off Secret of Mana for being way too cutesy looking).

    Real curious for your takes on Betrayal at Krondor, Dark Sun, UU2, Lands of Lore, Syndicate (if you feel it qualifies), Perihelion, and Dungeon Master II when they eventually pop up. Princess Maker II should be a trip also. Moreover, I'm just glad you're sticking with this project for another year yet.

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    1. Princess Maker II should be a trip also.

      He was willing to play Rance, so Princess Maker 2 shouldn't ruffle any feathers. The game can get spicy with some of the "bad" endings, but there's no nudity and no eroge.

      It'll likely turn out a series of very funny blog posts.

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    2. I'm surprised that Princess Maker would even make it on to the list -- isn't that a simulation game rather than an RPG?

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    3. It's not a "normal" RPG, but that's what makes it so interesting. It absolutely fits the criteria.

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    4. Why wouldn't Princess Maker be a RPG? The whole point of the series is raising the stats of a character within a limited frame of time. It even has okay combat.

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    5. Princess Maker is a perfectly wholesome game unless you really go out of your way to make it not so.

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  13. For me, the collapse of civilization will occur before I lose interest in this project. Also, I'm in no hurry to get through the list. There's something about older games that just appeal to me more than recent ones. Thanks Addict!

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  14. "the death of blogging as a medium" - that'll happen for sure but not until we're all dead.

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  15. Dungeon Master 2 disappointed people because after a long wait it wasn't a huge advance. But it was a decent game with a tweaked magic system; I didn't like it as much as the original but I think you might.

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  16. Betrayal at Krondor was a ton of fun at the time, but I went back and tried to replay it a couple years ago, and found it very tedious and annoying. Notably, it was one of the earlier 3D titles. Not so notably, it didn't handle 3D very well. The interface is pretty painful, although the Addict has suffered through far worse.

    Ultimately, I ended up dropping it. I'm sure Addict will finish, as he has amazing perseverance, but I think he may end up being less impressed than we were when it first shipped.

    I never played Dark Sun... after the strong recommendations here, I might pick it up and give it a go.

    Oh, and Addict: I can't believe you're still at this. I've been reading this blog for an ungodly long time, no idea when I started, and I still enjoy it. Thanks for putting so much effort in, over the years. I've gotten some great retro picks from it, and being able to enjoy the high points of some of the poorer entries, without having to suffer through the rest of the gameplay, has been very enjoyable.

    I only comment occasionally, but I still read on a regular basis. Your site has pride of place on my Bookmarks toolbar, possibly for the simple reason that you've outlasted everything else. You genuinely deserve to be there, even if you were promoted through sheer stubbornness.

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    1. I want to echo this. I enjoy your blog, and I don't think that's going to stop. So if skipping around is what it takes to keep your interest in then I think that's worth it.

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    2. Reading since 2011 here... always enjoying it! I will be more than a bit nostalgic when the back catalog is done... but moving around will certainly make it more interesting. I think the number of titles requiring longer playtimes is going to be a problem going forward... hopefully one that can be overcome.

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    3. Another lurker occasional commenter here. Just wanted to add my kudos as well. A phenomenal job.

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    4. I read that blog so long so far I can remember beeing sad Google Reader was discontinued, as it was my favourite way Reading this and other blogs

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    5. Marc St -

      I also used Google Reader. I now use InoReader, seems to do a similar job.

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  17. I was surprised to see Star Control II rated so highly in this retrospective, based on the entries.

    I don't disagree, but it isn't what I expected.

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  18. The logical approach I think, were you to permit yourself skipping ahead, would be to do something like you've been doing in cleaning up missed older entries: play something newer in between chronological games. Possibly not *far* ahead. And not doing series out of order.

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    1. Personally, I loved UU2 but UU1 was better in some ways, they're just both so good! And if you want to skip ahead a little, just do it. It would be cool to see blog posts "from the future" as it were.

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  19. Duke who? If I had to choose the best American composer (that is, one who was born in America, and didn't just visit it, like Dvořák), I'd go with Edward MacDowell. But this is like asking for the tallest dwarf. Even second-rate European composers like Hummel or Massenet are better than any composer America produced.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Duke Ellington was one of the greatest jazz artists of all time. Expand your horizons, man.

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    3. I think their being deliberately obtuse. And more than a little classist if I had to guess.

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    4. I can't imagine even the most jingoistic American claiming that any of our composers from the past 250 years were greater than Beethoven. I deliberately said "American composer" because the only way our composers compete at all is in American-born styles, including my three favorites--blues, ragtime, and jazz. But Posidonius had to show up and be a nationalistic dick about it anyway.

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    5. If America produced a good composer, I'd be happy to admit it. But it hasn't, for a variety of reasons. And yes, I know reasonable minds may differ on that, since it all boils down to taste. De gustibus και τα λοιπά.

      P.S. I'm American, so whereas I may be a dick, at least I'm not being a nationalistic dick here.

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    6. "De gustibus" should have motivated you to consider whether posting your contrary opinion as hard fact was useful.

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    7. Mr. Pyramids: Where did I say that my opinions were "hard fact"? I expressly said, "it all boils down to taste."

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    8. I guess Sun Ra does not qualify as he's from Saturn, right?

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    9. Off the top of my head, anyone interested in American classical music would find a lot to admire and enjoy in the music of Piston, W. Schuman, Harris, Sessions, Copland, Gershwin, Ives, Rochberg, Bolcom, Harrison...

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    10. So, what Posidonius has to be arguing is that blues, jazz, and ragtime simply are not "good" music. If they were, he'd have to recognize at least one "good" composer of them. He's right that there's no gainsaying opinion, but nonetheless my heart breaks for a fellow American who sees no value in America's unique musical legacy.

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    11. Ah, do not shed a tear for me, Mr. Addict. There were thousands of composers throughout centuries of history writing innumerable works that suit my taste. I won't live long enough to listen to all the great music in the world.
      And I do not begrudge you your tastes; find joy where you can. In two weeks' time I'll be in New Orleans myself. Perhaps I'll nip into a jazz club and drink a gimlet to your good health.

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    12. Our disagreement here aside, if you really are going to New Orleans in two weeks, there are a couple of pieces of intelligence I could use if you have time to collect them. Please shoot me an e-mail if you think you might have time to check out a couple of things in the French Quarter.

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  20. I feel like 1993 is going to be interesting. Not necessarily good, as I haven't any experience with the true hit titles of the year, but most of the lesser known-titles are interesting. I can tell you right now, you're going to have a bad game with a highly rated category this time. Won't tell you which one until that bad boy comes along.

    In addition to that, I think this year is the first we'll see a few genres mixed in with RPGs. Tactical games like Burntime and Syndicate; Raising sims, Princess Maker 2; FPS, Hired Guns, ShadowCaster and Pathways into Darkness. Or...not on the last one. I guess nobody who says its a RPG ever bothered to put that into Mobygames or something. Sorry for making it 75. It just happens.

    I'm also looking forward to the shareware titles this year. Most of them, since I actually like Dungeons of the Unforgiven and I just know it isn't going to fair well. I'm looking forward especially to Psionics...just...heheheheh. In a sense I think everyone is waiting for the metaphorical Psionics they played.

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  21. Hm, if we use metrics of current progression

    1993 = 2024
    1994 = 2027
    1995 = 2030
    1996 = 2033
    1997 = 2036
    1998 = 2039
    1999 = 2042
    2000 = 2045

    If somehow one year of released game is finished in two real time years

    1993 = 2023
    1994 = 2025
    1995 = 2027
    1996 = 2029
    1997 = 2031
    1998 = 2033
    1999 = 2035
    2000 = 2037
    2001 = 2039
    2002 = 2041
    2003 = 2043
    2004 = 2045

    mpx

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    1. Counterpoint: Chet is the Eternal Champion...

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    2. Looking forward to reading a review of Baldur's Gate II as the ocean laps at my feet here in Philadelphia.

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    3. To be fair, he's had to backtrack quite a bit. Maybe at some point random fossils from the 80s will stop washing up so regularly and we can just get on with forward progression? And yes, I know the fossils have their fans and can be interesting at times, but surely it's not a bottomless well.

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    4. I mean, in another sense, if it takes me until the end of this year to finally finish the 1980s, I'll have covered the 1980-1992 period in exactly 12 years.

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  22. I'm looking forward to seeing what you think of Bloodnet. It's very much a product of its era, thematically, and mechanically kind of strange/broken, but it's interesting and unusual nonetheless.

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  23. I remember finding this blog in 2010 - started a new job myself and needed something to read while commuting. Never stopped coming here every day, looking for an update. Congratulations :)

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  24. Thank you so much for the continued joy you bring to us, Addict!

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  25. Congratulations! I look forward to your take on the 1993 games, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands and Betrayal at Krondor especially.

    As for the three years on the 1992, the backlog/console games took quite a while. There was some hiatuses, things no one can predict in advance. All in all, not bad for such a varied and plentiful gaming year.

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  26. OK, so 1993 is apparently the year "playable for me" RPGs began. My first successful exposure to the genre (some time around 1997?) was Betryal at Krondor, and while I couldn't get into Dark Sun at first, the second or third attempt, when I understood English and D&D system better was more successful. Mind you, I never managed to WIN either of those games - the first one I could complete was Fallout 2, and that's only because of copious save-scumming in combat (I was a BAD player at the time, not understanding literally anything about building a character and other RPG techniques and tropes).

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    1. Ha, Betrayal at Krondor was also my first successful exposure to RPGs, and ALSO in 1997 (whenever they released it for free to promote their new game, I got the full game from PC Gamer or whatever), so good times.

      I dunno how good it'll do on the GIMLET. There is no character creation, technically I think there aren't random encounters or gear, I think it'll be scored badly on graphics/interface, and it also isn't all that replayable (well, it is for ME, but not in general).

      Sure it'll be good on narrative and worldbuilding, and *I* like the character development, combat, gear, economy and little extras. But who knows. Either way ... I'm looking forward to reading about it!

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  27. Please allow yourself to play a game you really feel like playing once in a while. The blog shouldn't become too much of a burden. If it becomes that, you'll lose your unique "voice", too.

    I can't imagine that your blog suffers from lack of interest. And as for the collapse of civilization: time will tell! ;)

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  28. If I work out the games I'm desperate to hear you cover, and you continue at 3 years per year, given my current age I'll need to live to be 117 before I'm sated.
    I'm not hopeful.

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  29. Another year in the books, nice one! Also, nice one to all the contributors in the comments section, you folk are great.

    Although you 'chickened out', I think that 1975-1992 represents the complete history of early CRPGs. If any year was a good year to finish the initial blogging chronology with, it was this one. It marked the end of the 'golden age' (which I'd suggest started in '88); you could argue that the two original lineages - Wizardry and Ultima - had their last major titles in 1992, and Gold Box effectively wrapped up alongside them. 1992 was also the year in which JRPGs said: "thanks for the inspiration, we've got it from here", and RPG players inceasingly looked to the land of the rising sun for their gaming fix. Compounding (or perhaps contibuting to) the comparative stagnancy in the years following, the popularistation of three new genres of video games (Fighters - Street Fighter 2, 1991; First-Person Shooters - Wolfenstein 3D, 1992; and Real-Time Strategy games - Dune 2, 1992) meant that I didn't hear much mention of CRPGs in high school.

    So here's looking forward to '93, but also beyond.

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    1. Only gamers who owned a console looked to Japan for RPGs, though, while us PC owners never even realized they made that genre over there. It's also a vastly different style of RPG than anything made in the west - one I could never get into, despite liking pretty much every RPG subgenre made in the west, be they blobbers or tactical Gold Box style RPGs or Elder Scrolls style action RPGs. JRPGs aren't my thing at all, and don't give me what I'm looking for in the genre because they're too painfully linear.

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    2. It's worth noting that the Japanese market did produce western-style RPGs, albeit through a Japanese lens. Examples include the early Shin Megami Tensei games (and the first two Personas), which are effectively blobbers with a JRPG flavour, or the various Japanese Wizardry games.

      Japan also has a lot of pretty wild experimentation in RPG subgenres that the West was slower to engage in, with titles like Harvest Moon, ActRaiser, Princess Maker, Pokemon, Fire Emblem, Paper Mario, Shin Megami Tensei etc, so while it's tempting to characterise their output as "four plucky children kill god", there's actually a LOT more diversity and creativity going on in that market, much of which fundamentally influences the course of the western market.

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    3. (And of course, "gamers who owned a console" were overwhelmingly the *majority* of videogamers from basically the launch of the NES through to the advent of smartphones.)

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    4. I agree with GregT here--the Japanese RPG scene is nearly as varied as the US's, and even manages to cover MOST (but not all) of the same major gameplay genres. However, it definitely tends to have a different 'flavor' than US games, and many of the games held up as standouts really are the quintessentially linear kids-with-swords games (Final Fantasy, I'm looking at you).

      That said, it's certainly not a completely monolithic genre.

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    5. Gaming console manufacturers (especially Nintendo of America) generally thought that RPGs were too complicated for the US market, so they favored simpler (and usually visually striking) games for localization. Even the Final Fantasy series had its more complex games held back until the PlayStation era. This definitely led to a general belief that JRPGs were simpler and more linear than WRPGs, which isn't true. It is true that JRPGs weren't as directly influenced by tabletop, which means they're more likely to give you characters to play rather than letting you create your own, but that's also quite common in WRPGs.

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    6. To be fair to the manufacturers, for the most part console RPGs were a niche genre in the West until Final Fantasy 7, and while Nintendo of America's various policies didn't help matters, for the most part they were trying to make the genre popular in the US by helping publish localizations, along with giving them decent coverage in their magazine. A lot of the refusals to localize were more from the company making the game deciding against it instead of the console makers deciding to bar release, which is also why a lot of JRPGs of the era never got put out in Europe

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    7. It wasn't the console manufacturers that were the issue - they would control for content and control cartridge production, but that's it.

      The game companies were the real stumbling block, because RPGs were a really poor fit for translation in the cartridge era. English text is much "bulkier" than the Japanese equivalent and thus takes up more of the precious storage space (many the games that were released had simplified dialog as a result), and the actual translation was quite expensive.

      Equally important, RPG cartridges had to have extra memory and such built in, as well as the battery-backed save RAM. This made the actual physical costs rise significantly, automatically hurting sales.

      This made a Western release a very chancy proposition. The biggest reason releases started getting much more common in the PS1 era is that the CD format negated much of the risk.

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    8. Most gamers having consoles might have been true for the US, but not here in Europe. The PC has always been strong here, we've had a big Amiga scene in the early 90s here in Germany, and local developers were always PC-centric, both here and in other European countries. France, the UK, Eastern European countries like the Czech Republic and Poland... they were all more PC-focused. And it makes sense, especially for the economically weaker Eastern Europe. Chances were your dad had a PC for work, while consoles were a mere luxury product. Also, the PC is a much more open platform. The first PC games from Eastern European countries usually came from hobbyist teams of two or three students dicking around on their uni PCs. And acquiring games was much, much easier.

      I got my first PC games as a kid from my dad, who'd copy floppies from colleagues at work. He even photocopied the Monkey Island copy protection wheel, hah! When I was in high school in the 00s, we'd all share games with each other on burned CDs. We even managed to get our hands on games that weren't available in German stores, like uncensored versions of Soldier of Fortune, Blood Rayne, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. If you had one of those games you were the boss and everyone wanted a copy.

      PCs being relatively common in households, piracy making it easy to get your hands on games, and local developers focusing on PC development made the PC the primary gaming platform here.

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    9. Is it really the case that "gamers who owned a console" were ever "overwhelmingly the *majority* of videogamers" in the U.S.? I guess I can't say for sure that it isn't, but it doesn't ring true to me, and I'd like to see a source for that.

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    10. As a kid I played *computer* games and video games were these inferior, unintellectual playthings for kids!

      Immature perspectives aside, only 1 kid in my class had NES in primary school. C64 was by far dominant in Finland, pirating was prevalent and making backups was not illegal.

      I think PS1 was the first console to have real traction in Finland. The games magazines were pretty much exclusively oriented towards microcomputers up to mid-ninties, with console stuff being very rare.

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    11. Yes, we also played computer games. In fact the German word commonly used for video games is Computerspiele, which means computer games. It is still used today.

      Consoles have become more popular in the 00s with the Xbox, PS2, Gamecube etc but to this day I know more people who have a computer and use it for gaming (either occasionally/casually or as a regular hobby) than I know people who own a console. There are few people of my age group (early-mid 30s) in my circles of friends who never played a game on their computer, but plenty who never owned a console.

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    12. See, but that's the thing—I grew up in the U.S. and hardly knew anyone with a console then either, which is why I'm skeptical of GregT's statement. Admittedly my family did have an NES in the 80s, but no one else I knew did; my father was an electrical engineer and something of a gadgethound. (In any case, we only had a handful of games for it, and my siblings and I still did most of our gaming on the Apple.) I was in college in the 90s, and while I knew a lot of people who played games on the PC, I don't think I knew anyone with a console. It's possible my experience is grossly atypical for some reason, which is why I'm not prepared to say that GregT is definitively wrong about the overwhelming majority of gamers owning consoles, but it certainly doesn't sound right to me.

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    13. I only use a computer for gaming very recently, as usually there wasn't enough money for the $2000 machine I really wanted, but there was enough money for a console every third or fourth Christmas. I played retro games because they were the only thing I could run and actually enjoy myself. Perhaps ironically to this discussion, this means I played a lot of emulated console games.

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    14. Huh, I kind of had the opposite reasoning; I never used a console for gaming because there wasn't enough money for it. I had a PC anyway because I needed it for other things; it wasn't easy to justify spending extra money for a separate game console. (I certainly never had a top-of-the-line $2000 computer, but then I didn't play the kind of cutting-edge graphic-intensive game that would have needed it; for the games I played a cheap PC worked perfectly adequately.)

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    15. (Well, okay, it's not true to say I never used a console for gaming; as I said, my family did have an NES when I was a child. But I never bought a console of my own.)

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    16. I'm sure there's hard data somewhere to settle this point (generally console games outsold PC games in the 90s*) but anecdotally I got started playing games on my Dad's PC which he had for his work as a CPA. But only a few other nerdy kids like me had a PC in the home while nearly everyone I knew had a Sega or Nintendo console at home and many whom didn't at the very least had a Gameboy.
      * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_PC_games
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990s_in_video_games

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  30. Great post! Totally deserved GoTY for UU. From my memories, the second one was uqite fun too, I remember liking that "multiple worlds" thing.

    EoB3 and DM2 where truly deceiving indeed, especially the latter. I replayed both of them a year or two ago, neither is really "bad", just a bit boring for EoB3, and too short and easy for DM2.

    As a couple of commenters said above, looking at the upcoming list, I don't see how anything else might win 1993 game of the year besides Betrayal at Krondor. (I haven't played Dark Sun). I have such incredible memories of Krondor. But I'm echoing what Malor said above: I tried replaying it a year or two ago and just didn't manage to get into it again, the interface and the 3D are painful indeed. It's a shame, it really needs a remake/remaster, even without graphic enhancements, just to make it more playable, although something along the lines of the Bard's Tale remakes would be fantastic. In any case, it has one of the best tactical combat systems I've ever seen, right up Chet's alley if he likes Gold Box style precision and strategy.

    In any case, looking forward to read it all, and congratulations on keeping this going on. I've been following this blog for 10 years now, and it's not some puny Collapse of Civilization that will keep me from continuing. ;)

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  31. Congrats on wrapping up 1992 Addict! Thanks very much for playing all these old games. Most of which I never played, just read about on gaming magazines.

    I did though play both Krondor *and* Dark Sun. I am a huge SSI fan, yet I must say that Dark Sun was also the game that broke them. So I have kind of mixed feelings about it. Krondor is fantastic when it comes to world building and the narrative, but mechanically was painful. We may see both games coming up quite close in score.

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  32. Having played UU back in the day, I never got the impression that the Ultima stuff was tacked on. The setting was well integrated into the story and gameplay. I guess the magic system with the runes was a total retcon but otherwise it felt very Ultima-like.

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    1. Chet's playthrough of it is well worth the read if you're curious about the Ultima shoehorn aspects. Characters, factions, creatures, races never before or since seen in Britannia. I think there were some bizarre misuses of the virtues and mantras too, maybe?

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    2. The developers have said that they were well into development before Origin decided to make it an Ultima title, so there's that. Otherwise, I don't know how you regard a nobleman we've never heard of before with a title we've never heard before ruling from a castle whose location doesn't make sense sending you on a quest to a place that doesn't make sense full of races that have never before or since existed in Ultima canon "well-integrated."

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    3. I know now that UU doesn't fit in in Ultima's world, but like Tim I didn't notice that when I played it. I had only played U6 and U7 and I knew nothing of the earlier Ultimas or the quest of the Avatar. The little I knew about Britain's history I learned from Batlin...

      So, the Avatar getting thrown in jail? Sounded believable at the time.

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    4. Believable, except for the bit where they build an underground colony in an evil dungeon for no explained reason :)

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    5. The colonies were all the people who had been exiled into the dungeon. They couldn't get out, so they just built lives there. Pretty realistic, if you think about it.

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    6. Yes, except UU game lore states that it was an actual colony BEFORE it turned into a prison. A colony to promote virtue, no less. So pretty unrealistic, if you think about it.

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  33. I'm honestly very surprised you're putting Legends of Valor so highly. Sure, it's innovative and historically important, but it's so meh as an RPG and a game in general.

    Personally, as much as I like and respect Ultima Underworld, Wizardry 7 takes the crown for me. It just has everything I like in an RPG - extensive character customization, open exploration, tightly designed dungeons with clever puzzles and non-combat gameplay systems (it's trap disarming and lockpicking minigames remain unsurpassed) - yeah, my gimlet would have been very different from yours. Not to mention the wandering NPCs that, while underused, add an element of urgency to your quest without imposing strict time limits. It's just a shame that this line of RPGs never got a kickstarter renaissance the same way DM-likes and BG-likes did. The closest things we got were Lords of Xulima (a one-off title) and Bard's Tale 4 (an ugly trainwreck).

    Not much to add to the above commenters about 1993. I replayed Quest for Glory 4 just last year and it's every bit as great as I remember. And Dark Sun has been so far the only D&D game that I really enjoyed (although Solasta seems like it's shaping up to be the second one). On the other hand, doesn't seem like 1993 had a lot of exciting underdogs like Amberstar or The Summoning. Or at least not the ones I've played - so I'm looking forward to your take on Enchantasy and WarWizard. They had some street cred in their time, but I never got very far in either.

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    Replies
    1. I don't think your GIMLET would have been VERY different from mine. I ranked Crusaders was my second highest-rated game of the year, after all. "Very" different would be if I had given the prize to The Kingdom of Syree.

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    2. I meant that I would rate it (and other RPGs) on different categories, not that I would give different scores in the same categories.

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    3. I’m most of the way through BT4 - why do you consider it a trainwreck?

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    4. Same question here as Tristan, I backed it and while I was initially disappointed I think they have fixed A LOT afterwards to the point I believe it's a good game. Not great and quite living up to its predecessors I give you that but enjoyable enough for me.

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    5. I will admit that I gave it less than two hours to still be able to request Steam refund, so maybe it gets better later (though from what I've read of the game's discussions, I doubt that). I wanted to like it, but what little I've seen was unwieldy, ugly and shallow - a weird mixture of a dungeon crawler and a mobile RPG (particularly noticeable in character system and UI).

      "Not great and quite living up to its predecessors" - well, personally, I find the original BT games to be among the worst in the dungeon crawler genre, so YMMV.

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    6. I'm 40+ hours in.

      The build/gear combos and the combat itself are both deep, and some of the puzzles are great.

      I even really like the visuals.

      It's not a perfect game: the plot gets a bit bungled after a promising start, progression plateaus too early, and its quite linear. But there's far more good than bad and I find it a pretty easy game to recommend.

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    7. The things that turned me off the most were skill trees (the single worst thing that's happened to RPGs) and was how they had to reinvent the wheel with their grid-based movement - having it go in 8 directions and (ugly and unnecessarily) highlighting the destination of the next step.

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    8. I compared the grid-based and free move options when I started, and the former seemed horrible and the latter functioned perfectly well, so the fact that there exists an ugly 8-directional grid overlay is neither here nor there for me.

      I have no issue with skill trees. What's your issue with them?

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    9. Basically, they make every class/build play the same: you get a small number of abilities, usually on cooldowns, that you cycle through. Non-combat skills and non-combat focused builds? Gone, non-combat abilities don't fit into trees. Interesting ways to acquire abilities (e.g. as quest rewards or through exploration)? Gone, everything is just unlocked by spending points on the tree. Spellmaking and fine-tuning abilities? Gone. Etc.

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    10. I disliked Bards Tale IV and absolutely think it was a trainwreck. I thought the team who designed the game made absurd design decisions and frittered away $ with those bad decisions. Seriously, why call it an RPG when 80 percent of the game are puzzles? 2 steps, puzzles, another 2 steps puzzles, another 2 steps, puzzles and so on. Once in a blue moon there would be combat. The Directors Cut made it better but still bad. The puzzle bypass song was a godsend, but it got annoying to constantly do that too.
      Combat was ok but the small amount of abilities annoyed me too and the tree only appeared to be interesting and turned out because of the way the game worked there really wasn't much room for experimentation.

      Also who was the Einstein on the team who thought a puzzle wheel for some of the puzzles could only be solved outside the game? The inventory system is also very bad. The save system, bad! FOV bad! Saves and FOV were fixed with patches and DC solved some of this but I bought this at launch. This is the game that finally cured me of day one purchases. Character models, trash! though the world could be quite nice looking. The irritants so outweighed its few virtues.

      I'm so salty about this game that I would have loved to tell everyone who worked on it to clear out their desks and vacate the premises. I don't care how hard you worked on it, you made a terrible game.

      My name is Diana and I don't want to register.

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    11. @VK

      Is your objection is to skill bars or skill trees or both? Skill trees exist in a diverse range of games, and plenty of them include non-combat skills in the trees, including that of Bard's Tale 4, which features crafting and exploration abilities. As for whether abilities can be granted by other means, why not? In BT4 quite a few of the legendary items come with abilities.


      As for having a small number of skills that you cycle through, dictated by cooldowns, that's definitely not how BT4 feels to me. You might not literally create spells (how many games let you do that?), but you do create a toolbox of combos and disruption and recovery techniques to navigate a variety of scenarios.

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    12. @Diana

      There are definitely more puzzles than in a typical RPG, and if you really dont like puzzles then its probably not the game for you.

      The code wheel is just a callback to the 80s. It's completely unnecessary and you gain very little from engaging with it anyway. I didn't find it annoying enough to skip, but the cost:benefit of bothering with it is touch and go :p

      The inventory is a tiny bit tight and fiddly but I didn't find it noteworthy in its badness or anything.

      I didn't play it prior to the director's cut, so I'm unfamiliar with a lot of the problems you mention (save, FOV), but I certainly agree that day one purchases are almost always a mistake.

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  34. Thanks for another great year!

    I'm looking forward to this one. It's fun to try to play along. I had a blast with World of Xeen, though I stopped before I finished. I had a 30-hour blast, then it started getting repetitive.

    But we continue to get interesting entries. Like everyone here, I'm looking forward to Shattered Lands, which I played a bit of back in the day, loved it, and then it melted. Hopefully more stable now. And looking forward to Betrayal at Krondor, which I own and am looking for another excuse to try to dig in.

    I love reading along with the games, but the blog really shines when I try to fight through the sometimes creaky interface of old(er) games to play along. This is going to be a good year for that.

    You've been over this ground a thousand times, so I won't belabor it, but: you've done yeoman's work trying to catch-up with the older games. Maybe it's time to set them aside and return to them much later, if at all, so that you can play through a year in a year (the games are just going to get longer).

    And to me, selfishly, I don't think you need to tackle console games. First it doesn't really fit the blog, and second, I didn't have a console until the PS3, so not really interested. :)

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    1. I know what you're saying, but as Bruce points out above, EVENTUALLY we'll stop finding new titles from the 1980s. Or it will slow to such a trickle that I can cover them as they appear. I think after this final path, they'll stop being a regular part of my life.

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    2. Will we? So many as of yet unknown 80s titles keep popping up that I'm convinced there's a time traveler who keeps going back to the 80s just to make yet another Ultima clone for you to play through whenever you finished your last one.

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    3. There's also lot on the Japanese computer side that Chet hasn't tackled yet, even among translated titles - The Screamer (1986), Star Cruiser (1989), 46 Okunen Monogatari (1990), and Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes (1990), to name a few.

      Needless to say, I'm looking forward to Chet's thoughts on Princess Maker.

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    4. I'd really love to hear his take on Last Armageddon.

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  35. 1992/1993 feels like a transition into where the 90's RPGs really begin. It's like how 90's music starts with Nirvana's release of Nevermind. It's all downhill for the Ultima series from here, and Wizaradry will go AWOL for a long while. Along with the end of the Gold Box games, the titans of the 80's RPG scene are out of the way for the new players to come in. Unfortunately outside of Betrayal of Krondor & QfG4 '93 doesn't have much I think of as memorable, although I never played Dark Sun.

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  36. If your time allows then maybe play Magic Candle II and Magic Candle III again?

    Try playing without mushrooms.

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    1. Time is never going to allow for something like that. If someone else wants to do it, I'll be glad to host his or her experience.

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    2. For those who didn't know that mushrooms are a specific ingredient in the Magic Candle games, this comment would be pretty confusing for a bit. Then they'd say so that's how chet managed to stay on track for this long...

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  37. Congrats on making it to 1993!

    Going to make an early call for QfG4 as game of the year.

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    Replies
    1. I did the same, then I remembered its atrocious combat system and had to walk it back.

      It's going to be Betrayal at Krondor or Dark Sun: Shattered Lands. I do have a soft spot for Dungeon Hack, but it isn't going to wow a veteran of RPGs.

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  38. "the "create-a-main-character-and-enlist-NPCs" approach that we need a better name for"

    ...
    ..
    .

    'Missionary Style' (drum roll)

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  39. Also, as '93 approaches I hope Chet remembers that he sorta kinda promised me to take on 'Lands of Lore' early, an excellent continuation of tile-based rpg's, and an extraordinarily pretty-looking game (after all the recent eye-cancer)...

    A real contender for goty '93 to be honest.

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    1. Lands of Lore was a pretty good RPG. Reminded me of Uukrul in a way. But Betrayal at Krondor feels like it had everything it had, and world-class world-building / writing on top. Didn't play Dark Sun so it might be the top game, but LoL feels like a significant underdog to BaK and Dark Sun (from what other posters are saying about it).

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. Very much looking forward to Betrayal at Krondor. I have read the first three Midkemia/Riftwar books recently and I must say I quite like them. At first it feels like standard high fantasy which it probably is regarded as in general, but for me Feist quickly developed a unique feeling to his story and setting (besides the "two worlds connected" theme) which kept me very much enjoying it to the end. Maybe I'll play along when Chet gets to it.

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    4. Count me as another one eagerly waiting for the "Lands of Lore" playthrough. I consider it one of the best "RPG for somebody who hasn't played any RPG"; what it lacks in complexity it has it in charm and the graphics achieve some sweet spot which makes them still pretty even almost thirty years later. It's a pity that they never managed to recapture that charm with the sequels.

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    5. Agree with fireball... the original Rift War series was a pretty solid work of high fantasy. I never finished the next 26 books... the sequelitis was just too much.

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    6. The first few Feist(/Wurts) books were good, if fairly standard fare. But I read them when I was 16 or something, would I still find them good now?

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    7. I read the first Feist book - Magician - when I was in my twenties, I think. I remember I thought it was very good. Then I read it and read the rest of the four books of the Riftwar Saga before playing Betrayal at Krondor some five years ago.
      It was difinitely not as good now, and I'd classify them as what I like to call entry level Fantasy.
      I actually liked the writing in the game better.

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    8. I just recently reread the entire thing front to back. The Riftwar was great and it tackled an East vs West theme about as well as Shot in in a fantasy setting. The few one shots in between were pretty good world builders. The Serpentwar Saga was good. The Kelewan Acoma books with Janny Wurts were great. Some interesting things in the next couple of series, but nothing great. I do think he ended such a long running series on a high note though

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    9. Autocorrect turned Shogun into Shot somehow. Maybe too much Hamilton on my brain

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  40. Congratulations on another year complete! I agree with Ultima Underworld being the best of 1992. It did so many new things for the genre and did them right. I'm an Ultima fanboy, and I agree that it shouldn't have been shoe-horned into the mythos. For 1992, my favorite games were Ultima Underworld, Ultima VII, Darklands, Might and Magic IV, Star Control II, the Dark Queen of Krynn, and Treasures of the Savage Frontier. 1992 had some real classics that are still fun to play today.

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  41. It's a pleasure and privilege to get to follow your journey. One more year down, and I fully agree on the GOTY. I do think Darklands is probably the number 2 for me, although I really love the Quest for Glories and Star Control 2. I am also looking forward to the implementation of the timeline skipping. I think it will be good for the project.

    Warlords II meets most of your requirements for an RPG, but it is a strategy game. It has heroes that have experience points, but it's a beer and pretzels strategy game, not an RPG. It might merit a brief, but not a full entry. It is however a game I've played for hundreds of hours with my brother. Much later Warlords 3 will be a bit more closer call.

    There's also Space Hulk which I don't remember being an RPG. I remember my friend had it and I loved the digitized death scream.

    Dungeon Master II is probably better than its reputation, a solid "ok".

    I loved Betrayal at Krondor, but I know there are some qualifications involved. I'll be very curious to read your take on it!

    I suspect either BaK or Dark Sun will take the GOTY, but the interesting/weird thing is we're facing the dark age of RPGs and neither of the games had a ton of overt influence, I think.

    1993 has a ton of games I'm curious to read your take on. Some highlights for me are: BloodNet, Hired Guns (I loved the music as a kid, but thinking back the game is quite tedious), Nomad and Veil of Darkness. I'm also hopeful with regards to the third of the list I never heard of! It's one of the best aspects of the blog.

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    1. BloodNet is a bad but interesting game and I'm very excited to see how Chet responds to it.

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    2. I think hired guns would be as interesting just to see what the proto-rockstar guys were doing before GTA and RDR.
      The four different viewpoints for the team is an interesting variation as well.

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  42. 1993 is going to be a tough competition, with a lot of strong contenders. I wouldn't count out Ultima Underworld II and Serpent Isle just yet.
    The current prediction is that they're more of the same, but lesser entries. But one thing that they are very strong in is atmosphere.
    Those games have a vibe, and that vibe may carry them a long way to GIMLET glory... or around to mid-fifties.
    Another atmosphere game with strong emotional moments is Quest for Glory 4, and I predict it will finish in decent 50's.
    Betrayal at Krondor will also be a strong contender with it's strong storytelling and non-linear open world approach.
    These games attempt at something that's rarely attempted in the genre.
    Dark Sun will give a good fight, but will the anticipation of Baldur's Gate be enough to deliver it to GIMLET glory?
    Lands of Lore will probably beat it's blobber cousins, just because how fun it is to play. I predict it will get a bigger GIMLET than Darkside.

    Overall, 1993 produced many of the greatest games in the genre. But also a year of dead ends, because for many, this is the last proper attempt at their own particular rpg design.

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    Replies
    1. Dark Sun does not merely anticipate Baldur's Gate, it surpasses it in almost every way.

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    2. I guess I'm going to have to replay it this summer. From what I remember, it was quite linear. It was like an isometric Gold Box game, without the big world of BG. Enjoyable, but I'd never thought to say it surpasses BG.

      Baldur's Gate however is always fun. That low level feel of the first two chapters, when you have only 4 hitpoints, a dagger, and you are all alone against the hostile world... I keep coming back to BG to experience that feel again and again.

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    3. @Joshua, you might be confusing the original Dark Sun (subtitled Shattered Lands), which has a pretty large world and is very non-linear, with the sequel, Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager - which is indeed linear and concentrated around single city.

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    4. Well, it has been 13 years since I last played the Dark Sun games. Time for a revisit. I remember talking rats and escaping from an arena, and a genie. Could be I'm remembering both games.

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    5. Nope that's the first one all right.

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  43. Dude, this is heroic. Love your reviews, this is such a great corner of the Internet.

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  44. My vote for second-best American composer is Billy Strayhorn. Duke is so far ahead of the pack that his right-hand man takes the number two slot.

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    1. I agree with you that he's a worthy contender. My only objection to Strayhorn is that his compositions are heavily targeted towards Ellington's band and star players specifically. Aside from "A Train," it's hard to think of a Strayhorn number that became a standard. "Lush Life," maybe.

      But, yeah--I'd put "Blood Count" among the top 10 compositions of the century.

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  45. Say...do you plan to stop at a certain year? Granted, at that pace you will reach 2010 in about ten years (ok, maybe that's too much optimism on my part), and in 2030 those will be deemed 'old' too, but still...

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    1. Unlikely that he'll reach 2010 that soon. Games do get quite a bit longer in the late 90s and throughout the 00s.

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  46. Congratulations on another year!
    I'm kind of looking forward to you finally finishing up the backlog. And then, full steam ahead, so to say.
    There's been the consensus on the blog that the dark ages for CRPG begin in 1994, so 1993 is the last "classic" year. I hope it's going to be fun.
    I think your Ambermoon score might reach into the 60s. But as a former Amiga player, I am unaware of the PC competition of that year for "best game of 1993".
    Makes me wonder when Ultima V is going to be surpassed in score. The comments above seem to imply that there's no real thread for that until maybe Diablo, or most likely, Fallout.

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    1. You misspelled Baldur’s Gate

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    2. Of course, Baldur's Gate is going to surpass the score of Ultima V. But it will not the be the first one.

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    3. I can't imagine Fallout not gaining high 60's. Unless Chester really, really dislikes the game. But then there would be war. Fortunately, that's like in 10 years? Maybe 8.

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    4. I think Dark Sun has a fairly good chance of getting up there. So do Arena and Daggerfall.

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    5. Well, half a year after having to give up on Ambermoon near the ending due to a bug with the eagle, and not being able to fix it after hours of work, I just tried again and fixed it right away. And all I wanted to do was install Dark Sun again...

      I don't think Ambermoon will score that much better than Amberstar, if it scores better at all. I don't think its advances translate to that many Gimlet points, and there will be a few deductions, too (e.g. no character creation). Technologically it's an amazing game, and if you can get into it the game world is fantastic.

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  47. A little early to point out, but you've got Robinson's Requiem on the 1994 playlist. That's a non-stats based action adventure that I STILL remember after 27 years from the hilarious 5% rating in a gaming magazine review. I think that was a bad, very bad Amiga version though.

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    1. I don't know anything about the title, but I had hoped it was based on the James Ellroy book.

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    2. Iirc there’s kinda stats but it’s really a survival game mixed with adventure. It might be worth doing a one shot as it is quite unique, but not much of an CRPG in the traditional sense

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  48. Damn, accidentaly signed out of a bigger comment, i guess i will stick with saying that for 1993, Veil Of Darkness is a little known but fun game, also quite short which helps for a blog.

    Basically, in an age where Steam Ships exists and you are a cargo plane pilot, you crash your plane into an old fashioned village you can't get out of, one where everyone fears monsters including mainly, a vampire who rules over monsters there and your job as a cargo plane pilot is to figure out a way to kill a vampire and other monsters in a stereotypical Transylvania looking place to get back home.

    And yes, you can stake not-Dracula at the end, it's worth looking into just because it's not that common a setting for CRPG games.

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    1. That sounds like it will be original, at least.

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    2. While it uses the same engine as The Summoning and Dusk of the Gods, it's not really an RPG - no character development or customization.

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    3. Exactly, I'd say it's an action-adventure like Zelda. Still fun but no RPG.

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    4. I have very fond memories of "Veil of Darkness" (as I have from "The Summoning"). In the comments for the last article about "The Summoning" I mentioned "Veil of Darkness" as something that can't be considered an RPG by any measure, but that it merits being played both as a little hidden gem and as some kind of "historical curiosity": a "path not taken further" by Event Horizon Software, whose next games would be more tradicional "first person blobbers".

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    5. Also, "Veil of Darkness" MUST be played if you like the "Ravenloft" setting for "Dungeons & Dragons".

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    6. It was sort of taken further with Chronomaster and Sanitarium - although without the action part.

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  49. Joining the chorus to congratulate you on what really is a substantial milestone for this continually engaging, thoughtful and entertaining project. Been reading since around fall 2012, I think, and whether the games are familiar favorites or bizarre obscurities, your writing and your critical eye really do make the blog stand out from basically anything else of this sort online.

    Hope you take time to mark the milestone and celebrate how much of your goals you've fulfilled... whether with an extra fancy gimlet, or perhaps (in a nod to the period you're covering) the traditional bag of Doritos and six-pack of Coke. Bravo.

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    1. Thank you and everyone who expressed similar sentiments.

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  50. To me it seems the best RPG is the one where you can identify with the characters and plot, so there is a large subjective element. But as far as ratings go I would personally like to see a distinction between random and non-random encounters (the former invariably means grind, while the latter could indicate a more thoughtful game).

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  51. Congratulations!

    Germany may be well represented in 1993, but I see a lot of amateur games there - only Ambermoon sticks out. At least 1992 had both Arkania and Amberstar.

    ReplyDelete

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