Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Some Musings about CRPG Narratives

For the student who asked me some questions for his or her thesis but needs a verifiable written source to cite:
      
Would you consider a CRPG to have an inherent narrative to it?
     
I don't think a particular narrative is inherent to the definition of a CRPG, but almost all of them have one. Many CRPG developers, early ones in particular, tended to be programmers first and storytellers second, so their games sometimes lack a coherent narrative. The tendency in the early era is for the narrative to be rather threadbare, often encapsulated in what I call a "framing story"--an excuse for the game that appears mostly in the documentation but is rarely referenced in the game itself. For instance, the very first CRPG for which we know any detail, The Dungeon (1975), opens with a paragraph that sets the adventure in the year 666 in the country of Caer Omn. None of the information in the paragraph is necessary to play and enjoy the game, and indeed you could replace it with a different paragraph and the player would be none the wiser.
      
It isn't much of a narrative, but it's something.
     
Framing stories persist deep into the CRPG timeline. For instance, I just finished Eye of the Beholder III: The Ruins of Myth Drannor (1993). The documentation for the game contains a short story that sets the backdrop, and this story has far more text than the game itself. Unlike The Dungeon, the story is referenced throughout the game, and some people might object to my calling it a "framing story" for that reason. But those references are never in the gameplay itself; they're all in cut scenes that could easily be swapped out to tell a completely different story.

Even when more complex, integrated narratives started to appear around 1980, they were often light on detail. To some degree, this is a good thing. CRPGs have always been about self-identification with the player character. Modern CRPGs tend to enhance that self-identification by giving you lots of quest choices and dialogue options, but as a player who got started in the 1980s, I can tell you that it was great fun to simply imagine your own dialogue and motivations and to engage in behaviors that I like to call surplaying, or doing things for role-playing reasons that aren't even recognized by the game itself. Creative players made their own plots and interpersonal dramas within the confines of the game mechanics. Thus, even games without inherent narratives to some degree inherently supported player-created narratives. Some early games, like the Dunjonquest series (1978-1982) or Stuart Smith's Fracas (1980), explicitly encouraged players to make up their own stories as they played.
 
What do you think qualifies as the first CRPG that has a narrative? What about one with a branching narrative?
 
As I mentioned, the first CRPG with any narrative is the first CRPG: The Dungeon (1975). But let's expand the definition of "narrative" a bit, and assume it means a game that a) establishes the setting; b) clearly identifies the player character's part in the setting; and c) offers a denouement at the end, rather than just a congratulatory message. For that, I think we're looking at a 1979 game also called Dungeon, although renamed Maces & Magic: Balrog Sampler when it was redistributed a couple years later. Dungeon is a hybrid between a text adventure and an RPG, and as such, it has an ongoing narrative throughout. Text adventures had already existed for years, of course, going back to William Crowther's Colossal Cave Adventure (1976) and including the first games in the Zork series. Thus, the innovation of Dungeon, and other hybrids that followed like Eamon (1980), was not to add narratives to an RPG but to add RPG elements to a narrative.
   
You might then ask what is the first graphical CRPG (not a text game) to feature a full narrative as defined above. That distinction belongs to a crop of 1981 games, and I don't know which is technically first. Ultima, Wizardry, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves all featured not only introductions and conclusions but in-game plot points along the way. Their approaches are all very different, and Ultima is the least coherent, but it did establish a tradition of telling a full story along with the mechanics of a tabletop RPG. None of them really supported enough material that they could be made into a novel or film (although somehow, Japanese animators managed to eke one out of Wizardry), but they could have at least supported a short story.
           
Wizardry (1981) not only had a beginning and an ending but also developments in the middle.
        
The first CRPG to support a "branching" narrative depends largely on what you mean by "branching." The early text/RPG hybrids let you encounter text and thus plot points in a variety of orders, but they all ended at the same place. True branching narratives with alternate endings took a long time to develop. The earliest are in games that aren't really full CRPGs. Apventure to Atlantis (1982) had two endings, but it was practically at the game's end that they "branched," and the game is arguably not an RPG. There were a couple of very literal adaptations of choose-your-own-adventure style gamebooks in 1984 (The Citadel of Chaos, The Forest of Doom, Lone Wolf: Flight from the Dark), but again, I have trouble calling them CRPGs for the lack of mechanics. I think we're all the way to The Return of Werdna (1987), a game I'm just finishing, before you see anything complex in the "multiple endings" department. Even after that, alternate paths and endings are rare into the 1990s.

What does become a lot more common in the RPG timeline is giving players an open world so that although they all reach the same end, they've gone through different experiences and had different accomplishments when they get there. Many such games also allow players to achieve things specific to their character classes and alignments along the way. The Might and Magic and Quest for Glory series and the Dungeons & Dragons "Gold Box" titles from SSI are notable in this regard.

The Quest for Glory series offers special content for each of the four character classes.
        
I've always considered an RPG a game that lets you customize to some extent your character and lets you sway the story somewhat. You define it differently, however. Why is that?
 
Tabletop role-playing has always featured some level of player agency in the evolution of the story. A human dungeon master can adapt quickly and creatively to such player choices. But a game developer doesn't have the time or resources or (sometimes) foresight to be so flexible. In the early days, of course, disk space and computing power also put lots of limitations on how much the player could bend the story.

In those early days, everyone understood that the "RPG" part of "CRPG" meant the mechanics of tabletop role-playing: attributes, levels, weapon and armor statistics, monster statistics, and tactical combat that followed a discernible set of rules. No one expected the narrative flexibility of tabletop roleplaying, nor did they complain when they didn't get it. Only in the late 1990s and early 2000s did CRPGs evolve to allow for more ability to "sway the story," and it's absurd to suggest that the CRPG genre didn't exist until 1997. In short, to define it your way would be to eliminate hundreds of games from the 50-year history of CRPGs that no one had any doubts were "CRPGs" at the time they were created. 
     
The Bard's Tale (1985): One of many classic CRPGs that would no longer be considered CRPGs if "meaningful role-playing choices" was part of the definition of the genre.
      
That said, player agency has over the last 20-25 years become an expected part of the RPG experience, except perhaps for a few independent games that inevitably get tagged as "retro." I certainly value those role-playing options. I just don't insist that, say, Skyrim "isn't really a CRPG" because it doesn't offer the same dialogue options as Fallout: New Vegas.
    
Is Ultima IV really the first game to have ethics as a game mechanic?
   
Yes, except in the most superficial sense. For instance, Wizardry would occasionally serve up a party of "friendly" monsters. Attacking them was an evil act, and it could change your alignment if you were good. Letting them go was a good act and could change your alignment if you were evil. There may have been some other games that I'm forgetting that offered some basic good/evil options.
   
But Ultima IV (1985) was definitely the first game to integrate multiple considerations of right and wrong into a complex system. Throughout the game, you have to demonstrate virtues like honesty, compassion, honor, and sacrifice, and the game gives you multiple methods of doing so, including dialogue options, combat options, and creative uses of the economy. I say it's the "first" to offer such options, but as far as I know, it's the "only" game to offer such options. Sure, plenty of later titles have a basic "karma meter" that tracks you on a scale from angelic to satanic, but Ultima IV had eight such karma meters. Not even its own sequels offered that level of complexity.
      
I demonstrate honesty in Ultima IV by not cheating the blind herb-seller.
     
That isn't to say that the system was perfect. You can't win the game if you don't conform to its system of virtues, so doing the right thing isn't really a role-playing option. Modern games are more likely to offer different content and paths for different ethical choices. I enjoy this to some extent, but I also find the ethical systems of most modern CRPGs a bit facile. "Good" means a normal amount of compassion and "evil" means unrepentant sadism. It would be nice to see a CRPG that wrestled more with, say, deontology and consequentialism. I have no idea why so many RPG developers were keen to implement the "good/evil" axis of the D&D alignment system, but so few of them have been interested in the far-more-interesting "lawful/chaotic" axis.
   
Do you think there are games we can pinpoint as the so-called pathmakers for the modern-day CRPG?
 
That's an interesting question. Many games that were landmarks through the era that I've played (part of 1993) have little in the way of detectable influence today, including Wizardry, The Bard's Tale, and Might and Magic. Even the Ultima series is more admired than emulated today. There's an extent to which I can't even answer the question fully, as my experience with CRPGs post-1993 is very selective.
   
Doing my best, though, I'll nominate the following:
  
  • Rogue (1980). For a while, its influence was confined to "roguelikes." That changed with the appearance of Diablo (1996), a franchise that's still going strong. The roguelike subgenre also shows no signs of slowing down.
  • There's a direct line to the Elder Scrolls series that starts with Alternate Reality: The City (1985) and passes through Legends of Valour (1992). These games established the idea of a CRPG as an open-world simulation with various factions to join and lots of player freedom.
       
The Elder Scrolls has an acknowledged debt to Legends of Valour (1992).
       
  • Dungeon Master (1987) established a sub-genre of abstract, real-time RPGs that focus heavily on mechanical puzzles. They don't quite rise to AAA level, but games of this type still get made today.
  • Pool of Radiance (1988), and the entire D&D "Gold Box" line. They showed that Dungeons & Dragons could be adapted faithfully to computer play, paving the way for the Infinity Engine games of the late 1990s, which in turn gave rise to the entire BioWare approach.
  • I haven't proven it yet, but I continue to believe that Interplay's Lord of the Rings, Vol. I (1990) and its sequel influenced the later Infinity Engine games. They're an interesting take on your questions about narratives, incidentally. They started with a defined narrative and then tried to find a way to give players meaningful choices while not departing so significantly that they lost sight of the plot.
  • Ultima Underworld (1992) pioneered the realistic, continuous movement, 3D dungeon crawler.
      
Ask me again in 10 years, and I may have a more thorough answer. Keep in mind, of course, that my list is heavily biased towards western RPGs for the PC. I could give the same answers that everyone else gives for console RPGs and Japanese RPGs (of course, there's a lot of overlap there), but I wouldn't be speaking from my own experience.
 
[Ed. Commenters below made good cases for Darklands (1992) and Wasteland (1988), and I agree with both.]

Those are my answers; I hope some of my commenters take up the challenge and supplement them or provide alternative perspectives below. If my correspondent has any follow-up questions, he or she is welcome to use the comments or e-mail them to me, and I'll append the answers to this entry.

APA Style:
Bolingbroke, C. (2022, August 3). Some musings about CRPG narratives. The CRPG Addict. https://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2022/08/some-musings-about-crpg-narratives.html
 

123 comments:

  1. >I have no idea why so many RPG developers were keen to implement the "good/evil" axis of the D&D alignment system, but so few of them have been interested in the far-more-interesting "lawful/chaotic" axis.

    For many years, companies like Bioware implemented relatively simplistic moral choices, which more or less boiled down to "pet the puppy/kick the puppy". This was popular, but critics started lampooning this type of game pathing as being "Wasteland Jesus", and this kind of plotting has fallen out of style.

    Obsidian has been trying to change those tropes, but I like theirs even less. Now the choices boil down to "train the puppy as a vicious killer/cage the puppy forever", where all the choices you make are bad, it's just a matter of which one you find least repellent. That made sense exactly one time, in [i]Tyranny[/i] (which was really good!), but they've clung fiercely to that idea since, and at least for me, it's sucked all the fun out of every subsequent game.

    If I wanted everything to be bleak and depressing no matter what I did, I have real life for that, you know?

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    1. Sorry, your site's software has gotten even more stupid than it was before, and I couldn't edit that post properly.

      This blogging software is terrible, at least for commenters, and it's just gotten worse instead of better.

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    2. I have no control over that, but it's not so bad if you have a Google account. I'm frankly not sure how anyone survives these days without one.

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    3. Well, I guess having a Google account still doesn't let you edit comments, but then again, nothing ever did. That may be stupid, but I'm not sure how it "got even more stupid" lately.

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    4. I think Maior is referring the new names thing, the reason why the page have so many more anonymous commenters and people having to add an extra comment just to tell who they are.

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    5. Yeah - at least for me, something about the new name widget has broken my ability to login via Google when I’m on mobile (iPhone running Safari), so I need to manually input my name every time. Desktop (PC, Chrome) still works fine though.

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    6. It's hardly just Obsidian, there's a smug obsession with the "morally grey" throughout the videogame industry. BioShock Infinite is a popularly derided example of this.

      I would certainly prefer interesting choices in games - preferably choices made by interacting with the game mechanics - rather than the exhausting experience of constantly being forced to pick from a menu of atrocities.

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    7. Re: Blogger Widget thing and logging in... I have found that some kind of change in the last several months prevents a successful "login" to your Blogger/Blogspot account when commenting unless you are specifically using Chrome. (I have only tried commenting while on PC, not mobile.) Edge and Firefox don't login correctly resulting in an anonymous comment, at least the last time I tried. Annoying.

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    8. Corroborating; I use Safari as my daily browser, and it's been several months since I could get Blogger to recognize me on that (I just fire up Chrome when I want to make a comment). That was about the same time that every single YouTube video, when loaded on Safari, started loading with one of the lowest available resolution options, rather than the HD options that my connection very obviously supports—while loading the same video in Chrome defaults to HD. So...while I obviously cannot prove it, I kinda suspect Google is deliberately degrading the experience for non-Chrome users.

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    9. I dont mind moral greys, but I want some opportunities to just be the good guy as well.

      If you have factions in a game, I'd rather get to pick between anti-establishment good, establishment good, and totalitarian-but-not-all-bad than pick between puppy kickers and puppy kissers.

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    10. Fallout 4 had these factions, right? The Minutemen were establishment good, the Underground were anti-establishment good, the Brotherhood of Steel were more totalitarian but kind of good, the Institute had good goals but enslaved sentients...

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    11. Yeah, the Fallout 4 factions were more or less what I'm after.

      New Vegas let you pick between establishment good, totalitarian-but-not-all-bad and puppy kickers, but then provided a player-directed anti-establishment option as well.

      Several games in the Geneforge series have pretty satisfying faction choices, though a couple of them feel like some sort of Choose Your Evil Adventure.

      Terran, Zerg, or Protoss would be an interesting set of factions to pick between!

      Kidding obviously. Who'd pick Terran or Protoss.

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    12. What I meant by "you can't edit" is actually that "you can't preview", and of course the inability to preview meant I missed that mis-wording, and I didn't want to post yet another clarification.

      I'll be far less likely to comment here with these changes, and the comments I do make will inevitably worse than they were.

      And I don't have a Google account *on purpose*, because I don't want them tracking everything I say. I avoid Google as much as I reasonably can.

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    13. It definitely seems like something unique is affecting logins on this place, because on other blogs I don't have the same issue. (and I'm talking about ones that use blogspot, not wordpress or something)

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    14. I don't know what to tell you. Blogger only gives owners a couple of settings relating to comments, and I have them set to the most liberal settings possible--anyone can comment, and I don't have captcha enabled.

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  2. Whoa, did someone actually write to you wanting to cite you in a thesis?

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    1. Yes. The student didn't ask me to write a special entry. He or she just expressed uncertainty about whether his or her advisor would allow a personal communication to be extensively cited, so I decided to help by doing this.

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    2. I'm several years out of higher education, but interviews are valid sources, aren't they?

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    3. CSE style says "CSE recommends not including personal communications, such as e-mail or unpublished interviews, in the reference list. A parenthetical note in the text usually suffices: (2010 e-mail to me; unreferenced)." so interviews are at least considered valid there. But in general I think it's at least preferrable if the source can actually be looked up and verified.

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    4. Expert interviews are absolutely a valid method of qualitative research; you just treat them as data rather than an academic reference. In case of a thesis, the interview text can just be appended to the thesis itself, problem solved.

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    5. Chet's approach means that anyone writing a thesis which looks at narratives in video games (of which google scholar lists 8000 examples of in '22 alone) can reference this.

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    6. When will Chet switch to teaching the Computer Role-Playing Sciences? CRPGology? Anthropology?

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    7. As someone in academia these days, I can say that the acceptability of non-retrievable sources like interviews depends on many factors, including the field, the university, the student's advisor, and the particular research design the student proposed. But there is almost no scenario in which a recoverable written source is not superior to a personal communication.

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    8. Speaking as a librarian with over two decades of experience, there are few things more frustrating than citing an unavailable source -- this includes both interviews and documents held in personal collections. Nobody is able to verify the accuracy of the information or effectively follow-up on the research.

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  3. The Shin Megami Tensei games are heavily focused on law/chaos in the context of religion, rather than good/evil. They're all console JRPGs and very similar to each other but it's a very interesting experience playing one for the first time. For a long time there was nothing else like it, until they got popular enough to inspire other games.

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  4. I think Darklands could be mentioned as an influential game. It came after Lord of the Rings, but it itself has been mostly influenced by Pirates! regarding its open world design.

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    1. I wanted to mention Darklands,but this is one of those areas in which I think a game ANTICIPATED later games without necessarily INFLUENCING them. I agree that Darklands pioneered the open world with a mix of random and fixed encounters, but does it have an acknowledged influence on any later or modern RPGs?

      On the other hand, what is being a pathmaker if not being a pioneer? Perhaps I too narrowly interpreted the question. A game doesn't have to influence developers directly to have an influence--it can simply influence player tastes, or demonstrate that a particular type of game is commercially viable. Unfortunately, such an expanded definition creates a complexity I don't have time for.

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    2. Got my hopes up for a moment there :P Seriously, that's a fair point. There is little evidence that Darklands actually influenced later games, although it feels like it should have.

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    3. I think that Darklands did influence other, later games. While developers may not have mentioned them, that doesn't mean that Publishers didn't notice that the Darklands style of game play was successful, and encouraged developers to look into that model for feasability in future games.

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    4. I'm pretty sure the Elder Scrolls devs cited Darklands as an influence at one point, but I can't claim I actually have the receipts handy to back that point up.

      That said Darklands is one of the earliest real-time-with-pause combat games I'm aware of (if you know of earlier examples, please tell me by all means)

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    5. Thinking about games influenced by Darklands, there's a modern one called Battle Brothers that instantly comes to mind:
      - Made by a German studio
      - Low-fantasy medieval Germanic setting
      - Turn-based tactics
      - Open (procedural) world
      - Random "narrative" events along the way that involve your party members' abilities and present role-playing choices.
      - Cities with taverns for resting, temples, shops, etc.
      - Factions and neutrals, including witches!
      - There's even a god to pray to

      Yet, the developers admitted they've never heard of Darklands so... just a coincidence. But highly recommended, nonetheless!

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    6. I always thought Darklands' Real-Time-with-Pause combat was an influence on the Infinity Engine games. It's also been one of the influences on Obsidian game designer J.E. Sawyer.

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    7. Baldur's Gate evolved from a game that was supposed to a Real Time Strategy game. I guess that's the "source" of the RTwP combat, nor Darklands.

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    8. Darklands has always been a favorite of mine because of the character creation and development processes. Occupations instead of classes, skills that improve as you use them or pay for training in them. What else did that before Darklands? It's kind of like the Traveller tabletop game instead of the usual D&D influence.

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    9. It would not surprise me even a little if Darklands were one of those games that was much better known and respected by people in the industry than it ever was by the game-playing community at large.

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  5. You know, for a moment I thought that the student in question was one of your own students who had somehow discovered your secret identity as a CRPG blogger. (What would you do if that ever happened?)

    Anyway, I think it's a shame that you wrote this before playing Betrayal at Krondor, as it's one of the most narrative-heavy CRPGs of all time. In fact, BaK is so focused on its narrative that it actually kinda hurts other aspects of the game, although that discussion should probably wait until you've started playing it.

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  6. I consider the inherent narrative in a crpg not the scattered scripted events, with their dialogue, descriptive text, and mostly inconsequential choices, but rather the main gameplay loop itself. I have found this to usually conforms more or less to the hero's journey/monomyth template.

    -Ordinary World/Call to Adventure
    We typically start a session in a relatively safe state or "ordinary world," like a town, inn, or shop, away from dungeons and battles. Unless we're at the very beginning of the game, our call to adventure comes from the knowledge of our goals (maybe a look at our in-game journal or our notes) or maybe interacting with NPCs to start a quest/mission.

    -Refusal of the Call
    Frequently, the "main quest" is refused, in favor of other, minor goals we know about, which are mostly just distractions from our eventual destiny. However, these side quests, grinding, or finding a good item we know about, etc. ultimately do help us on the path toward the ultimate conclusion of the game anyway, because we need our characters to reach a certain level of capability before we can confront the end-game challenges.

    -Mentor/Supernatural Aid
    Before setting out, we may take pit stops to make purchases, buff, search out clues or rumors, or in other ways "meet a mentor" or gain aid that will apply to the challenges we know are coming once we enter the dangerous section of gameplay.

    -Crossing the First Threshold
    We cross the threshold into the "mythic underworld" when we leave our "home base" area, and enter the dungeon or other location we're going to explore. Upon entering the unknown, we begin finding setbacks or dangerous encounters.

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    1. -The Road of Trials
      Now we're on the "road of trials," consisting of "tests, allies, and enemies" which are all the encounters we face when exploring new parts of the game. This makes up the bulk of the session.

      -The Ordeal
      At some point, there is an ultimate ordeal, which is an encounter of some type, whether blocking terrain, a trap, an enemy, a puzzle or set of puzzles, a stretch of too-boring content, or whatever, which stops our progress. This is where we risk our ego, and find out if we're up to the challenge.

      -Reward/Apotheosis
      Apotheosis is achieved when that ultimate test is overcome, we are reassured of our character's continuing existence, and we achieve what we set out to accomplish at the beginning of the session. Our reward can come in many forms: a mapped out or completed level, knowing the location of a new exit or stair, acquisition of that elusive item, a pacified or converted area as a new safe/base zone, or simply gold and experience. Frequently, there are cycles of trials, ordeals, and rewards in a single session.

      -The Road Back
      Can we make it out of the dungeon or wilderness or wherever we are, back to where we're safe, with our reward intact? Or, if we made a decision that makes our life difficult during the trials or ordeal, we must now deal with the consequences.

      -The Crossing of the Return Threshold
      Once back at our home base, we integrate our reward. We find out if we can "turn in" completed quests, and see what reactions come from NPCs. We re-evaluate our party's equipment loadout and swap around new items. We level up, select and equip new abilities, memorize new spells, make purchases we couldn't afford before, sell unneeded items, etc.

      -Master of Two Worlds
      The characters we returned with have changed, but so have we. We know that we could re-enter that same dangerous zone we just bested, but without fear or hesitation. We are wiser and better equipped to overcome the next stage of our journey, and more certain now that we are capable of seeing it through to the end.

      When I read the blog entries here, I can't help but see the events in a session of play lining up with this framework constantly, which is what I mean by the inherent narrative being the monomyth. It doesn't matter so much what the particular game's dialogue or setting description is. To me, the story being told is of a hero going on a journey to be tested, and returning changed.

      Therefore, the first CRPG with a narrative from my perspective isn't the first with some backstory and events explained by text while I'm playing, or written in the manual, but the first with enough elements of this template to be recognizable as a hero's journey while being played.

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    2. I probably wouldn't invoke the monomyth, but I agree that the inherent narrative (as opposed to the supplied story) to CRPGs is provided by the gameplay.

      You start the game as a weakling with no knowledge of the world and some sort of task.

      You become powerful, learn about the world, and complete the task.

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    3. I wouldn't have answered the question this way, but it is a good separate question. Joe, you're a bit more liberal in your application of these tropes to CRPGs than I would be. If you regard things like prioritizing side quests as "refusal of the call" or intangible things like buffing as "meeting a mentor," again I think you could push back the date of the first RPG to include them almost to the beginning. A player with an imagination could go through the entire monomyth in his head in The Dungeon.

      Thus, to me the more interesting question is what is the first RPG to feature these elements in an objective sense, without stretching the definitions to include game mechanics. I think you could make a good argument for Questron (1984) as the first game to achieve all of this via identifiable internal narrative.

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    4. Joseph Campbell and the Monomyth was about categorizing and breaking down legends and stories, not providing a template to creating new ones. There are many stories from many cultures that break one or more parts of his cycle.

      And also remember that adaptations into different media require structural changes. Traditional heroic stories were epics- things so large and long they couldn't be told in a single sitting by a storyteller. They would pick and choose certain events to focus on for a given night, and were freely modified and expanded. Moving to the written word means an expectation of a single "true" narrative, and taking all those smaller vignettes and assembling them into something with a fixed beginning, middle, and end.

      CRPGs and interactive works immediately break linearity- you can bookend game sections with cutscenes or narrative, but within each section the player is free to wander and do things in whatever order they choose. And the ability to fail at a challenge undermines narrative- all the cutscenes and dialog establishing a character as powerful and skilled will fall flat the 10th time in a row you end up falling in a pit or failing to connect with a weapon.

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    5. Kellandros, what Joseph Campbell originally wrote may not have been intended as a template for creating new stories, but it has been and continues to be used as an explicit almost literal template for some of the most successful entertainment of our lifetimes (Star Wars, The Matrix, Rick and Morty, etc.). These adaptations of the template were successful despite structural changes required for their media. If your internet goes out while you're watching Star Wars when the Falcon gets captured by the Death Star, that doesn't keep the movie from being a retelling of the monomyth, just because the original myths weren't told via streaming movie.

      What boring retellings of playing a game would we be reading if every test was bypassed easily, without stumbles and failures? I certainly wouldn't still be reading this blog if the narrative was like that. I love it when Chet talks about how many times he died horribly in a gold box game, and I can think back to how many times that same fight took me to win. Being able to fail when tested is what makes the gameplay our hero's journey as players. Far from undermining a narrative, it's what makes the narrative of gameplay interesting and worth doing or reading about. This is a story outside and separate from the cutscenes and dialogues in the games themselves! It does not need to conform to them. "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter," ok?

      Also, repeated failure or death, and reloading to continue does fit with the section of the monomyth called the "belly of the whale" which I didn't really touch on above, having rolled it into the "road of trials." It represents a full separation from the ordinary/familiar world, and entry into a cycle of rebirth.

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    6. This is a really interesting post, but I think that overall I'm not persuaded that crpgs are a good fit for what Campbell was talking about (this is all setting aside the fact that Campbell's hero's journey, as a reading of myth, is not very persuasive - it certainly has been influential despite not really being a scholarly argument.) The key characteristic of most crpgs, and what differentiates them from most other kinds of narrative, is repetition. Beowulf only fights two monsters; in the Lord of the Rings Frodo only gets his sword out a few times; Odysseus doesn't draw his bow until the very end of the Odyssey. On the other hand, in most crpgs you kill literally hundreds of monsters and are on the verge of death over and over again. This makes them fundamentally different in structure to traditional stories of heroism. There are epics like the Iliad or the Mahabharata that have a ton of repetitive fighting, but not as much as even a short crpg, and anyway they don't really follow the hero's journey template.

      (On a side note, it's hard to think of any other kind of fictional narrative with as much violence as the typical video game. Even the bloodiest action movie has many less deaths than a single first person shooter level. Clearly the violence in games is different in character and emotional impact than in other forms.)

      In a game like Might and Magic or Wizardry, you go through quest after quest, dungeon after dungeon, or at least level after level, repeating the same basic cycle of challenges. That makes crpg characters fundamentally different from those Campbell was writing about, who typically take a single journey, simultaneously overcoming obstacles and discovering their own heroic nature. To make it work, you're forced to put huge sections of gameplay, like all sidequests, or grinding against enemies, into narrative categories that were intended to represent a single moment in a larger story, while they in fact represent the vast majority of the time spent playing these games.

      On the other hand, you are insightful when you connect the idea of leveling up while accomplishing a task to Campbell. I agree that he sees the moment of realizing hidden potential as a key part of the "monomyth" and crpgs are trying to capture that same event using their own very different grammar.

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    7. This is one of the best comment threads I've seen on this site.

      One of the few CRPGs that I can think of that actually tried to minimize endless combat and prioritize story and problem-solving was Quest for Glory. Most combat was avoidable, especially if you weren't a fighter, and almost all one-on-one.

      Mass monster-killing is pretty rare in myths, it's true. For example, the Old Testament has Samson, who kills 30 men single-handedly in Judges 14, 1000 in Judges 15 (with a low-level weapon, no less), and self-destructs in Judges 16, killing thousands. But these are just brief events in a dramatic chronicle, not hours of tactical turn-based combat. Such events could be stretched out like in "John Wick Hex," which has maybe 2 minutes of actual storytelling, but the market for "Samson Hex" is probably limited.

      I believe Dirty Harry killed roughly 40+ people over five films, but only four in the first, which is also the best one. But there's an expectation of the RPG genre that combat is near-constant against hordes, save perhaps for Shadow of the Colossus.

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    8. I am disinclined to let a mention of the Campbellian monomyth go by without noting that the reason for its prominence has less to do with it being a universal archetype and more to do with the fact that Campbell himself was a hugely influential editor and there was a long period of time when you stood a better chance of getting published in the genre if you conformed to his archetype than if you defied it.

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  7. The combination of per-settlement reputation scores and global reputation qualities (Champion, Slaver, Childkiller, Gigolo, etc.) in the Fallout games gets pretty close to the nuance offered by Ultima IV. New Vegas' approach of treating reputation and infamy as separate scores is particularly interesting, allowing the game to represent the concept of "a bastard, but _our_ bastard".(Also, unlike U4, your reputation actually affects your experience throughout the game, rather than just gating the ending.)

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    1. Very interesting. Are you just talking about the first two Fallout games, or did that system carry over to FO3 and I just don't remember?

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    2. 3 does not have it, but per-faction reputation returns in New Vegas.

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    3. At least for my money, F:NV is the pinnacle. If you played F3 and you haven't played NV, stop waiting.

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    4. Just started re-reading your posts on Darklands and see that the local/global reputation of your party fits this mold exactly and may be the first actual instance of this.

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  8. I think Minsc had the right idea:
    "Less talk, more fight!"

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  9. Interesting point about alignment axes. I recall that D&D started with just the (more interesting) law/chaos axis, and added good/evil later to make the point that law is not the same as good (except in fourth edition).

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    1. Even "chaotic" is a bit pejorative. I'm no dyed-in-the-wool libertarian, but even I recognize that the absence of governance isn't necessarily "chaos" but personal freedom.

      How would D&D regard a character who eschewed all forms of organized governance but still lived strictly by a personal code?

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    2. It's a bit hard to put chaos on an equal moral level with law. In fact morality can be considered to be acting in accordance with the mores of your society, so D&D 'chaos' is arguably immoral from the start - unless the laws of society are generally assumed to lean towards evil. Possible, I suppose, in some settings.

      Another issue is how do you actually interact with 'chaotic' individuals? At least if the lawful evil lord hires you to build a castle, he won't stab you in the back on a whim before the work is finished! So, for example, the Order of the Stick webcomic, functional evil characters that last more than a few panels tend to be lawful (the big bad lich seems chaotic, but he would be the exception).

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    3. "How would D&D regard a character who eschewed all forms of organized governance but still lived strictly by a personal code?"

      Traditionally there has been at least one spot on the alignment chart not on the law/chaos spectrum, true neutral. I don't know if it's typically interpreted this way, but I supect that's the area we'd be looking in.

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    4. "How would D&D regard a character who eschewed all forms of organized governance but still lived strictly by a personal code? "

      This person would have a Lawful alignment. Being Lawful does not require you to follow the laws of whatever government rules over where you happen to be (hence why a Paladin is able to participate in the iconic Paladin activity of toppling evil tyrants), nor does it absolutely require a rigid hierarchical order.

      A chaotic aligned person does whatever they feel like doing according to their morality without expecting a consistent stance. The nature of what they feel like doing is determined by the second half of the alignment - the Good/Evil axis.

      I'm pretty sure you've directly referenced the Mistborn series, so I feel safe in using that as a reference. Elend is Lawful despite being a rebel, because his rebellion is based on the idea that the way the Lord Ruler runs things is wrong. Meanwhile Vin is chaotic, because she bases everything on what feels right in the moment rather than some rigid ideal. Both of them are Good, and have the same goals.

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    5. I'd say that having a code in the first place is lawful, but noting that such "codes" as "I can do whatever I want" (or variations that don't meaningfully restrict you in any way) are actually NOT a code. It strikes me that any kind of strict personal code is automatically compatible with SOME forms of organized governance, such as those that teach and/or enforce that particular code.

      How D&D would argue, that depends highly on the edition or sourcebook.

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    6. The D&D alignment system was super weird, because the universe objectively defined a bunch of behavioural codes. Everyone had a pretty good idea about which behavioural code they slot into, usually worshipped a god who embodied some aspect of that code, and could be pretty confident where their spirit would end up after they die.

      The philosophical and social implications of all this were largely ignored, but suffice to say it'd make things pretty damn weird, especially given know alignment and detect good/evil were low level spells!

      "Up next: We'll be hearing from Bill Wilson, a Neutral Evil candidate from Avondale, who'll be sharing how following Shar's grand plan would benefit Chicago."

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    7. It makes more sense if you assume that characters in a D&D world don't actually know all the rules. A lot of things get super weird if they DO know the rules.

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    8. They don't know the rules - alignment actually exists for them. It's not just a stat like HP, its baked into the core of the cosmos and is directly observable via low-level magic. Team good and team evil are literally at war (but fortunately for team good, team LE and team CE are also at war).

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    9. I think that law/chaos in D&D probably originated with Michael Moorcock’s eternal champion books. While chaos was typically depicted as evil and law was depicted as a force for good there were examples of both law causing harm and chaos bringing good. I think that when the adopted the concept they lost a lot of nuance and interesting dynamics. These days when I make a character I pretty much ignore alignment — it has been optional for a long time.

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    10. DnD's law/chaos system specifically comes from Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, which is also namedropped by Gygax in the original Chainmail rules.

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    11. Chaos isn't evil, exactly, but it's wilderness. Where anything can happen. The edges of the map that aren't filled in. Here be dragons.

      Law is the dominion of man. It might be a democratic city-state or it might be a cruel tyranny.

      The tendency of chaos is to overthrow law, and the tendency of law is to expand itself and put chaos into order. It's pretty deep, actually.

      "The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounds them. Yet, there are always certain exceptional and brave members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies - dwarves, elves, and halflings - who rise above the common level and join battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land. Bold adventurers from the Realm set off for the Borderlands to seek their fortune. It is these adventurers who, provided they survive the challenge, carry the battle to the enemy. Such adventurers meet the forces of Chaos in a testing ground where only the fittest will return to relate the tale. Here, these individuals will become skilled in their profession, be it fighter or magic-user, cleric or thief. They will be tried in the fire of combat, those who return, hardened and more fit. True, some few who do survive the process will turn from Law and good and serve the masters of Chaos, but most will remain faithful and ready to fight chaos wherever it threatens to infect the Realm."

      -- Gary Gygax, Dungeon Module B2, "The Keep on the Borderlands"

      But then Gygax had to do what he always did, and make the nine-alignment system and mess it all up with several joke alignments that nobody would ever actually follow.

      Lawful Neutral: "I am a robot. Bleep, bloop."

      Chaotic Neutral: "We come to a bridge, I roll dice to see if I jump off it or not. Wheee!"

      Chaotic Evil: "I murder my party members in their sleep."

      True Neutral: "When my party goes into combat, I stay out of it, judge which side is losing, and join that one to keep the balance."

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    12. You have heard of the four Player Archetypes, yes? The Loonie archetype just LOVES to be chaotic neutral.

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    13. Chaotic neutral gets a weird rap. It fits most people who just want to be left alone.

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    14. "I want to play a psychopath that murders everything in sight, but the GM won't allow me to put Chaotic Evil on my character sheet, so I'll put Chaotic Neutral" types have kind of poisoned the well.

      There are no "joke alignments" in D&D, just people who willfully misuse them because they think it is funny to make the game unplayable for everybody else.

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    15. The description of the Neutral/Neutral alignment got changed starting in 3e to remove that side switching example and to focus it on not rocking the boat instead. I had a roommate that ran 3.5e campaigns, and he used the old True Neutral concept for druids only. I vaguely remember there being some 2e game that did the same thing, and only gave True Neutral to druids while everyone else got Neutral instead.

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    16. Lawful Neutral is a career civil servant or member of the military. The duty is to execute the orders from those in command, not to exercise any personal judgement about the legitimacy or efficacy of those orders. Personal opinion (and belief) is utterly irrelevant.

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    17. I feel that the majority of CRPG characters are in fact Chaotic Good. They certainly are saving the world, but frequently do so without the general agency of the world around them - some might be working for a king or a third party leader, but often they end up doing so entirely with their own free will and in ways that might not fit the archetypal laws of the land (this team of adventurers goes around slaughtering lawbreakers, not sending them to jail etc). Admittedly this is not universal, but it certainly fits more CRPG characters than not.

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    18. CG and CN are the most common PC alignments according to data from the official online character creator. Then NG and N. Supports the individual agency hypothesis.

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    19. I'm not sure that "personal code" counts as lawful. Being "good" is in itself a code - but there are lots of vigilantes who care nothing for the "dominion of man" (as Harland put it). People who want to live outside society's conventions...hard to call them "lawful."

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    20. If you live by "nature's laws" I'd count that as Neutral. I think that's a better rationale for the druids' True Neutral alignment, than the silly idea of maintaining balance by counteracting good deeds with evil and vice versa.

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    21. @Calthaer: Just because you're a vigilante doesn't mean that you have a personal code. Like I said earlier, a "code" that essentially lets you do whatever you want is not actually a code. "Do whatever you want as long as it feels vaguely good-aligned" is not actually a code, either.

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    22. I think the best way to describe a Chaotic Good character is that they prioritize their conscience, their intuitive sense of good and evil, above all else. But like all intuition, it is erratic and unpredictable.

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  10. Speaking of narrative, a standard old-fashioned part is that the hero gets the girl (usually a princess) at the end; and at some point games get more interesting and start developing optional romance sidequests. I think Savage Empire is the first example of that.

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    1. And a standard part of an old-fashioned is an orange peel!

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    2. I'm sure Savage Empire contains an orange peel, as well!

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    3. It contains orange trees. If you click on one, you get an orange, which you then can take over to a workbench, use a knife on it, and get an orange peel. Thousands of players remember doing this fondly but none of them can articulate why it was fun or what they used all those orange peels for.

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  11. "I haven't proven it yet, but I continue to believe that Interplay's Lord of the Rings, Vol. I (1990) and its sequel influenced the later Infinity Engine games."

    Curious about your usage of "yet" here. Is this something you're trying to find out/prove?

    LoTR1 was always an hidden gem to me, one of my top 10 RPGs that everyone ignored. I'm happy to see it being recognized for its qualities :)

    (on a sidenote: Combat and class system are often 2 of the most important things on a RPG for me, and funnily enough, probably the 2 weakest spots in LoTR1)

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    1. I don't have letters out that haven't been answered or anything, but as we get closer to the IE era, I'd like to interview some key figures and see if they acknowledge any LOTR influence. And/or do a deeper dive into existing interviews and published material.

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    2. Lord of the Rings was good? Meh, I remember playing it when I was younger. I loved the Ultimas and Might and Magics. Lord of the Rings just felt like a mediocre Ultima clone. It had the same overhead view and similar combat to Ultima VI. The story I wasn't very familiar with but the dialogue didn't seem that good and overall it was a very forgettable game.

      I find it funny that you list that as one of the primary influencer games and not Wizardry, Ultima, or Might and Magic.

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    3. I thought LOTR had some good elements, but it doesn't really matter whether it was good, only whether there were aspects of its mechanics that survived in other games. Wandering through its maps feels a lot like it does in Baldur's Gate.

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    4. And if I remember correctly from the blog posts (as I totally missed it in my playthroughs), it's the very first game where your actions actually affect the gaming world, where you return to a given area after an event and that area is now different with different NPCs

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    5. I'm not sure it's the first in this regard, but I agree it does it more extensively than any prior game. Good point.

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  12. I really enjoy those special topic postings, taking a step back and evaluating whereto we've come so far.

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    1. +1 for special topic postings. Chet, do you intend to take up the series on elements of "The perfect CRPG" again at some point with so many more games under your belt now (and many interesting contributions and discussions in the comments)?

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    2. I'll try to get back to a special topic ever month or so. I have a lot of ideas written down. I think I just came to understand my own lack of perspective beyond the eras that I'd played, and I wanted to put another half-decade under my belt before continuing that series.

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    3. And then... and the-heen... hear me out on this:

      We put together a team of experts just from frequent commenters handling coding, quest design, graphics etc. and create... The perfect CRPG!

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    4. From my experience its one thing to analyse the good and bad in other peoples work and another thing to create something on your own. The best critics love what they critic but are seldom good at producing their own.

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    5. You have to suck the joy out of everything, don't you ;)

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    6. It could happen that you got both kind reading this blog, you just have to make them meet.

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  13. I think the Ultima series is quite widely emulated to this day, not so much in terms of its mechanics, but for its structure. There's basically three ways that open world is done - either you have an explorable "world map" with points of interest that give way to a sublocation when entered, or you have a single contiguous world, or you have a totally procedural one (e.g. Minecraft), and Ultima did two of these approaches so successfully and so early on that I think it impossible anyone today using either one isn't being influenced by Ultima. That goes for non-RPGs too - Assassin's Cred is, as far as I'm concerned, the direct legacy of Ultima. Elements of moral systems and so-called "immersive sim" goes back to Ultima as well.

    In any event, I think the original question as phrased wrongly implies the existence of a platonic ideal of a "modern RPG" that a single evolutionary path had led to. There's quite a bit of variety in modern RPGs, and whatever list of pathmaking games you come up with is going to look very different depending on the endpoint. The road to Skyrim (that's still modern, right?) looks very different from, say, the road to Diablo Immortal.

    Fifteen years ago I thought Baldur's Gate II was going to be a lot more foundational than it wound up being. Maybe fifteen years from now, there's a resurgence of, I don't know, Temple of Apshai-style games, but played on phones and with plenty of AR features. Evolution can take strange turns.

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    1. I'd say "world map with sublocations" and "continuous world map" are such obvious patterns that they could have come from any number of early games, not just from Ultima.

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    2. Most games that have a Ultima I style world map (where you walk around a grid where your character is the size of a town icon, then enter a separate map for the town itself) are inspired by Dragon Quest. Which quite explicitly took that approach from Ultima. The lineage is very well documented.

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    3. Why is that, though? It's quite possible that games with an overworld map (with oversized main character, and separate maps for sub-areas) are inspired by Super Mario Bros 3. Having maps and sub-maps is not rocket science

      While the lineage from Ultima to DQ is documented, the lineage from DQ to other RPGs with sub-maps is generally not.

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    4. Ultima and Venture both have "world maps with sublocations", and they were BOTH released the same month (June 1981) making it impossible for them to have influenced each other in any way.

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    5. I thought it had been established that Final Fantasy took its overworld map concept directly from Dragon Quest. It couldn't have gotten it from SMB3, not least because Final Fantasy 1 came first, but also because SMB3's "map" isn't a freely explorable one. And it's difficult to presume that anything that came after Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy in that style hadn't been influenced by either.

      In Venture, if you're talking about the Exidy arcade game, that isn't quite the same thing. Ultima-style open world gives you iconographic representation of everything, while Venture is more akin to a dungeon crawler than an open world RPG, and what it does is basically a zoomed-out view of the entire dungeon to fit your screen, with yourself, the monsters, and the dungeon's various rooms being drawn to proportionate scale. You don't see that approach being used very often.

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    6. Having the town [as an entrance] in a unit cell is pretty obvious, any game developer would likely think of it even if the concept never occurred to them before.

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    7. Final Fantasy was also programmed by Nasir Gebelli, who had a history of programming for the Apple II before working for Square. I suspect it's unlikely that he wasn't at least aware of Ultima himself. So it may be unclear whether FF copied the overworld map concept from Dragon Quest (its immediate Japanese predecessor) or if it instead copied it directly from the source (Ultima).

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    8. You're right that Venture's system isn't QUITE the same a Ultima's, but they're still close enough in concept to make it interesting how they were released the same month and couldn't possibly have influenced each other. The idea of a big world with multiple locations you can enter to bring up sub-maps was one that multiple developers came up with at the same time.

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    9. Having thought about it, at least in part I wonder if the reason Baldur's Gate II didn't end up being more foundational was, at least in part, the AD&D rules themselves and how the design was bound to them (including their flaws), while games that were doing their own thing had more room to iterate and innovate.

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    10. I dont think the issue was the D&D rules, I think it was the perspective and control scheme. The Aurora Engine provided players with the more immersive third-person perspective, and could be more easily navigated with a controller.

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  14. "I've always considered an RPG a game that lets you customize to some extent your character and lets you sway the story somewhat."

    My understanding of early (pen & paper) RPGs is that they were not focused on what's sometimes referred to as 'choice and consequence'. The focus was generally the mechanical exploration of a dungeon. Go in, get treasure, get out.

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    1. Jon Peterson wrote two superb books on the early history of roleplaying games which I would highly recommend (Playing at the World, and The Elusive Shift), but to really oversimplify it, the RPG was born out of the idea of each player embodying a single character in some kind of scenario.

      Certainly, original D&D rules were all about dungeon delving, but actual play has always been more complex than that, going all the way back to proto-RPG Braunstein.

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  15. I think a case could be made for Ultima as influence Ultima-> Ultima Online -> all modern MMOs.

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    1. to a certain extent that may be true, but it's Everquest that greatly influenced modern MMO design (World of Warcraft and most of it's competitors, for example).

      Although I would surely say that the Ultima series, being such a popular series with numerous games across twenty years, surely has been a big influence on the RPGs that followed.

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    2. I'd personally disagree, the through-lines for MMOs are more like Nethack -> Lineage -> most CJK MMOs and DikuMUD -> EverQuest -> most EN MMOs.
      Ultima Online was in a lot of ways a straightforward implementation of Ultima 7 or so to being an online game, and in a lot of those ways it didn't carry over to most English-language MMOs.

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    3. I can see that. My MMO experience was Ultima Online and EverQuest II and in both cases I found that I enjoyed single player games far more. UO iirc was one of the first ones, and it took some aspects from Ultima 7 — crafting items for example and that became huge in a lot of MMOs but I never them followed as much.

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  16. The first two Eamons were 1979 (at least according to current best evidence -- the thing we do have for certain is the third Eamon has a date of Jan. 1980). I wouldn't say they have enough narrative to mess with your claim of "first narrative".

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  17. Pablo Martinez MerinoAugust 5, 2022 at 10:32 AM

    I think there is a common confusion between narrative and story. Not all games have story, but all games have narrative. To give an example, Space Invaders has a narrative (a group of aliens move very slowly, shooting towards the earth and descending. As their numbers dwindle, the speed at which they move increases, until the player has difficulty hunting them down. When the last of the aliens falls, the game restarts. THAT is a narrative) or even Tetris (pieces fall from the sky that must be repositioned by filling in the gaps to make them disappear. There are more and more gaps and it is more difficult to reposition the pieces until the last piece has no room to fall and the game ends).
    Similarly, regardless of the complexity of their story, most role-playing games have a similar narrative: A hero or group of heroes faces a threat. They must investigate the whereabouts of that threat as they increase their power to face enemies of increasing difficulty. They finally defeat the threat after a battle against a final, powerful enemy.
    A narrative is basically an order of events that must be followed to the completion of a game (or a novel, or a movie, etc). In a sense, every time someone plays a game they are building a unique and unrepeatable narrative. This narrative may (or may not) serve as a vehicle to tell a story (or several stories).

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    1. Rubbish. A story is a narrative. A story is a course of events and so is a narrative. Narrative as a word comes from latin where it clearly means "telling a story". Any story can have depth or it can be shallow, having only the scaffolding of a well connected account. A story or narrative is an account of connected events. The complexity inside that is very optional. University theorists try to overcomplicate meanings or change them to suit their PhDs That may be useful for their getting a paper published and ticked off, but language is language and if people really think words are inadequate they should coin new terms, just like people used to do in the less-lazy past.

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    2. Good old anonymous.

      I agree, Pablo.

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    3. I think Pablo has a point, but I should mention that my correspondent does not speak English as a first language, so I suspect this sort of subtlety is getting lost in translation. I will let the student define what was meant by "narrative" more specifically if he or she wants to.

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  18. Narrative just means a story. Any game of any genre can have more or less story and they can branch off. CRPGs are a contested ground in terms of what is in and out to make it a great example.

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  19. I remember being very impressed at how Pool of Radiance manages to create a sense of progress and narrative through simple things. It's not a particularly complicated plot, but something as simple as turning off encounters once you liberate a part of the city helps to bridge the gap between story and gameplay. You can tell that Phlan is safer by the end of the game because you don't run into kobolds every ten steps anymore.

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    1. Yeah, everytime youd walk past the river, after fixing it, youd feel good about it.

      I want a janitor rpg where you go around cleaning and mending things, and it makes npcs use those areas again.

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    2. It reminds me of an interview with some people at Telltale where they discussed how, if you want reactivity to stand out, it's extremely important that when narratives react to your actions the reaction is identified.

      There's a reason modern narrative games so often copy the "X hated that" message that Telltale games popularized. A text message is cheap and easy, but it works.

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    3. "I want a janitor rpg where you go around cleaning and mending things, and it makes npcs use those areas again."
      This is KIND OF what Little King's Story is.

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  20. I'm still mad that Ultima IV wasn't emulated. I want more games where the core goal is to become a better person.

    In addition to others mentioned above, the entries in the Geneforge series have interesting ethics mechanics that don't boil down to a single axis. The background of the series is that magic in that world includes brute-force genetic engineering, and indeed your party is you and a set of monsters you create. However, at some point humanity discovered how to create intelligent life, and created them servile and obedient. In the games, these creations have managed to form their own societies in isolation from (or in later games, in conflict with) the dominant human one. Most of the games have a revolutionary faction, a conciliatory one, and a conservative one, but Jeff Vogel makes sure to give each an intelligent proponent of their viewpoint. The final game adds two more options, a primitivist one and a nihilist one.

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  21. I'm a little late to this, and I know not everything could get mentioned, but I think next in line should be Wasteland (1988). It doesn't really have alternate endings, but it's a pretty impressive open world populated with lots of situations that can be handled very differently or ignored altogether. I suspect it's a fairly significant "pathmaker" as well for those same reasons, and the fact that it lead to its own reboot and the Fallout line.

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    1. That's a good argument. I should have thought of Wasteland. Of course, it has Bard's Tale DNA in its combat system, which itself goes back to Wizardry.

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    2. Yeah, it's an interesting combination of a very backwards looking combat style (except with guns!) and a very forward looking open world style.

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5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.