History of CRPGs Part II: The Golden Age (1985-1993)

Matt Barton's picture

GamaSutra has just published the second installment of my in-depth history of CRPGs: The Golden Age of CRPGs. GamaSutra did a fantastic job with the layout, and I'm sure you're going to enjoy this article. I daresay, it's the most detailed and ambitious survey of CRPGs yet attempted, and I hope it will inspire others to start writing up histories of other genres! Check it out, and be sure to send the link to all the CRPG fans you know!

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adamantyr
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Looks good, but you forgot

Looks good, but you forgot "The Magic Candle" by Mindscape, which came out in 1989.

Matt Barton
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Uh...No I didn't. ;-)

Uh...No I didn't. ;-)

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adamantyr
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Oops, I stand corrected.

Oops, I stand corrected. Still, a screenshot would have been nice. :)

Matt Barton
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Haha, no worries, adamantyr.

Haha, no worries, adamantyr. I'm bracing myself for a wave of criticism along those lines, except there will undoubtedly be many games I really didn't mention and undoubtedly a fact or three I got wrong. Really, as long as people are nice about it, I really appreciate corrections, since I may end up writing these up in book form one day! At least this time I managed to spell Tolkien right! ;-P

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Michael McCourt
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Great job. Not only do you

Great job. Not only do you manage to cover many of the greats but you also give honor to some of the also-rans that didn't catch on.

I especially like the disclaimer at the end stating that you tried to cover everything but invariably someone's favorite would be missed.

Looking forward to the Platinum Age which I assume covers everything up to the present, or close to it. What follows "Platinum"? It would have to be an element of some sort, preferably metallic . . . my element knowledge is off-line. Plutonium, maybe?

Bill Loguidice
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Great job, Matt. Of course

Great job, Matt. Of course I have a minor criticism regarding my favorite game series, Phantasie, in that you didn't mention some of the innovations in III, but you know what, just like the book we're doing, it's impossible to cover EVERYTHING. Regardless, you did an amazing job and it's actually far better than the first entry in your article series, which itself was quite good.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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yakumo9275
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Ahh magic candle deserved

Ahh magic candle deserved moe gravy ;) hehe. Great article. I spent so much time hacking FR-UA. I remeber trying to write articles for the UANL (unlimited adventure newsletter) etc. the BTCK paled so badly in comparison to FRUA.

Was surprised to see Faery Tale, most people overlook it (the sequel sucked tho). I'm sure people will pop up and mention missing games like.. mm.. Times of Lore and suchlike or Knights of Legend, Legend of Blacksilver...

I was really surprised not to see a mention of AOL's SSI goldbox online MMORP Neverwinter Nights.

ps (LoRD was way too easy to win but still some rocking BBS fun).

Looking forward to reading about Waste- I mean Fallout and Diablo in the platinum article.

if you still play azure bonds I have full ascii maps I did on my site from 1990 or such
( http://www.mega-tokyo.com/blog/index.php/site/curse_of_the_azure_bonds_s... )

and i still get hits (very surprising) for fountain of dreams save file format.
( http://www.mega-tokyo.com/blog/index.php/site/fountain_of_dreams_save_fo... )

aaah miss-spent youth :)

-stu

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Matt Barton
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Well, generally the first

Well, generally the first thing people do when they see an article like this is start trying to think of games I didn't mention, rather than appreciate all the popular and obscure games I actually did. I had at least a half dozen games on my list that I didn't mention, simply because I could find little evidence that they had an impact on the genre and even less that they had been popular back in the day. There were many games that were just humble "me-too" sorts of clones that didn't seem worth mentioning. On the other hand, I realize that a kid who grew up playing Times of Lore will probably swear it was the best and most innovative CRPG in history, etc. It gets somewhat frustrating after awhile trying to please everyone. I felt like I had really taken on an inhuman amount of work and put so many hours into the article, and it sucks to do all the work and only get comments like "IDIOT, you left out Blagger's Blade of Blackenwood the best CRPG ever!!!" or some such. Thankfully, I haven't had to suffer that (yet?)

I'm not sure that the third and final part will actually mention as many games as the previous installments. For one thing, the market shifted to fewer games, fewer developers, but bigger budgets. Although I haven't really begun my research on the era yet, I think it's safe to say that Wizardry 8 was the last truly "old school" CRPG. Baldur's Gate, Diablo, and the Elder Scrolls series definitely marked a turning point.

I knew about the Neverwinter Nights MMORPG but intended to save that for a special section next time on MMORPGs. You've probably noted that I haven't mentioned MUDs much either. I'm convinced that it'll be best to put all these titles together into a single section. I don't intend to go into much detail on games like Everquest or WoW, since I actually think the MMORPG marks the end of the CRPG as a genre--at least the CRPG as I know it. I'd rather say that WoW and Everquest come more from the MUD tradition than the CRPG, though they obviously have much in common.

At any rate, I would like to extend this into a book, which would give me the time and space necessary to be even more comprehensive. Even still, I'd probably just put some games on a table and just go into more detail with the games I've covered here. Bill's example is true for many of these games--I just haven't had the time to be as thorough as I'd like.

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yakumo9275
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well I only brought up Times

well I only brought up Times of Lore and Knights of Legend because they felt much more influenced by jcrpgs than other western crpgs. (tunnels and trolls is the exception since it was written in japan by a ajapanese team).

if your writing a book you might want to be aware of the zx + c64 books

http://c64goldenyears.com/
http://www.zxgoldenyears.com/

I collect 'golden age' crpg hint books, and its a shame that hint books dont exist for a lot of games you mentioned.

-stu

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adamantyr
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And thanks for mentioning

And thanks for mentioning Tunnels of Doom in the first part... we didn't have many CRPG's on the TI, alas, but that one's a classic, and worth some attention. Some later ones like Legends were decent enough, but in comparison to the games that were coming out on other systems at the time, it doesn't look so good. (Ultima V, for example.) Incidentally, you can now download Legends and its sequel from http://tigameshelf.net/.

Part of the problem was the lack of assembly-language programmers for the TI... and the ones that were around seemed more focused on utility software. TMS9900 assembly is very different from 6502, and the materials available on how to program in it extremely rare. (There are only four books, not including the editor/assembler manual, on TI assembly programming, and only two are really worthwhile.) You just can't write a complex CRPG in BASIC.

I don't know if I'd call the current era the Platinum era, though... more the Gilded era, a lot of flash and style but no substance. As far as I'm concerned, the Platinum era ended with Planescape: Torment, and we have had nothing of the like since.

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