CRPG Book in the Works

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Matt Barton's picture

UPDATE: Dungeons and Desktops is now available from Amazon and many other booksellers! Buy your copy today!

Good news! The publisher A K Peters has accepted my proposal for my upcoming book about the Computer Role Playing Game. We're still in talks about the title (though leaning towards "Dungeons and Desktops" with Mat's permission), but if anyone has any good ideas, let me know. At any rate, I should be able to expand the coverage considerably and go into much more detail (we're tentatively capping it at 200 pages).

I'm about to start reviewing all the great criticism I received here and elsewhere to help work out the kinks in the previous articles, then think about how I want to start expanding. Please let me know if there are any special games you'd like me to think about. I also hope that you'll share some of your stories with me about your own experiences with this genre. What are your favorite CRPGs, and why? What was your first experience? Did you play D&D first? Who knows, I might quote you in my book!

Obviously, I'm looking forward to writing this book and excited about the future. Games are finally starting to get the attention they deserve! Kudos to A.K. Peters!

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yakumo9275
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Nice! What kind of format,

Nice! What kind of format, will it be just collated reviews + thoughts of specific games?

One thing I thought would be cool would be a kind of influenced by / influenced list for eat title capping it at a few entries max, to get a kind of lineage tree (capping each list at say 3 items).

will the book be glossy? aka pretty screenshots or will it be B&W no screenshots?

-- Stu --

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Matt Barton
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Details

Thanks for the interest, Stu. I still have to work out those details with the publisher. I'm wary of putting stuff out there, and then finding out that it won't be true once the book rolls out. The usual problem is that glossy color is great, but drives up the price of the book too the point where people won't buy it. On the other hand, a dull book with a few B&W pics (esp. one on this topic) may not do well either, even if it's comparatively cheap. Bill and I have been struggling with these issues with our other book, too.

There are so many options that it's hard to weigh them all in. I've seen many books with full-color inserts (or even a pull-out poster) and b&w illustrations inside. That seems to be the "default" for this kind of work. You can usually tell when this is a "last minute" switcheroo, since the text won't mention anything about the inserts but will mention the figures pasted in the text. I've also seen a few books where the color inserts are simply color versions of a dozen or so b&w images that appear in the text.

What would you prefer? A full color book for $60 or so, some mix of color and b&w for $30, or a fully b&w book for $20? I'm just guessing at the prices, of course.

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Bill Loguidice
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The "other" book

Yeah, Matt mentioned the other book, that will have its main text done soon. That's the one that I original started by myself and then Matt came on as co-author. The project started out as an idealistic 35 year (meaning complete) history of home videogames and computers, full color glossy, around 300 pages. Once it was determined the final text length with images would have likely landed in the 700+ page range (each of 90+ systems would have had their own section) and taken a few more years to write, and therefore impractical to buy in any format, it was cut back to the first 15 years (1972 - 1987), and back down to roughly 300 pages (with each of 40+ systems having their own section), particularly since the ranking and rating stuff was removed. With that, it was back on as a full color glossy book until it was determined that for a variety of reasons, I couldn't generate sufficient quality photos and scans for the publisher's liking. Also, apparently some of this vintage stuff was simply too vintage in terms of condition (blemishes, tears, etc.) for them to justify the extra color printing costs, even with offshore printing. So, it was determined that it's now going to be a black and white imaged book, with the possibility of some type of color insert or tip-in, though frankly I'm not particularly enthused with that idea, as I'd prefer all or nothing. So, with a likely approximately 300 page black and white book with lots of images through No Starch Press/O'Reilly, we're probably looking at a $20 - $25 book, and that's with a very strong distribution network and possible foreign rights.

So yeah, when Matt says he doesn't know about a book idea he just sold, he really means it, as it's amazing the many variables and factors that go into book production (and his publisher no doubt has their own set of conditions, needs and variables). For instance, the deadline is May 7th and I'll still have quite a bit of photo work and editing to do after that, which I'll still need to finish as quickly as possible as the publisher will need all that time for production, for a possible November release. That's a lot of lead time needed. The publisher already had to let their sales team know the book was coming, so they could get it in the pipeline and pre-sell it. It's a tough, tough business, with things one never would think about unless they're actually in the thick of it all.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
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yakumo9275
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I've been recently going

I've been recently going back over some ultima stuff, and was reading "master ultima" an old sams publication which had some bad black and white pics from various ultima games. They were _bad_. Bad enough they shouldnt have really been in the book. I dont know if it was the resolution or converting them to greyscale or what. The Official book of ultima I dont recall had any screenshots.

If screenshots can be printed at a reasonable size and colouration, then great, otherwise, I dont know if they would be good for inclusion going B&W or low-res etc. Some books have the odd 6 colour page insert in the middle as you mentioned, which is ok if your only talking about 1 game, but to cover lots of CRPG's and have only a few colour plates... mmm..

tricky eh :/

A little story for ya;
I remember showing my dad Pool of Radiance and gushing with enthusiasm like it was the best thing since sliced bread, and showing him about creating characters, and that if you didnt like the stats you could do the modify on them and make them all 18 etc. All he said was 'Why not just make them all 18 to start with and forgo all this rolling stats thing?' It kinda opened my eyes to the fact that some poor developer programmed this in, and as a rule it stayed in every gold box game (and I think into the EOB games too), that was more or less useless because everyone rolled a character and modified the stats.

I also wonder about how much Testing/QA went into POR before someone said 'We need to implement a FIX command into CotAB', because it was pure tedium without. I guess nobody also said 'Why are we wasting art/programmer budget on these character portraits when they dont get used in the entire game!'.

but back then, tedium == PR Boasts of "It takes 100000 hours to complete this game!"

-- Stu --

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Matt Barton
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Good questions
yakumo9275 wrote:

I remember showing my dad Pool of Radiance and gushing with enthusiasm like it was the best thing since sliced bread, and showing him about creating characters, and that if you didnt like the stats you could do the modify on them and make them all 18 etc. All he said was 'Why not just make them all 18 to start with and forgo all this rolling stats thing?' It kinda opened my eyes to the fact that some poor developer programmed this in, and as a rule it stayed in every gold box game (and I think into the EOB games too), that was more or less useless because everyone rolled a character and modified the stats.

That's a great point to raise, Stu. I know I always thought for about 10 seconds when rolling characters: "Uh, okay, I'll roll for some decent stats and not worry if some scores are low; adds character." After about 10 seconds, I said, "What the heck, make them all 18." What sucks here is that ultimately all a low score meant was a less effective party and more tedium. Even with perfect 18s, the game was still a challenge (especially at early levels). When I went back to play the game again a few years ago, I didn't use the editor to raise the scores, but I can't say that it made much difference fun-wise.

I really like the third edition way of handling this issue. Just give the player a few points to distribute, and then a point or two every three to five levels. That adds strategy to the game. I'd still prefer some kind of system that took into consideration the characters' activities. For instance, lots of physical activity should boost the STR, healthy eating should boost CON. DEX is more abstract, but perhaps depends on performing lots of activities requiring focus, speed, and good hand-eye coordination (i.e., archery, acrobatics). INT and WIS are a bit harder to put into this system, though. What kind of activities make you smarter or wiser?

One thing I always thought was dumb was acting like wearing full plate mail made you hard to hit. Huh? You would be incredibly easy to hit; the trick would be actually doing damage. I don't understand why the games didn't say, "You were hit but received 0 damage" instead of "The orc missed." On the other hand, an agile thief in leathers ought to be missed quite frequently, but would take more damage if struck.

Is it just me, or have rogues always sucked in combat? I'd like it better if they were deadlier than fighters but more vulnerable. That's always true "in theory," but in my experience, they serve little purpose but to search for traps and pick locks.

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Bill Loguidice
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I always enjoyed re-rolling

I always enjoyed re-rolling again and again until I got scores in the categories I wanted rather than artificially setting the scores higher. Obviously for fighters I'd want the highest possible strength and constitution, clerics the highest possible wisdom, etc., all depending upon the game. I found that as long as you had high scores in the key class categories, you'd be just fine, and the occasional times where low scores did hurt you, it just added to the game.

You're absolutely right, Matt. While it's implied that better and heavier armor absorbs the damage of hits, rendering "0" damage, it's registered instead as a "miss". I know some games did use both, a "miss" and a "0", though never exclusively "0" from what I can recall.

And it's also a truism that certain character classes almost universally had the same types of qualities, like Fighters and Clerics being good fighters, Mages and Wizards being weak in hand-to-hand so they stayed in the back and did ranged and magical attacks, and Thieves always being weak, but often able to do special attacks. My favorite character classes were always clerics or priests, since they could both fight and heal, and often had good magical ability too depending upon the game. I favored limiting fighters to one "leader".

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

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Mat Tschirgi (not verified)
Congratulations, Matt! Yeah,

Congratulations, Matt!

Yeah, sure, feel free to pitch "Dungeons and Desktops" as a possible title-- it's certainly catchy enough. Let me know if you want any help with the book!

As for favorite CRPGs, I would have to go with the original Bard's Tale or Fallout 2.

Bard's Tale just did a nice job of placing you in a town setting before going into the first dungeon-- and the city streets were plenty dangerous for Level 1 characters! Having a Bard as a class who could sing stat-affecting songs was also a cute touch.

Fallout 2 just had such a great Mad Max type of atmosphere along with tongue in cheek humor. It was more expansive than the first game and had so much extra side-quests to do, especially in one of the early cities.

--------------------------
=- Mat Tschirgi =- Armchair Arcade Editor

Rowdy Rob
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I look forward to your book

I look forward to your book (and Mr. Loguidice's as well!), and will likely buy several copies! :-)

I've never been a major CRPG'er, but one CRPG that really impressed me was the game "Stonekeep" for the then-new Windows 95 platform. I wasn't even playing it, just watching my friend demonstrate it for me, and what WOW'ed me was the sheer magnitude of the production values the game had. Not only were the graphics amazing for their time, there was actually a point in which, while encountering a bunch of dwarve's (elves?), the whole group of live FMV dwarves started singing a Broadway-style musical number! This was nearly Hollywood-level production values.

I understand that Stonekeep wasn't particularly well-reviewed, but to me it showed that CRPG's were taking technology into new and interesting directions that you'd likely not see in other genre's (singing monsters in DOOM?!?!?).

I've played quite a few freeware old-school-style CRPG's, and to me they're just as fun as the commercial offerings now (if not more so).

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Matt Barton
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Guys, keep the CRPG stories

Guys, keep the CRPG stories coming. I don't want to hear any "but you didn't put my favorite game in there!" nonsense if you don't speak up about it. ;-)

I'm especially interested in weird stuff you find in CRPGs, easter eggs and the like.

Matt

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yakumo9275
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a belated post, have you got

a belated post, have you got Death Lord in your book? Ever play Death Lord? it was an apple II only game and apparently 'da-bomb' and very hard. Andrew Shultz did a big review some years back on gamefaqs for it...

Not one I played but now I know of it, theres some juicy info around on a few sites for it.

8 races, 16 classes. 6 players to a party... Apparently getting the party right can make or break the game.. sounds hard to me...

http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Realm/4610/deathlord/

-- Stu --

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