The most Influential CRPGs ever made

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Matt Barton
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I've been thinking of a short list of highly influential CRPGs that either pioneered a new type of gameplay or were simply so popular and successful that they changed the landscape of the genre. I've listed my thoughts below, but please chime in if you have other suggestions or disagree.

1. Ultima III. Although the earlier Ultima games were successful and groundbreaking, it's really the third game that (to my mind) really represents the best of this early era and certainly took the concept of top-down perspective to new heights. It's also this game that seems to have had the most influence and inspired the most clones, especially in Japan.

2. Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord. This is one of the earliest first-person, 3D CRPGs (wireframe) that established many of the conventions that would dominate all throughout the 80s and early 1990s. Although Garriott's Akalabeth was earlier (and the countless PLATO CRPGs), this is the one that attracted the most mainstream attention.

3. Rogue. Although graphically simplistic and not the first such game, this mainframe classic helped establish a number of important conventions. I like to think of it as a "disposable CRPG," meaning that you can pick this up and play it for a 5-10 minutes and put it down. It also contains a great deal of randomization to keep things interesting, plus tons of options.

4. Pool of Radiance. I cite this game only because it was the first to really put the AD&D license to good use. Plus, it offered a hybrid of top-down and 3D gameplay, and to my mind really got the balance right between roll-play and role-play.

5. Dungeon Master. This game built on the Wizardry model but introduced real-time gameplay and color graphics. Although not truly "3D," it did ratchet up the "action" elements and breathed new life into the genre.

6. Ultima Underworld. This game extended the Dungeon Master model by introducing fluid camera movement through a first-person, 3D dungeon. It's actually quite sophisticated and helped launch a flood of important clones, such as Elder Scrolls, the latter Might & Magic games, and many others.

7. Ultima: The Black Gate. I note this game because it offered such an immense and interactive gameworld--it took realism to a new level, even though it was isometric. It also helped pioneer the sort of "sandbox style" gameplay we see in many modern games.

8. Diablo. This game is important for establishing the "action-CRPG" genre and really boiling down the CRPG to its essentials. It has much in common with Rogue, but offers a real-time isometric perspective and a coherent (though admittedly barebones) storyline. It also spiked online multiplayer with its "unheard of" free-to-play Battle.net server.

9. Neverwinter Nights. Although I preferred the earlier Baldur's Gate series, NWN really offered a great system for 3D, third-person perspective. It also fostered user-generated content, which greatly adds to the overall value of the game.

10. Quest for Glory. Sierra really made a determined effort to blend the CRPG with the point-and-click adventure game, and I think they accomplished that in their Quest for Glory series. Although this sub-genre seems to have been relatively short-lived, it did inspire some very popular games. It also heightened replay value by requiring the different classes to solve puzzles and deal with opponents in different ways.

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Matt Barton
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Originals vs. clones

That's true, Bill. I suppose what I've been trying to do in my book is lump games into categories, and often it's easy to do that by lining up clones behind the originals. For instance, I think it's obvious that Elder Scrolls evolved out of Ultima Underworld, and Dungeon Siege evolved out of Diablo. On the other hand, it's hard to place games like Baldur's Gate or Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption into tidy "clone" categories, even though they are based on elements from older games. I certainly don't see Bard's Tale as a clone of Wizardry, either, though; to my mind the move from wireframe graphics was substantial enough to avoid the "clone" label, though it's certainly derivative. Still, I consider Wizardry the more important game. Meanwhile, there are plenty of one-shots or downright bizarre games that don't fit into any category except "MISC." Then there's the countless games with "RPG elements," or games that many refer to as RPGs that are probably best described otherwise.

I think the move from top-down to isometric is very important, since it is essentially moving from a schematic to a representational view. I think the isometric games are closer to the miniatures version of AD&D.

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Bill Loguidice
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Perspective

I'm not sure if perspective makes much of a difference in my opinion in regards to modified top-down/side versus isometric, particularly if the avatar is always visible and particularly if we're not talking sprites versus polygons. If all the same basic gameplay elements are in place, it's the same game type. As always, laying down the rules is the toughest part.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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Matt Barton
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Action RPGs

I definitely thought of those games. There have been many attempts to hybridize CRPGs with all sorts of other genres, including shoot'em ups, fighting games, FPS, and space simulators. The most successful crossbreeds seem to be adventure CRPGs and strategy CRPGs, of which there are many. The Gemstone Warrior/Healer games are particularly interesting efforts at shooter hybrids, though I don't think the games stand up very well. A game like Sword of Fargoal is clearly an ancestor of Diablo; if it were isometric instead of top-down, you'd have a direct ancestor. I'm trying to remember if it's real-time or turn-based, though. Can't recall off the top of my head.

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Bill Loguidice
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Maybe one omission...

Seems pretty much spot-on to me. The only major omission might be the Rogue-like "semi-action" games, like Telengard, Temple of Apshai, Gateway to Apshai, Sword of Kadash, Gemstone Warrior/Healer, Sword of Fargoal, etc. Obviously Diablo is the ultimate spiritual successor of those games, but Diablo really needs to stand alone regardless of what came before. I suppose in thinking about it more, Rogue and Diablo probably sandwich those games sufficiently...

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
======================================

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