What role-playing games had the most impact on you?

Matt Barton's picture

I was browsing the excellent Tales of the Rampant Coyote blog and was pleasantly surprised to find a great mention of my book on a post called Game Design: How CRPGs Warped My Brain, Part 1. After complimenting my book, R.C. goes on to mention the role-playing games that made the most impact on his design philosophy. Here's a snippet from the Temple of Apshai blurb:

The thing that stuck with me from that game is that while a picture may be worth a thousand words, sometimes those words in text descriptions can evoke thoughts, feelings, and understanding that a picture alone cannot convey – even with the best of modern graphics.

How true! I also remember enjoying the entries in the printed journal that accompanied Pool of Radiance and other goldbox games. It was so much fun when the game referred to you an entry; it was always worth taking the time to read it and gave the game a more authentic D&D like feeling. What CRPGs have "warped your brain?" Here's a brief list of my personal favorites and what they taught me.

The Bard's Tale. This was the first CRPG I remember playing, and even though I never managed to complete it, I was still captivated by the gameplay. I had lots of fun exploring Skara Brae and fighting the roaming monsters. I also enjoyed creating parties and looking at the cool character graphics (I can still recall what the rogue looked like). My experience with this game as a kid was of course superficial, since I didn't have the manual (ah, the downsides of piracy).

Pool of Radiance. The first CRPG that really did it for me. I've beaten it three times, and still marvel at how well this game is put together. Everything fits together so nicely; no other game has really given me that sense of immersion and being on a campaign. It really felt like an adventure, and I never quite knew what to expect next. I remember having to go to church right after clearing some pirates or bandits out of a well and how hard it was to sit there--I couldn't wait to get back home and see what was in that well. I also felt as though the developers had put a lot of work into the system, and I trusted it. That's important.

Might & Magic VI: Mandate of Heaven. I was resistant to this game because I didn't think I'd like the first person view, but I soon found myself totally immersed in Erathia. Again, it's a huge, sprawling world, with lots of variety and an RPG system you can believe in. True, it was a lot of hack and slash, but that never bothered me.

Baldur's Gate. My girlfriend at the time was pushing this game on me, and again I was resistant because I didn't think I'd like the real-time battles or only creating one character (I preferred party-based games). But I quickly fell in love with the game, and the characters were awesome (Minsc remains a favorite). I also loved the intricate game world, though it felt much smaller somehow than those in POR and M&M VI. That's okay, because this game was more of "campaign module" than the sort of epic sprawl of the above games.

Fallout. Another RPG I couldn't be away from once I started. I've always loved the post-apocalyptic setting, and this game combined that with an awesome gameplay system. I didn't enjoy the combat quite as much as in the above games, but the story and setting made up for it. I also loved all the fun options for customizing your character--and again we had some interesting characters to team up with. In case you missed it, watch my video review.

Planescape: Torment. I didn't play this back in the day, but certainly enjoyed the heck out of it when I finally got around to playing it. Beautiful story, engrossing characters--it's just deep. I don't think any other CRPG has really made me think about life and death the way this game did.

Comments

Chadly (not verified)
The Bard's Tale was one of

The Bard's Tale was one of the very first games I bought with my own money. I loved it all the more because of that. I remember the countless hours of graphing dungeons (with their myriad traps) and fighting groups of 999 skeletons. I also had a ton of fun with the character creator, creating parties based around a certain theme and other interesting characters. I even uploaded my parties to the local Amiga BBS. (In reflection, I doubt anybody used them. But I was more naive back then.)

Neuromancer was a brilliant adaptation of William Gibson's Cyberpunk novel as an RPG/Adventure hybrid. Well, maybe that's being generous, as it was really more of an adventure with RPG-influenced cyberspace "battles," but it's one of my all-time favorite games, so I can't not mention it. Besides, any game that lets you sell your liver for some extra coin in order to get a cyberspace deck will certainly warp you.

Might & Magic VI was the first game I played in the series, but my goodness, did it have a hold on me. I remember my stomach literally aching at school with desire to go home and play M&M6. OK, maybe that game didn't "warp my brain" as much as my stomach, but it was great fun. I must have logged 80 hours into it before it started feeling repetitive to me, and I finally blew through the remaining dungeons to beat the game.

Phantasy Star is my all-time favorite console RPG. Can I mention that here? Well, I still used graph paper to map the dungeons, so I'm saying yes. I loved, loved this game, and bought a Sega Master System solely for it.

Final Fantasy VII (while I'm at it) was a game that kept me up for three days straight--almost. While visiting my cousins, I played an entire weekend, without food and sleep. I never did finish it, though. I guess that's a shame...

Divine Divinity was the first game I played that let you bake bread. (Yes, I bypassed another certain game with the same feature.) The user interface of the game made for fascinating play.

Nox was often discarded as a "Diablo clone," but was so much more in my opinion. The game could be played three entirely different ways (I played through as a Conjurer), and the cut scenes were unlike any I've seen in any other game. Sure, they start out with the typical evil villain (or villainess in this case), but it quickly shows you that it doesn't take itself seriously as the cut scenes portray antagonist, Hecubah, as a sometimes clumsy, sometimes tongue-tied, but always hilarious evil-doer. Westwood really polished this game, and it shows. The best part is that each character has its own story and ending.

Wizardry 8 was the only game I played in the series, as I was without a computer during its heyday, but I don't have any trouble believing those who state that it's the best of the series, and a swan song for Sir-Tech. To think that it could not find a publisher and was almost not released. This game put me in the familiar fantasy RPG setting, but soon juxtaposed it with advanced technology--how's that for warping your brain?

Of note: Ironically, I've never played any Ultima for more than a couple hours (Ultima 9). I'm not sure what that means.

Father Rulae (not verified)
My list of RPGs...

First of all: thanks a lot for your great book, Matt! Your articles and your book gave me the motivation to play a couple more RPGs, which are now among my all-time favourites.

Wizardry 6, 7 & 8
I just have to mention the Dark Savant trilogy first. Wizardry 6 was the first RPG I ever played. When measured against the standards of the other two games of the trilogy, there are a couple of usability annoyances in Wizardry 6, which have prevented me multiple times from replaying it (i.e., you have to search for items everywhere since you can't see them on the screen -- interestingly, it didn't bother me at all at the time it was released). Nevertheless, this game was HUGE and very impressive. I will always love it and it's the primary reason why I became an RPG fan. Wizardry 7 and 8 are much more playable by today's standards.

@Matt: why didn't you include Wizardry 8 in your book? It was mentioned in your articles, but not in the book...

Planescape: Torment and Baldur's Gate 1 & 2
I played them after reading Matt's book and I love them all. Similar to the Dark Savant trilogy, they were worth every minute I played them -- this is a HUGE compliment since these games took me many weeks to finish!

Ultima Underworld 1 & 2
I also liked them very much at the time they were released.

Bill Loguidice
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My RPG story is the same one

My RPG story is the same one I've always told, really. I played pen and paper RPGs and related games with my childhood friends, like Dungeons & Dragons, Top Secret, Gamma World, etc., and was jonesing to recreate that experience on my Commodore 64. Prior to that, my only real exposure to computer RPGs was seeing my friend Brian's Apple IIe with a green screen monitor running Ultima II and III (it may have been his older brother I saw running it first).

Anyway, I remember obsessing over the wireframe artwork for the Temple of Apshai Epyx ad, similar to the one here for Gateway: http://www.c64-wiki.com/images/e/ec/Gateway_to_Apshai_%28Epyx%29_%28Tape... (naturally, in my young mind, I had fantasized that the graphics would really be like that). Luckily, though, I never did get around to purchasing Temple of Apshai (I would have probably liked it then, but it would not have been exactly what I was after), instead being tantalized by the artwork and ad for SSI's Phantasie: http://www.gamasutra.com/db_area/images/feature/3527/image011.jpg , which seemed to embody the complete Dungeons & Dragons spirit. Boy, was I lucky and right. Not only did it have better visuals than the ad's Apple II graphics (the C-64 version was very attractive in comparison--a proper enhanced port), but it allowed me to create a party of my choosing, mixed race and mixed sex (though the latter, only in name--the game was gender neutral). While I mapped the outerworld myself for convenience since it was multi-screen, it essentially automapped (uncovered) that and the single screen dungeons, and the combat was tactical. All the familiar D&D elements were there, with multiple dungeons to explore and surprises throughout the world(s). My first personal experience with a computer RPG was the right game at the right time. The ONLY flaw that Phantasie had was that it was rather buggy and tended to crash at times (there was a particularly nasty crash bug in one particular dungeon). Upon completing Phantasie, I eagerly purchased Phantasie II, which was essentially the same game, just bug fixed and minor improvements to the engine. By the way, another thing that endeared me to the Phantasie games, was that while your characters aged, you didn't have to worry about feeding them, which I considered a design flaw in most of the RPGs that featured that, since I had to often focus on keeping my character or party fed as much as I focused on the game itself. Anyway, Phantasie III was a major improvement for the series in terms of features, and rounded out the original trilogy nicely. Sadly, a related, though not direct sequel, Phantasie IV, was Japan only, for the MSX and Sharp X68000 computers. I do have the fan-made English ROM for Phantasie IV I believe, so when my vaporware-ish Pandora someday arrives, I'll probably play it on that (I do have MSX and MSX2 systems, but I'm not sure I have the time to dedicate to non-portable play).

Anyway, I dabbled in other RPGs, including some of the Ultimas, but the downside with the Ultimas was the brutal learning curve and the fact that I didn't purchase them (back then, now I have a complete set). Other games, like Expedition Amazon from Penguin, intrigued me for their interesting settings, but had serious design flaws that made playing much less fun than it should have been. The other great RPG I played on the C-64 was AutoDuel. Once I got past the Apple II graphics and sound and the steep learning curve, I was pulled deeply into the wonderful story and unique concept.

Eventually, I of course moved on to the Amiga 500 and was introduced to a radically difference experience in Dungeon Master. Though it had the food "bug" and you really couldn't create your own characters, these "flaws" were minimized to the point where it was a-OK with me, and I loved the game. My next great RPG was Pool of Radiance on the Amiga, which I played a portion of when I was in college. That was like the next generation of Phantasie. The nice thing with the Amiga version was that the team who ported it enhanced the graphics and sound over every other version, making it THE version to own. Sadly, as the series progressed on the Amiga, SSI contented themselves with doing straight EGA conversions, which Amiga and Atari ST fans know all too well from the often garish EGA color palette that they really didn't have to be subjected too.

Naturally, there were plenty of other games in-between and after, but those are the high points for me. So, let's see, my computer/videogame RPG viewpoint is skewed heavily by the great Phantasie series, AutoDuel, Dungeon Master, and Pool of Radiance games, each classics in their own right, and each getting the experience exactly right, despite each possessing flaws. Like any old-time curmudgeon gamer, I still long for those days, but it's unlikely there will be experiences like them again in quite the same way. Like me, game design has changed too much since then. Luckily, I have dozens of old school RPGs in my collection still to be played, so the reality is I don't need them to make anymore in my lifetime...

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clok1966
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The very first computer game

The very first computer game I ever played was Lode Runner and GRIME on a $4000 IBM (err XT?) my friends father bought it for work. I used to go over now and again to check it out when his dad would let us. But th then purchased Ultima 2 (maybe one, its been so long ago I would guess about 81-82ish) and we where both hooked. One would map, or write (dont do that much anymore) while the other played, we took turns. Once we started we spent every spare minute playing it much to his parents disapointment (it was summer, kids normally where not in parents hair). it was the changing point in my game playing life. I had a 2600 (and before that a odyssy) which i played when it was cold outside, but never when it was nice. The first RPG i played hooked me, no more consoles, i needed a computer (vic 20 to a atari 400 to a TI99/4A(mistake) to a c-64 to a Amiga, and now PC).

Ultima was singel largest influnce on me, nothing I had seen like it before. I played them all later (even Lord Britishs first effort). Then it was Wizzardry in collage. I had been so buzy with Ultima i had missed Wizzardry 1, i started on 2, and replayed one later. I liked the dungeon crawl sytle of Wizzardry more then i liked the flat look of Ultima, my tastes had changed, Wizz one my new favorite. It morphed into bards tale, everything that made Wiz so great was maginfied. Better looking, animated!!!! The new KING. All the while playing the Apshi games, and several other RPG's, all fun, but never in my mind long after I won them. During that time the GOLD box stuff had came. I loved the presentation (and was a AD&D nerd so the IDEA blew me away) but while i loved the idea, the games never grew on me, I did play them all, even the strange silver box side scroll ones. I do know the SSI Dragon combat (flight sim?) one I did get hooked on (and even fired up in dos box a few years ago). One Of WESTWOODS first efforts, you know the guys who did (DUNE 2) and a couple of the best Eye of the beholder clones (with voice! and Picard as the KING (hmmm a gig he is still doing with Oblivion). The next HUGE step was the Might & Magic 3, (recently played it and World of Xeen from start to finish just for fun). And as somebody mentioned the Ultima Underworld games... this was where i wanted to be in RPG worlds in real time. Luckly i had a PC at the time that sorta played um ok .

RPG's where the basis, heck singel reason for my computer gameing addiction. Nowdays not many RPG's seem to hold my attention for long, be it that I have played to many, or I'm jaded (and much older). MMORPG's (namely Ultima Online, but more-so Everquest) filled the gap, The first time playing Ultima, the first time playing Everquest.. they may be the best "pure enjoyment" moments from my RPG past. I know I "think" i will recapture some of those feelings with evry new RPG game i see, but never do. the new ones today look awsome, play well, but for some reason just dont capture that feel for me. I still like them, but its very rare i play a game (any) nowdasy and look up at the clock and see its 3Am and I need to go to bed.

its hard to put 25 years (wow.. maybe more, yes I'm sure more, closer to 30..yeesh!) of RPG gaming into a post, the highs and lows... the Firsts... there where alot back then, now its hard to really do anything "new".

Those days of graph paper, and friends watching having as much fun as those playing. Figureing out silly puzzles (telports, squares that spun you). The first animated sprite monsters and not just a discrption. Dungen Keepers true stereo sound and real time monster movment (cant say how much i jumped when a mob cam up behind me when i was fighting ones in front). When Xeen had 2 games that when installed made a 3rd game! When Bards tale made a constrution set so I could make my own. When Everquest took me into a 3d world with people playing my party memberes, the fear of the dark (playing a human). The save every 3 steps mentality, and the death that made you backtrack 4 hours becuase you where so "into the game" you forgot to save.

Nowdays i just bought the new FFXIII for the PS3, I like it, and played it a bit, but at about 30 hours I lost most interest and havent revisited. Dragons Age was and (when i fire it up) still is fun, but so far while good, its never reached GREAT to me. I think they made a mistake with the difuculty curve. Replaying a battle 20X just to get lucky enouhg to win is not good (and yet i hear some people had no problms with it). To be honest there are alot of good new ones, but I dont think we will ever recapture that feeling from the past.

New ones i would recomend: The Witcher (rated mature, keep that in mind), Drakensang (i think its better then Dragons Age, but think I'm in minorty on that). Mass effect (one and two).

And for those of you who like some "new" to the old RPG format, PUZZLE QUEST rocks.. very fun and different, but I'm guessing many of you have played it.

Bill Loguidice
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Puzzle Quest
clok1966 wrote:

And for those of you who like some "new" to the old RPG format, PUZZLE QUEST rocks.. very fun and different, but I'm guessing many of you have played it.

Conceptually I LOVE it, but I don't greatly enjoy the puzzle aspects, which obviously puts the kabosh on the whole game(s) for me (though I suppose I should give it a chance again in the future). I love the concept of alternative gameplay to resolve combat (I still want to make Arcade Chess), I just wish it was done in a different manner (for me). I'm more of a Zuma/Luxor/Peggle type of "puzzle" game player than a Bejeweled type of player.

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Matt Barton
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Wizardry 8

I keep hearing about Wizardry 8, though I haven't played it yet. I keep hearing that it was the last great old-fashioned CRPG. I have it on my list to play. I really enjoyed the first Wizardry, though never completed it. I'd also like to play the World of Xeen at some point.

One downside of CRPGs of course is how long they take to complete. I don't really want to make that huge of an investment unless I know it's worth it (i.e., I'd rather play the finest classics first). If you're going to spend that much time with a game, you want only the best. Even mild irritations in the interface can become so irksome it's difficult to deal with. I know I almost quit KOTOR a few times because of the constant crashing (and yes, I know some people had no issues with it).

I agree about Dragon Age, too. At first I was sold, but gradually lost interest. The battles wouldn't have been so bad, but something about the interface and timing made them too difficult. I felt like I was fighting more with the camera and controls than the actual monsters! That's a game that would have seriously benefited from a true turn-based tactical battle mode. The inventory system was a pain as well.

I absolutely adore the Mass Effect series. It's a different kind of fun than something like Baldur's Gate or KOTOR, but still sooo immersive.

The MMOs are definitely more addictive for me, but they just can't compare in some ways. Particularly when it comes to characters and stories.

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Bill Loguidice
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RPG patterns
Matt Barton wrote:

I keep hearing about Wizardry 8, though I haven't played it yet. I keep hearing that it was the last great old-fashioned CRPG. I have it on my list to play. I really enjoyed the first Wizardry, though never completed it. I'd also like to play the World of Xeen at some point.

Wizardry 8 is on my list too, though I've of course been trying to find a boxed copy. Because it was a relatively limited release, particularly in the US, it commands decent prices on places like eBay, making it prohibitive to acquire unless you're specifically dedicated resources towards it.

Matt Barton wrote:

One downside of CRPGs of course is how long they take to complete. I don't really want to make that huge of an investment unless I know it's worth it (i.e., I'd rather play the finest classics first). If you're going to spend that much time with a game, you want only the best. Even mild irritations in the interface can become so irksome it's difficult to deal with. I know I almost quit KOTOR a few times because of the constant crashing (and yes, I know some people had no issues with it).

I agree about Dragon Age, too. At first I was sold, but gradually lost interest. The battles wouldn't have been so bad, but something about the interface and timing made them too difficult. I felt like I was fighting more with the camera and controls than the actual monsters! That's a game that would have seriously benefited from a true turn-based tactical battle mode. The inventory system was a pain as well.

This is unfortunately quite true. Unlike most genres/game types, it's VERY difficult to simply sample an RPG, particularly if there's character creation involved.

I had a similar "losing interest" experience with the old school style (Wizardry clone), The Dark Spire, for the Nintendo DS. I was gung-ho for its old school style, but, particularly for a portable game, it doesn't hold up well to casual play, particularly with the extremely high difficulty, which are true to its origins. I'm over 7 hours of gameplay time into it, but I haven't touched it in months. Just the prospect of walking through the same dungeon again and again (since you have to walk all the way back to town to heal, resupply, etc.) to progress a little further each time before taking too much damage and having to head back is a bit too much to take after a while, particularly when there are so many other things to play. It's a shame too, because I never (despite now owning most of them), never did play any of the original Wizardry games when they were at the top of the RPG food chain.

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Father Rulae (not verified)
Re: Wizardry 8
Matt Barton wrote:

I keep hearing about Wizardry 8, though I haven't played it yet.

I'm quite confident you will like it. After reading your articles and your book, I always wondered why you didn't describe Wizardry 8 as one of the greatest RPGs ever -- now I know why ;)

After also playing Planescape: Torment and Baldur's Gate 1 & 2, I wouldn't say anymore that Wizardry 6, 7 and 8 are simply the best cRPGs ever. However, all these games are definitely among the very best of the genre. They all have in common that they have very few significant weaknesses but each one has at least one unique feature which makes it outstanding.

I strongly recommend Wizardry 7 and 8 to every true cRPG fan. Btw, you can easily finish Wizardry 8 in less than a week if you restrict sleep ;)

clok1966
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Wiz 8, yes!!!! I would

Wiz 8, yes!!!! I would recomend it, its been awhile since i played it, but when i did i really had a feeling of Olds school RPG with updated graphics. it sticks with its roots pretty well. The battles are about picking targets like the old days, 5 warriors with 2 mages and 2 priests in the back, you know you gotta kill those priests or they are going to heal, and those mages can team up on your tank (or healer) and put him out in one round. You really gotta think a bit. it is real time (movement, not combat) so if you get 2 groups (ya groups, as in more then one :) ) and they see you, you dont get the luxury of fighting um one at a time.

it really feels like an oldschool guy (and one did) made it, he stuck with what we all loved and he updated it. he didnt whole sale change it, just made it seem fresh again (at least to me). As for wiz 7.. I still remeber buying it and seeing it was on 2- 3.5 floppies! How could any good MODERN (hehee modern with floppies! well it was back then) game come on only 2 discs! The game amazed me, and after jumping throuhg all the hoops to get it working on todays machines I still think the game looks pretty good (for its age) and the scope of the game amazes me.

Cant go wrong with either in my opinion (but wiz 7 is a beast to get running nowdays).

And XEEN!!!!! you can get it on gamefly, get your $7 account and play it, finish it, and cancel. Very cartoony, but the colors and graphics rocked back then.

So ya think we have some RPG fantics on this website? nah :)

Matt Barton
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Ah, the irony. I typed out a

Ah, the irony. I typed out a long rant about how much I hate it when a game "punishes" me by forcing me to replay lengthy segments after being defeated. And then my laptop decides to auto-update and shuts down before I could save my post.

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