With this post, I have a confession and a conundrum.
First, the Confession.
I have an obsessive personality, and so when I’m thinking about something I really am thinking a lot about something, to the detriment of much of everything else.
When I started this blog, Pathfinder RPG’s excellent Beginner Box had just come out while I was in the middle of a “tabletop RPG kick,” and it not only got me obsessing more about this particular roleplaying system but about all tabletop RPG systems and where they’ve been and where they’re headed in history.
Soon after those first postings, real-life obligations intervened, thus breaking the continuity of this particular obsession.
Just so you know, the next several weeks I obsessed about the epic computer strategy game, Civilization IV. Then another obsession entered my life.
Now, it’s all about computer roleplaying games (CRPGs).
I forgot what exactly nudged me down the path this new life’s calling, but I downloaded a Commodore 64 emulator and started playing The Bard’s Tale II from 1986, with the intention of beating it. My history with this game is a long one, one which I might recount fully in a later posting. But while poking around the internet I stumbled upon The CRPG Addict, someone who is determined to play nearly every CRPG in existence (and writes excellently to boot). I also ordered Matt Barton’s book, Dungeons & Desktops, about the history of CRPGs and pretty much devoured it in an afternoon.
I am now going through my own pared-down (but terrifyingly growing) list of CRPGs that I will myself tackle: I have already completed Wizardry I and Ultima III, and am now in the middle of Might & Magic, Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum. I also intend to finish Bard’s Tale II (yep… still not done), and do Ultimas 4-7, Might & Magic 2-8, Dragon Wars, Fallout 1 & 2, Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim.
Now here’s my Conundrum.
My current obsession is CRPGs, but I have a blog about my thoughts on tabletop RPGs.
But in my thinking about how CRPGs have developed over time, I can’t help but focus on some of the same issues that come up when I think about tabletop RPGs. There are two parallel histories here, with particular innovations influencing the evolution of both kinds of RPGs.
I have already touched on one of these developments in this blog: the more prevalent approach to tabletop roleplaying in its early days, which emphasized danger and risk more than the long-running campaign (which Paizo’s successful Adventure Path series in modern-day gaming exemplifies). We also see this same trend in the evolution of CRPGs.
For example, the first party-based CRPG, Wizardry I, had permanent death. You might be facing the BBEG of the entire game, the evil wizard Werdna, but if he killed your party, that was it — the game gleefully and immediately saved this fact to your floppy disk. There was no reloading, no rescuing your characters. You had to create an entirely new Level 1 party.
Also, resurrection didn’t always work. If the temple priests failed at raising your comrade from the dead, he’d collapse into a fine powder and the priests still took your money. Harsh!
And if you tried to restore your hero from lint status, the priests might fail again, and your character would be gone forever. AND they kept your money! Bastards!
Now, these transgressions of fairness and decency might have been tolerable back in 1981, back when Wizardry I was the only party-based CRPG on the market for another 2 years. Sure, yell an expletive — hit the side of your monitor (not too hard, because those Apple II monitors rested firmly on the CPU chassis) — but then what else were you going to do? Play football with the cool kids? C’mon — you had to kill Werdna! Reboot and start over.
If anything, early-CRPG fatality lengthened the life of your preteen dollar. Having to start over again wasn’t such a big deal because you were probably going to play through it again anyway at a time when there were few other CRPGS to play.
But ohh that is so not the case today…
So I’m thinking of composing more of my thoughts about the evolution of RPGs, both in their tabletop and computer-based forms. Not only writing about what changes have occurred, but also trying to find out why. And focusing on some historically-important games, the milestones, that have influenced the entire genre.
But that would mean a new approach to this blog. So tell me? Is there an interest?
I’m just throwing these ideas out there, to see if there’s an echo.