Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ye Olde Schoole CRPGs

I've mentioned computer rpgs more than a few times on this blog; I figured today I'd go over some of my favorite ones (possibly 5..?)

First of all, what constitutes a computer rpg? That's the primary question, as there are differing opinions on the matter. But, really, that's more of a modern day construct. Back in the 80s, when D&D was at its height and personal computers became prevalent, no one thought just because there weren't any funny voices and the games were mostly focused on combat that you weren't roleplaying. If anything, the older games succinctly distilled the essence of rpgs into computer form the best they possibly could given the available technology. And, quite honestly, they still stand the test of time. It's not nostalgia to say you'd rather play Wizardry than Dragon Age if you've actually played both and STILL play Wizardry. Granted, Dragon Age was pretty fun, and the graphics are great, but it pales in comparison to Ultima.

Anyway, here are the ones that stick out as games I'd play all the time if given the chance.


Bard's Tale II

I was about 12 years old and we had just got an Apple ][ at home. It was around this time I started playing D&D, and as mentioned before I was somewhat obsessed with it. As usual on Saturdays, my family went to the PX to go shopping for various things. I wasn't really too happy about this, as I wanted to roll up new dungeons and read fantasy novels. Conveniently, the PX had just setup a large display of computers, and people were playing all sorts of games on them, one of which was Bard's Tale II. Instantly I was hooked. I watched a guy play BT2 for literally 45 minutes before my mom made me leave the store, and decided that I needed to play that game as soon as possible. Unfortunately it was around a year later before I ever got a copy, and it was a bootleg one of my cousin's friends gave me. Even more unfortunately, the dungeon disk was defective. This didn't stop me from putting together a pretty badass party of adventurers. I finally did beat the game a few years back after I purchased The Ultimate RPG Archives. I really like BT2's character creation process, leveling system and spells. Some of the more irritating aspects are only 8 slots for equipment, insta-death illusion spells and a nearly invincible final boss. Overall, a great game.


Wizardry

So, I got the The Ultimate Wizardry Archives around the same time as the other collection listed above, and damn...I played the shit out of Wizardry. This was another one of those games I never really got to play enough of as a kid. I had a bootleg copy of it but couldn't figure out how to play it very well, mostly because I didn't have any of the manuals and thus no idea what the spells were. At some point I found a magazine article that listed some of this information, made photocopies of it and tried again. By this time I was already far too interested in Wasteland and post-apocalyptic crap to care too much about fantasy games anymore. Extremely unfortunate because Wizardry was not only one of the very first computer rpgs, it remains the best. If you actually win the game, you are worthy of praise for it is hard as fuck. Wizardry IV is considered by most as the hardest game ever created, apparently conceived to give Wizardry experts a decent challenge. I tried it a few times and died instantly. Definitely no hand-holding here, unlike most of today's games...


Ultima III

Pretty much the quintessential computer rpg. Great game play, puzzles, cool graphics, fun combat. Ultima III has everything you'd want out of an rpg. There was a port to Windows someone did a while back with updated graphics and sound, etc., but I have no idea whatever happened to that. Yes, I have The Ultima Collection, too. I did beat this game eventually on my Apple, but it was somewhat anti-climatic as I had resorted to hex editing my characters. Cheating was a much more intellectual process back in the old days of PCs.


Wizard's Crown

Easily my favorite, and the first crpg I ever bought. After not getting BT2 as already mentioned, I saved up for a month to buy it. My brother chipped in a few bucks and to the PX we went! Unfortunately, BT2 was sold out, but we were not to be deterred and looked around for something that appealed to us. The box drew me in instantly and reading the manual on the way home conjured up endless fantasies in my brain. My brother and I must have played that game every day for literally 6 months. I never did beat it, but the character disks are somewhere in my garage. Perhaps it might be time to revisit the game and finish it once and for all. Anyway, WC taught me a lot about logistics, tactical combat, strategy and more importantly, running away. Modern crgps never really present you with a challenge you can't handle, but WC (and all the games listed here) didn't give one fuck if you couldn't win. There was a command to escape, and the game expected you to use it. TPKs were far too often if you played like a dumbass, and that's the way it should be.


Wasteland

Without Wasteland there is no Fallout, and consequently no Fallout 2 or Fallout 3. Oh, and probably no Planescape, Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale and a whole lot of other D&D-based games such as Dragon Age and even crap like Morrowind. This game was groundbreaking, and paved the path for Black Isle to do a bunch of other super popular titles that even modern gamers admit were pretty good. It's Mad Max meets Commando, and as a kid growing up in the 80s, nothing gets any better than that. This is part of the Ultimate RPG Archives I mentioned above, which is good because without the manual the game is unplayable. Never got really far in this game because I kept trying to attack towns or died from radiation poisoning.


Nethack

I only mention Nethack here because if you truly want a challenge, this is it. Nethack is currently supported and developed, so it's available to play on any modern computer. Further, there's a level of detail unsurpassed in any computer game I've ever played. If you can think of it, chances are there's a command in Nethack to do it.

4 comments:

  1. Great list. I also picked up Bard's Tale and Wizardry at the PX when my Dad was stationed in Germany in the mid 1980's. I also really liked the Phantasie series and the Might and Magic Series as well as Ultima. Damn, I STILL play those from time to time. I haven't checked out a new CRPG since 2000 or so.

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  2. Man I really need to figure out a way to make these emulators run on my desktop as I have been jonesing to play some of these classics(Darklands too).

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  3. I played a lot of Phantasie III, really enjoyed the combat system.

    And, Chris, just use DOSBox. Almost all these games have an MS-DOS port that'll work perfectly under DOSBox.

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  4. I actually played Ultima: Exodus on the old Nintendo Entertainment System back in the early '90s.

    I'm still a big fan of the SSI Gold Box games, especially Unlimited Adventures, and play it via emulation every now and then.

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