Role-playing video games for PC

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A PC role-playing game, or PC RPG, refers to either a role-playing game on a personal computer, or a style of role-playing game that has its origins on personal computers.

In a stereotypical PC RPG, the player often has the freedom to progress as he prefers, usually in a number of skills or abilities with a level cap. It also has quests, where the player gets experience in a determined skill or some kind of special item. Most PC RPG's have a main storyline, much like the games in the adventure genre. Items are obtained by training a determined skill, doing quests, trading with NPC's, etc... Non-Player Characters (NPC) help the player or destroy him. The player usually wears some kind of armour and weapon (taking into account a combat triangle: melee, ranged and magic). The world changes as the player progresses.

Another requirement for a game to be a PC RPG is, logically, that it should be played in a computer. These only differ with console RPG's in the controls (usually).

MMORPG's are MMO's (Massive Multiplayer Online [Games]) that specialize in role-playing for computers. People interact with each other by trading, chatting and/or clanning (with shared XP, etc...)

Early mainframe computer RPG's (late 1970s–early 1980s)[edit | edit source]

Simple overhead monochrome graphics of dnd on the PLATO mainframe system.

The earliest role-playing video games were created in the mid-to-late 1970s, as offshoots of early university mainframe text-based RPGs that were played on PDP-10, PLATO and Unix-based systems. These included Dungeon, written in 1975 or 1976, pedit5, created in 1975,[Note 1] and dnd, also from 1975.[2] These early games were inspired by pen-and-paper role-playing games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, which was published in 1974, and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.[3][4] Some of the first graphical computer RPGs (CRPGs) after pedit5 and dnd included orthanc (1978),[5] which was named after Saruman's tower in Lord of the Rings,[6] avathar (1979),[1] later renamed avatar, oubliette (1977),[7] named after the French word for "dungeon",[6] moria (1975),[1] dungeons of degorath, baradur, emprise, bnd, sorcery, and dndworld.[Note 2] All of these were developed and became popular on the PLATO system during the late 1970s, in large part due to PLATO's speed, fast graphics, and large number of players with access to its nationwide network of terminals. PLATO was a mainframe system that supported multiple users and allowed them to play simultaneously, a feature not commonly available to owners of home personal computer systems at the time.[8] These were followed by games on other platforms, such as Temple of Apshai, written in 1979 for the TRS-80 and followed by two add-ons; Akalabeth: World of Doom (1980), which gave rise to the well-known Ultima series;[9] Wizardry (1981), and Sword of Fargoal (1982). Games of this era were also influenced by text adventures such as Colossal Cave Adventure (1976) and Zork (1976); early MUDs, tabletop wargames such as Chainmail (1971), and sports games such as Strat-O-Matic.[10][Note 3]

Gary Gygax [co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons] was pivotal to the development of the gaming industry, and to my own career. (...) Millions upon millions of players around the world live and play in imaginary worlds built on the back of what Gary first conceived.

—Richard Garriott, following Gygax's death, in 2008[4]

The popular dungeon crawler Rogue was developed in 1980, for Unix-based systems, by two students at Berkeley. It used ASCII graphics, and featured a deep system of gameplay and a multitude of randomly generated items and locations. Rogue was later distributed as free software with the BSD operating system, and was followed by an entire genre of "roguelikes" that were inspired by and emulated the original game's mechanics, and by later titles such as Diablo.[12] Later examples of roguelikes include Angband (1990), Ancient Domains of Mystery (1993) and Linley's Dungeon Crawl (1997).[13][14][15]

The keyboard was frequently the only input supported by these games, and their graphics were simple and often monochromatic. Some titles, like Rogue, represented objects through text characters, such as '@' for the main character and 'Z' for zombies.[Note 4] No single game featured all of the characteristics expected in a modern CRPG, such as exploration of subterranean dungeons, use of weapons and items, "leveling up" and quest completion, but it is possible to see the evolution of these features during this era and that which followed.[16]

Early PC RPG's (early–mid-1980s)[edit | edit source]

Early American PC RPG's[edit | edit source]

The early Ultima and Wizardry were definitive games which began to build the genre. Although simplified for use with the console gamepad, many innovations of the early Ultimas—in particular Ultima III: Exodus (1983) by developer Richard Garriott—became standard among later RPGs in both the personal computer and console markets. These ideas included the use of tiled graphics and party-based combat, a mix of fantasy and science-fiction elements, and time travel.[4][17][Note 5] The game's written narrative was an innovative feature that allowed it to convey a larger story than was found in the minimal plots common at the time. Most games, including Garriott's own Akalabeth, focused primarily on basic gameplay mechanics like combat, and paid little attention to story and narrative.[19]

Garriott introduced a system of chivalry and code of conduct in Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (1985) that persisted throughout later Ultimas. The player's Avatar tackles such problems as fundamentalism, racism and xenophobia, and based on his or her actions is tested periodically in ways that are sometimes obvious and sometimes unseen.[4][19] This code of conduct was in part a response to the efforts among some Christian groups to mitigate the rising popularity of Dungeons & Dragons.[19] Continuing until Ultima IX: Ascension (1999), it covered a range of virtues that included compassion, justice, humility and honor. This system of morals and ethics was unique at the time, as other video games allowed players to be lauded as "heroes" by the game worlds' denizens, no matter what the player's actions had been. In Ultima IV, on the other hand, players were forced to consider the moral consequences of their actions.[19] According to Garriott, Ultima was now "more than a mere fantasy escape. It provided a world with a framework of deeper meaning a level [sic] of detail [and] diversity of interaction that is rarely attempted."[4] "I thought people might completely reject this game because some folks play just to kill, kill, kill. To succeed in this game, you had to radically change the way you'd ever played a game before."[19]

Ultima VII is still my favorite game. It's hard not to look at Oblivion and see the Ultima influence.

Todd Howard, executive producer of the Elder Scrolls series[4]

Ultima III is considered by many to have been the first modern CRPG.[17] It was originally published for the Apple II, but was ported to many other platforms and influenced the development of later titles,[20] including such console RPGs as Excalibur (1983) and Dragon Quest (1986).[21] The series went on to span over a dozen titles, including the spin-off series Worlds of Ultima (1990–1991) and Ultima Underworld (1992–1993), and the multiplayer online series, Ultima Online (1997). Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992) offered players a full 360 degree view of the game world. Ultima VII: The Black Gate (1992) was the first real-time title in the series, and was fully playable with the computer mouse.[4] Richard later left Origin Systems and Electronic Arts to form Destination Games, under publisher NCsoft. He was involved with a number of NCsoft's MMORPGs, including Lineage (1998) and Tabula Rasa (2007), before his 2009 departure.

The Wizardry series was created for the Apple II at roughly the same time, in 1981. Wizardry featured a 3D, first-person view, an intuitive interface, party-based combat, and pre-constructed levels that encouraged players to draw their own maps.[17] It allowed players to import characters from previous games, albeit with reduced experience levels, and introduced a moral alignment feature that limited the areas players could visit.[17] The series was extremely difficult when compared to other RPGs of the time,[22][23] possibly because they were modeled after pen-and-paper role-playing games of similar difficulty.[11] Wizardry IV (1986) in particular is considered one of the most difficult CRPGs ever created.[23] It is unique in that the player controls the villain of the first game in an attempt to escape his prison dungeon and gain freedom in the above world.[4][23] Unlike Ultima, which evolved with each installment, the Wizardry series retained and refined the same style and core mechanics over time, and improved only its graphics and level design as the years progressed.[4] The series' most famous titles did not appear until years later,[24] and installments were published as recently as 2001. Wizardry VII (1992) has been said to possess one of the best character class systems of any CRPG.[25]

By June 1982, Temple of Apshai had sold 30,000 copies, Wizardry 24,000 copies, and Ultima 20,000.[26] Telengard, a BASIC port of the earlier PDP-10 game DND,[27] and Dungeons of Daggorath, both released in 1982, introduced real-time gameplay.[17] Earlier dungeon crawl games had used turn-based movement, in which the enemies only moved when the adventuring party did.[28] Tunnels of Doom, produced the same year, introduced separate screens for exploration and combat.[17] Dragon Quest is most commonly claimed as the first role-playing video game produced for a console, though journalist Joe Fielder cites the earlier Dragonstomper.[21]

Early Japanese RPG's[edit | edit source]

Yamaha YIS503II MSX Personal Computer

While the Japanese video game industry has long been viewed as console-centric in the Western world, due to the worldwide success of Japanese consoles beginning with the NES, the country had in fact produced thousands of commercial personal computer games from the late 1970s up until the mid-1990s, in addition to dōjin soft independent games. The country's computer market was largely dominated by the NEC PC-8801 & PC-9801, though with some competition from the Sharp X1 & X68000, FM-7 & FM Towns, and MSX & MSX2. A key difference between Western and Japanese systems at the time was the latter's higher display resolutions (640x400) in order to accommodate Japanese text which in turn had an impact on game design. Japanese computers also employed Yamaha FM synthesis sound boards since the early 1980s, allowing video game music composers such as Yuzo Koshiro to produce highly regarded chiptune music for RPG companies such as Nihon Falcom. Due to hardware differences, only a small portion of Japanese computer games were released in North America, as ports to either consoles (like the NES or Genesis) or American PC platforms (like MS-DOS).[29] Early Japanese RPGs were also influenced by visual novel adventure games, which were developed by companies such as Enix, Square, Nihon Falcom and Koei before they moved onto developing RPGs.[30]

Japan's earliest RPGs were released by Koei, the first being The Dragon and Princess (ドラゴン&プリンセス) for the PC-8001 in 1982. It featured adventure game elements and revolved around rescuing a kidnapped princess.[31] One of its most interesting features was its combat system: Following a random encounter, the game transitions from a text adventure interface to a separate battle screen, where a tactical turn-based combat system is used, a year before Ultima III: Exodus. [1] Also in 1982,[32] Koei released another early Japanese RPG, Danchizuma no Yuwaku[33][34] (Seduction of the Condominium Wife),[32] a PC-8001 title that also featured adventure game elements in addition to eroge adult content.[32] Yet another early Japanese RPG from 1982 was Spy Daisakusen, an early game based on the Mission: Impossible franchise; it was notable for replacing the fantasy setting of traditional RPG's with a modern setting. [2] [3]

In 1983, Koei noted that a lot of the early RPG attempts in Japan, including their own the hybrid adventure-strategy-RPG title The Dragon and Princess, were hybrids rather than "true" RPG's, due to there being uncertainty at the time over what a "true" RPG was. [4] This initial confusion led to a number of experimental hybrids in the early 80's, combining RPG's with other genres, resulting in new sub-genres such as the action RPG and tactical RPG arising in Japan.

In June 1983, Koei released Sword & Sorcery (剣と魔法) for the PC-8001, and it also revolved around rescuing a princess in addition to killing a wizard.[35] That same year, Koei released Secrets of Khufu (クフ王の秘密), a dungeon crawl RPG that revolved around a search for the treasure of Khufu.[31] ASCII released their own RPG that year called Arfgaldt (アスキー), an FM-7 title also featuring adventure game elements.[31] Another important early Japanese RPG was Bokosuka Wars,[36] originally released for the Sharp X1 computer in 1983[37] and later ported to the NES in 1985.[36] The game's success in Japan helped lay the foundations for the tactical role-playing game subgenre, or the "simulation RPG" as it is known in Japan, with its blend of role-playing and strategy video game elements. The game revolves around a leader who must lead his army against overwhelming enemy forces, while recruiting soldiers along the way and with each unit able to gain experience and level up through battle.[36] The game is also considered to be an early example of a real-time,[38] action RPG.[39][40] Another important title released that same year was Koei's Nobunaga's Ambition for Japanese computers in 1983. It was an early attempt at combining role-playing, turn-based grand strategy and management simulation elements, setting the standard for future simulation RPGs. This trend continued with its sequels and other Koei games such as 1989's Bandit Kings of Ancient China as well as the Capcom game Destiny of an Emperor released that same year.[41]

File:Hydlide screenshot.png
Screenshot of the original NEC PC-8801 version of Hydlide (1984), an early action role-playing game.

Also in 1983, Yoshi Kiya, a game designer at Nihon Falcom, developed the computer game Panorama Toh, a proto-action RPG, demonstrating some of Kiya's ideas of RPG design which departed significantly from the turn-based norm at the time. The game combined RPG gameplay with real-time combat, combined fantasy with sci-fi elements, and introduced survival mechanics. It would be the precursor to his most famous franchise, Dragon Slayer[5] [6]

In 1984, Nihon Falcom released Yoshio Kiya's Dragon Slayer, a historically significant title that laid the foundations for the Japanese role-playing game industry.[42] It was a real-time hack and slash dungeon crawler that is considered the first action role-playing game, a subgenre that it laid the foundations for,[43][44] alongside the arcade game The Tower of Druaga released the same year.[45] Dragon Slayer was a major success in Japan,[46] and led to the emergence of a distinct action role-playing game subgenre on Japanese computers during the mid-1980s, with Nihon Falcom at the forefront of this new subgenre.[47] Dragon Slayer as well as The Tower of Druaga laid the foundations for future action RPG series like Hydlide, Ys and The Legend of Zelda.[45] Hydlide, released for the PC-8801 in 1984 and the Famicom in 1986, added several innovations to the action RPG subgenre, including the ability to switch between attack mode and defense mode, quick save and load options which can be done at any moment of the game through the use of passwords as the primary back-up, and the introduction of a health regeneration mechanic where health and magic slowly regenerate when standing still, a feature also used in Falcom's Ys series from 1987 onwards.[48]

Also in 1984, Henk Rogers' The Black Onyx was released on the PC-8801 in Japan, where it became one of the best-selling computer games and was voted Game of the Year by Login, the largest Japanese computer game magazine at the time. The game is thus credited for bringing wider attention to computer role-playing games in the country.[49] The cyberpunk RPG Psychic City,[50] released by HOT・B for the FM-7[51] and PC-8801 in 1984, departed from the fantasy theme common in other RPGs at the time (such as Hydlide and The Black Onyx) in favour of a science fiction plot, set in a post-apocalyptic city devastated by World War III and where the protagonist fights using psychic/telepathic abilities. The game later served as the basis for the 1987 NES RPG Hoshi wo Miru Hito.[52]

Dragon Slayer's success led to a 1985 sequel Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu,[46] which became the best-selling PC game in Japan.[53] It was a full-fledged RPG with character stats and a large quest,[53] with action-based combat setting it apart from other RPGs,[47] including both melee combat and projectile magic attacks,[46] while incorporating a side-scrolling platform game view during exploration and an overhead view during battle.[46] Xanadu also featured innovative gameplay mechanics such as individual experience for equipped items,[53] and an early Karma morality system, where the player character's Karma meter will rise if he commits sin which in turn affects the temple's reaction to him.[44][53] It is also considered a "proto-Metroidvania" game,[54] due to being an "RPG turned on its side" that allowed players to run, jump, collect, and explore.[55] The way the Dragon Slayer series reworked the entire game system of each installment was an influence on Final Fantasy, which would do the same for each of its installments.[56] According to GamesTM and John Szczepaniak (of Retro Gamer and The Escapist), Enix's Dragon Quest was also influenced by Dragon Slayer and in turn defined many other RPGs.[42] Falcom would soon become one of the three most important Japanese role-playing game developers in the 1980s, alongside Enix and Square,[42] both of which were influenced by Falcom.[42][57]

Hydlide II: Shine of Darkness in 1985 featured an early morality meter, where the player can be aligned with justice, normal, or evil, which is affected by whether the player kills evil monsters, good monsters, or humans, and in turn affects the reactions of the townsfolk towards the player.[48] Magical Zoo's The Screamer, released for the PC-8801 in 1985, was an early example of a real-time shooter-based RPG.[citation needed] Set after World War III, the game also featured elements of post-apocalyptic science fiction as well as cyberpunk and bio-horror themes.[58][59] Square also released their first RPG that same year, which was an early futuristic sci-fi RPG for the PC-8801,[60] Genesis: Beyond The Revelation,[61] featuring a post-apocalyptic setting.[60] Other sci-fi RPGs released in 1985 include The Earth Fighter Rayieza by Enix,[62] and Kogado Studio's MSX game Cosmic Soldier, which introduced an early dialogue conversation system, where the player can recruit allies by talking to them, choose whether to kill or spare an enemy, and engage enemies in conversation, similar to the later more famous Megami Tensei.[63]

Golden Age (late 1980s–early 1990s)[edit | edit source]

Golden Age of Western computer RPG's[edit | edit source]

File:Chaos Strikes Back in-game screenshot.png
Many early RPGs, including avatar, moria and Wizardry, used a primitive form of first-person perspective, and games like Dungeons of Daggorath and Dungeon Master also featured real-time gameplay. Pictured here is Dungeon Master: Chaos Strikes Back (1989).

The Might and Magic series, highly popular in the 1980s and onward, began with the 1986 release of Might and Magic Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum for the Apple II. It encompassed a total of nine games, the most recent of which was released in 2002, as well as the popular turn-based strategy series Heroes of Might and Magic. The series featured a mix of complex statistics, large numbers of weapons and spells, and enormous worlds in which to play.[64] It was among the longest-lived CRPG series, alongside Ultima and Wizardry,[65] It is also notable for making race and gender an important aspect of gameplay.[4][64]

Strategic Simulations, Inc.'s series of "Gold Box" CRPGs, which began in 1988 with Pool of Radiance for the Apple II and Commodore 64,[66] was the first widely successful official video game adaptation of TSR's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons license and rules. These games featured a first-person display for movement and exploration, combined with an overhead tactical display for combat that tried to model D&D's turn-based mechanics. Better known for producing computer wargames,[67] SSI created one of the defining series of the period.[65] The games spawned a series of novels, and titles continued to be published until the game engine was retired in 1993, although users who had purchased Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures were able to create their own adventures and play them using the Gold Box engine.[65] The later titles were developed by Stormfront Studios, who also produced Neverwinter Nights, a multi-player implementation[68] of the Gold Box engine which ran on America Online from 1991 to 1997. As in the Wizardry series, characters could be imported from one game into another.

SSI's earlier "hardcore" RPG Wizard's Crown (1985) featured eight-character parties, a skill-based experience system, highly detailed combat mechanics, dozens of commands, injuries and bleeding, and strengths and weaknesses versus individual weapon classes.[69][70] The game did not, however, offer much in terms of role-playing or narrative beyond buying, selling and killing.[69] Wizard's Crown was followed by The Eternal Dagger in 1987, a similar game that removed some of its predecessor's more complicated elements.[70]

Interplay Productions developed a string of hits in the form of The Bard's Tale (1985) and its sequels under publisher Electronic Arts, originally for the Apple II. The series combined colorful graphics with a clean interface and simple rules, and was one of the first CRPG series to reach a mainstream audience. It spawned a series of novels by authors such as Mercedes Lackey, something that arguably did not occur again until the release of Diablo in 1997.[4][22] The series allowed players to explore cities in detail, at a time when many games relegated them to simple menu screens with "buy"/"sell" options. A construction set released in 1991 allowed players to create their own games, and Interplay re-used the engine in its 1988 post-apocalyptic CRPG Wasteland.[22]

FTL Games' Dungeon Master (1987) for the Atari ST introduced several user-interface innovations, such as direct manipulation of objects and the environment using the mouse.[65] Unusually for the era, it features the real-time, first-person viewpoint now common in first-person shooters and more recent games such as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.[71] The game's complex magic system used runes that could be combined in specific sequences to create magical spells. These sequences were not detailed in the game manual, instead players were required to discover them through trial and error. Sequels followed in 1989 and 1993. The game's first-person, real-time mechanics were copied in SSI's "Black Box" series, from Eye of the Beholder (1990) onward.[71] Dungeon Master sold 40,000 copies in its first year of release,[72] and became the best-selling Atari ST title.[73]

Times of Lore, released by Origin Systems in 1988, introduced the action-adventure and action role-playing game formula of console titles such as The Legend of Zelda to the American computer RPG market.[74] Times of Lore directly inspired several later titles by Origin Systems, including the 1990 games Bad Blood, an action RPG based on the same engine,[75] and Ultima VI: The False Prophet, which used the same interface.[76]

Quest for Glory (1992) was produced by Sierra Entertainment, known for point-and-click adventure games, and combined CRPG and adventure-game mechanics into a unique, genre-bending mix.[64] The series featured involved stories, complex puzzles, and arcade-like combat. The last of its five titles was released in 1998.[64] It was originally conceived as a tetralogy built around the themes of the four cardinal directions, the four classical elements, the four seasons and the four mythologies. The designers felt that the series' storyline made Shadows of Darkness too difficult, and so inserted a fifth game, Wages of War, into the canon and renumbered the series.[77]

Sierra's Betrayal at Krondor (1993) was based upon author Raymond E. Feist's Midkemia setting. It featured turn-based, semi-tactical combat, a skill-based experience system, and a magic system similar to that of Dungeon Master,[71] but suffered due to outdated, polygonal graphics. Feist was heavily consulted during development, and later created his own novelization based upon the game. The sequel Betrayal in Antara (1997) re-used the first game's engine but—as Sierra had lost its license for Krondor—was set in a different universe. Return to Krondor (1998) used a new game engine, but returned to Feist's setting.[64]

Westwood Studios's Lands of Lore series (1993) featured a story-based approach to RPG design. It served as a stylistic "mirror" to Japanese RPGs of the time, with brightly colored, cheerful graphics, a simple combat system borrowed from Dungeon Master, and a semi-linear story. These elements contrasted with Western RPGs' stereotype as dark, gritty and rules-centric games.[78]

Golden Age of Japanese computer RPG's[edit | edit source]

The late 1980s to early 1990s is considered the golden age of Japanese computer gaming, which would flourish until its decline around the mid-1990s, as consoles eventually dominated the Japanese market.[60] A notable Japanese computer RPG from around this time was WiBArm, the earliest known RPG to feature 3D polygonal graphics. It was a 1986 role-playing shooter released by Arsys Software for the PC-88 in Japan and ported to MS-DOS for Western release by Brøderbund. In WiBArm, the player controls a transformable mecha robot, switching between a 2D side-scrolling view during outdoor exploration to a fully 3D polygonal third-person perspective inside buildings, while bosses are fought in an arena-style 2D shoot 'em up battle. The game featured a variety of weapons and equipment as well as an automap, and the player could upgrade equipment and earn experience to raise stats.[79][80] Unlike first-person RPGs at the time that were restricted to 90-degree movements, WiBArm's use of 3D polygons allowed full 360-degree movement.[80]

Another 1986 release was Falcom's Xanadu Scenario II, an early example of an expansion pack.[81] The game was non-linear, allowing the eleven levels to be explored in any order.[82] Dragon Slayer Jr: Romancia simplified the RPG mechanics of Xanadu, such as removing the character customization and simplifying the numerical statistics into icons, and emphasized faster-paced platform action, with a strict 30-minute time limit. The action took place entirely in a side-scrolling view rather than switching to a separate overhead combat screen like its predecessor. These changes Romancia more like a side-scrolling action-adventure game.[56][83][84] Square's 1986 release, Cruise Chaser Blassty, was a sci-fi RPG that had the player control a customizable mecha robot from a first-person view.[60] That same year also saw the arcade release of the sequel to The Tower of Druaga, The Return of Ishtar,[85] an early action RPG[86] to feature two-player cooperative gameplay,[85] dual-stick control in single player, a female protagonist, the first heroic couple in gaming, and the first password save system in an arcade game.[87]

In 1987, Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family (Legacy of the Wizard) returned to the deeper action-RPG mechanics of Xanadu while maintaining the fully side-scrolling view of Romancia.[84] It also featured an open world and nonlinear gameplay similar to "Metroidvania" platform-adventures, making Drasle Family an early example of a non-linear, open-world action RPG.[83] Another "Metroidvania" style open-world action RPG released that year was System Sacom's Sharp X1 computer game Euphory, which was possibly the only Metroidvania-style multiplayer action RPG produced, allowing two-player cooperative gameplay.[79] The fifth Dragon Slayer title, Sorcerian, was also released in 1987. It was a party-based action RPG, with the player controlling a party of four characters at the same time in a side-scrolling view. The game also featured character creation, highly customizable characters, class-based puzzles, and a new scenario system, allowing players to choose which of 15 scenarios, or quests, to play through in the order of their choice. It was also an episodic video game, with expansion disks released soon after offering more scenarios.[88][89] Falcom also released the first installment of its popular, long-running Ys series in 1987. Besides Falcom's own Dragon Slayer series, Ys was also influenced by Hydlide, from which it borrowed certain mechanics such as health-regeneration when standing still, a mechanic that has since become common in video games today.[42][48] Ys was also a precursor to RPGs that emphasize storytelling,[90] and it is known for its 'bump attack' system, where the protagonist Adol automatically attacks when running into enemies off-center, making the game more accessible and the usually tedious level-grinding task more swift and enjoyable for audiences at the time.[91] The game also had what is considered to be one of the best and most influential video game music soundtracks of all time, composed by Yuzo Koshiro and Mieko Ishikawa.[91][92][93] In terms of the number of game releases, Ys is second only to Final Fantasy as the largest Eastern role-playing game franchise.[91]

Hydlide 3: The Space Memories, released for the MSX in 1987 and for the Mega Drive as Super Hydlide in 1989, adopted the morality meter of its predecessor, expanded on its time option with the introduction of an in-game clock setting day-night cycles and a need to sleep and eat, and made other improvements such as cut scenes for the opening and ending, a combat system closer to The Legend of Zelda, the choice between four distinct character classes, a wider variety of equipment and spells, and a weight system affecting the player's movement depending on the overall weight of the equipment carried.[48] That same year, Kogado Studio's sci-fi RPG Cosmic Soldier: Psychic War featured a unique "tug of war" style real-time combat system, where battles are a clash of energy between the party and the enemy, with the player needing to push the energy towards the enemy to strike them, while being able to use a shield to block or a suction ability to absorb the opponent's power. It also featured a unique non-linear conversation system, where the player can recruit allies by talking to them, choose whether to kill or spare an enemy, and engage enemies in conversation, similar to Megami Tensei.[94] Also in 1987, Shiryou Sensen: War of the Dead, an MSX2 title developed by Fun Factory and published by Victor Music Industries, was the first true survival horror RPG.[82][95] Designed by Katsuya Iwamoto, the game revolved around a female SWAT member Lila rescuing survivors in an isolated monster-infested town and bringing them to safety in a church. It was open-ended like Dragon Quest and had real-time side-view battles like Zelda II. Unlike other RPGs at the time, however, the game had a dark and creepy atmosphere expressed through the story, graphics, and music,[82] while the gameplay used shooter-based combat and gave limited ammunition for each weapon, forcing the player to search for ammo and often run away from monsters in order to conserve ammo.[95] That same year saw the release of Laplace no Ma, another hybrid of survival horror and RPG, though with more traditional RPG elements such as turn-based combat. It was mostly set in a mansion infested with undead creatures, and the player controlled a party of several characters with different professions, including a scientist who constructs tools and a journalist who takes pictures.[96]

File:Star Cruiser screenshot.jpg
Star Cruiser (1988), an early role-playing shooter, combined first-person shooter and role-playing game elements along with 3D polygon graphics.

In 1988, Arsys Software's Star Cruiser was an innovative action RPG released for the PC-8801.[97] It was notable for being an early example of an RPG with fully 3D polygonal graphics,[97] combined with first-person shooter gameplay,[98] which would occasionally switch to space flight simulator gameplay when exploring outer space with six degrees of freedom. All the backgrounds, objects and opponents in the game were rendered in 3D polygons, many years before they were widely adopted by the video game industry.[97] The game also emphasized storytelling, with plot twists and extensive character dialogues,[97] taking place in a futuristic science fiction setting.[99] It won the 1988 Game of the Year awards from the Japanese computer game magazines POPCOM and Oh!X.[100] Star Cruiser was later ported to the Mega Drive console in 1990.[98] Another 1988 release, Last Armageddon, produced for the PC-8801 and later ported to the PC Engine CD and NES consoles in 1990, featured a unique post-apocalyptic storyline set in a desolate future where humanity has become extinct and the protagonists are demon monsters waging war against an alien species.[101] The Scheme, released by Bothtec for the PC-8801 in 1988, was an action RPG with a similar side-scrolling open-world gameplay to Metroid.[79] That same year, Ys II introduced the unique ability to transform into a monster, which allows the player to both scare human non-player characters for unique dialogues as well as interact with all the monsters. This is a recurring highlight in the series, offering the player insight into the enemies, to an extent that very few other games allow to this day.[91] Also that same year, War of the Dead Part 2 for the MSX2 and PC-88 abandoned certain RPG elements of its predecessor, such as random encounters, and instead adopted more action-adventure elements from Metal Gear while retaining the horror atmosphere of its predecessor.[95]

1988 also saw the debut of Telenet Japan's Exile, a series of action-platform RPGs,[102] beginning with XZR: Idols of Apostate. The series was controversial for its plot, which revolves around a time-traveling Crusades-era Syrian Islamic Assassin who assassinates various religious/historical figures as well as modern-day political leaders,[103] with similarities to the present-day Assassin's Creed action game series.[104] The gameplay of Exile included both overhead exploration and side-scrolling combat, featured a heart monitor to represent the player's Attack Power and Armour Class statistics, and another controversial aspect of the game involved taking drugs (instead of potions) that increase/decrease attributes but with side-effects such as affecting the heart-rate or causing death.[103] An early attempt at incorporating a point-and-click interface in a real-time overhead action RPG was Silver Ghost,[105] a 1988 NEC PC-8801 game by Kure Software Koubou.[106] It was an action-strategy RPG where characters could be controlled using a cursor.[105] It was cited by Camelot Software Planning's Hiroyuki Takahashi as inspiration for the Shining series of tactical RPGs. According to Takahashi, Silver Ghost was "a simulation action type of game where you had to direct, oversee and command multiple characters."[107] Unlike later tactical RPGs, however, Silver Ghost was not turn-based, but instead used real-time strategy and action role-playing game elements.[105] A similar game released by Kure Software Koubou that same year was First Queen, a unique hybrid between a real-time strategy, action RPG, and strategy RPG. Like an RPG, the player can explore the world, purchase items, and level up, and like a strategy video game, it focuses on recruiting soldiers and fighting against large armies rather than small parties. The game's "Gochyakyara" ("Multiple Characters") system let the player control one character at a time while the others are controlled by computer AI that follow the leader, and where battles are large-scale with characters sometimes filling an entire screen.[108][109]

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes in 1989 departed from the action-oriented gameplay of previous Dragon Slayer titles, and instead used a more traditional turn-based combat system.[110] In 1990, Data East's Gate of Doom was an arcade action RPG that combined beat 'em up fighting gameplay with fantasy role-playing and introduced an isometric perspective.[111] That same year, Enix released a unique biological simulation action RPG by Almanic that revolved around the theme of evolution, 46 Okunen Monogatari, a revised version of which was released in 1992 as E.V.O.: Search for Eden.[112] That same year, Alpha Denshi's Crossed Swords for the arcades combined the first-person beat 'em up gameplay of SNK's The Super Spy (released the same year) with RPG elements, while replacing the first-person shooting with hack & slash combat.[113] Also in 1990, Hideo Kojima's SD Snatcher, while turn-based, abandoned random encounters and introduced an innovative first-person shooter-based battle system where firearm weapons (each with different abilities and target ranges) have limited ammunition and the player can aim at specific parts of the enemy's body with each part weakening the enemy in different ways; an auto-battle feature could also be enabled. Such a battle system has rarely been used since,[114] though similar battle systems based on targeting individual body parts can later be found in Square's Vagrant Story (2000),[115] Bethesda's Fallout 3 (2008), and Nippon Ichi's Last Rebellion (2010).[116]

In 1991, Nihon Falcom's Brandish was an early overhead action RPG to use mouse controls, where the player could move forward, backward, turn, strafe and attack by clicking on boxes surrounding the player character.[117] The 1991 Dragon Slayer title Lord Monarch departed from the action RPG gameplay of its predecessors, instead using an early form of real-time strategy gameplay.[110] The erotic adult RPG Dragon Knight III, released in 1991 for the PC-8801 and as Knights of Xentar for MS-DOS, introduced a unique pausable real-time battle system,[118][119] where characters automatically attack based on a list of different AI scripts,[119] though this meant the player had no control over the characters during battle other than to give commands for spells, item use, and AI routines.[118] That same year, Arcus Odyssey by Wolf Team (now Namco Tales Studio) was an action RPG that featured an isometric perspective and co-operative multiplayer gameplay.[120] The sequel to the first-person shooter role-playing game Star Cruiser, simply called Star Cruiser 2, was released in 1992,[121] for the PC-9821 and FM Towns computers.[122] T&E Soft released the PC-98 game Sword World PC in 1992 and a console version Sword World SFC for the Super Famicom in 1993.[123] It was officially based on Sword World RPG, a popular Japanese table-top role-playing game. The video game versions were multiplayer titles and early attempts at recreating an open-ended, table-top role-playing experience on video game platforms, being set in the same world as Sword World and implementing the same rules and scenarios.[124] Wolf Team's Dark Kingdom, released for the PC-98 in 1992 and ported to the SNES console in 1994, featured a unique storyline that revolved around the players conquering the world as a villain instead of saving the world.[125]

Decline (mid-1990s)[edit | edit source]

Decline of traditional Western RPG[edit | edit source]

There was this thought that maybe, like adventure games, RPGs were going to die out, too. [...] I wasn't the only developer that thought I'd coded myself into a corner.

Brenda Brathwaite, former Wizardry developer[4]

Western RPGs faced a sharp decline circa 1995, as developers lost their ability to keep up with hardware advances. RPGs had been at or near the forefront of gaming technology, but the improved computer graphics and increased storage space facilitated by CD-ROM technology created expectations that developers struggled to meet.[126][127] This caused lengthy delays between releases, and closures among less popular franchises.[126] A few years later, one magazine wrote that "[d]uring the now-infamous mid-nineties CRPG lull, the toughest dungeons were the bottomless pits of failed designs, and the fiercest beasts the deadly-dull CRPG releases."[128]

Increases in development budgets and team sizes meant that sequels took three or more years to be released, instead of the almost-yearly releases seen in SSI's Gold Box series.[126] The growth of development teams increased the likelihood that software bugs would appear, as code produced by programmers working in different teams was merged into a whole.[129][Note 6] A lack of technical standards among hardware manufacturers forced developers to support each manufacturer's implementation, or risk losing players.[129]

Competition arose from other genres. Players turned away from RPGs, flight simulators and adventure games in favor of action-oriented titles, such as first-person shooters and real-time strategy games.[126] Later RPGs would draw influences from action genres,[126][Note 7] but would face new challenges in the form of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), a late-1990s trend that may have siphoned players away from single-player RPGs.[129] They also faced competition from Japanese console RPGs, which were becoming increasingly dominant around that time,[130] for reasons such as more accessible, faster-paced action-adventure-oriented gameplay,[78][131] and a stronger emphasis on storytelling and character interactions.[132]

Western RPGs changed following this period. Non-player characters were given more dialogue, as in Baldur's Gate, party sizes became smaller, as in Fallout, and combat became faster, as in Diablo.[126] Games became more accessible. Their feel became more cinematic rather than novelistic, and they focused on a single player-made character who progressed through the game as the player's sole avatar.[126] Video games became darker and more thematically consistent. Designers abandoned or reconciled some of the eccentric elements and pastiche of the 8-bit and 16-bit titles. Diablo, for instance, displayed a consistent Gothic style throughout the series, and the Elder Scrolls series downplayed its cat- and lizard-people in favor of the more recognizable Dark Elves and Nords.[133]

Decline of Japan's PC RPG scene[edit | edit source]

From the mid-1990s, the Japanese computer game industry began declining. This was partly due to the death of the NEC PC-9801 computer format, as the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation became increasingly powerful in the console market while the computer market became increasingly dominated by the IBM Personal Computer and Microsoft Windows 95. This led to many Japanese PC manufacturers either continuing to develop for Windows 95 or moving over to the more lucrative console market. While most developers turned their attention to the console market, some developers dedicated to content unsuitable for consoles (such as eroge and complex military strategy games) continued their focus on the PC market.[29]

In 1996, Night Slave was a shooter RPG released for the PC-98 that combined the side-scrolling shooter gameplay of Assault Suits Valken and Gradius, including an armaments system that employs recoil physics, with many RPG elements such as permanently levelling up the mecha and various weapons using power-orbs obtained from defeating enemies as well as storyline cut scenes. These cut scenes also occasionally contain lesbian adult content.[79]

Late 1990's[edit | edit source]

Diablo and action RPGs[edit | edit source]

The dark fantasy-themed RPG Diablo was released by Blizzard Entertainment on December 31, 1996, in the midst of a stagnant PC RPG market.[4][134] Diablo is set in the fictional kingdom of Khanduras, in the world of Sanctuary, and has the player take control of a lone hero who battles to rid the world of Diablo, the Lord of Terror. Its development was influenced by Moria and Angband,[12][134] and Diablo resembles a roguelike due to its focus on dungeon crawling, and its procedurally generated levels. Major differences include the commercial quality of the game's graphics, its simplified character development, and its fast, real-time action.[134][135] A factor in Diablo's success was its support for online, collaborative play over a local area network or through its online service. This greatly extended its replay value, though cheating was a problem.[4][134][135] While not the first RPG to feature real-time combat,[Note 8] Diablo's effect on the market was significant, a reflection of the changes that took place in other genres following the release of the action titles, Doom and Dune II.[134] It had many imitators, and its formula of simple, fast combat and replayability were used by what were later referred to as "Diablo clones", and more broadly "action RPGs".[136]

Action RPGs typically give each player real-time control of a single character. Combat and action are emphasized, while plot and character interaction are kept to a minimum, a formula referred to as "the Fight, Loot, and Level cycle".[137][138] The inclusion of any content beyond leveling up and killing enemies becomes a challenge in these "hack and slash" games, because the sheer number of items, locations and monsters makes it difficult to design an encounter that is unique and works regardless of how a character has been customized.[137] On the other hand, a game that omits technical depth can seem overly streamlined.[137] The result in either case is a repetitive experience that does not feel tailored to the player.[137]

RPGs can suffer in the area of exploration. Traditional RPGs encourage exploration of every detail of the game world, and provide for a more organic experience in which NPCs are distributed according to the internal logic of the game world or plot.[139] Action games reward players for quick movement from location to location, and tend to ensure that no obstacles occur along the way.[139] Games such as Mass Effect streamline the player's movements across the game world by indicating which NPCs can be interacted with, and by making it easier for players to find locations and shopkeepers who can exchange items for money or goods.[139][Note 9] Some of the best characteristics of RPGs can be lost when these road blocks are eliminated in the name of streamlining the player's experience.[139]

One action RPG that avoided these limitations is Deus Ex (2000), which offered multiple solutions to problems through intricately layered dialogue choices, a deep skill tree, and hand-crafted environments.[137] Players were challenged to act in character through dialog choices appropriate to his or her chosen role, and by intelligent use of the surrounding environment. This produced a unique experience that was tailored to each player.[137]

Diablo was followed by the Diablo: Hellfire expansion pack in 1997, and a sequel, Diablo II, in 2000. Diablo II received its own expansion, Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, in 2001. Diablo, Diablo II, Diablo II: Lord of Destruction and the Diablo II strategy guide are sold together as the Diablo Battle Chest, and are still sold over a decade later. A third game, Diablo III, was announced on June 28, 2008, and released on May 15, 2012.[143][144] Examples of "Diablo clones" include Fate (2005), Sacred (2004), Torchlight (2009), Din's Curse (2011) and Hellgate: London (2007).[Note 10] Like Diablo and Rogue before them, Torchlight, Din's Curse, Hellgate: London and Fate use procedural generation to create new game levels dynamically.[146][147][148][149]

Interplay, BioWare, and Black Isle[edit | edit source]

Interplay popularized the use of an overhead, axonometric projection in its RPGs during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Pictured here is Fallout 2 (1998).

Interplay, now known as Interplay Entertainment and a publisher in its own right, produced several late 1990s RPG titles through two new developers, Black Isle Studios and BioWare. Black Isle released the groundbreaking Fallout (1997) which, reminiscent of Interplay's earlier Wasteland, was set in an alternate history future America following a nuclear holocaust.[150][151] One of the few successful late-1990 video game RPGs not set in a swords-and-sorcery environment, Fallout was notable for its open-ended and largely non-linear gameplay and quest system, tongue-in-cheek humor, and pervasive sense of style and imagery.[4][150] Players were afforded numerous moral choices to shape the game world based on how NPCs reacted to the player, much like the original Ultimas.[4] Fallout was nearly as influential on post-crash RPGs as Ultima was on Golden Age RPGs, and is considered by some to be the first "modern" CRPG.[152] Black Isle produced a sequel, Fallout 2, in 1998. Third-party developer Micro Forté produced Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, a tactical RPG based on the franchise, which was published in 2001 under Interplay's strategy division 14 Degrees East.

BioWare's Baldur's Gate series was no less important, the most significant D&D series to be released since the Gold Box era.[153] The games created the most accurate and in-depth D&D simulation yet, and featured support for up to six-players in cooperative mode.[154] Baldur's Gate (1998) provided an epic story with NPC followers and written dialogue that continued through both titles and two expansion packs.[4] Black Isle produced a more combat-oriented series, Icewind Dale, soon thereafter.[155]

The critically acclaimed D&D title, Planescape: Torment, was developed by Black Isle and published by Interplay in 1999, and became known for its moody, artistic air and extensive writing.[4] Interplay's Fallout, Planescape: Torment and particularly, Baldur's Gate[156] are considered by critics to be some of the finest RPGs ever made.[10]

I think there are a few reasons for Fallout's success. It gave you tremendous freedom to let you wander wherever you chose. This freedom—to take whatever quests you want and solve them however you choose—is what an RPG was always supposed to be about.

Chris Avellone, co-designer of Fallout 2[4]

Black Isle's games during this time period often shared engines to cut down on development time and costs, and most feature an overhead axonometrically projected third-person interface. Their titles, apart from the two Fallout games, used various versions of the Infinity Engine that had been developed by BioWare for Baldur's Gate. Interplay's collapse resulted in the shutdown of Black Isle and the cancellation of the third games in both the Fallout and Baldur's Gate series, as well as of an original title, Torn.[157][158][159] Instead, they published a trio of console-only action RPGs based on the two franchises: Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (2001), Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II (2004), and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (2004). One of the last CRPGs released before Interplay seemingly went defunct was the poorly received Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader (2003) by developer Reflexive Entertainment,[160] notable for using the SPECIAL system introduced in Fallout.[161]

Interplay announced in 2008 that money from its sale of the Fallout intellectual property to Bethesda Softworks and the sale of its controlling interests to a Luxembourg-based firm would be used to relaunch its game development studio. The plan was to develop Wii Virtual Console and sequel versions of some of its classic console series, including Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Earthworm Jim.[162][163][164][165] A massively multiplayer online game based on the Fallout franchise has been in development, a project for which Interplay retained the creation rights, though Bethesda has filed several injunctions against Interplay in an attempt to prevent this. Development of the game is on hold, pending the outcome of the dispute.[166]

Japanese dōjin indie scene[edit | edit source]

In the late 1990s, a new Internet fad began, owing to simplistic software development kits such as the Japanese RPG Maker series (1988 onwards). Influenced by console RPGs and based mostly on the gameplay and style of the SNES and Sega Genesis games, a large group of young programmers and aficionados across the world began creating independent console-style computer RPGs and sharing them online.[167] An early successful example was Corpse Party (1996), a survival horror indie game created using the RPG Maker engine. Much like the survival horror adventure games Clock Tower (1995 onwards) and later Haunting Ground (2005), the player characters in Corpse Party lack any means of defending themselves; the game also featured up to 20 possible endings. However, the game would not be released in Western markets until 2011.[168] In an interview with GameDaily in 2007, MTVN's Dave Williams remarked that, "Games like this [user generated] have been sort of under the radar for something that could be the basis of a business. We have the resources and we can afford to invest more... I think it's going to be a great thing for the consumer."[169]

Early 21st century (2000s–present)[edit | edit source]

File:Neverwinter Nights 2 Visual Terrain Editor 1.jpg
In a nod toward the burgeoning mod scene for first-person shooters,[170] and like previous RPG construction kits, the Aurora and Electron (pictured here) toolsets for Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 allowed users to create and share their own custom modules online with their friends.

The new century saw an increasing number of multi-platform releases. The move to 3D game engines, along with constant improvements in graphic quality, led to progressively detailed and realistic game worlds.[171][172][173]

BioWare produced Neverwinter Nights (2002) for Atari, the first CRPG to fuse the third-edition Dungeons & Dragons rules with a 3D display in which the user could vary the viewing angle and distance. New game content could be generated using the Aurora toolset supplied as part of the game release, and players could share their modules and play cooperatively with friends online. Based in part on experiences while playing Ultima Online, one of the goals during development was to reproduce the feel of a live pen-and-paper RPG experience, complete with a human Dungeon Master.[170] Neverwinter Nights (NWN) was very successful commercially, and spawned three official expansion packs and a sequel developed by Obsidian Entertainment. BioWare later produced the acclaimed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which married the d20 system with the Star Wars franchise;[130] as well as the original titles Jade Empire (2005), Mass Effect (2007), Dragon Age: Origins (2009), Mass Effect 2 (2010) and Dragon Age II (2011), all of which were released for multiple platforms.[174][175]

During the production of Fallout 2, some of Black Isle's key members left the studio to form Troika Games, citing disagreements the development team structure.[176] The new studio's first title was Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001), an original, nonlinear steampunk-themed RPG with fantasy elements. Several Arcanum designers worked on Fallout, and the two titles share an aesthetic and sense of irony and humor.[176][177] Arcanum was followed by The Temple of Elemental Evil (2003), based on the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition rules and set in the Greyhawk universe; and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (2004), based on White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade. All three games received positive reviews—as well as a cult following in the case of Arcanum[177] but were criticized for shipping with numerous bugs.[176] Troika's reputation became "Great Ideas. Never Enough Testing", and by 2005 the studio was in financial trouble, no longer able to secure funding for additional titles.[176][178] Most of the developers left for other studios.[176][177]

When Black Isle closed down, several employees formed Obsidian Entertainment, who released Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords (2005), a sequel to BioWare's successful Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Obsidian later created a sequel to another BioWare game: Neverwinter Nights 2 was released on Halloween of 2006, and featured the 3.5 Edition D&D ruleset. It was followed by two expansions and an "adventure pack", in 2007 and 2008. Obsidian Entertainment began development of a role-playing game based on the Alien film franchise in 2006, but it was canceled, along with an original title under the working name of Seven Dwarves.[179][180][181] Obsidian's most recent RPGs are Alpha Protocol (2010), a modern day spy thriller released for multiple platforms, and Fallout: New Vegas (2010), the latest installment in the Fallout franchise. The company is currently working on Dungeon Siege 3, as well as a second, un-named title.[182][183]

The Gothic series, by German developer Piranha Bytes, began with the first title in 2001. Lauded for its complex interaction with other in-game characters and attractive graphics, it was criticized for its difficult control scheme and high system requirements.[184][185][186] The third game in particular was notable for a "ton of quests", rewarding exploration, and approachable combat, but also for its high system requirements, unfinished feel and "atrocious" voice acting.[187] Piranha Bytes split from publisher JoWood Productions in 2007, and due to a contract between the two companies, JoWooD retained some rights to the Gothic name and to current and future games released under that trademark.[188] Piranha Bytes have since developed Risen, with publisher Deep Silver. A fourth, "casual" installment of the Gothic series, this time by developer Spellbound Entertainment, was released by JoWood in 2010.[189] The rights to the Gothic series may revert back to Piranha Bytes following the release of Risen II.[190]

Bethesda[edit | edit source]

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion exemplifies the switch toward real-time polygonal graphics since the early 2000s.

Bethesda Softworks has developed RPGs since 1994, in its The Elder Scrolls series. Daggerfall (1996) is notable as a 3D first-person RPG with an expansive world. The series drew attention to sandbox gameplay, which gives the player wide choices of free-roaming activities unrelated to the game's main storyline.[4][191] The Elder Scrolls series was seen as an alternative to the "highly linear, story-based games" that dominated the computer RPG genre at the time,[191] and the series' freedom of play inspired comparisons to Grand Theft Auto III. According to Todd Howard, "I think [Daggerfall is] one of those games that people can 'project' themselves on. It does so many things and allows [for] so many play styles that people can easily imagine what type of person they'd like to be in game."[4]

The series' popularity exploded with the release of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002), for the Xbox and PC. Morrowind became a successful and award-winning RPG due to its open-ended play, richly detailed game world, and flexibility in character creation and advancement.[191] Two expansions were released: Tribunal in 2002 and Bloodmoon in 2003. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006), released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as well as the PC, was a much-enhanced sequel that featured scripted NPC behaviors, significantly improved graphics, and the company's first foray into micro transactions, a recent trend among Western RPG makers.[192] Two expansion packs, Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine, were developed, as were several smaller downloadable packages that each cost between $1–3.

Interplay's decision to scrap plans for Fallout 3 and Bethesda's subsequent acquisition of the Fallout brand created mixed feelings among that series' fan community.[193] Bethesda released Fallout 3 in North America on October 28, 2008, to critical acclaim and much fanfare,[194] and the game was followed by five "content packs". The sequel Fallout: New Vegas, created by Obsidian Entertainment, used the same engine as Fallout 3 and was released to generally favorable reviews in 2010.[195][196]

Video game consoles and multi-platform titles[edit | edit source]

Multi-platform releases were common in the early days of RPGs, but there was a period during the 1990s when this was not generally the case.[173][197] The sixth generation of home gaming consoles led many game developers to resume the practice, and some opted to develop primarily or exclusively for consoles.[173] The combination of the Xbox and DirectX technologies proved especially popular due to the two systems' architectural similarities, as well as their common set of programming tools.[173][198] Multimedia and art assets, which account for a greater proportion of the development budget than in the past, are easily transferable between multiple platforms.[173]

This affected several major PC RPG releases, mostly due to console exclusivity publishing deals with Microsoft. BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was developed primarily for the Xbox, and ported to the PC several months later. Their original IP, Jade Empire (2005) was also an Xbox exclusive,[199] and did not receive a Windows version until Jade Empire – Special Edition (which included bonus content) was released on Feb 26, 2007. Obsidian's KOTOR sequel was released in December 2004 for the Xbox and followed by a PC version in February 2005, and Fable (2004) by Lionhead Studios received a PC port along with its reissue as a Platinum Hit in 2005.

Sequels to many of the above titles were also developed for next-gen systems, including Lionhead's Fable II (2008) and Fable III (2010).[200] The Fallout and Baldur's Gate series of PC RPGs spawned console-friendly, Diablo-style action titles for the PS2 and Xbox as their respective PC series ended.[Note 11] Bethesda's Oblivion was released simultaneously for console and PC, but was considered a major launch title for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.[201][202] BioWare continues to produce launch-exclusive RPG titles for the Xbox 360, such as Mass Effect (2007) and Mass Effect 2 (2010).[203]

[Console gamers] don’t have the patience to wade through the introduction of [new] systems. [...] [But] once they’re into the game, the console guys want just as deep of an experience as the PC guys.

Ken Levine and Todd Howard[204]

The change of focus from the PC platform to console systems has been criticized, due to the concessions required to adapt games to the altered interfaces and control systems, as well as a need to appeal to a wider demographic.[205] Developer Josh Sawyer lamented the decline of high-profile computer-exclusive RPGs, and claimed that the collapse of Troika Games meant that there were "no pure CRPG developers left", outside of small companies like Spiderweb Software.[206] Other criticisms include the increasing emphasis on video quality and voiceovers, and their effect on development budgets and the amount and quality of dialogue offered.[171][207] BioWare was considered the "savior" of the Western RPG following the drought in the mid-1990s, but its prominent Mass Effect series now sheds the novel-like writing style, and other conventions of Western RPGs, in favor of the cinematic style and streamlined action of Japanese console RPGs and other video game genres. These changes raise debate as to whether games such as Mass Effect and its sequels are truly RPGs.[141] On the other hand, BioWare's success has been attributed to successfully "marrying western mechanics with Japanese-style character interactions".[208]

There have been more subtle shifts away from the core influences of Dungeons & Dragons that existed in the 1980s and 1990s.[209] Games were originally closely tied to the system's basic mechanics such as dice rolls and turn-based tactical combat, but are now moving in the direction of real-time modes, simplified mechanics and skill-based interfaces.[Note 12] Dungeons & Dragons itself is diverging from its roots, as the 4th Edition D&D rules have been compared to role-playing video games like World of Warcraft[209] and Fire Emblem.[210][Note 13] Even as some non-role-playing games adopt RPG elements, developers and publishers are concerned that the term "role-playing game" might alienate non-RPG gamers.[209]

Development for multiple platforms is profitable, but difficult. Optimizations needed for one platform architecture do not necessarily translate to others. Individual platforms such as the Sega Genesis and PlayStation 3 are seen as difficult to develop for compared to their competitors, and developers are not yet fully accustomed to new technologies such as multi-core processors and hyper-threading.[173] Multi-platform releases are increasingly common, but not all differences between editions on multiple platforms can be fully explained by hardware alone,[Note 14] and there remain franchise stalwarts that exist solely on one system.[173] Developers for new platforms such as handheld and mobile systems do not have to operate under the pressure of $20 million budgets and the scrutiny of publishers' marketing experts.[171]

Independent games and European game studios[edit | edit source]

File:Legend of Grimrock screenshot 01.jpg
An in-game screenshot of Legend of Grimrock, a real-time, first person view, tile-based dungeon crawler in the style of Dungeon Master.[211]

The technical sophistication required to make modern video games and the high expectations of players make it difficult for independent developers to impress audiences viscerally, to the degree that large game makers with extensive budgets and development teams are able to,[212][Note 15] but innovation and quality need not necessarily be stymied. Europe, and Germany in particular, remains more receptive to PC-exclusives and, in general, to older, more "hardcore" design decisions.[134][171] Like the movie industry, the indie video game scene plays a crucial role in formulating new ideas and concepts that mainstream publishers and marketing departments, stuck in their old ways, might otherwise deem unworkable or too radical.[171] And, history is filled with examples of movies that would never have passed muster among corporate decision makers, but ended up being huge hits and all-time favorites anyway.[171] For example, indie developers can offer more dialogue or include one hundred hours of content; whereas bigger companies cannot are constrained by the expenses and expectations of voice-overs and advanced graphics.[171] Independent developers can be successful in focusing on niche markets.[171]

The new millennium saw a number of independently published RPGs for the PC, as well as a number of CRPGs developed in Europe and points farther east, which led some to call Eastern Europe a hotbed of RPG development in recent years.[209][Note 16] Examples of independently produced RPGs include Spiderweb Software's Geneforge (2001–2009) and Avernum (2000–2010) series, Pyrrhic Tales: Prelude to Darkness (2002) by Zero Sum Software, Eschalon: Book I (2007) and Book II (2010) by Basilisk Games, Depths of Peril (2007) and Din's Curse (2010) by Soldak Entertainment, and Knights of the Chalice (2009).[216][217] Examples of Eastern and Central European RPGs include Belgian developer Larian Studios' Divinity series, starting with Divine Divinity (2002); Russian developer Nival Interactive's series of tactical RPGs, starting with Silent Storm (2003); German developer Ascaron Entertainment's Sacred series of action RPGs, starting with Sacred (2004); Polish developer CD Projekt's The Witcher (2007), and Polish developer Reality Pump's Two Worlds (2007). Hybrid RPGs include Russian developer Elemental Games' multi-genre Space Rangers (2002) and Space Rangers 2: Dominators (2004),[218][219] Ukrainian developer GSC Game World's hybrid RPG/first-person shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (2007),[220][221] and Turkish developer TaleWorlds' hybrid RPG/medieval combat simulator, Mount & Blade (2008).[222][223]

The Finnish independent development studio Almost Human released Legend of Grimrock, a Dungeon Master-inspired game, in 2012.[211] A reboot of the long-abandoned tile-based dungeon-crawler sub-genre, it was a commercial success that reached the top of Steam's "Top Sellers list" in April 2012.[224] Examples exist in which developers leave larger studios to form their own, independent development houses. For instance, in 2009, a pair of developers left Obsidian to form DoubleBear Productions, and began development of a post-apocalyptic zombie RPG, Dead State, using Iron Tower Studios' The Age of Decadence game engine.[225][226][227] Three employees left BioWare in 2012 to form Stoic Studio and develop the tactical RPG The Banner Saga (TBA). Dead State and The Banner Saga are both supported in part by the public, through the crowd funding website Kickstarter, a recent trend in independent gaming.[228][229][Note 17]

See also[edit | edit source]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. Pedit5 was later deleted and lost to history.[1]
  2. Note the lower-case letters, as the PLATO mainframe's file system was case-insensitive.
  3. Chainmail was the official combat handbook for the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons.[11]
  4. Certain games, such as avatar, moria, and oubliette experimented with a first-person view, while others, such as orthanc and Rogue, featured an overhead view with branching corridors more reminiscent of table-top RPGs.[5]
  5. Some of these elements were inspired by Wizardry, specifically the party-based system.[18]
  6. Several titles were affected by this, ruining what might have otherwise been impressive efforts.[129]
  7. For instance, Baldur's Gate's Warcraft-like interface, and The Elder Scrolls' first-person perspective.[126]
  8. Diablo was originally conceived as a turn-based game more like its roguelike ancestors. Other series under the same pressure, such as Ultima, also abandoned the "core principles" (dice rolls, turn-based battles, multi-character parties) of RPGs in favor of real-time action at about this time.[134]
  9. There is debate over whether games like BioWare's Mass Effect (2007) and its sequels constitute action RPGs as opposed to more traditional RPGs, though the sequels pushed more in the direction of action games,[137][140] or whether they can be considered RPGs at all due to the amount of streamlining.[141][142]
  10. Hellgate: London was developed by a team headed by former Blizzard employees, some of whom had participated in the creation of the Diablo series.[136][145]
  11. Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (2004), and Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance (2001), respectively.
  12. Examples include Mass Effect 2's lack of inventory system and Alpha Protocol's Dialogue Effect System.[209]
  13. E.g., whereas pen-and-paper RPGs previously would influence their video game counterparts, the reverse according to some appears to be occurring now.[209]
  14. Rather, they can often be attributed to developers' willingness (or lack thereof) to support all the optimizations needed to expose a platform's full potential.[173]
  15. Though managed development environments such as Microsoft's XNA platform and GarageGames' Torque engine are meant to make this easier.[212][213]
  16. Russia also happens to be Europe's largest video games market,[214] though the country ranks behind the UK and Germany in total video games sales.[215]
  17. Other examples of "kickstarted" RPGs include Wasteland 2 (TBA) and Shadowrun Returns (TBA).

References[edit | edit source]

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