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Feature: 'The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part III'

For today's extensive Gamasutra feature, we present part three in contributor Matt Barton's look at the history of computer role-playing games, this time exploring what he calls the
For today's extensive Gamasutra feature, we present part three in contributor Matt Barton's look at the history of computer role-playing games, this time exploring what he calls the 'platinum age,' covering 1994-2004, with part one, 1980-1983, and part two, 1985-1993 also available. In this excerpt, as explained in Barton's last feature, though the 'platinum age' RPGs have changed advanced enormously from the ASCII or tile-based RPGs from earlier periods, in terms of gameplay they owe deep debts of gratitude to 'golden age' games, though one game in particular, says Barton, defines the 'platinum age' like no other: "...these games can all trace their lineage back to Golden Age games, which can in turn trace their lineage back to the late 1970s. Indeed, although it's a commonplace in game history to blurt out things like, "We've sure have come a long way since Akalabeth!", at one level we really haven't taken more than a few timid steps. Sure, there have been enormous changes in graphics, sound, interface, and so on, but much of what we cherish in a modern CRPG was already present in games like DynaMicro's Dungeons of Daggorath and Texas Instruments' Tunnels of Doom (both 1982). Furthermore, many games that come fairly late in the time line actually seem to some critics to be steps backwards. For instance, although FTL introduced Dungeon Master in 1987, which featured real-time, 3-D graphics in full color, other developers continued to release best-selling turn-based and tile-based games well into the 1990s. And even in 2007, many critics argue that ASCII or ANSI games like Rogue have never been surpassed, since snazzy graphics and intricate story lines just distract from what they think makes CRPGs fun to play. ... To my mind, the games that really represent the best of the genre appeared during the period I've termed the "Platinum Age," which begins in 1996 with the publication of three very important games, Origin's Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992), Blizzard's Diablo, and Bethesda's Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall (both 1996). Other high points of the age include Interplay's Fallout (1997), Black Isle’s Planescape: Torment (1999), BioWare's Baldur's Gate (1998) and Baldur's Gate II (2000), Troika's Arcanum (2001) and Sir-Tech's Wizardy 8 (2001). The single-player, standalone CRPG reached its zenith during this period, and I've begun to doubt if Baldur's Gate II will ever be surpassed. Even in many of these games, though, the presence of online, multi-player options signaled the impending doom of the old CRPG we knew and loved. At the end of the platinum age, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, or the MMORPG, dominated the scene, and, at least to this critic, the future of the CRPG is grimmer than anything ever dreamed up by Lord British." You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject, with much more of Barton's exhaustive look at the RPGs of the era including Diablo, Planescape: Torment and the predecessors to Bethesda's now best-selling Oblivion (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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