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Feature: 'The History of Computer RPGs: The Golden Age (1985-1993)'

For today's extensive feature, Gamasutra presents part two in contributor Matt Barton's look at the history of computer role-playing games, this time exploring what he calls the 'Go
For today's extensive feature, Gamasutra presents part two in contributor Matt Barton's look at the history of computer role-playing games, this time exploring what he calls the 'Golden Age,' 1985-1993, with part one, covering 1980-1983, is also available today. In this excerpt, Barton notes that while later 'platinum age' RPGs like Baldur's Gate and Diablo receive more critical and nostalgic attention, their refined, not re-defined, lineages can be traced back directly to 'golden age' RPGs: "Throughout the "Silver Age," which lasted from 1981 until 1983, change would come gradually and mostly consist of improvements in graphics and user interface. Important series like Ultima and Wizardry appeared on the market, solidifying every gamer's expectations about what a CRPG should be. Meanwhile, innovative games like Telengard, Dungeons of Daggorath (Tandy CoCo), Tunnels of Doom (TI-99/4A), and The Sword of Fargoal (VIC-20, C-64) offered new alternatives to gamers and new models for developers. In short, by 1983, the field was sown with great ideas and impressive examples, but everyone knew that the best was yet to come. By 1985, the CRPG would enter what I have chosen to call "The Golden Age," the period from 1985 to 1993, when the very best CRPG makers were steadily releasing masterpieces in an orgiastic frenzy of creative development. Indeed, the triumphs of this period would not be matched until the "Platinum Age" of the mid-90s, when outstanding developers Bioware, Bethesda, and Blizzard arrived on the scene. However, although Baldur's Gate and Diablo may receive far more attention and interest today than Golden Age classics like The Bard's Tale or The Pool of Radiance, we must forever keep in mind that these earlier games were their direct ancestors. Later developers would only refine, not re-define, the genre. Anyone who truly desires to understand the CRPG must turn her attention to the Golden Age, the era in which towering developers like Interplay, SSI, New World Computing, and FTL released games so superbly designed that they are still actively played by tens of thousands of gamers even today. There are few games that can arouse more passion than venerable Golden Age titles like Wasteland, Dungeon Master, and Quest for Glory. But enough of this build-up; it's time to enter the Golden Age of CRPGs!" 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 Bard's Tale and the early SSI catalog (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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