The History of Computer Role-Playing Games Part 2: The Golden Age (1985-1993)
February 23, 2007 Page 9 of 9
Golden Age Miscellanies
As you can clearly see, CRPG development during the Golden Age was at an all-time high. Though some of the best-known and celebrated titles wouldn't show up for a few more years, by that time (the "Platinum Age,") things had wound down considerably. From here on out, stand-alone, one-player CRPGs would become rarer and thus more precious, replaced in large part by MMORPGs and other types of games with CRPG "elements."
However, before we close up our discussion of the Golden Age, I must at least mention a few more brilliant CRPGs, even if they aren't as well known as the ones I've discussed above. Throughout this piece, I've tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but still couldn't manage to mention every CRPG released between 1985-1993. Instead, I've tried to spend more time talking about really important (subjective, I know) CRPGs. No doubt many of my more, shall we say, temperamental readers will be foaming at the mouth because I neglected even to mention the obscure game that they consider the greatest CRPG ever made.
There are games like MicroIllusion's Faery Tale Adventure (1987), a real-time third-person CRPG that in many ways anticipates Diablo and Baldur's Gate. And how could anyone be so crass as to mention Alien Fires and not Infogrames' Drakkhen, Electronic Arts' Keef the Thief, or Legacy of the Ancients? Hillsfar, hello? Where is Times of Lore? Dragon Wars? Age of Adventure? Even though this article is explicitly concerned with computer RPGs, isn't it foolish not to at least cover console classics Dragon Warrior, The Legend of Zelda, and Final Fantasy? If I somehow failed to mention the CRPG you love more dearly than life itself, please accept my humble apology—I sincerely tried my best.
Faery Tale Adventure (Amiga). Real-time, third-person combat ain't easy when you don't know which button attacks.
However, while I can almost see the hate piling up before in my email queue, there is one last game I simply must discuss if I'm to escape an angry lynch mob, and that's Legend of the Red Dragon (there, you can unclench your stiletto now!). Legend of the Red Dragon (henceforth LoRD), a game that many of us will remember from our dial-up BBS days, was released in 1989 by Robinson Technologies, a company founded by Seth Able Robinson. LoRD was one of the best-known BBS "door games," which were compact online games played mostly by folks in the pre-WWW era (and who didn't belong to big network like America Online, GEnie, Portal, or Prodigy, which featured a selection of wonderful MUDs and even some pioneering graphical MMORPGs). Door games were necessary small because of the slow speed of most dial-up connections (I remember thinking my 2400 BAUD modem was a gift from the God of Bandwidth), but also the strain a large game would put on the BBS server. Nevertheless, though the game lacks graphics and is simplistic compared even to "Roguelikes," its colorful text and humor resulted in a highly playable and memorable game. Who could flirting with Violet the Barmaid or Seth the Bard in the local inn? Furthermore, LoRD is an easy game to modify via third-party add-ons, and quite a few of these In-Game Modules were created and distributed widely. The software was available first for the Amiga platform, but quickly ported to MS-DOS. Robinson even released a sequel in 1992 called New World, which departed wildly from the first game. In fact, it's a real-time, multiplayer game that's much more "Roguelike." Folks wanting to get a taste for LoRD may want to check out Legend of the Green Dragon, a browser-based game that pays homage to the classic.
Some folks have wondered (rather loudly, I might add) why I chose to call this era the "Golden Age," arguing either that anything truly "golden" happened either before 1985 or after 1993. I can't deny that, at some point, I had to make some tough calls. Clearly, not every or even most games released during this time period are worthy of reverence; many are mindless clones or absolute crap. Some of the masterpieces of the Golden Age are hardly what we'd call "original," but merely successful combinations of elements taken from older and contemporary games. Nevertheless, what I see happening between 1985 and 1993 is a huge outpouring of new games and new ideas, and, more importantly, innovation at every level. CRPG developers were forced to re-invent the wheel to keep up with new hardware and software developments, such as the widespread adoption of the modern GUI, hard drive, and CD-ROM. It's amazing to think how challenging it was for developers even to learn how to implement a mouse effectively, much less deal with an exponentially growing color palette and new sound cards. Gamers were expecting more and more, and it really wasn't until after the Golden Age that developers like BioWare were finally able to consolidate all the gains made by earlier developers and produce really modern CRPGs.
Nowadays, it's all too easy to look at games like The Bard's Tale, Quest of the Avatar, Bane of the Cosmic Forge, The Pool of Radiance, Wasteland, or even Dungeon Master and wonder what all the fuss was about. Nevertheless, these are the games that led directly to the modern CRPG, and no one who enjoys the latest Elder Scrolls, Diablo, or Dungeon Siege should fail to doff his cap to Wizard's Crown and Alternate Reality.
In the third installment, I'll be covering the "Platinum Age," which will cover all classics I promised above and many more like Baldur's Gate and The Elder Scrolls, as well as Diablo and Planescape: Torment. See you there!
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