Why did I play this?Why did I play this?

Posted on Oct 18th 2012 at 07:39:39 PM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under RPG, pc game, pc, video game, game, rpg, ultima, rogue, fallout, renaissance, temple of apshai, interplay, origin systems, or

So this is a series of blog posts I've been putting up on Wordpress and spreading around. If you want to check out the original posts (they have pictures and stuff) then you can find them all here: http://whydidiplaythis.wordpress.com/

In 1997 there was a large shift in the RPG World in general. On the console side the genre was given immense exposure due to the exploding popularity of Squaresoft's Final Fantasy 7, this game would go on to be the second highest selling game for the Playstation. This series is going to be focused on the PC side of things. Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game was released by Interplay Entertainment in this same year to widespread critical success and commercial support, selling more than any RPG had in years for the PC. Before Fallout released many industry insiders and long time gamers had essentially given up on the genre, developers were not making many due to rising costs and due to diminishing returns publishers had stopped greenlighting them.

Now by its simplest definition a renaissance is a rebirth or revival, which means there came a time before the release of Fallout where RPGs on the PC were king. So before we step deep into this revival it is imperative that we understand what came before, from what heights had this classical age of PC gaming climbed to? How hard and fast did it fall? What did these gamers get to experience in the days before RPGs shifted to consoles?

In the Dark Ages, for the sake of ease I'm going to label this time period as the late 70's to the mid 80's when most PC games were largely text of ASCII based. A lot of ideas would be pioneered during this time, deep storytelling came about from text adventures and gameplay ideas came from the earliest text based RPGs. Rogue was highly influential in terms of development ideas. This one release popularized the idea of 'randomly generated content' to developers and gamers, leading an entire subgenre of RPG to be labled as 'Roguelike'. This basic design philosophy inspired everybody, from the massively successful Diablo series to the more niche Mystery Dungeon games from Japan.

Temple of Apshai was released in 1979 and was one of the first graphical RPGs to be released on any PC system. Limitations lead to what became a team effort for storytelling that would become prevalant through the late 1980's. Text in the game would give the player a section of literature to read in a printed manual that came with the game. ToA was perhaps the first RPG to do this, and set a true benchmark until technology could catch up.

At this time graphics started to make their appearance more well known on the early Personal Computers, before 1980 most games with detailed graphics were on powerful mainframe systems. Due to technological limitations most of the RPGs that came out in the early 80s were simple representations and retellings of the designers' own tabletop campaigns, mostly Dungeons and Dragons. Wizardry and Ultima would release at roughly the same time, 1981, and both would prove highly popular and influential for the future. Wizardry was built completely around one large dungeon, laying the early groundwork for the modern dungeon crawler. Ultima would also make liberal use of dungeons, but spread them out throughout a world with its own story, the player able to fully explore the overworld before delving into the underground dungeons.

Wizardry would keep its basic design philosophy and continue being fairly successful. The series was the benchmark for character building and those who just wanted to dive into a dungeon and get right to the action. Wizardry would become incredibly influential worldwide, even making quite the splash in Japan where the series would become the most direct inspiration for Dragon Quest according to its creator.

Ultima made a habit of evolving its world, storytelling, and gameplay experience with every new release. Origin Systems and primarily Lord British himself, Richard Garriott, would become the greatest storytellers in gaming history to this point. Many of them even hold up today. Ultima III would really be the first release that truly set the series apart from its contemporaries, introducing plot twists into its story as well as really starting to hash out the mythos for Brittania.

Ultima IV is an entirely different beast though. Where RPGs were largely shallow up to this point (and even after), telling stories centered around ultimate magic artifacts or one stereotypical bad guy bent of world conquest/destruction, Ultima IV would introduce the idea of total freedom, philosophy, and self discovery to gamers. There is a story, but there's no real evil antagonist at all. The world of Brittania is at complete peace after the events of Ultima III, so the main character is summoned by Lord British and educated about a philosophical system based around 8 Virtues and sent around the world to master these virtues. This adventure is a landmark in not only gaming, but the evolution of storytelling in gaming. No game before it was not solely focused on some evil force or mystical artifact, and few have focused solely on the philosophy of a world and belief system as much as Ultima IV since its release, making the game quite an enigma.


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Comments
 
I've always found it quite strange just how groundbreaking the Ultima games were, but just how little influence showed in other PC RPG (or any RPG for that matter).  I guess this makes Ultima the Pink Floyd of the gaming world.

For what it's worth, Ultima IV is free on Good Old Games (along with the two Worlds of Ultima games). 
 
@bombatomba: Indeed, I already have all those.

Looking through my blog I noticed that the purge must have eaten my 'Free Games and How to Get Them' entry which was all about GOG. Maybe I have a draft somewhere that I can use to replace it.

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