Thursday, August 28, 2014

Experience Points 03: OUTWest 90-93

Experience Points 03: Once Upon a Time in the West

The RPG scene in the West in the 1980's was transcendental.  The start of JRPG's is rooted firmly in Ultima and Wizardry, influenced by Dungeons and Dragons, and fed by J. R. R. Tolkien.  The Western RPG scene of the early 90's has largely been... forgotten.  In Japan, the descendants of Ultima's overhead movement style were reigning supreme with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest(Warrior) adopting this style.  In the West, at this time, it was Wizardry's first person dungeon experience that took hold.

By this era, we are getting into the 2nd and 3rd generation of the Wizardry descendants.  Earlier titles practically required you to have a sheet of graph paper and a notebook to write down important information and map data while you played.  Popular releases in the Might and Magic series were released in this time, but Eye of the Beholder is one of the standout titles of this era that was ported to other systems such as the SNES.  Many consider it the pinnacle of the style in its era.  It used the multiple window view to have first person, tactical, and cutscene presentation.  It also used the Dungeons and Dragons license to base its gameplay on.  The Nintendo Entertrainment System also got a pretty popular title in this genre with the release of Swords and Serpents, a very scaled down version of this type of gameplay.

That is not to say that non-First person RPG's did not have some big releases.  Ultima 6 is arguably one of the biggest overhauls to PC RPG's outside of transitioning to 3D.  Its detailed overhead graphics caused many of its competitors to look dated and go back to the drawing board.  With Ultima 6, Ultima would once again redefine a genre as its lineage would lead to Isometric games such as Diablo and Baldur's Gate in the years to come.  The "Gold Box" set of games were in full swing as well.  They began in 1988 with Pool of Radiance, but in this era that were more than 8 titles using the game engine to create adventures with the Dungeons and Dragon licenses and various worlds including Forgotten Realms, DragonLance, and Dark Sun.  They took their influence from the Ultima line of RPG's.  Arguably the most important title in the series was what many consider the first full featured, graphic MMORPG: Neverwinter.  A game that began in 1991, and allowed online users of America Online to play and communicate together in a shared world.

Adventure games were entering their hey day near the end of this era.  Adventure games relied on puzzle and mouse manipulation, combined many times with animation or illustration, to achieve its narrative.  Some of them started adding statistics giving it more of an RPG feel.  Quest for Glory was perhaps the most successful of this combination.  Some consider the King's Quest series of adventures to also be an RPG, and had a couple of sequels in this time as well.  King's Quest VI was considered a watershed and makes the lists of "greatest games of all time" for many critics.

Ultimately in the end, it was the popularity of JRPG's in the West that lead to the downfall of the Wizardry line of RPG's being popular here.  Even with new additions like mapping systems and semi-action based combat, the first person dungeon crawl would diminish and become archaic.  Some say that the First Person Shooter contributed their own to the demise, making the clunky Wizardry based movement look very old and dated as well.  If you were a fan of this era of game you should check out what was heralded as the "revival" of the style titled "Grimrock".

The turn based Ultima based series soon came to a similar end, as the poularity of Ultima 6 lead to overhead progeny, and yet again turn based combat seemed old and clunky as PC's got fast enough for real time combat styles.  The PC RPG area just became outpaced by technology and the popularity of newer styles of gameplay lead to the RPG's of this era to be put by the wayside, and their un-user friendly gameplay limited by earlier technology does not make them easy to pick up and play today by newer generations.

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