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The History of Computer RPGs (crpgbook.wordpress.com)
229 points by podiki on Apr 19, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments

If you are interested in old computer role-playing games, you should check out the CRPG addict's blog [1]. He has played (usually to completion) every CRPG thru 1986 and every one that runs on DOS thru 1990. The reviews have great humor. And he covers everything.

[1] http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com


I used to follow it a few years ago, but for some reason it fell off my radar, I imagine now there are tons more reviews than when I left it.

It inspired me to do a nostalgia-fueled replay of all Ultima games(1-8), a couple of years ago.

Bums me out I can never remember name of first crpg I had played. It was early 80s on commadore 64 when you only had a tape deck. The only thing I remember was going through dungeon and around level 3-7 of dungeon you could sit in a chair that would randomly teleport you to someplace in the dungeon, sometimes super deep. There were random chests around and no level restrictions. I remember having a low level character but using teleport chair to find really high level weapons then try to get back to the chair and hopefully randomly teleport back to lower level. Ah the good ole days lol

On the C64, that was likely "Telengard" (based on "DND" - http://www.aquest.com/telen.htm). You can play it online in a few places.

In addition to asking on dedicated websites and forums, you can also use sites like mobygames. By merely filtering to commodore 64 and RPG there is only 113 games left possible. With further filtering on info you didn't give (what type of view) and/or some brute forcing (aka checking them all) it should be easy to find what you're looking for: http://www.mobygames.com/browse/games/c64/role-playing-rpg/

Not sure it is the same game, but I played one my Apple //e in that era, named Telengard (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telengard). I remember doing exactly as you describe: teleporting very deep and looting a chest for an extremely powerful weapon, and hoping to teleport back so I could rampage for a while. Good times. ;)

Omg I think this is it!!! thank you so much, I love this forum. So crazy you remembered same thing.

Edit..Yup this is for sure the game, I even notice you could program into the game and that is what my cousin who gave it to me did in a school project.

You all made my day with helpful responses. Heartfelt thanks to you all!!

I am going to replay this game for sure because I remember it being very hard.

The author sadly passed away in 2014 I was going to email and say thanks.

Have you tried asking on gaming forums?, e.g. this exact problem is a popular thread on Giant Bomb:


Wanted to thank both of you who responded, I will check it out and appreciate the links! I had not heard of either of these.

There was a game like that available on MS/DOS (and apparently other systems) in that era called DND. https://www.classicdosgames.com/game/DND.html

My thanks to the grown ups in the local college's IT department who gave me the shareware version.

To this day I am impressed with the game Starflight, the first sequel was also amazing. What stood out about Starflight even more today to me than back then was what they accomplished on two 360k diskettes.

From a great story, cool Easter eggs, to hundreds of unique worlds to explore. One of the earliest sandbox games too, you didn't have to play it the same way each time you started up a new game.


It was amazing, and definitely what they could do with such little resources is breathtaking. One of the top games of my childhood.

I had the original box and manual, I hope I still have them.

What would be a modern equivalent? I guess the MMORPGs like EVE Online? Any single player game with a similar open-ended gameplay + story?

Planned to also be later crowdfunded into a physical release, sold at cost price.

There's a very good chance I would buy a copy. I already have several physical copies of the books Jeremy Parish put out (pdfs: https://gumroad.com/gamespite, physical books: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1?ie=UTF8&fie...). Felipe, since I saw you're commenting here, Parish may be a good person to talk to (https://twitter.com/gamespite) for advice on the physical publishing. This is also the sort of project he would be interested in.

Thanks for the tip. The problem is that Parish publish his books through Amazon's CreateSpace, which is powerful but extremely expensive... printing the CRPG Book in color through it would cost more than $60 per unit. :/

I would love to do something like the Bitmap Books ( https://www.bitmapbooks.co.uk/collections/all ), which have great quality and a decent price, all funded via Kickstarter.

Parish has used several different options over the years, so I still think it's worth asking his experience. (When I bought his books, some of it was through Blurb: http://www.blurb.com/search/site_search?search=jeremy+parish)

Speaking for myself, I think $60 is reasonable for a 450 page, full color book about a niche subject. Bitmap Books does look like a good option, and wow, that book on Super Famicom box art is tempting...

+1 to $60 being totally reasonable (cheap even) price for 450 page book in color. I (and thousands of people) regularly pay $50-70 for pen and paper RPG books with less page count. And I've paid much, much more than that for niche art books.

Thanks, but it's a last resort. That wouldn't even require a crowdfunding campaign, I just upload the files and that's it.

Since I've spent over 4 years now on this, why not dream higher? I think it's worthy to try to make something cooler, of higher quality and cheaper for everyone.

The book doesn't even have a cover yet, so I might hire an amazing artist as stretch goal or something like that. :)

Could I mention the legendary artist Mark Ferrari for your consideration?


(I know there are hundreds of others, I'm hoping people might reply and compile a favourites list for you ^_^)

I actually already talked with Toni Bratincevic to get an idea of how such job would work. He's my #1 choice. :)

FWIW, I too would pay $60 for this (although I obviously would be super happy if it were cheaper).

First off - this looks amazing; I'd definitely buy a copy myself (even digital only). I'm going to have to follow your progress on this work!

Now - a couple of suggestions (and I realize this work is still in progress - so maybe these are being considered):

1. You mention Dungeons of Daggorath - so there's a few things I wanted to clear up:

Don't write "Tandy Coco" - the proper term for the machine of the era is the "Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer", and there were two main versions; version 1 ("TRS-80 Color Computer 1") was sold with a large gray case (it was originally based off of a machine Radio Shack sold to farmers for Telex information!) and version 2 ("TRS-80 Color Computer 2") with a white case (there are sub-versions within that version, but that's not important). Later, Radio Shack released the Color Computer 3, which looks similar to the Color Computer 2, but had a different keyboard, and vastly upgraded capabilities. However, it was -not- labeled as a TRS-80, but rather as the "Tandy Color Computer 3" - I am not sure of why that name change occurred, but it did.

Now - owners of the machine typically called it the "CoCo" (notice the capitalization - so CoCo 1, CoCo 2, and CoCo 3), but it was never referenced this way by Tandy or Radio Shack. Since Dungeons of Daggorath originally came out prior to the CoCo 2, it would probably be best to label it with "Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer" which is generally understood to refer to the original version of the machine, but can also represent the second version as well.

It should be noted here that for the Color Computer 3, a "sequel" to DofD (of sorts) was released, called "Castle of Tharoggad" (notice the spelling!) - but it was poorly received, and most fans of DofD don't like to talk about it.

2. On the Color Computer, there were more than a few other RPG games - for the CoCo 2, one of the earliest was "Gates of Delirium" by Diecom Products (1984) - it was somewhat of a clone of Ultima.

3. Later, the CoCo 3 had "The Seventh/7th Link" released by Oblique Triad - it too was similar to Ultima, but incorporated an interesting 3D system similar to Dungeons of Daggorath for the "dungeon" portions (IIRC). It utilized much of the CoCo 3's better graphics capabilities.

I'm sure I am missing some others in there (which if you are interested, I can dig in my archives for and see what I can find); the Color Computer is near and dear to me, as it is the machine I grew up with and ultimately led to me becoming a software engineer. I still have both of my machines (a CoCo 2 and a CoCo 3), plus all of my issues of the Rainbow Magazine. I keep in touch with a long running listserv with other members who own or love the Color Computer.

Lastly - and I haven't looked at the book deeply to know - I am interested in finding out what you cover on RPGs for the Amiga - there were a few lesser known ones on that machine as well (one - I forget its name - used an early first-person 3D system with flat-shaded objects - when it didn't crash, it was pretty neat to play for the time).

There's also albums on Flickr with 18,000+ images from the games: https://www.flickr.com/photos/crpgbook/albums

Where is Moraff's World?!? How could they leave that out? A complete classic, with an open world and loads of depth, well before anything like that was standard.

Spent so many hours with the version I had on one of those cheap shareware bundle CDs. I'll never forget the bizarre, cheesy sprites, like the Hawaiian shirt zombies[1], or, really, any of them[2]. Fun game.

[1] https://emptysqua.re/blog/moraffs-world/moraff-monsters.png

[2] https://static.giantbomb.com/uploads/scale_small/13/134049/1...

Likewise. Used to run it on a Hercules monitor on an 8088. Amazing. It supported so many different graphics modes.

So many memories here. So many of these games felt so real to me, from Moria to Exile: Escape from the Pit to Daggerfall

I don't know if I've just internalized all of the possible RPG tropes or what, but nothing feels like that anymore.

> nothing feels like that anymore

This is an experience everybody has at some point. The reason is not that the world changed, but that you changed. Having more experience about life means being less excited. I guarantee, that nowaday's youth has the same excited experience about one RPG (e.g., maybe the current Zelda that was just released) that you had back in the day.

Welcome at the old guys table. :-)

Fellow old guys, give new Zelda a spin. You won't regret it!

I played the first Zelda as a kid. I'm playing the latest Zelda as an adult that has three children. I'm talking over thirty years of video game playing.

It is one of the best games I have ever played.

I'm 36 now and playing BotW evokes same feeling when I've played OoT. Maybe even the first Zelda and Mystic Quest. Just maybe. It's that good.

Agreed as someone who is now in his 30s who has played games since he was 5. BOTW is something very special. I'm at the point now where I've done everything in the main quest but I'm delaying Ganon until I do a bunch more shrines and sidequests. I don't want it to end.

> but nothing feels like that anymore

Witcher 3 was, for me, a throwback to the "old days". Nothing in the last decade came close (with the exception maybe being Red Dead Redemption); I wish I could pinpoint why the experience was so good for me, but I can't.

I also found this fascinating. I never really saw CRPG being used as an acronym however I have always and always will specify "computer based role playing game" where appropriate vs cerebral role playing games involving books, cards or thoughts/conversations.

There are some errors in the text here and there but hopefully we can all nit pick it to death before the hard cover version goes to print.

> I never really saw CRPG being used as an acronym

I've always called them CRPGs, to distinguish them from "real" RPGs that involve actual roleplaying, imagination, improvisation and other elements that computers can't really handle. For a roleplayer, a CRPG is a bit of a crutch that can scratch the itch until you can get some friends around the table again.

Though perhaps that doesn't quite do CRPGs justice. There are some excellent ones exploring some really interesting subjects in a way you rarely get to do at the table.

It's certainly a worthwhile distinction. Especially in the modern day where 'rpg' elements have been tacked on to everything. Not a lot of actual role playing in something like Mass Effect.

Way more role-playing potential in Mass Effect than, say, your typical JRPG. And than most of the story's-barely-there stat-bashing dungeon crawlers, Western or Eastern. For that matter there's more in Dishonored, and your character doesn't even speak in that one. Of all the games under the RPG tent I'd say Mass Effect is well in the top half as far as having role playing in it, though it's admittedly a pretty low bar.

I have also never heard the term CRPG. Normally the distinction I hear is "tabletop RPG".

While RPGs started outside the computer world, they are in the small minority compared to popular culture's digital RPGs.

Up until now, I was under the impression that CRPG stood for "Classic RPG" (as opposed to J(apanese) RPG, Action RPG or MMORPG).

Am I alone in this? If not, this seems a topic worth discussing.

The term was a lot more common in the '80s and '90s. Back then, certainly in the '80s, "RPG" meant tabletop RPGs. Hence, "CRPG" (computer RPG) was needed as a separate term.

Also, in the '80s, computer RPGs were much more directly inspired by tabletop RPGs. Now video game RPGs are their own genre(s), mostly disconnected from the pen and paper games that inspired the first few generations of video games.

I grew up with Fallout 1/2 and Diablo 2. I guess late 90s. Computer RPGs were so common in my circles, that we actually needed a distinct word for tabletop RPGs (we called them "Pen&Paper"). RPG was always the word for computer RPGs. Only through recent new connections to the "Pen&Paper" world I heard people say "cRPG", around 2015-16.

So I guess it's more about where you are starting from than the time. Even nowadays people use the term "cRPG" and even nowadays people use the term "RPG" to mean different things.

That makes sense. Heck, maybe the RPG vs. CRPG distinction was more '80s terminology. RPGs were a pretty well-established genre in computer and console games by the late '90s.

CRPG for "computer" was the dominant term in the 80's. Later on, the distinction of "Western" style from "Japanese" led to WRPG sometimes being used, although it's just as common to continue referring to the Western traditional games as CRPG.

Shhh or in 37sec someone will tell you about rustRPG...

Bahh.... Kids these days.

In my time, real men and women played FortranRPG. Drop a set of punch cards on the floor and forget about Orcs and Kobolds, there wold be far greater and immediate danger. Meanwhile the nerds played LISPRPG and casuals played BASICRPG.

Get off my warded camping site.

It's meant Computer RPG to me (as opposed to pen+paper RPG).

Same here. I remember seeing it when I first heard D&D RPGs on the computer, the 'C' distinguishing it from pen & paper (PnP?).


I say "tabletop RPGs."

tabletop and P&P can be distinct as well. Tabletop means, you have a board and character-representing tokens on a table. P&P means the character data is represented on paper tables/sheets/diagrams. You can play one without the other.

E.g. Warhammer is tabletop even without RPG.

That's not how I have ever heard the term used and Wikipedia agrees with me.

>A tabletop role-playing game (or pen-and-paper role-playing game) is a form of role-playing game (RPG) in which the participants describe their characters' actions through speech... The terms pen-and-paper and tabletop are generally only used to distinguish this format of RPG from other formats, since neither pen and paper nor a table are strictly necessary

Why should anybody be wrong? It all makes sense considering from where someone comes. I'd rather discuss why people from your context call them "tabletop RPGs".

As discussed in another subthread of that post: Even the word "RPG" is context related. The group I'd call "Pen&Paper players" consider their "RPGs" as "The RPGs". People like me who mostly played them on computers and consoles consider cRPGs as "The RPGs" and call non-c RPGs as "Pen&Paper", while considering Warhammer and Monopoly as "Tabletop" (actually we call them something like "board games", since English is not my mothertongue, but "tabletop" is the closest translation; there's even a Youtube Show called TableTop that reviews these games exclusively).

Now I think you call them "tabletop RPGs" because people from your surrounding don't play non-tabletop RPGs that are only played with paper and not with a board on the table (a little like when actors train for a scene, just talking, figuring out what the characters would do, sometimes not even using dice). Also maybe in your areas people don't play many tabletop games that are not RPGs. Or you do and call them differently. E.g., do you know "Settlers of Catan"? How do you call that kind of game? Do you distinguish them from "tabletop RPGs"?

Um no... I call then tabletop RPGs because that's just what they are called. It's just terminology, like the World Series is called the "World Series" and the winners are called "World Champions" despite not actually involving any team outside The US or Canada.

Anyways, you're trying to literally translate a non-English terminology and directly compare it to English terminology. It doesn't work that way.

I played Settlers of Catan and that's a "board game."

You mean terminology like language nerds might call something a "homonym" or a "synonym"?

(Yes, pun intended)

Erikb's definitions "feel" like they should be right, but yours (and Wikipedia's) are really closer to how I've seen them used by people. Constructing a difference between them sounds like something that could easily happen within a group of friends, if the distinction becomes useful to them.

It as always meant computer role playing game to me.

I thought it stood for "Conversation RPG" - games where you could literally talk your way out of some conflicts. This is even more relevant since so many "Computer RPG" games (even some classics) have also come out on consoles, and vice versa.

I thought the same. I think that whole ex-USSR space may think the same.

PS: even more specifically "classic" meaning D&D derived RPG with certain style - big world, lots of side quests, advanced customization and rules etc.

The current definition of CRPG is character RPG. These games are ones that focus more on character development and dialogue as opposed to combat. Planetscape: Torment is the example I am most familiar with, as you can play the entire game through dialogue and only fight when required. Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights are close to CRPGs, but progression is still done through combat.

They stand in opposition to JRPGs, ARPGs, and MMORPG.

Never heard this one before. Also, there's no "current definition" - people of different ages, countries and backgrounds all use different definitions.

There's no international and commonly accepted authority defining the one true standard.

it's a shame clan lord[1] from delta tao software is omitted, although I understand you can't document them all. its historical significance comes from being the first graphical MMORPG for mac, having started in 1994. it still runs to this day, and because there's no exp cap there are people who have been playing the same characters for 20 years. the hand-drawn sprites hold up surprisingly well (even if the game only moves at 4fps), the world is massive, and its stories and history are rich. some puzzles/quests remain unsolved after all this time.

1. https://www.deltatao.com/clanlord/screenshots.html

It does look like there just may be no Mac exclusive titles documented in the book. No TaskMaker or Escape Velocity either.

Where does he find the games? I would love to do this i was just a small kid in the 80's and remember these games fondly. Take a swing at them knows seems appealing. How do you even go about getting the games and how do you emulate the environments correctly, my current laptop is missing the turbo button :)

Unfortunate that it starts with the PC era, rather than starting from the earliest computer RPGs. Avatar and Oubliette (and their predecessors and cousins) on PLATO were the foundation on which the Wizardry empire was built; from what I can recall there were even successful lawsuits. A critical part of RPG history.

The book is still being written. There will an introductory article on the PLATO RPGs, as well as on the first MUDs and MMORPGs.

I think Rogue is a little older than Oubliette and is a computer game. (haven't checked whether it is mentioned in the book)

Temple of Apshai is big omission from this list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Apshai

That is fantastically comprehensive. I kept thinking "what about..." and then finding it a few pages later. I'm really impressed. I actually found games I've never heard of. OK, Elona is probably the least well-known cult niche break out success (throw in some more oxymorons into the mix) and everyone's heard of it but it never gets a write-up. And obviously games like the Rance series get ignored as well. On the other hand Undertale and Dwarf Fortress is stretching the term a little bit.

Fantastic work. Needs bigger screenshots.

Great stuff. You might want to consider adding Borderlands 2 into your list. It's basically Diablo 3 from the scifi first person (shooter) view. In addition to being refreshingly humorous, it has the one and only bad guy I've ever found realistic among the zillions of CRPG's I've played. There are other games in the series (1 and TPS) but they're not as good.

The book layout and graphics are outstanding. Very dense informationally, but remains readable.

Does anyone know what software was used for the book layout?

Adobe InDesign. :)

Interesting (especially all the hidden gems) and nice to see things like Sengoku Rance included as well.

Why does it has to be a pdf though. :s

They say they plan to crowdfund a physical release at cost price.

They're going to have my gold pieces for sure!

I was expecting a more proper ebook format rather than physical goods. I might be tempted though, depending on price + shipping.

Glad to see Moonstone mentioned. A fantastic game, even if it does not really fit purely into the CRPG genre.

Amazing collection, it reads very well, and contains many of the games I have played. Good memories. The current state of most games, such as unofficial patches, mods and overhauls, is also very useful and makes me want to play some of the games again.

I was struck by the lack of "Below The Root", that was the game that made me a computer gamer.

Now that I think of it, maybe it was more of an Adventure game than a true RPG but it still was influential to me.

I would expect (hope) the Shining Force series, including Shining In The Darkness, to make the final cut.

Aren't those console JRPGs?

They were on console, and were from Japan, but Shining Force and Shining Force II (I haven't played the rest) are not really JRPGs, in the classical sense. The turn-based tactical combat is more like XCOM or Fallout than the typical Final Fantasy/Square/Pokemon style.

There seems to be an omission. Zelda is discussed, but not the later releases like The Wind Waker or the recent Breath of the Wild which dwarves Skyrim. http://www.craveonline.com/entertainment/1198803-legend-zeld...

Zelda games are generally not considered RPGs.

I needed this in my life and I didn't even know <3

Such amazing work, I can't wait to pour over it in detail, glad to hear you like it as well! I saw it on Rock, Paper, Shotgun [1] and thought there might be some people here that would appreciate it.

[1] https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2017/04/17/the-rpg-scrollba...

IT looke like there are many notable 80s titles left out. One that comes to mind off the bat is Elite.

Later coverage looks better.

Elite is not an CRPG as defined by the author.


While I agree with the sentiment, the CRPGAddict is not the author of this book.

Oops. That what I get for reading and replying on the train. Thank you. Sorry about that.

Yeah, I think Dun Darach and Heavy on the Magick would deserve a mention. But I am biased. The problem is that in the 80s the CRPG genre wasn't really well-defined.

sooooo much missing.

where are Stuart Smith's games like Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. A 17 player local multiplayer RPG for Atari 800 or his Adventure Gane Construction Set released by EA for all platforms back then?

where are all the SSI and Epyx games like Temple of Apshai?

Interplay games like Bard's Tale ...

Heck, if it's "history" how about the crpgs on the Plato system in the mid-70s?

maybe rename the book "so and so's random book of crpgs"? or maybe more catchy "Two 20 sided die rolls of CRPGs" ;)

Well, that gets philosophical in regard to what is a CRPG versus an adventure game. I personally would consider Stuart Smith's games like Ali Baba, Return of Heracles etc. to be adventure games, not CRPGs. And Stuart seemed to agree given that he called his construction kit the "Adventure Game Construction Kit" after all.

It's a preview, more games are still being added.

Also, Bard's Tale is there - pg. 48.

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