Game Informer's Top 100 RPGs

June 19th, 2017 7:51 AM
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In the 1980s, role-playing games, or RPGs, were my favorite genres of computer and video games. The hours of character development and narrative created a much richer fictional world than the era's action games. Perhaps due to their inability to translate to arcades, RPGs were a niche genre, and so I hungrily played any I could get my hands on.

The decades since have seen an explosion in the popularity of RPGs, or at least the willingness to serve that niche — so much, that the cover story of issue #290 of Game Informer is the staff's picks for the top hundred RPGs of all time. To have had that many to choose from in the 1980s would've been staggering, though Game Informer admits that the definition of RPG has become nebulous, now encompassing such modern titles as Mass Effect 3, Destiny, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Fortunately, Game Informer acknowledges the genre's roots by including several Apple II games on their list:

The criteria for the staff's selection were not disclosed, so it's hard to say whether these games were acknowledged because they were fun to play then, are still fun to play, or are important to the evolution of gaming. Wasteland, for example, is noted as being the pre-cursor to Fallout; Wizardry is "often cited as the first party-based RPG"; and for The Bard's Tale, "Some players may still have their hand-drawn graph paper maps tucked away in an old box."

Regardless, with so many franchises, platforms, publishers, and developers at play, it's impressive that the Apple II got so many mentions. But any listicle is bound to be contentious, and no one will fully agree with the choices or order of games. For example, Game Informer has probably never played one of my favorite Apple II games: The Magic Candle. With a jobs system in which player characters could learn crafts and trades, earn money from town jobs, and even split the party, it was an innovative and ahead of its time, being released three years before Final Fantasy V, which is often hailed for its job system.

What Apple II RPGs would you have included on this list, and why?

Temporal anomaly in MazeFire

February 1st, 2016 11:54 AM
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Back in the summer of 2014, I attended a Boston Games Forum event. This group, now known as Playcrafting, gives local game developers opportunities to network, hone their craft, and showcase their work. Not being a developer, I enjoy Playcrafting letting me get my hands on new and upcoming games as I scout potential candidates for my YouTube channel and IndieSider podcast.

That night, one of the games being demoed was billed as a maze, though it seemed more a multiple-choice trivia/quiz-type game: each correct answer would automatically advance you through from one side of a grid to another. There was nothing a-maze-ing about it, but I was drawn to the theme of the questions: each one was about the history of computer and video games, from Pong to EverQuest and more. The random selection of 19 questions weren't hard, since they were often accompanied by a screenshot of the game featured in the correct answer, but it was still neat to see our history being celebrated.

One of the questions was just slightly wrong in its details, though:

MazeFire (2014)

The game may've come out in 1981 — but it certainly wasn't being played on an Apple IIe, which wasn't released until 1983.

The game in question is the first Wizardry:

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord was an incredibly addictive game developed by Greenberg and Woodhead and launched in 1980 at the Boston Computer Convention. Character classes, alignments, specializations (Samurais and ninjas) along with maze tricks and keys all foreshadowed the MMORPGs of the modern era. Probably was not used for military training, although it was a favorite of at least one Fort Riley US Army Officer.

The text has been updated in the latest version of the game:

mazefire-2016.jpg

You can play Mazefire online for free and test your own knowledge of gaming history.

Wizardry comes to iOS

November 7th, 2011 12:14 PM
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Back in March, I wrote that Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, a new entry in the classic RPG series, was coming exclusively to the PlayStation 3's PlayStation Network (or the PS3 PSN). But in this age of multiple gaming platforms, it is rarely economically feasible to dedicate one's product to a single audience. It therefore is only mildly surprising that Wizardry is now available for iOS (though, oddly enough, not optimized for iPad). Behold the opening sequence and 15 minutes of gameplay:

The game, released on November 3, is a free download, but the press release states a caveat: "While players will initially be able to level their characters up to level five and explore the entire first floor of the 'Dungeon of Trials,' brave adventurers who want to dig deeper into the depths of Labyrinth of Lost Souls will be able to unlock the full Wizardry experience for $9.99 via In-App Purchase."

A bit too expensive for you? Then kick it old school for just $1.99 with Akalabeth, an iOS version of the precursor to Ultima. Though not the same series as Wizardry, they share a common history as predominantly first-person RPGs. Or go the free route on classic hardware with similar to Silvern Castle for the Apple II. Sounds like the best of all fantasy worlds to me.

(Hat tip to Eli Milchman)

Competing for a gamer's heart

July 11th, 2011 3:54 PM
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Popular culture abounds with tales of lovers lost to gaming addictions. Guys and gals who can't tear themselves away from World of Warcraft often emerge from their fantasy to find themselves without the partner they'd attracted offline.

Peter Molyneux. Photo by Daniel Alexander Smith.I never understood the competition some romancers feel toward electronic entertainment. Computer and video games can be great bonding experiences, whether you're playing cooperatively or competitively, or simply offering a passive experience for your partner to observe and enjoy.

Nonetheless, resentment has been a popular emotion engendered by gaming for longer than there have been MMORPGs — though role-playing games do tend to be a trend, as evidenced by Peter Molyneux's own tale. The creator of popular PC and Xbox games Populous, Black & White, and Fable was recently prompted to recall his first encounter with computer games:

The first proper game was probably Wizardry on the old Apple II. I totally became obsessed with that game, to the point where I lost my girlfriend by playing it – I left her down the pub three times! Because it was on floppy disk… Once, my floppy disk was written off and that night I immediately got in the car and I drove 150 miles to find another Wizardry player so I could get a copy of the disc. It was the first game really that I ever played with levelling-up. It was set in a dungeon, and there was a mad god, and it had spells. It was wireframe, but in my imagination I was down there in that dungeon.

Given the career and status this famed developer has attained since being inspired by that Apple II game in 1981, it's certainly the girlfriend's loss to have not seen the potential in that marriage.

Have you ever had to curb your gaming enthusiasm to placate your partner? What have you done to try to turn a paramour into a player?

(Hat tip to Neon Kelly)

The history and future of Wizardry

March 24th, 2011 5:08 PM
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The Magic Candle is one of my all-time favorite role-playing games — though on the computer platform, it doesn't have much competition for that title: I honestly can't recall any other RPG I've played for the Apple II or Mac. All other games in that genre were either console exclusives, such as Final Fantasy, or ports from the computer, like Ultima.

One such port was Wizardry, which you wouldn't think would work on a two-button controller, but with no basis for comparison, I enjoyed the Nintendo version just fine. There was little the interface could do to strengthen or soften what was already a punishing experience. As Wizardry's adventurers explored the labyrinthine dungeon of despair from a first-person perspective, developer Sir-Tech made sure they encountered wave after wave of more powerful foes. It was only by playing it safe, not venturing far past the dungeon entrance, and fighting only minor foes before escaping to the safety of camp — a process eventually known as "grinding" that players could slowly prepare themselves to pursue more tempting treasures.

At the dawn of electronic entertainment, "challenge" and "gameplay" were practically interchangeable, so for the reasons above, I found myself drawn to Wizardry. Unlike with the more narrative Final Fantasy, I was not locked to a specific party but could design my own, encouraging endless experimentation. In fact, by some fluke, the very first character I ever rolled up was given enough discretionary building points that I could've created a ninja, right off the bat. But I'd never played the game before and didn't know what a high number I'd rolled; I must've hit "reset" to see if I could do better, as I never did get that ninja.

Bitmob recently published a history of Wizardry, detailing its origins, successes, and anime adaptations (the game was even bigger in Japan than in the USA). The article ends with the series' ultimate demise in North America — or ultimate, up until recently. Announced yesterday was the return of this franchise for a new generation of gamers, marking the first Wizardry title in a decade. But unlike with the series debut, where players could choose between the console or computer versions, this time, there is no choice: Labyrinth of Lost Souls will be exclusive to the PlayStation Network, an online "app store" for the Sony PlayStation 3 video game console. If that weren't change enough, the game will have a distinct Eastern flair, as seen in this screenshot of the character creation process.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls

Photo courtesy RPGFan

It's too soon to tell how this spring 2011 release will be received, and whether it'll be too modern for retrogamers or too hard for PS3 players. In the meantime, if you'd rather return to the age of classic Wizardry, I highly recommend Jeff Fink's Silvern Castle. This ridiculously comprehensive RPG offers everything Wizardry did on the Apple II and more, all while running from Applesoft BASIC on any 8- or 16-bit Apple II.