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Role-playing games on the rise again
Pool of Radiance 2It's been only a few weeks that Baldur's Gate 2 - Shadows of Amn shipped, but producer Bioware is already reaping the profits. Role-playing games are on the rise again, the list of games recently or soon-to-be published sounds impressive - Planescape Torment, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights or SSI's Pool of Radiance 2 make the hearts of RPG fans skip a beat. That is all the more astonishing, since the industry seemed to have reached its all-time low only three years ago.
 
Brief history of RPGs:
Wizardry 8Role-playing games are among the oldest genres in the history of computer gaming. When at the beginning of the 1980s the first RPG ever appeared under the well-sounding name of Wizardry (1981), followed only some time later by the first Ultima, the foundations for an immensly popular genre were laid that still exist to this very day. It were (and still are) the great series that dominated the genre, such as Might & Magic by New World Computing, Wizardry from the Canadian company Sir-Tech, Ultima by the Texans of Origin, Westwood's Eye of the Beholder, Electronic Arts' Bard's Tale, and of course SSI's famous AD&D game series such as Pools of Radiance, Dark Knights of Krynn or Curse of the Azure Bonds. Also German RPGs such as Thalion's Amberstar and Ambermoon or Attic's Das Schwarze Auge found their share of fans, with the latter even being translated into English.
 
Boom & recession:
Diablo 2In this context, it's impossible not to mention those games that gave the role-playing scene a new impetus and have rightly become classics. For example, both FTL's Dungeon Master and Looking Glass's Ultima Underworld revolutionized the graphical make-up of role-playing games; once again it was Looking Glass who proved with System Shock that decent RPGs didn't always have to be set in fantasy scenarios; and Blizzard created with Diablo the sub-genre of action RPGs - a genre many a hardcore player preferring a proper party and a complex character generation system didn't come to terms with. But that couldn't diminish the game's success in the least. Apart from Diablo, however, it became increasingly quiet about role-playing games in the second half of the 1990s. Even costly projects such as Bethesda's Eldar Scrolls: Redguard or Westwood's Lands of Lore II were no commercial success, with the inevitable consequence that the mood among developers and publishers visibly deteriorated.
Turn of events:
Baldur's Gate 2Given the increasing popularity and better accessability of 3D action games and action adventures, everyone seemed to have lost interest in role-playing games entirely. All of a sudden, RPGs were synonymous with a prolonged and a too cosly production period, while it was said that you needed more employees to develop a RPG than a 3D action shooter. But in part, the industry itself was responsible for its own misery: e.g. New World Computing produced one Might & Magic clone after the other without taking the necessary steps to modify both the archaic graphics engine and the gameplay. The consequence was that all the games looked and felt nearly the same, as if they had been recycled.
When in 1998 Baldur's Gate, the first AD&D game in a long time, was thrown onto the market, no one would have thought that it would mean the resurrection of a whole genre, perhaps least of all the producers themselves. Although the game was based on the AD&D rules and featured a party, complex tactical battles as well as character generation, Bioware knew how to capture the player's attention with a highly immersive story and beautifully rendered graphics. Ever since, the genre has been booming again, which is hardly surprising in the face of games like Ultima IX, Planescape Torment, Diablo 2 or Baldur's Gate 2 that caused quite some excitement among players. Let's hope, therefore, that the industry doesn't squander this asset by producing one copy of successful games after the other.
© 11-07-2000 by CE

 
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