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Loki
04-23-2014, 04:00 AM
Part 1. Doest Thou Wish for Grand Adventure?

Let’s start at the beginning.

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/VAUTXkO_d3-TFm7V4_-0VwCqe0fyhecknraGLSQT2pXPJb17LpQogf05GYGBQI3UwtGRc IO-rgJG4rh0I6ZwEBfwLksyQOmcI7JIqkzlq5dl3jwVjoQso01zwh 3kNgnURA


Wait, that’s not the beginning. That’s practically the end! We need to dial things back a bit.

http://i.imgur.com/vh3qxah.jpg?1

Further than that.

https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/fo6A7RQTFsAtpuGoWIkduEnUv4-wXB4trwED-J0trWhc3Ot8KzUoNlM30jUbInGWpoQJiPf_KWHgpIjxCLpjSHW cF9lxds-R6FyfFOUYD3TGiVPTKcPZzOQw4unfkMWIMw

Further…

http://i.imgur.com/FRfEth2.jpg?1

Woah too far!

http://i.imgur.com/G6buXsn.jpg?1

There we go. In 1954 some bloke published a book about a group of bros faffing around. It proved to be mildly influential

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/ZYxj602aMJW9b7VZuqMgyVRL0ZWVrAURpB-v5RdRZI268Nb2WorzONoNSK0rp4kJjdwhH-d3HDq3CtUwh9GpOiCQ75gr1ny25rzCBCbJhzWNUUlrATGDDkiS oaPJ4Of-KQ

For example, this bro combined the faffing about described in that one dude’s book (for academic purposes we’ll label it ‘the quest structure’) with rule systems from miniature war games to create something called “The Fantasy Game.” It was later renamed something more punchy. It too was somewhat influential.

One of the people it influenced was a real english royal who, in his teenage years and living in Texas, slapped together some code and made a computer game somewhat based on the Dungeon and Dragon games he ran. He called it D&D. It was later renamed to something less punchy.

http://i.imgur.com/DXfoNDh.jpg?1

(Fun fact: his mom drew the cover. I love the little mouse.)

This was around 1980, but Akalabeth wouldn’t get wide distribution until 1981. Akalabeth wasn’t the first computer RPG (the earliest of which date back as far as 1975), nor was it as sophisticated as some earlier titles, but it was playable in a way those games weren't and it innovated in a few important areas.

mM8jPrJAbUk

(Watch this, it’s important.)

Akalabeth was the first computer RPG to take place from a first-person point of view in a 3D setting, and featured drawn monsters (as opposed to text representations). Though slow and ugly when viewed today it really was quite novel at the time. Akalabeth pulled players into the game in a way that had never been done before. The Ultima series would refine and expand this concept.

Ultima was Richard Garriott's next game (that was the kid’s name BTW). It was originally titled “Ultimatum”, but the name was changed to avoid copyright dispute with a table-top game (something that never happened again). It was released in summer 1981 and improved on Akalabeth in several important areas. Firstly, it featured a richer overworld with actual graphic representations of the landscape, towns, and the player. Also monsters now wandered about and could be encountered on the overworld as opposed to only in dungeons.

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/BoNlL6xonN25IQp8gJhSgae4_G9JFgDjQtBEZV-_IsXqmmNsPe1Puc4lkRIEpnJUmgSbFRA4fkA9B2du1obKCjTNI btggtSVPQlafQ_wjCNhY_Cjz3TrhYooOAkgEXAlaA

This graphical powerhouse was achieved through the major innovation of tile graphics. Rather than draw the entire overworld pixel by pixel (a ridiculous proposition that would result in a huge game, data-wise), Ultima slots small graphical-tiles together like a mosaic to create the impression of continuous world. You may be familiar with this technique if you’ve ever played a video game.

Like the overworld, towns and castles in Ultima also were represented in a top-down graphic presentation. The player could roam about exploring and interacting with non-player characters. By graphically representing these places the game furthered the idea there was this whole living world in which the player could inhabit.

Ultima also featured an overarching quest. Unlike Akalabath (in which the only goal was to defeat increasingly difficult monsters) Ultima requires the player to explore the entire game world, killing powerful monsters for various kings, and gaining gems which power a time machine.

Ultima’s “plot” is a ridiculous mish-mash of fantasy and science fiction elements that Garriott thought of as “cool.” But it implies a narrative grounded in the setting as presented and gives the player a role to play in the story. At last computer RPGs lived up to their namesake.

Meanwhile, a couple of students at Cornell University also were working on a game that would translate the Dungeons & Dragons experience to computers. Their game, Wizardy, also featured a first-person point of view. However the game wasn’t directly influenced by Akalabeth. Instead both games were inspired by the same kind of maze games that were popular on mainframe systems. Wizardry was originally subtitled Dungeons of Despair but Gary Gygax (that’s the guy’s name who created “The Fantasy Game” BTW) felt it was too close to “Dungeons and Dragons” so the name was changed to Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord in order to avoid copyright dispute with the table-top game (something that never happened again).

http://i.imgur.com/qYVmb8q.gif?1

Wizardry was released just a few months after Ultima. While it didn’t have Ultima’s graphical fidelity or richness of setting (it only consisted of a single, multi-floored dungeon), it made up for it with a greater mechanical depth. Wizardry allowed the player to create a whole team of adventurers, of different classes, alignments, and strengths. These adventurers could accumulate experience and get stronger thus giving the player a sense of ownership and growth (Ultima did feature experience and character levels but they didn’t do anything).

Likewise, the dungeon in Wizardry wasn’t just a maze to navigate, but a devious place full of traps and puzzles. Secret passages, one-way doors, teleporters, and other nastiness were around every turn. Success in Wizardry meant mastering the environment along with besting the monsters. At the time it was the closest to playing a table-top game on a personal computer.

Both Ultima and Wizardry were massively popular, spawning numerous sequels and finding success all over the globe. With this background in place we can finally start talking about those one guys over in Japan.

Next: Those guys.

Olli T
04-23-2014, 05:13 AM
I knew pretty much all of that already, but I still enjoyed reading it!

SpoonyBardOL
04-23-2014, 05:23 AM
:froth:

Looking forward to more of this, love the history lesson so far.

Googleshng
04-23-2014, 06:17 PM
I was actually just thinking the other day of starting this very project, but it's too darn hard to do a serious mechanical analysis of a game and write about it when you're already trying to recapture the feel with an actual game. Nice to see someone else has it covered!

Positronic Brain
04-24-2014, 06:26 AM
That was one hell of an intro. Looking forward to reading this!

Loki
04-26-2014, 02:56 AM
Part 2. So, Talk! BONK! On the Floor!

One time there was this guy who was something of a cave enthusiast. He liked going in caves is what I’m trying to say. Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not trying to imply anything. He went under the ground is the point I’m trying to get across. Imagine a cave, Then imagine this guy. Then imagine this guy in that cave. That’s what happened. Basically.

Anyway, this guy’s day job was as a computer programmer and for fun he made a computer game about being in a cave. You may have heard of it, it’s pretty important.

The game displayed text that described the cave and the player would type in short commands to direct the action. It went on to influence a whole bunch of people. Now how this particular game worked is that it would check the first five letters in a word in a command and compared them to its library. If they didn’t match then the command was rejected. As you can imagine, this led to a lot of rejected commands, and the player was required to learn a specific vocabulary and grammar in order to interact with the game.

Latter games in the same genre would utilize “parsers,” little programs that would translate player commands into something the game could recognize. This widened the vocabulary the player could use. So while this first game could only understand simple things like “Get Lamp” or “Go North,” more sophisticated parsers could understand complex commands like “Drop the sword and get the rusty lamp and then go north.” Still, even the most advanced games couldn’t recognize any old sentence and a certain level of player knowledge was required to even interact with the game.

Sorry if this all seems esoteric but it’s important.

One of the people this game influenced was a housewife from California. You may have seen a picture of her naked in a hot tub. She played this cave game and was enthralled. She thought maybe she could make a game like this herself. But her husband was like we need something to make it stand out and he looked at the Apple II he’d just bought what with its 49 kilobytes of RAM and ability to display bitmap graphics and was like what if your game had pictures too? And the lady was like well I’m not artist but I bet I could sketch something up what do you know they invented the Graphical Adventure.

http://i.imgur.com/ZMsiRq2.png

This may not look like much but in 1980 it was hot stuff. The couple named their company On-Line Systems and for the next few years released a series of Hi-Res Adventures that influenced a whole bunch of people.

One of the people they influenced was a guy named Yuji Horii. Guess what? We can finally start talking about Japan!

In 1982, right around the time Richard Garriott was releasing his stinky mess of an Ultima sequel (through On-Line Systems no less), there was this company in Japan that published real estate ads. They had just tried to expand nationwide and failed. Needing a new direction they saw that video game software was an up-and-coming thing. So they renamed themselves “Enix,” (a portmanteau of sorts of “phoenix” and “ENIAC,” the first digital computer) and went into software publishing.

They needed talent to develop that software, so they held a contest where game enthusiasts could submit their own programs. The top selected games would be published and distributed by Enix.

At the time Yuji Horii was a writer for Weekly Shonen Jump, where he authored a video game column. Horii was a computer hobbyist and upon learning of the contest he developed a tennis game that was selected as one of the thirteen finalists. Love Match Tennis would see release on NEC PC-6001 computer in February of 1983. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

1982 saw the first adventure games in japan. Inspired by that one guy’s cave game, a couple of guys at Monthly ASCII wrote a text adventure called Omotesando Adventure about a rival company trying to infiltrate their offices, 1982 also saw Mystery House from MicroCabin, a pretty blatant rip-off of On-Line System’s first game. (This year also saw the first eroge adventures but let’s not get into that.)

http://i.imgur.com/SkoqTC4.png

The thing about Omotesando Adventure and Mystery House is that they’re both written in English. Getting parsers to understand natural language was hard enough in English, a language well suited to the task. Doing it in Japanese resulted in very broken construction. So while these were Japanese games for Japanese audiences it was just easier for them to be a foreign language.

Back to 1983. Horii was now one of Enix’s new developers. For his first official game he wanted to make a graphical adventure like the kind that were popular in the USA, one that would develop a story that the player was involved in. The game was The Portopia Serial Murder Case. Released in June 1983 for the PC-6001, Portopia is credited with defining the Japanese Graphical Adventure and Visual Novel genres.

http://i.imgur.com/esbhm3L.png

In Portopia the player takes the role of a detective investigating the murder of bank president in the real-life Port Island neighborhood of Kobe. The player investigates clues, questions subjects, and makes arrests. The game is more open-ended than the Hi-Res Adventure games, allowing the player to investigate any of several different leads in whichever order they choose.

If you haven’t, check out Blitzchamp’s LP (www.talking-time.net/showthread.php?t=8704
) for the full story.

Unlike Omotesando and Mystery House, Portopia’s parser was written in Japanese. Finding which precise words were needed to actually play the game was considered part of the challenge. This was obviously considered unsatisfactory, because Portopia’s 1984 sequel, The Hokkaidou Chain Murders, ditched the parser in favor of a menu of selectable commands.

http://i.imgur.com/rMn8o8X.jpg

This would prove to be a significant innovation, not only did it make for more intuitive interaction, but it focused what kind of interactions were expected. The whole range of possible verbs were narrowed down to an odd 14: move, question, investigate a person, show, look, bring, arrest, examine an item, present evidence, hit, take, ponder, dial, and solve. Nearly every Japanese Adventure game would adopt this style of play afterwards. It became the standard for the genre.

In February of 1985 Horii traveled with fellow contest winner Koichi Nakamura to the first Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. It was there he was introduced to Wizardry. He was completely enthralled by it. So much so that he purchased an Apple II so that he could play it and Ultima back home in Japan. Both games would prove to be huge influences. For example, Horii’s third adventure game, The Karuizawa Kidnapping Guide (July, 1985), featured an overhead map where the player controlled a representation of the main character, similar to Ultima. And a Wizardry-styled maze was added to the Famicom port of Portopia (November, 1985).

The Famicom version of Portopia is important for a few reasons. It was the first adventure game on the system, and as such it was the first game to feature a lot of text and a slower pace. Up to this point the Famicom had mostly featured action type games. Portopia was a huge hit, selling close to a million copies. Its success convinced Enix to develop for the Famicom, after all it was booming in popularity and reached a wider audience than personal computers. Portopia’s success also proved this audience was open to other, non-arcadelike experiences. The Famicom port was handled by Nakamura’s company, ChunSoft. Coming out of 1985 Horii teamed up with them again to develop something entirely new for Nintendo’s red and white console.

Now all the pieces are in place and we can talk about that one game.

Next: That game.

Teaspoon
04-26-2014, 06:40 AM
I am loving this writeup.

Do carry on.

Kishi
04-26-2014, 04:02 PM
genealogyofgames.com

Knurek
04-29-2014, 12:16 AM
Coming out of 1985 Horii teamed up with them again to develop something entirely new for Nintendo’s red and white console.

Were the PC-98/MSX versions of that game developed simultaneously? Or were they later ported from the Famicom version?

Loki
04-29-2014, 12:42 AM
Dragon Quest was developed for the Famicom and released in May 1986, then ported to computers in November.

Kishi
04-29-2014, 01:00 AM
The NEC computer version was apparently an unofficial port, interestingly enough.

Daikaiju
05-09-2014, 10:01 AM
Dragon Quest was developed for the Famicom and released in May 1986, then ported to computers in November.

Well. That was short. Who's doing DQ2?

Despatche
05-11-2014, 08:28 AM
^ sorry for steping all over your joke (: ().

does it really come down to fucking wizardry? why does wizardry alone seem to influence everything japan stands for? i was really hoping dragon slayer or hydlide would have something to do with this (never mind that both want to be inspired by wizardry... they're not, really). oh well.

and why wizardry and not ultima, or really a combination of both? when and why did horii make the leap from first-person movement to top-down roaming? our frothing demand for part 3 increases!

upupdowndown
05-16-2014, 07:31 AM
does it really come down to fucking wizardry? why does wizardry alone seem to influence everything japan stands for? i was really hoping dragon slayer or hydlide would have something to do with this (never mind that both want to be inspired by wizardry... they're not, really). oh well.

and why wizardry and not ultima, or really a combination of both? when and why did horii make the leap from first-person movement to top-down roaming? our frothing demand for part 3 increases!


this is just speculation on my part, and I'm really looking forward to Loki's undoubtedly much more informed take on this question, but here's my guess:

Well, it sounds like Horii played Wizardry but not Ultima, and part of his particular genius was realizing ways to simplify more abstract forms of gameplay, like having a menu of verbs instead of a parser for an adventure game. Third person overhead is a lot simpler to program and execute, I think.

and once DQ came out, well, that was it in Japan. any other top-down jRPGs would be more directly influenced by DQ than Ultima, just because of how seismic of an impact DQ had on the industry in Japan.

Mr. Sensible
05-16-2014, 09:09 PM
As yet another Dumb American who is finally getting into DQ "for real," this thread pleases and intrigues me :smirk:

Red Hedgehog
05-28-2014, 08:35 AM
Well, it sounds like Horii played Wizardry but not Ultima, and part of his particular genius was realizing ways to simplify more abstract forms of gameplay, like having a menu of verbs instead of a parser for an adventure game. Third person overhead is a lot simpler to program and execute, I think

As Loki pointed out above, Horii had definitely played Ultima. In fact, according to an interview with Koichi Nakamura (http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/JPNcomputers/Japanesecomputers3.htm), Horii preferred Ultima to Wizardry while Nakamura preferred Wizardry. Dragon Quest was meant to combine the best aspects of both:

A game that I have fond memories of is Wizardry, which was popular in our office, but a co-worker of mine named Yuji Horii was hooked on Ultima at the time. Yuji kept saying we should make an RPG, but while I wanted to make a game like Wizardry, he wanted it to be like Ultima. We said to ourselves that we'd combine the interesting parts from both, and what we ended up with was Dragon Quest. So if it wasn't for Wizardry and Ultima, Dragon Quest wouldn't exist -- either in Japan or in the world.

So Dragon Quest really was combining aspects of both early, influential CRPGs into a format suitable for a console. As to "Third person overhead is a lot simpler to program and execute, I think," I can only speak as a programmer and not someone with firsthand knowledge, but they are about as easy to do. The NES/Famicom was specialized for handling sprites and scrolling, so this may have tipped the hardware ease toward third-person overhead, but there really isn't much difference (presuming first person is Wizardy-style wireframe or even simple wall graphics like Phantasy Star).

Destil
05-28-2014, 08:47 AM
Dragon Quest's implementation of third person overhead dungeons is basically what you get if you want a first person dungeon crawl, but didn't want to do two rendering frameworks like Phantasy Star (though once you cast Radiance it changes up a bit, that's a cool trick for the engine).

Falselogic
08-09-2014, 11:45 PM
I miss this thread...

I miss all Loki's threads

I miss Loki!