Role Playing Game may be easily considered the most influential genre in the whole history of videogames because of the spread and the importance of the innovations arrived during its long life. In fact, they originated from RPG pen and paper like Dungeons & Dragons, born in 1974 from Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s creative minds and become so successful that it has survived even today in its fourth edition released in 2008, which inserted players into an adventure allowing to create their own character, to make it grow and to lead it in the adventure through choices, fights and interactions based upon rolls of the dice and the game rules.
It’s in the year of the first D&D edition that there was the first attempt to put in a videogame appearance this papery game with the creation of dnd. Written in TUTOR for PLATO system, dnd is a roguelike dungeon crawler in which dungeons and items are generated randomly and in which the death of the character is permanent because it will delete every save file. The plot is obviously very rough and consist in the quest for the grail and the orb, two manufacts that, when obtained, will allow the player to beat the game. We’re facing a game which had revolutionized videogames because, using D&D rules with a turn-based gameplay, they obtained one of the first games with a non-linear progression as well as the forefather of every RPG.
After the fist unofficial chapter Akalabeth, in 1980 Ultima I:the First Age of Darkness makes its debut on Apple II, first chapter of a series which will make history in the genre. In fact, the player is not closed anymore in a dungeon, but in a large world to explore in order to get items and gold coins. Compared to dnd the innovations are substantial: event though dungeons are still generated randomly, these are rendered in wireframe through isometric projections in first person, while the overworld and the towns are represented with a topdown-third person view in the typical graphics with a limited range of colours and stylizing characters, building and the environment. Obviously every control is by keyboard and more than the introduction of merchants, an important innovation of the gameplay is represented by the Food which made the exploration more strategic and difficult since the character would have dead if the player had run out of it. The plot is still very weak and show its uncertainty in the background with the coexistence of a fantasy-medieval setting and the presence of sci-fi components, but the game anticipates many features typical of the modern RPGs which will be recovered, renewed and improved in the best chapter of the series: Ultima III: Exoddus
At first released on Apple II in 1983 and afterwards ported on other 12 platforms among which there’s NES in 1988, this third chapter of the series, unlike the previous episodes, is placed in a defined fantasy-medieval background and in a delineated plot which, although it’s very simple, will influence the structure of the following videogames. In this game there are many elements which will be fundamental for the characterisation of the RPG like the party composed by 4 members, turn-based fights against several enemies faced in an interface separated by the main map, default dungeons no longer generated randomly, but integrated in the plot and with 3D appearance, the functionality of the whole map in which there are secret paths and hidden treasures. Because of the considerable amount of innovations in the gameplay, become standard in the following RPGs, Ultima III can be considered, unlike the previous videogames, as the first very modern role-playing game, a milestone in which cohabit aspects of oriental and occidental rPGs, and which cannot be not included among the videogame masterpieces.
Another masterpiece initially released on Apple II is The Bard’s Tale (Tales of the Unknown: Volume I) which in 1985 detached from Ultima gameplay adopting a new interface more suitable for a dungeon crawler in which there is window, where the overworld, dungeons, NPCs and enemies are shown, framed by a menu with the available actions and the list of the party members. What’s different compared to the previous games is the revolutionary 3D graphics observed by a permanently first person perspective and a text-based combat system free of a graphic interface. For the first time there are animations in the characters’ picture and in the DOS and Commodore 64 versions, we can see the mouse support for the contextual menus.
Last game of this first installment of RPG(ology) is the nth coming from Ultima series which, although it’s a spin-off released in 1992 can be considered the starter of a whole genre detaching neatly from classical text based CRPGs. Using partly The Bard’s Tale and Might&Magic interface, Ultima Underworld: the Stygian Abiss is absolutely the first action RPG which, adopting a first person perspective, immerse players in a 3D and physical environment. The graphic interface is made up by a window with the gameplay, a column with the available actions (read, fight, speak, use, take) and another window with the main character, the inventory and the equipment, while in the low part of the interface there is the log of the actions and the text of what’s read and said. With the spread of the mouse from the half eighties, the game supports it natively and allow to use it for every action and for the first time even during the fights: in fact, in Ultima Underworld the fight is in real time and there are graphically different hits depending on the clicked point and the equipped weapon. It’s needless saying that games like Deus Ex, The Elder Scrolls: Arena (like the whole series), Bioshock and many other have been conceived thanks to this game, and the imagination that it was necessary previously to enjoy a good RPG, takes life managing to involve the player in order to make him enter new fantasy worlds to discover and explore.