The history of RPGs
Our comprehensive guide to PC RPGs spanning four decades—from Dungeon to The Witcher 3
Computers and RPGs have always gone hand-in-hand. Even when the best adventurers could hope for visually was a few letters and numbers on a screen, what better way could there be to handle stats, die-rolls and complex calculations? Soon enough, though, computer RPGs were capable of doing much more.
The original PC RPGs—such as MUDs, or multi-user dungeons—appeared in the mid-’70s. These weren’t for home computers, but mainframes, typically found in universities. They tended to be based on either Dungeons & Dragons, which itself launched in 1974, or be variously disguised takes on Tolkien. These included Dungeon, DND, Orthanc and Oubliette. A few, such as Oubliette, had simple graphics, though most started out as just text or used ASCII’s standard set of text-mode graphics.
Despite the primitive technology, these games often offered surprising depth. Don Daglow’s Dungeon for instance, a 1975 D&D pastiche, offered control of an entire multiplayer party, mapping, NPCs with AI, line-of-sight-based combat, and both melee and ranged attacks. Moria, from the same year, served up wireframe graphics for its characters, and even featured rudimentary 3D views of its corridors. Small ones, with no detail, but let’s not forget that even Space Invaders wasn’t out yet!
I’ve met Don Daglow before – he went on to work on Intellivision games, and would come to participate in some of their panels at CGE in Vegas. (That means that, whether you realized it or not at the time, you might’ve run into him too.)