Akalabeth

AkalabethThe Game: You start the game by creating a character, Basic D&D style, who enters the world defenseless and just this side of naked. It’s your job to arm and armor your alter-ego, buy plenty of rations, and then set out to explore See the videothe world of Britannia, and the treacherous dungeons that lie beneath it. A visit to the castle of Lord British will give you a chance to level up for deeds accomplished, and receive an assignment from him for your next adventure. (California Pacific Computer, 1980)

Memories: Like so many amateur-programmed Apple II games at the dawn of the 1980s, Akalabeth was distributed via floppy disk in a plastic bag with modest documentation and packaging. So what makes it so special now? Simply put, Akalabeth was also the dawn of a gaming empire – or the origin of one. It was the first computer game programmed and released by Richard Garriott, an avid fan of paper-and-dice role playing games with medieval settings. Both the game and its creator would transform over time – the basic structure of Akalabeth became the basis of the early Ultima games, and Garriott of course became known as his alter ego, the benevolent ruler of the Ultima universe, Lord British. Continue reading

Ultima

UltimaThe Game: You set out alone on an adventure spanning countryside, mountains, oceans, towns and dungeons. You can purchase food rations, weapons and armor in the towns, visit Lord British in a castle for his wisdom, maybe a level-up, See the videoand your next assignment, or you can venture forth into the dungeons to test your skill against the denizens of the underworld. (California Pacific Computer, 1981)

Memories: Richard Garriott has said that the first Ultima game – which was originally marketed as Ultimatum – essentially “uses Akalabeth as a subroutine”, and while that may be oversimplifying how much or how little new code Ultima added to the game, it’s essentially true – the dungeons are practically vintage Akalabeth fare, while the towns and the above-ground portions of the game are literally a whole different animal. Continue reading

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Cartridge

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons CartridgeThe Game: Your quest begins as you set out from the safety of home to look for adventure in mountainous caverns. When you wander into the dungeons and caverns, your view zooms in to the maze See the videoyour adventurer is exploring, complete with treasures to collect and deadly dangers to duel. (Mattel Electronics, 1982)

Memories: Combining sword-and-sorcery – traditionally the territory of paper-and-dice role playing games – with video game action has been one of the more inspired mash-ups to come from the golden age of video games. As combinations go, it was almost inevitable – with Dungeons & Dragons being more geeky than mainstream in the 1970s, it was an activity with which game programmers – another geeky crowd – were likely to be acquainted. With all of that crossover going on, it was therefore inevitable that someone, presumably whoever had deep enough pockets to license the title and game elements, would eventually produce an official video game. Continue reading

Telengard

TelengardThe Game: Using primitive text-based graphics, Telengard books for you a no-expenses-paid vacation through dungeons and hallways full of orcs and other nasties. If you can map the twisty passages, you might just make it back to the Adventurers’ Inn to claim your newfound experience points and heal from your many battles…and if you get lost? There are other inns out there – and many painful ends as well. (Avalon Hill, 1982)

Memories: Telengard was my introduction to computer-based adventure RPGs. I was already one foot into the Dungeons & Dragons world at the time, though truthfully some of the people I played those pencil-and-paper-and-dice RPGs with scared me. Some of them – not all of them, by any means, but a few – tackled these games with enough intensity to make a kid nervous. Continue reading

Tunnels Of Doom

Tunnels Of DoomThe Game: A party of up to four adventurers descends into the depths of a dungeon to recover their kidnapped king and find his magical orb. Along the way, the band of intrepid adventurers will have to fight off everything from See the videopacks of wild dogs to evil creatures determined to bring the quest to an early end. (Texas Instruments, 1982)

Memories: I remember seeing this game at a friend’s house right after it came out, and feeling the whole world changing around me. Up until now, I’d been playing the same games on computers that I’d been playing on my consoles, except they looked and sometimes even sounded better. But Tunnels Of Doom, with its obvious nods to Dungeons & Dragons, was a whole dfferent animal. Here was a game that the consoles couldn’t handle. Here was a real live Computer Game. Continue reading

Ultima II: Revenge Of The Enchantress

Ultima IIThe Game: Not happy with her consort’s defeat at your hands (assuming, of course, that you won Ultima I, the enchantress Minax tracks you down to your home planet of Earth and begins the test anew, sending legions of See the videodaemons and other hellspawn to strike you down before you can gain enough power to challenge her. This time, you have intercontinental and even interplanetary travel at your disposal via the moongates, which appear and disappear based on the phases of the moon. Each destination has unique challenges that help to prepare you for the showdown with Minax herself. (Sierra On-Line, 1982)

Memories: The second in the seminal Ultima role-playing game series, Ultima II has always managed to elicit little excitement from me. Continue reading

Gateway To Apshai

Gateway To ApshaiThe Game: The player controls a weary adventurer weaving his way through a dungeon populated by treasures and deadly danger. Starting out with the clothes on his back, a short sword in hand, and adding what he can along the way, the player’s adventurer progresses through twisty mazes, vanquishes an See the videoincreasingly dangerous rogues’ gallery of foes, and tries to gather a wealth of treasure… but even opening those treasure chests may reveal traps. (Epyx, 1983)

Memories: The Apshai computer RPGs form a kind of holy trinity of early adventure gaming along with the Ultima and Wizardry series of games. Gateway To Apshai is actually a prequel to the runaway hit Temple Of Apshai, which debuted on Tandy’s TRS-80 computer before cross-pollinating to every other platform under the sun. Gateway is missing Temple‘s famously wordy descriptions of its on-screen chambers, and as such feels completely different from the earlier game. But in hindsight, Gateway is an important step on the evolutionary road for the “action RPG” genre – paving the way for The Legend Of Zelda. Continue reading

Ultima III: Exodus

Ultima III: ExodusThe Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Sosaria, and Lord British calls for your service again. You set out with four adventurers on a quest to gain the experience that will be necessary to survive the long voyage to a volcanic island where the source of all the evil plaguing the world is said to be. (Origin Systems, 1984)

Memories: The third game in Richard Garriott’s Ultima cycle, Ultima III was the tops in computer RPGs for ages (at least until Ultima IV came along). Ultima III was the first game in the series to track the movements of the two moons, and the first to feature a part of multiple player characters (as well as parties of evil beings to fight them). Continue reading

Adventure Construction Set

The Game: Digital dungeon masters never had it so good. From the design of tiles and characters to the basic rules governing the player’s interactions with his world, it’s all up for grabs. Items can be placed, their abilities defined, and enemies can be generated. Let the games begin…but is it more fun to create them or play them? (Electronic Arts, 1985)

Memories: Offering everything from pre-built elements to user-defined items and characters from scratch, Adventure Construction Set was a revelation. Where Garry Kitchen‘s Game Maker from Activision allowed budding game designers to create their own arcade-style games, EA‘s Adventure Construction Set gave them control of a top-down, tile-based 2-D adventure game. Those familiar with the Ultima series or Questron would instantly be within their element. Continue reading

Little Computer People

Little Computer PeopleThe Game: Does it ever seem like your computer has a mind of its own? Maybe it does! Activision’s Little Computer People provides computer owners with a virtual three-story house, designed to lure the computer people out of your wiring and into a hospitable habitat. Once a little person has moved into his new home he can be studied and observed, but this is no hands-off experiment. You’ll need to keep your new friend happy and fed to maintain a healthy relationship. (Activision, 1985)

Memories: When Little Computer People first came out, it was difficult to explain just what kind of program it was to your friends. These days, it’s much easier – I’d simply say the game was like The Sims, but with only one sim and one location. To anyone familiar with the SimCity/SimAnt/SimEarth series of games, I’d describe it as a “SimHouse”. I might even compare the game to one of those popular “virtual pet” programs. But Little Computer People came out in 1985, prior to any of those games. Back then we lacked the vocabulary to describe (much less categorize) the game. Little Computer People was first released for the Commodore 64, quickly ported to the Apple II, and eventually found its way to Atari, Amiga, Amstrad and Sinclair computers. The game was never ported to the PC. Continue reading

Tower Of Doom

Tower Of DoomBuy this gameThe Game: Abandon hope, all ye who enter the Tower of Doom. Armed and armored, adventurers enter seeking treasure, mystery and glory…but all that stands between them and those goals are dragons, monsters, bizarre traps that twist space and time, and, of course, twisty little passages (there are always twisty little passages). When a battle is lost in the catacombs, the player returns to his starting point for another attempt to plumb the depths, but eventually every player will run out of opportunities…or will have to grow powerful enough to conquer most of the Tower’s denizens. (INTV Inc., 1986)

See the videoMemories: Originally conceived as another entry in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons video game franchise, Tower Of Doom seems terribly familiar to anyone who played Mattel’s original AD&D cartridge: the overhead maze crawl and the close-up battles go back to the original game’s basics, rather than trying to further develop Treasure Of Tarmin‘s first-person perspective and interface, which was considered a step forward for graphics but not for game play. Continue reading

Ultima IV: Quest Of The Avatar

Ultima IV: Quest Of The AvatarThe Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Britannia, and Lord British calls for your service again. You start out alone, accumulating traveling (and fighting) companions along your journey, striving to live by the Eight Virtues that govern conduct in the kingdom. Along the way, numerous creatures, both evil and simply pesky, challenge you. As you go forth on the quest, you must also collect the mantras of each Virtue, travel to the corresponding Shrines, and meditate there until you reach enlightenment. With enlightenment and experience come the strength to rid Britannia of evil – but, to quote a little pointy-eared green guy, beware the dark side… (Origin Systems, 1986)

Memories: Richard Garriott’s fourth classic role-playing installment was one of the most addictive games I ever played on the Apple II computer. I kid you not, I spent hours playing Ultima IV. Then, and I’m sure you know this story, I moved a few times, lost track of my original floppies, and missed the game terribly the next time it crossed my mind to play it. I shall now spend hours waxing rhapsodic about why this is still my favorite computer RPG of all time. Continue reading

The Legend Of Zelda

The Legend Of ZeldaThe Game: Link wanders the kingdom of Hyrule, attempting to defeat the minions of the evil Ganon and trying to gather the weapons, tools, and items he will need to free the kingdom. Most vital on his quest is the recovery of all the pieces of the magical Triforce, the most powerful force that can be brought against Ganon. But as each piece is recovered and each part of the quest is completed, the next leg of the journey is even more difficult. (Nintendo, 1987)

Memories: If Super Mario Bros. and the Donkey Kong series hadn’t already marked the arrival of Shigeru Miyamoto as a master video game designer, the deal was sealed with the arrival of The Legend Of Zelda, which was a game-changing entry in the adventure genre, to say the very least. Zelda was the title that finally blew down the door and gained wide acceptance for adventure games that couldn’t be finished in a single sitting. Prior to this, adventure games had a niche audience, but tweaking the conventions and expectations of the genre and putting it on a console instead of a computer made Zelda a winner. Continue reading

Ultima V: Warriors Of Destiny

Ultima V: Warriors Of DestinyThe Game: Darkness has fallen upon the land of Britannia. Lord Blackthorn, with the help and manipulation of the evil Shadowlords, has taken over, banishing Lord British from his own kingdom and ruling over the world with an iron first. Having settled into a little house in the woods after your ascension to Avatar, you are called upon once more to set things right. An underground resistance movement is quietly biding its time, waiting for Lord British to return, and hailing you and your friends as its heroes. But there are also many who have fallen in line behind Blackthorn and his dark masters – and would be happy to dispose of the Avatar for him. (Origin Systems, 1988)

Memories: A true sequel to Ultima IV, Ultima V is deeper, more realistic, and more challenging by far. Possibly the biggest change between the two games is literally the difference between day and night. Continue reading

Ultima IV

Ultima IV: Quest Of The AvatarThe Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Britannia, and Lord British calls for your service again. You start out alone, accumulating traveling (and fighting) companions along your journey, striving to live by the Eight Virtues that See the videogovern conduct in the kingdom. Along the way, numerous creatures, both evil and simply pesky, challenge you. As you go forth on the quest, you must also collect the mantras of each Virtue, travel to the corresponding Shrines, and meditate there until you reach enlightenment. With enlightenment and experience come the strength to rid Britannia of evil – but beware the dark side… (Sega / Origin Systems, 1989)

Memories: I’ve played Ultima IV on both the NES and the Sega Master System, and hands down, the Sega edition comes out on top. For such a relatively complex game, the Sega version of Ultima IV keeps the controls incredibly simple, with a menu-driven system that has a lot of options and yet never overwhelms the player. Continue reading

Ultima: Quest Of The Avatar

Quest Of The AvatarThe Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Britannia, and Lord British calls for your service again. You start out alone, accumulating traveling (and fighting) companions along your journey, striving to live by the Eight Virtues that govern conduct in the kingdom. Along the way, numerous creatures, both evil and simply pesky, challenge you. As you go forth on the quest, you must also collect the mantras of each Virtue, travel to the corresponding Shrines, and meditate there until you reach enlightenment. With enlightenment and experience come the strength to rid Britannia of evil – but, to quote a little pointy-eared green guy, beware the dark side… (FCI / Pony Canyon, 1990)

Memories: Where the NES edition of the third Ultima game took place in a compressed version of the original computer game’s expansive world. If the map of the world of Sosaria from the Apple II version of Exodus: Ultima III was printed on one of those squishy little stress balls, the NES version was what you’d see if the ball was squeezed: all the continents, while vaguely similar, were suddenly jammed up against each other. Ultima IV‘s even larger map is surprisingly intact on the NES. Continue reading

Super Mario RPG

Super Mario RPGThe Game: The seemingly endless battle between Mario and Bowser continues with the Koopa king’s latest kidnapping of the princess. A fierce battle ensues in Bowser’s castle, ending with what seems like a swift defeat for Bowser, when another combatant appears: a huge sword from the sky impales the castle, driving both Mario and Bowser out and preventing them from returning. Mario has to embark on an extended quest through the Mushroom Kingdom and other realms, gradually accumulating a band of locals to help him fight his way through the perils he meets along the way. He has to recover the seven pieces of the Star Road before he can resume his battle against the Smithy Gang bent on taking over his world. (Nintendo / Square, 1996)

Memories: An unlikely joint project between ’90s RPG powerhouse Square and Nintendo, this game took the universe of Super Mario Bros. and overlaid it on the action RPG structure that both companies had made famous and evolved over the previous decade. As strange as it was to try to get one’s head around a Mario game with a combat system and a “special items” menu, Super Mario RPG actually works beautifully.

Super Mario RPGAnd it doesn’t look or sound bad either – for quite a while, this was the gold standard for a game set in the Marioverse; even later attempts to drag Super Mario Bros. into 3-D rendered graphics on the N64 didn’t have the beauty and level of detail in Super Mario RPG. The music is hummable and drags you into the game’s world effectively, and only refers to the well-worn tunes from previous entries in the Super Mario franchise occasionally. So many Mario games had spent so much time making inside-joke references to the previous games in the series that Super Mario RPG was a novelty simply because of how much it didn’t do that.

As a game play experience, it’s effective and addictive. A simple menu system makes good use of the ocean of buttons on the SNES controller, and it quickly gets to be second nature, which is a good thing – even during the turn-based combat segments, players can affect the outcome of their battles with carefully timed control combos, keeping the turn-based fights from being a boring necessity. The non-combat majority of the game is free-flowing, Super Mario RPGnicely animated, and just plain pretty to look at. Even with the N64’s superior graphics hardware, it would be a long time before a Mario game came along to top this one.

With this gourmet recipe for greatness, it was therefore only natural that Square and Nintendo had a parting of the ways after Super Mario RPG, primarily over Square’s desire to carry its Final Fantasy franchise over to the then-new Sony Playstation. The result was that it would be five years before there was a successor to Super Mario RPG, and even then it couldn’t use the same structure, conventions and characters from the previous game. The resulting Paper Mario series has become a success in its own right, but the debate continues as to whether Super Mario RPGor not it’s ever attained the shining-moment-of-greatness that Super Mario RPG was for so many years – when this game arrived on the Wii Virtual Console, it was a Big Deal to those who remembered it so fondly.

5 quarters!Super Mario RPG was a singular event in the development of the Super Mario franchise, offering a fresh take on the familiar characters and settings, while introducing an entire world’s worth of new places and characters. In many ways it’s still one of the high points.

Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship YamatoThe Game: In the year 2199, Earth is beseiged by radioactive planet bombs launched by the Gamilons. When two junior officers happen upon alien wreckage on Mars, including a message intended for Earth with details of new propulsion and weapon systems, and the promise of a device which could restore Earth to its former beauty, the wheel is set in motion for mankind’s final desperate gambit for survival. The WWII battleship Yamato is repaired and made spaceworthy with the new technology, and Captain Okita hand-picks a dedicated young crew to fly the ship to the planet Iscandar – the source of the message – and back. That’s where you step in for Okita – using a rotating ring of character heads, you can give characters such as Susumu Kodai, Yuki Mori and Daisuke Shima their orders, get their advice, and engage in combat with the Gamilons in space and on the surfaces of various planets. (Bandai, 2000)

Memories: Oh, how I wanted to love this game. An epic adventure game based on Space Battleship Yamato? Count me in.

Sadly, this isn’t an epic adventure game. It’s two-thirds CGI movie, and one-third plodding turn-based combat game. Continue reading

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