The Analog Gamer: Rolling for Initiative
Video games are an evolutionary entertainment form. They didn’t sprout spontaneously like Athena from the skull of Zeus into maturity. Instead we’ve seen ages upon ages of recreation evolve through technology to the form we discuss on a daily basis here at Gaming Today.
The Analog Gamer is a new feature we’ve decided to delve into, a break from the GPU comparisons or the latest GTA IV gossip with a look at gaming of a non-digital sort be that board games or pen-n-paper wargamers or RPGs. Some editions will include game recommendations or rules conversions of digital weapons, settings or characters for various tabletop games and even discussions of how tabletop games influence the games we play online or on our consoles from design to practice.
The inaugural edition of this column has to be devoted to the analog game that has spawned so many great titles over the years (and a few stinkers as well): Dungeons & Dragons. Originally a fantasy miniature ruleset, the game we now know as Dungeons & Dragons has seen four major versions and with another due next year it holds a place in the heart of the video game industry that few cross-over properties claim.
D&D’s long reign as the most popular fantasy RPG of gamers started back in 1974 with the “White Box”. While it evolved and split into two different game lines with D&D and AD&D in the 70′s and 80′s, the release of 3rd Edition in 2000 brought the system back into the limelight and introduced it to thousands of players new and old.
Gamers recall with varying degrees of fondness the classic computer versions of the 2nd Edition D&D rules thanks to the long departed Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI) and the “Gold Box” games. SSI brought the pen-and-paper experience to the fledgling computer market on the Commodore 64, Atari ST and IBM PCs and established a foothold that continues through to today with Neverwinter Nights 2 and Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach.
Other, similar RPGs of the era – Ultima and Wizardry – played off the conventions established in D&D. They developed similar statistical systems, weapons and spells that felt mechanical enough to be competitors to the pen-and-paper system had they been printed and managed with dice and rulebooks rather than disks and subroutines.
Looking back we see the pen-and-paper influence on gaming today has grown beyond the RPG market, with sports simulations like NCAA Football and Tiger Woods adopting experience and stat systems. There are hardly any genre of games untouched by the legacy of the pen-and-paper RPG.
So what does the future hold for Dungeons & Dragons? Well with the upcoming release of 4th Edition there seems a renewed focus on game mechanics that are simple to simulate by players and programmers alike. Maybe the world of pen-and-paper games informed the design of computer games but it looks like the wheel is turning the other direction as 4th Edition seems poised to become the most easily adapted and most technology integrated version of the game yet.
Wizard’s of the Coast, the current owners of the D&D legacy, recently launched their online portal for players of the pen-and-paper game complete with an eventual subscription system featuring MMO-like properties and features. Players soon will have access character generators, while dungeon masters can create whole scenarios using visual tools and 3D models online. Pen-and-paper will evolve from a tabletop game to one played on the net with integrated voice-over-IP chat and digital fog-of-war.
While this won’t be the first game tool to enable this online gameplay, D&D 4th is the first to bundle the digital tools along with the analog ones so closely with new content and updates made available when a new book is published. Players who purchase the books can even unlock character or monster options on the website by simply entering a code from the back of the book like a game serial number.
Over 30 years of history go toward evolving D&D into its current form and with the addition of the computer as a playing aid, the accessibility of PDF digital game manuals and technologies like voice chat the possibility of user created games with real people playing all over the country or world is becoming a stronger reality.
Dungeons & Dragons has quite a history in gaming with arcade games, handheld games and home console and PC titles totaling over 72 games and ranging from action games to RPGs to tactical kingdom titles. Here are just a few of the more memorable D&D based games with their developers and the year they were released. Which are your favorite D&D video games?
Neverwinter Nights Online (AOL/SSI, 1991)
Eye of the Beholder Series (Westwood Studios, 1990-1993)
Dark Sun Series (SSI, 1993,1994)
Dungeon Hack (DreamForge, 1993)
Baldur’s Gate I & II (Bioware, 1998-2001)
Icewind Dale I & II (Black Isle Studios, 2000-2002)
Planescape: Torment (Black Isle Studios, 1999)
Neverwinter Nights (Bioware, 2002)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Bioware, 2003)
The Temple of Elemental Evil (Troika, 2003)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords (Obsidian, 2004)
Neverwinter Nights 2 (Obsidian, 2006)