Are PC RPGs getting any respect?

by Richard Mitchell

Recently Looking Glass Studios, the makers of classic RPGs Ultima Underworld 1&2, and System Shock 1&2 went out of business. System Shock 2 was widely hailed as a game of the year candidate in most PC magazines. I found it for 20 bucks at Wal Mart. How can such a great and innovative RPG fall by the wayside and the company that made it go the way of the Dodo? I mean Final Fantasy 8 is a mediocre game at best, but it sold a few million copies.

I think it has something to do with the RPG fans out there.

On virtually every Electronic RPG site, console RPGs get the most attention and the PC ones are usually lucky to even get a nod, if not totally ignored. When I mention great PC RPGs like Ultima 5, Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, and System Shock 2 most people's response is "I don't like PC RPGs". Even when I try to explain how much freedom, detail, and creativity these games have, I still get ignored.

I don't understand.

First of all, if it was not for Wizardry and Ultima, Electronic RPGs would probably not exist in their current form. Dragon Warrior 1 took the overhead tile movement of Ultima 1, along with the concept of moving from town to town and going into dungeons, and the combat system of Wizardry, which allowed the player to choose options like Attack and Magic spell from a list of menu options.

Sadly, Console RPGs have rarely moved beyond game concepts created in Apple 2 games released in 1980 and 1981. While the Graphics are certainly better, and the stories more deep and involved, the basic game has remained the same.

PC RPGs have pioneered most of the advancements that have happened in Console RPGs. A game where you don't fight an end boss to complete the game? Ultima 4, 1985. Tactical Combat, where you fight in a strategy boardgame like combat system? Ultima 3, 1983, And Wizard's Crown, circa 1986. Using vehicles to travel around the map, and even fight off monsters? Ultima 1, 1980. Action sequences where you do arcade game styled play to solve a puzzle or just to be impressive looking in the game? Ultima 1, 1980. Changing Character Classes mid game into more powerful types? Wizardry, 1980-81. Skill and Ability systems? Wasteland, 1988, and Wizard's Crown, 1986.

And PC RPGS keep taking innovations where Square seems afraid to tread. Fallout 2 was capable of being completed in a number of different ways, with the player defining not only how they acted within the game, but how the world was at the end. Unlike FF8 where I had to suffer through Squall's general jerkiness, and Suikoden's Communist Question system (Remember kids: only 1 answer is correct, the other one does not count!) I was capable of truly affecting the final outcome of the game. I chose to be a hero, but I could have just as well completed the game being a scummy drug dealing pimp. (As it was, my female character was married to another woman. How many Console RPGs let you not only pick your gender, but your sexual preferences?) Do we really need 4 CD RPGs with all the interactivity of Dragon's Lair?

Console fans also complain that PC RPGs do not have good stories. Well, the 60,000 of us wise enough to buy Planescape:Torment got one HELL of a deep story, and enough freedom to feel like we were actually playing a character, as opposed to moving around and hitting the "Attack" button every now and again.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of great console RPGs to be found, but why not try out a PC RPG or two? Some of the new breed of RPGs are really pushing creativity and the genre forward, and taking cues from the hit console games as well. Most of you on the Net are doing so from a home computer easily capable of running Planescape:Torment or Fallout 2. I really do not want to bore everyone by listing all the neat things going on in the PC RPG arena these days, nor am I trying to insult those of you who prefer the classic RPG styled game. I merely want to see y'all try something new, and see just how far our favorite type of game really has come. (In fact one editorial here mentions how little the console RPG seems to have advanced, so some of you are looking for something new.)

So I guess in closing, all I am really saying is that there is a whole world of great adventures out there that many of you just don't seem to know of or really want to try. We all picked up this odd game where things were so different from the latest EA Sports title, or Capcom's bazillionth fighting game and fell in love with it.

You took a risk and it paid off once. Why not try it again?

Thank you for listening to my long, drawn out spiel, and good gaming to you all.

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