The last couple of years have been great for CRPG and Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) fans. The BioWare / Black Isle combination has performed miracles in reviving the RPG genre. This year will likely feature four D&D computer games, including what could be the last 2nd edition D&D games that we will ever see: Heart of Winter (Icewind Dale expansion) and The Throne of Bhaal (Baldur's Gate 2 expansion). However, this year will also feature the first two games that will be based on the new 3rd edition rules. BioWare is hard at work to get Neverwinter Nights (NWN) released sometime in the second half of this year, while Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor (PoR:RoMD), produced by SSI, is set to hit the stores in the month of May.
Luckily, these will not be the only role-playing games that will be available this year, but they are somewhat special. They are special because they are based on the official D&D rules. Is it truly that special to produce a D&D game? In my opinion, it is. D&D is arguably one of the best-known role-playing systems on the planet. The system has millions of fans spread all over the world. Along with this vast audience, comes a large group of people that have a thorough understanding of the core rules that make up the game.
The advantage of playing a pen & paper role-playing game is that the game leaves total discretion of implementation and interpretation of the rules in the hands of the players and Dungeon Master (game leader). They decide on what features of the rules to use and how to use them. However, this decision-making for a computer D&D game is totally up to the developers of the game.
We all understand that it is much harder to develop a computer D&D game then it is to prepare for a pen & paper session. Most of us will also recognize that game designers have to work with a limited financial budget and some sort of time schedule. One important feature of both NWN and PoR:RoMD is their graphical engine. The graphical engine, which typically needs to be ready in the earlier stages of the game development, runs the risk of becoming outdated. This puts the entire game process under a certain amount of time pressure. This is something inherent to most, if not all, computer-based role-playing games.
This time pressure forces designers to make decisions on what features to implement and what features to leave out. This is the part where the underlying D&D rule set plays a critical part. Each role-playing game is basically a set of rules that determine what is possible and what isn't possible. Some of the most recognizable rules concern the options available to the player, such as: playable races, classes, skills, and spells. These represent only a limited selection of the rules involved in a game. A lot of games are based on rule sets that have nothing to do with the D&D rule set. Take for example Darklands, Daggerfall, Arcanum, Fallout, and the Might & Magic series. These games have their own rules that, while they may show some similarities to the D&D rule set, are distinctly different.