Forgotten Ruins: The Roots of CRPGs - SSI

07 Dec 2010

Bitmob is taking a stab at spotlighting the 30-year history of computer role-playing games in a new series of retrospectives they've labeled "Forgotten Ruins", with the very first installment covering the vast catalogue of excellent RPGs that was developed and distributed by SSI during the 80's and 90's. Good reading:
Their biggest coup was in scoring the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons license from pen-and-paper RPG publisher TSR. So named because of the gold-colored paper used to label the boxes, the “Gold Box” series would prove to be one AD&D's biggest splashes on PCs until the arrival of Bioware's Baldur's Gate under the Interplay label almost a decade later.

SSI opened up TSR's worlds to players with fancy graphics, turn-based tactical planning, and all of the nitty gritty details stuffed into every statistic. It would be the biggest impression that AD&D would make on CRPGs in years -- if not for the gameplay, then for the sheer body of work that would follow.

For players that had never touched the tabletop version but had a PC, it was a great way to get a taste of TSR's worlds without having to find a group, deal with temperamental dungeon masters, or buy all of the rulebooks. In my case, it was a little of each. The releases came with a manual that explained how the gameplay systems work and described the mysteries of THAC0 (to hit armor class zero). But they would often include an illustrated “Adventurer's Journal” detailing the monsters, D&D concepts, and the journal entries that would be referenced within the game as a form of copy protection.

The games had also recycled their engines to a degree unheard of today and leveraged storytelling and AD&D mechanics to create memorable scenarios that stood on their own; although, they started to show their age with later installments. Other titles had also debuted without gold boxes, such as the Dark Sun series and SSI's later partnership with Westwood which produced Hillsfar and Eye of the Beholder 1 and 2. The Dark Sun titles in particular demonstrated SSI's streamlining of the gameplay from the Gold Box series of titles, but never capitalized on these changes -- something that Bioware would take advantage of later on with their Infinity Engine.
Thanks for the great memories, SSI. I have a lot of them.
 
 

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