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In a blog article on Gamasutra, author Felipe Pepe profiles twenty-one role-playing games from the past 30+ years that were pioneers of the genre in some way, shape, or form. Such a list obviously includes such staples as Might and Magic: World of Xeen and Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant, but let's do a little quoting on how Dungeons of Daggorath and Ultima VI: The False Prophet broke the mold:
Daggorath was reportedly programmed in 1980, yet it's a solid dungeon-crawler with fast-paced real-time combat. And for a pioneer, it has some interesting twists.
Each action must be typed into the text parser, either entirely (Pull Right Torch) or using abbreviations (P R T). But the game runs in real time, and thus the faster you can type, the faster you can act. As compensation, there's no fail % set by a dice roll every time you miss, it will be because you, the player, mistyped your input. A surprisingly organic way of handling miss chance.
However, the stand-out feature is the heart-rate mechanic. Over the 40+ years of CRPG history, a few mechanics and concepts rooted themselves into the core of the genre. Hit points are one of those. But Daggorath is a game from the frontier days, and the designers tried something different.
Your health is determined by a beating heart at the center of the screen, accompanied the constant sound of its heartbeat. A normal heart-rate means you're healthy, but it will rise as you take damage, run or even simply exert yourself attacking too fast. Have a heart-attack and you're dead. Luckily, it goes down if you manage to find a quiet place and stop to catch your breath for a bit.
Play this with headphones. The wireframe graphics will blend with your imagination and the tension of hearing your heartbeat quicken as you run from a giant into a dead-end will be nerve-wrecking.
The final game of the trilogy, Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1990), begins with the Avatar being nearly murdered and Britannia under siege by demonic gargoyles. Lord British orders you to kill them and save the world, but this is the Ultima series, not a dumb RPG. As you explore the world, gather clues and talk to people you'll begin to realize that you didn't "found" the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom in Ultima IV you stole it from the gargoyles and destroyed their world in the process.
So, what will the living embodiment of virtue will do when faced with the realization that the invading demons are actually desperate victims of your actions, trying to save their race from extinction?