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Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
My RPG story is the same one

My RPG story is the same one I've always told, really. I played pen and paper RPGs and related games with my childhood friends, like Dungeons & Dragons, Top Secret, Gamma World, etc., and was jonesing to recreate that experience on my Commodore 64. Prior to that, my only real exposure to computer RPGs was seeing my friend Brian's Apple IIe with a green screen monitor running Ultima II and III (it may have been his older brother I saw running it first).

Anyway, I remember obsessing over the wireframe artwork for the Temple of Apshai Epyx ad, similar to the one here for Gateway: http://www.c64-wiki.com/images/e/ec/Gateway_to_Apshai_%28Epyx%29_%28Tape... (naturally, in my young mind, I had fantasized that the graphics would really be like that). Luckily, though, I never did get around to purchasing Temple of Apshai (I would have probably liked it then, but it would not have been exactly what I was after), instead being tantalized by the artwork and ad for SSI's Phantasie: http://www.gamasutra.com/db_area/images/feature/3527/image011.jpg , which seemed to embody the complete Dungeons & Dragons spirit. Boy, was I lucky and right. Not only did it have better visuals than the ad's Apple II graphics (the C-64 version was very attractive in comparison--a proper enhanced port), but it allowed me to create a party of my choosing, mixed race and mixed sex (though the latter, only in name--the game was gender neutral). While I mapped the outerworld myself for convenience since it was multi-screen, it essentially automapped (uncovered) that and the single screen dungeons, and the combat was tactical. All the familiar D&D elements were there, with multiple dungeons to explore and surprises throughout the world(s). My first personal experience with a computer RPG was the right game at the right time. The ONLY flaw that Phantasie had was that it was rather buggy and tended to crash at times (there was a particularly nasty crash bug in one particular dungeon). Upon completing Phantasie, I eagerly purchased Phantasie II, which was essentially the same game, just bug fixed and minor improvements to the engine. By the way, another thing that endeared me to the Phantasie games, was that while your characters aged, you didn't have to worry about feeding them, which I considered a design flaw in most of the RPGs that featured that, since I had to often focus on keeping my character or party fed as much as I focused on the game itself. Anyway, Phantasie III was a major improvement for the series in terms of features, and rounded out the original trilogy nicely. Sadly, a related, though not direct sequel, Phantasie IV, was Japan only, for the MSX and Sharp X68000 computers. I do have the fan-made English ROM for Phantasie IV I believe, so when my vaporware-ish Pandora someday arrives, I'll probably play it on that (I do have MSX and MSX2 systems, but I'm not sure I have the time to dedicate to non-portable play).

Anyway, I dabbled in other RPGs, including some of the Ultimas, but the downside with the Ultimas was the brutal learning curve and the fact that I didn't purchase them (back then, now I have a complete set). Other games, like Expedition Amazon from Penguin, intrigued me for their interesting settings, but had serious design flaws that made playing much less fun than it should have been. The other great RPG I played on the C-64 was AutoDuel. Once I got past the Apple II graphics and sound and the steep learning curve, I was pulled deeply into the wonderful story and unique concept.

Eventually, I of course moved on to the Amiga 500 and was introduced to a radically difference experience in Dungeon Master. Though it had the food "bug" and you really couldn't create your own characters, these "flaws" were minimized to the point where it was a-OK with me, and I loved the game. My next great RPG was Pool of Radiance on the Amiga, which I played a portion of when I was in college. That was like the next generation of Phantasie. The nice thing with the Amiga version was that the team who ported it enhanced the graphics and sound over every other version, making it THE version to own. Sadly, as the series progressed on the Amiga, SSI contented themselves with doing straight EGA conversions, which Amiga and Atari ST fans know all too well from the often garish EGA color palette that they really didn't have to be subjected too.

Naturally, there were plenty of other games in-between and after, but those are the high points for me. So, let's see, my computer/videogame RPG viewpoint is skewed heavily by the great Phantasie series, AutoDuel, Dungeon Master, and Pool of Radiance games, each classics in their own right, and each getting the experience exactly right, despite each possessing flaws. Like any old-time curmudgeon gamer, I still long for those days, but it's unlikely there will be experiences like them again in quite the same way. Like me, game design has changed too much since then. Luckily, I have dozens of old school RPGs in my collection still to be played, so the reality is I don't need them to make anymore in my lifetime...

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