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History of Zork Now Available on Gamasutra: Read Full Interviews Here!

Gamasutra has now published my article on the History of Zork! Go check it out; it's loaded with plenty of facts, screenshots, and quotations from the authors. I had earlier promised to offer the interviews I conducted with the implementors and other folks here on Armchair. You'll find them below, organized more or less in a "round table" progression. Enjoy!

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Interview with Daniel M. Lawrence, CRPG Pioneer and Author of Telengard

Telengard: One of the earliest CRPGs for home computers.Telengard: One of the earliest CRPGs for home computers.I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Daniel Lawrence, a pioneer in the CRPG industry who started off writing CRPGs for mainframes. Perhaps his most famous CRPG is Telengard, which was one of the earliest (if not the earliest) game of its type for early platforms such as the Commodore PET, Atari 800, and TRS-80. It features "procedurally generated dungeons" so that no two games are exactly alike, and is set in real-time. Indeed, in many ways it's an early Diablo! In the interview below, I talk to Daniel about these early games and more general questions about what a good CRPG should be. The interview really helped me straighten out some important details about this historic game's development. Enjoy!

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History of Ghostbusters for the C-64

I can't believe I missed this great article at Next Generation: The Making of Ghostbusters for the C-64. For those of you who haven't played this classic, shame on you--go out and experience what many critics (including this one) take as one of the best, if not the best, ever licensed title ever. Considering that the development team hadn't even seen the movie (at least until the last stages), it's really amazing that this game turned out so well. After all, it would have been so easy to make a cheesy shooter or platform game out of it; anything but a business sim!

Roulette (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Overlay for Roulette: I'll admit that the overlay looks nice.Overlay for Roulette: I'll admit that the overlay looks nice.Just to clarify, this is the Odyssey's version of the casino favorite, Roulette, and it's not the relatively fun, Russian variety of Roulette, where you risk embedding bullets deep inside your head.

Like a few of the Odyssey's games, Roulette is supported by the use of "off-screen" technology: betting chips, a betting board and a huge wad of fake cash. Roulette also uses one of the nicest looking overlays for the system. It's clearly a roulette wheel and they don't dumb it down by doing anything so pedestrian as turning the numbers right-side up just to make it easier to read. The player is given the illusion that they could be looking at a genuine, roulette wheel, albeit, a non-spinning, vertical, silent roulette wheel . . .

The smart kid in the audience asks, "If the wheel doesn't spin, how is a random number generated?"

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CRPG Book in the Works

UPDATE: Dungeons and Desktops is now available from Amazon and many other booksellers! Buy your copy today!

Good news! The publisher A K Peters has accepted my proposal for my upcoming book about the Computer Role Playing Game. We're still in talks about the title (though leaning towards "Dungeons and Desktops" with Mat's permission), but if anyone has any good ideas, let me know. At any rate, I should be able to expand the coverage considerably and go into much more detail (we're tentatively capping it at 200 pages).

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The History of CRPGs Part III: The Platinum and Modern Ages

Well, it was a LOT of work, but I've finally gotten my third and final installment in my massive CRPG history series posted to GamaSutra. This installment covers all the classics from the 90s, including unforgettable games like Fallout, PlaneScape:Torment, Baldur's Gate, Arcanum, Diablo, Morrowind...The list goes on and on. I tried to be more comprehensive than last time, but I finally decided to omit coverage of MUDs and MMORPGs, as I explain in the article. I might also remind readers that I'm not covering console RPGs, or CRPGs that originated on consoles and were ported over later (i.e., the Final Fantasy games). Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the article! Please let me know if you find it interesting, entertaining, and/or helpful. I had a great time playing all these games and reviewing them for your pleasure--the best part is, I discovered lots of gems that I hadn't played or even heard of before. I hope you have the same experience after reading my article.

Haunted House (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Haunted House Overlay: Even the translucent areas retain their spookiness.Haunted House Overlay: Even the translucent areas retain their spookiness.I love the Überlay for this game. It's a silhouette of a stereotypical haunted house. The house is three stories tall and filled with items such as bats, cats, skulls and candelabra. You play the game by moving your Detective through the house and "lighting" each item one at a time, in order, as specified by numbered, drawn cards. (For those just tuning in, "Lighting" involves moving your TV square behind an on-screen area, causing it to glow.) If you successfully light the item, you collect the card for that item.

Cat and Mouse (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Cat & Mouse Overlay: What's a five-letter word for devoured?Cat & Mouse Overlay: What's a five-letter word for devoured?Picture a crossword puzzle grid (see overlay left). You know the type, empty squares (for the letters) and full squares (uh, not for the letters). The players start with their Player Spots on the Mouse and Cat icons respectively, which are already placed in the maze. In one corner of the maze is a "mouse house". (Yes, that's what "they" call it). The mouse has to get to his house before the cat gets him, but must do so by moving through only the white squares of the maze. The cat must obey the same limitation. If either the cat spot or the mouse spot overlap with one of the dark parts of the crossword puzzle-like landscape, they have to go back to their starting position.

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History of CRPGs Part II: The Golden Age (1985-1993)

GamaSutra has just published the second installment of my in-depth history of CRPGs: The Golden Age of CRPGs. GamaSutra did a fantastic job with the layout, and I'm sure you're going to enjoy this article. I daresay, it's the most detailed and ambitious survey of CRPGs yet attempted, and I hope it will inspire others to start writing up histories of other genres! Check it out, and be sure to send the link to all the CRPG fans you know!

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Review: "Robots Unlimited: Life in a Virtual Age" by David Levy

David Levy's book Robots Unlimited: Life in a Virtual Age is a great introduction not only to robots, but also the various technologies that must work together in their creation: logic, artificial intelligence (AI), speech synthesis, natural language processing, sensory recognition, personality training, emotion--does it ever end? Although most people assume that we're centuries away from the invention of an intelligent, human-like android like "Data," Levy shows just how close we've gotten and just how soon we'll be interacting with amazingly smart robots on a daily basis. Robots will enhance our lives in countless ways; they'll not only help us in our daily tasks, but also become our friends and even our soul mates. They'll talk to us and show a sensitivity to our emotional states that not even our mothers could match. Furthermore, they'll be wonderful inventors and artists, breathing new life into every field of creative endeavor. Sound like science fiction? Levy shows that the only "fiction" is that robots won't play a vital role in the (near) future of the human race. David Levy will make you a believer.

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