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Game On - How the fringe went mainstream

By Jonathan 'Killstring' Herzberger

"Sorry, our Princess is in another castle." It was in the fall of 1985 that those iconic words first blazed across television screens around the world. After a surge of popularity in the 80's, video games seemed primed to stand beside the Pet Rock, Pogs and (with any luck) Disney's singer-actors as forgotten fads.

But despite the millions of unsold Atari cartridges buried in the Nevada desert, the bankruptcy of virtually (unfortunate pun not intended) every video game company at the time, and the advent of Personal Computers, Nintendo's N.E.S. Console rekindled the embers of the industry, and the rest is history.

Now, some 24 years later, even as gaming becomes a more prevalent part of our culture, many stereotypes remain. Myths of The Gamer still persist - he is male, socially underdeveloped, unemployed, possessed of poor hygiene, and likely lives in his parent's basement. But are these preconceptions based on facts, or are these stereotypes the lingering ghosts of misconceptions long since unproven?

To find out, we conducted interviews around the campus, speaking to Professors and students alike - and some of the answers may surprise you. When asked, Professor Paul Skalski said, "The 'official' reason I game now is because it's part of my job, as a video game scholar... But in truth, I also game because it's fun. I grew up with games and have been a huge fan my whole life. I don't know what I'd do or where I'd be with(out) video games... I'm proud to be a gamer."

Graduate student Pete Lindmark agrees, saying that he "plays to relieve stress," even after studying video games for work on his thesis.

And according to Jamie, a sophomore here at CSU, the perception of gamers being holed up in their rooms, cloistered from society simply isn't true. "(Gaming is) social," she said. "Even a when playing a single player game I compare how I'm doing with friends or talk about how good or bad a game is. Before gaming, I didn't really fit into a social group, and after I started I found people I was comfortable with."

The various facets of gaming, whether they be digital, or more traditional board or improv-based, have long been victims of unfair characterizations, but Skalski thinks that is changing.

"There are some stereotypes associated with players of online games like World of Warcraft that are kind of amusing," says Skalski, "but even those gamers shouldn't be embarrassed. We live in a tech-fueled society and dorks, nerds, and geeks are taking over!"

And according to a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the 12-17 age bracket seems to gel with Prof. Skalski's forecast, with 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls actively gaming. Their tastes run the gamut, with Activision's wildly successful Guitar Hero being the most popular, closely followed by Halo 3, and the various iterations of Madden NFL, Solitaire, and Dance Dance Revolution.

Roughly two-thirds play with family or friends, and about 25 percent socialize online. Quite frankly, the next generation looks to be saturated with gamers of all stripes. But in regards to the populations as a whole, a similar study by NPD found that over 63 percent of the United States population plays video games. Sixty- Three Percent. That's a healthy majority. However, that's just the tip of the iceberg. As mentioned earlier, Of course, all this discourse is ignoring one of the more enduring facets of Gamer Culture - that is to say, that the term has enveloped 'hobby' gamers since long before Mario took that first fateful jump.

While many assume that 'pen and paper' role playing games (RPG's for short) began in the 1970's with Dungeons and Dragons, tabletop gaming can trace its roots back as far as 1824, where Otto Von Bismark's General Staff would play Kriegsspiel - a game which introduced conventions such as red and blue representing different armies, complex mathematical rules for movement and combat, adjudication of said rules by independent umpires, and the use of dice to simulate randomizing factors. 184 years later, the innovations of Kriegsspiel persist.

However, strategy gaming would not be forever the domain of armies and the independently wealthy. Like so many contributions to 'geek' culture, it would take a Science Fiction author - noted pacifist H.G. Wells - to move the concept of wargames into the commercial market, with the publishing of Little Wars: A Game for Boys from Twelve Years to One Hundred and Fifty and for that More Intelligent Sort of Girl Who Likes Games and Books.

Despite the fact that this is essentially the greatest title ever, the name was truncated to the much tidier moniker Little Wars. Within its pages, Wells argues for gaming- as-catharsis: "Here is a homeopathic remedy for the imaginative strategist. Here is the premeditation, the thrill, the strain of accumulating victory or disaster - and no smashed bodies, no shattered fine buildings nor devastated country sides, no petty cruelties ...that we who are old enough to remember a real modern war know to be the reality of belligerence."

However, classical Gaming - if such a phrase could be coined - was by no means confined to the table. In a sense, the roots of 'roleplaying' date back to 16th century Commedia dell'arte - an energetic brand of Theatre with predetermined characters, and 'set pieces', but was otherwise improvised. 19th century parlour games, Mock trials, murder mystery dinner Theatre, and Viola Spolin's Theatre Games all carry the same traits of predetermined characters, a set of rules, and improvised interactions. Even the legendary comedian Harpo Marx talked about live-action gaming during the 1920's in his autobiography, Harpo Speaks! - and while the subculture of live-action role playing games or LARP's is a topic that reaches far beyond the scope of this article, students have no shortage of commentary on both the hobby, and social element of the Role playing subculture.

Jessica - a biology major in her junior year at CSU, games in large part due to this social aspect. "(Gaming's) pretty much the only social experience I have. I am trying to prepare for Medical School, I study all the time, and sometimes I just need a break, go and pretend I'm someone else for a while... but in all honesty, the friends I've made gaming are the nicest people I have ever met. I am not embarrassed to say I am a gamer." CSU Art professor Peter Wells echoes the sentiment.

"Think of it like softball -" he said, granting an interview in the middle of that most hallowed post-game ritual, breakfast in a 24-hour diner. "You play softball, or go to a LARP - that's about 40 people, most of whom you might not know otherwise. You've got things in common - Softball or Gaming as the case may be, and you're going to meet people who share other interestsl, sporty things in one case, nerdy things in another. It's social networking - only difference is nobody gets hurt LARPing, and the government will provide you with a place to play softball."

But large gatherings of adults in costumes ranging from Mad Max to Victorian waistcoats isn't the sort of thing one can do without a building. Many groups have solved this problem by renting halls at party centers, but for the average college student, this can get expensive quickly. In response to this situation, Wells sought an unorthodox solution, and in 2003, with cooperation from a few other Cleveland area Gamers, founded Undead Ltd, a partnership of Role-players turned real estate investors. Purchasing a set of three properties in the West 25th neighborhood, the group proceeded to renovate and rent out two of them. The third property, however was in complete disrepair.

"We got the property stupidly cheap," says Wells, "because nobody wanted to touch that house - it was a wreck." Nevertheless, gamers from all around the Greater Cleveland area embraced Wells' vision, and beginning in the summer - when the unfinished walls, and drafty roof posed less of a problem, groups began hosting their games at the house, asking for donations of $2 to go towards renovations. Today, the so-called "Vega House" stands as the only building of its kind in the entire world - a site dedicated exclusively to gaming, and financed entirely by donation. "If this was going to happen anywhere in the world," said Wells, "it was going to be Cleveland."

As studies suggest, and our interviewees echoed, many gamers play as a form of stress relief. And while many have been quick to blame crimes that are difficult to understand on a subculture that has proved just as elusive, in his book Shared Fantasy: Role Playing Games As Social Worlds, Sociologist Gary Fine finds that Suicide, violent crimes, and many of the other negative behaviors attributed to gaming are not caused by fighting imaginary goblins today, anymore than they were by listening to Elvis in the 50's. Fine found that Suicide is caused by depression and feelings of isolation - and social networks, the kind that gaming subculture can provide - are the best way to address and support these individuals. Like rock-n'-roll before it, the subculture of Gaming is migrating from a marginalized and often misunderstood cultural phenomenon, to an accepted and integral facet of modern life. So game on, my friends - in a very real sense, the world games with you.

Top 10 D&D CRPGs

This is a brilliant guest post on DUNGEON MASTERING by Mr. Gnome from The Random Gnome’s Random Lair. For hours of computer- and retro-gaming goodness be sure to check out his site.

The digital world of Dungeons & Dragons
Truth be said, computers do face quite a few problems when striving to provide us with proper RPG experiences. That’s, I guess, why we needed this CRPG term. Just to make sure roleplayers never raised their expectations too much. On the other hand, them CRPGs do tend to handle combat particularly well, and if you’re a munchkin you don’t really care for the RPG part of RPG gaming, do you? Then again, you might care but lack the time to gather half a dozen people to play. And a good story always is a good story.
Anyway. Enough with the intro bit. What follows is a selection of 10 of the best Dungeons & Dragons CRPGs presented for your enjoyment in the rather rare reverse chronological order.

Neverwinter Nights 2
Published by Atari
Developed by Obsidian
Released: 2006
Ruleset: D&D 3.5
Setting: Forgotten Realms
More info:
Official Site, MobyGames, Wikipedia, GameRankings
NWN2Following the original BioWare developed and immensely successful Neverwinter Nights, NWN 2 improved the game in every respect and provided us with a shining gem in all its action-focused, story-heavy, dungeon crawling glory. The visuals are nothing short of jaw-dropping, the music is superb, the available options ridiculously varied, the gameplay perfectly balanced and the plot appropriately epic, though admittedly quite a bit on the generic side of things. What’s more, and besides the replayability of the thing, NWN 2 can double as an impressive DM’s tool. Heck, there’s even a properly funny gnome bard thrown in for comic relief. Just remember to patch it before you start playing. Oh, and you’ll need a decent PC to enjoy it too.

The Temple of Elemental Evil
Published by Atari
Developed by Troika
Released: 2003
Ruleset: D&D 3.5
Setting: Greyhawk
More info:
Official Site (archived), MobyGames, Wikipedia, Sorcerer’s Place, Game Rankings
ToEETroika Games, the developers of The Temple of Elemental Evil are apparently no more, and if you have actually played any of their games, you are probably very sad about it; just like I am. If not, you should be. After all, they are the only team to attempt such a faithful implementation of the 3.5 edition rules while recreating this rather classic D&D adventure. Ok, so the plot development isn’t brilliant with its standard evil rising theme and the game did ship with its fare share of bugs, but what really stands out, the turn-based combat system, will more than make it up for you. As for the party of five the player leads through Greyhawk, it interestingly has an alignment which affects both the plot and the available choices. Mind you, ToEE still has a vibrant, creative and very active fanbase, that constantly comes up with new bug-fixes, enhancements and extra content.

Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter
Published by Interplay
Developed by Black Isle Studios
Released: 2001
Ruleset: D&D 3rd edition
Setting: Forgotten Realms
More info:
MobyGames, Wikipedia, Game Rankings
iwdhow.jpgYes, it’s an expansion for Icewind Dale, I know, but it’s such a glorious one it’s worthy of its very own mention. Changes include such things as the addition of several types of classic Dungeons & Dragons critters, a higher experience point cap, new magical items and the much needed option to play in a resolution higher than 640×480. Heart of Winter, with its basic though definitely grand plot, focuses on epic battles and intense (!) spell casting. Guess it’s something like hack-‘n’-slash for wizards really. Great fun and will last you for quite a while too.

Planescape: Torment
Published by Interplay
Developed by Black Isle Studios
Released: 1999
Ruleset: AD&D 2nd edition – heavily modified
Setting: Planescape
More info:
Official Site (archived), MobyGames, Wikipedia, Planewalker, The Escapist, Game Rankings
planescape.jpgIf there is one game that really (and I do mean really) puts an emphasis on storytelling, reading of extensive texts, plot twists, literary pleasures and non-combat focused gameplay, well, as you might have guessed, Planescape Torment has to be that game. Now, I do not want to spoil anything from its great story, but do know that there’s a brothel of intellectual delights to be visited, death plays a prominent role, the atmosphere is absolutely impressive and the bits of included humor actually work. After all, Planescape Torment, frankly, is way above the average D&D novel in terms of writing quality, character development and of course plot. It’s no Dostoyevsky of course, but no Salvatore (and I don’t mean that in a good way) either.
On the more mundane side of things, Torment is based on the Infinity Engine, meaning it features some of the best 2D environments possible and plays like a cross between an adventure and an RPG. Also, players don’t get to choose their party –it would definitely hamper storytelling- but they do get to pick some of the characters they’ll recruit and join a variety of factions from the Anarchists, to the Dustmen, the Sensates and more.

Baldur’s Gate
Published by Interplay
Developed by Bioware
Released: 1998
Ruleset: AD&D 2nd edition
Setting: Forgotten Realms
More info:
Official Site, MobyGames, Wikipedia, Planet Baldur’s Gate, Game Rankings
bg.jpgBaldur’s Gate, slightly flawed as it is, was the CRPG behemoth that kick started the genre renaissance of the late nineties and is still considered one of the best single player RPGs money can buy. The story is decent and, combined with the rich world of the Forgotten Realms, provides with the perfect canvas for character development and –admittedly- gratuitous goblin murdering. There are literally tons of battles, both random and staged, to fight, tons of dialogue to wade through and a moral system in the spirit of the game’s Nietzsche inspired slogan: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster…”. Oh, and so you know, two of Baldur’s biggest key selling points were (arguably still are) the intuitive real time combat system and an absolutely huge quest taking place over the entire –and very lovely- Sword Coast. Now, care for a bit of trivia? Good. Baldur’s Gate actually is the name of the sprawling fantasy metropolis part of the game takes place in.

Ravenloft: Strahd’s Possession
Published by SSI
Developed by Dreamforge
Released: 1994
Ruleset: AD&D 2nd edition
Setting: Ravenloft
More info:
MobyGames, YouTube, Quandary review
ravenloft.jpgI remember feeling that weird sort of melancholy invented worlds tend to inspire when you realize they don’t actually exist when I first read through the original AD&D 2nd edition Ravenloft box set. It really was that good a romantic masterpiece, filled with incredibly powerful yet cursed characters, a dark history, imaginative realms and a deep sense of dread. Yet, I never played a Ravenloft session. Always thought it would have to be too epic to really matter. Well, Strahd’s Possession is epic. A bit too epic to be frank, and I do mean this in a setting altering way, but it still offers a passable story and a chance at some truly atmospheric computer gaming. Happily, it also offers a pretty innovative for its time full 3D world viewed in first person perspective and a healthy dose of dark gothic atmosphere. Oh, yes, and some appropriately cryptic Vistani too.

The Dark Queen of Krynn
Published by SSI
Developed by MicroMagic
Released: 1992
Ruleset: AD&D 2nd edition
Setting: Dragonlance
More info:
MobyGames, Wikipedia
dqok.jpgA classic. A true masterpiece. A technical achievement. A game that just can’t age and a brilliant dungeon hacking romp that enthralled (parts of) humanity and quite obviously me. Also the last installment in the Dragonlance based Krynn trilogy of games that were released as part of the aforementioned Gold Box series. Evil (well, the aptly named Dark Queen herself actually), you see, even after being defeated twice, just couldn’t leave Krynn alone and a band of adventurers just had to stop her. In a glorious 256-colours VGA world with SoundBlaster support, no less.

Eye of the Beholder
Published by SSI
Developed by Westwood Studios
Released: 1991
Ruleset: AD&D 2nd edition
Setting: Forgotten Realms
More info:
MobyGames, Wikipedia, Game Rankings
eotb.jpgAnother megahit and a respected award-winner from the era when gamers bothered with exercising their imagination. An era when pen and paper were the only way to map a game. Eye of the Beholder, not unlike Dungeon Master before it, was one of the earlier first person RPGs with a then-impressive 3D tile-based graphics engine. The title, as retro gaming CRPGers should remember, refers to the game’s final adversary, a nasty monster, gamers and their party of four would only reach after fighting a thousand battles, making friends with an assortment of dwarfs, murdering the odd Drow, casting roughly 40 different spells and solving lots of taxing puzzles in the sewers of Waterdeep. Eye of the Beholder was successful enough to spawn two sequels, quite a few spin-offs and port itself to everything from the Amiga and the Sega (Mega) CD to the Atari Lynx and the SNES.

Pool of Radiance
Published & Developed by SSI
Released: 1988
Ruleset: AD&D 1st edition
More info:
MobyGames, Wikipedia, Dragonbait’s Page, GameBanshee
por.jpgPool of Radiance was the first of a long and brilliant series of RPGs that shared a common graphics engine and common gameplay mechanics, and came to be collectively known as the Gold Box series. Must have been the gold boxes in which the games came, methinks. Anyway. Point is, Pool of Radiance is a legend and a 20-year old game everyone with the slightest interest in CRPGs and their heritage should play, even though admittedly some of the later Gold Box games actually bested it. Still, not many of them received the accolade of being called “the best RPG ever to grace the C64, or indeed any other computer” by Commodore User magazine. - _note-0The game only allowed fighter, cleric, wizard and thief and severely restricted them in their level advancement, but its combination of first person dungeon exploring with 3rd person turn-based combat and the official endorsement of TSR made sure it was years before anyone actually noticed it.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Cloudy Mountain
Published & Developed by Mattel
Released: 1982
Ruleset: AD&D 1st edition
Setting: none in particular
More info:
MobyGames, YouTube, IntelliVision Lives, Video Game Critic
addcm.jpgI’m not 100% sure on what exactly this Intellivision game is called, though its loading screen does imply that Advanced Dungeons & Dragons should be enough, but I do know it’s not the first D&D game ever. 1974, you see, saw the release of dnd, which being playable only on a mainframe failed to reach a wide demographic. Not that this game did, but, well, at least it tried. Originally being worked on under the title of “Adventure” until TSR licensed the game, AD&D was the first Intellivision cartridge to use more than 4kb of ROM and feature randomly generated mazes stuffed with monsters, in what could easily be described as Diablo’s great grandfather. I’d suggest tracking a copy of the thing online and actually seeing how impressively innovative it was. Finding a free copy shouldn’t be too difficult, even if your reward would have you recovering the two pieces of the rather silly-named Crown of Kings.

What are your top CRPGs?
Let us know what kept you enthralled for social-life-mangling weeks!

Dungeon Maker II: The Hidden War by Global-A Entertainment

The Dungeon Maker II: The Hidden War was developed by Global-A Entertainment. The story dates back to 70000 years ago, when gods and demons had a truce and is the sequel to the original Dungeon Maker: Hunting Ground. In the second dungeon maker the gods dropped two mountains to prevent the demons from entering their homeland. There was much needed peace between the two for some time but after 700 centuries came a demon called Revenger. He has a single objective and that is to start a new battle of good versus evil.

In Dungeon Maker II: The Hidden War, players get into the character of a bespectacled dungeon maker. The duty of the players in this game is to make twisty corridors inside the earth to trap the monsters. Obviously the highlight of this game is that it allows you to create your own dungeons, then populate them with monsters, and finally kill everything inside. This stands to contrast to other RPGs on the PSP like Dungeons & Dragons Tactics, and gives Dungeon Maker II a huge replay value.Your main objective in the game remains to hunt down the demon Revenger and restore peace in the world. In the meantime, you would also be asked to bring down a few beasts to make armours and weapons. In short, the Dungeon Maker II: The Hidden War is a thrilling game with an interesting gameplay.

There are many quests for you to accomplish in the dungeons. There are also items to collect as you progress to various floors. Building the dungeons is an easy task. All you have to do is to collect blocks and build them in a manner to trap the monsters. Upgrade your rooms to invite more monsters in order to finish them up easily. Rules are very simple and you can even access them in the middle of the game if you have any doubt about it. If you build the dungeon in a complex manner, you can be sure of capturing many monsters.

The most amazing feature of this game is the gameplay. Unlike other games which boost up the ranks of the players on bringing down monsters, here you have to collect the pieces of monsters, form a meal to increase your health, wisdom and strength, etc. All these features have helped in sustaining the thrill encircling this exciting game. Play the bespectacled dungeon maker, build dungeons and help the gods defeat the deadly demon Revenger.

Which classic D&D Character Are You?

D&D Sunday Morning Mega Quiz: Which Classic D&D Character Are You?

Back in June of ’08, Yax helped you channel your inner 4th Edition D&D character. Now we’re bringing you a quiz that gives you an even deeper insight into your inner PC. Do you live for power, money, fame, or pure adventure? Are you more like Drizzt Do’Urden or Raistlin Majere? Answer the questions below to find out which classic D&D character you are.

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D&D UK Community


Welcome to D&D UK

Wednesday, August 19, 2009, 02:33 PM GMT
Posted By: CharlesRyan

Hi, everybody, and welcome to the D&D UK group. As the description says, this is where we'll tell you about events, activities, news, and whatever that is of interest specifically for the UK gamer. Keep your eyes on this space--we should be posting actual content (as opposed to this fluff) soon!