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Tom's Guide on the Rise and Fall of D&D RPGs, with commentary by Feargus Urquhart and Chris Avellone

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Tom's Guide on the Rise and Fall of D&D RPGs, with commentary by Feargus Urquhart and Chris Avellone

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Fri 27 September 2013, 22:39:41

Tags: Baldur's Gate; Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn; BioWare; Black Isle Studios; Chris Avellone; Dungeons & Dragons; Feargus Urquhart; Icewind Dale; Icewind Dale 2; Neverwinter Nights; Neverwinter Nights 2; Obsidian Entertainment; Planescape: Torment

Over at Tom's Guide, there's a short editorial on the history of the Dungeons & Dragons CRPGs of the late 90s and early 2000s. There's nothing really new here for connoisseurs of the genre, but it does include some choice commentary from Feargus Urquhart and Chris Avellone. Here's an excerpt:

Classic high-fantasy RPGs on the PC are a rare commodity these days — at least from major studios. Skyrocketing production costs appear to be the major culprit. Making a gripping RPG is not as cheap as it used to be.

"What happened in the early 2000s?" Urquhart asked. "We were in this golden era of PC RPGs, and then it went somewhere. Consoles were taking over; there was no funding for PC. That happened at a lot of publishers."

It was one thing to give your character hundreds of customization options and ways to influence the story when all you had to do was recolor armor graphics and write additional dialogue. But when each new item requires a team of 3D designers working overtime and every line in the game needs a seasoned voice actor, designing a linear first-person shooter is much easier than designing a true, sprawling RPG.

"As games got more expensive, choices got more expensive. Games have just gotten more and more linear, where there's less options for the player," Urquhart said. "It's become an amazing movie you're playing."

The D&D RPGs from Black Isle, BioWare and Obsidian never felt cinematic or fast-paced; they opted instead to be immersive and engrossing. From their smart, tactical gameplay to their dramatic narratives full of memorable characters, the D&D RPGs represented something gamers had never seen before and have hardly seen since: Role-playing adventures that combined deep gameplay systems with accessible interfaces, attractive graphics, sweeping scores, gripping stories and clever scripts.

[...] Taken together, the D&D games from BioWare, Black Isle and Obsidian form a massive, loosely connected series. "Baldur's Gate," "Icewind Dale" and "Neverwinter Nights" all take place in a specialized D&D setting known as "Forgotten Realms."

This fan-favorite locale has everything a discerning adventurer needs for an heroic tale: roving wizards, enchanted weapons, warring political factions and a huge world with frozen mountains, lush jungles and everything in-between.

"It's the natural setting for high fantasy," Avellone said. The only exception, he said, was "Planescape: Torment," which lets players journey through multiple dimensions that house strange and otherworldly creatures.

"We put conscious connections between the titles," Avellone said. Perhaps the most common narrative device in the series is the eternal Blood War between the evil creatures known as the tanar'ri (demons) and baatezu (devils). Sooner or later, every player of every game finds him or herself between the two combatants.

"The Blood War does not tie the games together," Avellone said, but rather reflects the theme of each game. "In 'Planescape: Torment,' the intention was to reference an eternal conflict that has no end in sight." This mirrors the inner journey of the Nameless One, that game's main character.

"It's the never-ending struggle: the picture of that warrior going off to fight forever," said Urquhart.

Obsidian is currently hard at work on "Project Eternity" (launching in Spring 2014) and the delightfully vulgar "South Park: The Stick of Truth" (December 10, 2013), but it has not worked on a D&D-branded game in half-a-decade. Still, if the stars all align, gamers could see a D&D title from the veterans at Obsidian in the future.

"We constantly talk to people about doing a game like that," Urquhart said. "Our real hope is that D&D can get used for these story- and character-driven games because that's what people really enjoy … [PC RPGs aren't] dead as long as people want to play them."
The Codex, of course, does not approve of the author's wanton dismissal of pre-Baldur's Gate D&D CRPGs.

There are 7 comments on Tom's Guide on the Rise and Fall of D&D RPGs, with commentary by Feargus Urquhart and Chris Avellone

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