Dungeons and dragons
Strangely, despite Dungeon & Dragons’ influence on the genre, the source made few waves at the time. This isn’t because there weren’t official games. Just about anyone who was anyone bid for the licence when owner TSR finally made it available in the mid-’80s, which was ultimately won by a company called Strategic Simulations Inc. This makes some sense. D&D started more as a wargame than a story-rich property, and wargames were what SSI did. Its most prominent attempt at an RPG was called Wizard’s Crown, which focused heavily on combat and character development mechanics. It had also dipped into the genre for the Phantasie series, and with Questron, a game so close to
Ultima in design that Ultima’s creator, Richard Garriott, filed a suit against it.
SSI’s later AD&D-based RPGs became known as ‘Gold Box’ games, based on, quite simply, the design of their boxes. Examples include Pool
of Radiance and Death Knights of Krynn. They were popular, but rolled out on a production line, featuring top-down worlds, menu-based combat and very similar graphics – despite whether the world was fantasy or, as with Buck Rogers:
Matrix Cubed, 25th century sci-fi. Still, the series was better received than many of the spin-offs that SSI published, like the side-scrolling Heroes of the Lance and its instant deathtraps. Until Baldur’s Gate came along, the Gold Box series was the defining D&D experience, despite a great many games coming out using its settings over the next ten years. Of the others, one of the most interesting, though often forgotten, is Westwood Studios’ DragonStrike – a 3D dragonhunting game that combined fantasy and early graphics technology to let you ride your own beast and take on others in action combat. It was billed as a Dragon Combat Simulator, and there’s no good reason why that didn’t become a genre.
Overall, while these games were popular at the time, they didn’t contribute a vast amount to the growing RPG genre. The source material was much better picked through for ideas, rather than full conversions. Gold Box games were popular, but quickly outstayed their welcome and are now best remembered as a thing of their time, while most others around them are best forgotten.
Ironically, many of the fondest remembered are the ones not from familiar parts of the D&D world (which in games, has tended to be Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk), like the Eastern themed Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse. The big exception is the aforementioned Eye of the Beholder, which cemented future Command & Conquer creator Westwood as a studio to watch.
Dunge ons could be firs t pers on, but over worlds were top-down