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By Joseph Tresca

The Evolution of Fantasy Role Playing Games

Ignoring the Past

I don’t understand why today’s MMORPGs (massive multi-player online role playing games) appear as though they were built in a bubble. Consequently games like EverQuest 2 and World of Warcraft were condemned to make many of the same mistakes that those who ever had any experience MUDing (multi user dungeon) would easily recognize and mitigate from the start. The thinking goes that because they’ve made their game mainstream (read that it makes them lots of money) they don’t need to understand or respect the history that these games heavily borrow from.

Why do I say that today’s RPG developers are ignoring the past while developing for the future? A simple look at the problems MMORPGs suffer from today make my claims blatantly evident. Why is it that traveling in World of Warcraft or Ever Quest II is such an absolute bore? Why are some classes way more powerful than other classes? How come party’s are made up of the same combination of boring/popular classes further highlighting this imbalance? Why are we killing baby crabs at level 1 then killing tons of baby crabs at level 20? Why is level grinding and farming rewarded as opposed to other more interesting and fulfilling methods of gaining XP (experience points) such as puzzle solving.


Believe it or not and whether game developers will admit to it or not, these basic problems have been faced and overcome by text based game developers well over a decade ago. I’m talking about MUD coders. If this is the first time you are hearing about MUDs then a quick description is in order. MUDs are text based graphical interface MMORPGs. The only difference is that rooms, weapons, characters and battles were described in pure text. If you’d like to look at a character standing next to you, you’d type “look [character name]” or some variation of that. Similar commands could be typed for wielding weapons, casting spells, attacking monsters, buffing tanks and so on. MUD coders were generally referred to as Wizards. Wizards were responsible for creating and expanding the game’s world. I personally had the joy of playing one such MUD known as RetroMud. My brother was a Wizard on this particular MUD and we used this as a primary form of communication when he left home for college.

Required Reading for RPG Game Developers

I got to thinking about MUDs and why the aforementioned issues are still prevalent in today’s MMORPGs after reading The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games, which is authored by my brother, Michael Tresca. Having just read the book cover to cover this past weekend, I can personally attest to the fact that Michael has researched and put together a comprehensive analysis of the RPG industry. To say he’s an expert on the subject would be an understatement. Having played the tabletop version of Dungeons and Dragons since he was eight years old, and then almost every PC and console Fantasy game on computer, console and arcade platforms, Michael does a fantastic job of chronicling how Fantasy role playing games have transformed into the games we play today. The book also covers the psychology of why players choose particular character classes and how changing forms of communication have impacted the evolution of the adventuring party. We learn a bit of history in how J.R.R. Tolkien and Gary Gygax among others forged the Fantasy genre and what influences of the time inspired them to do so. The book also explores, compares and contrast the difference between MUDs and MMORPGs. In fact any budding RPG game developer would do well to keep this book in their library as a reference. You can purchase the book at Amazon.com from this link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/search?index=books&linkCode=qs&keywords=078645895X

I highly recommend it, not just because my brother wrote it as I’ve previously disclosed, but because it’s a well researched, intelligently written resource which chronicles the past and present state of RPGs. Perhaps the next generation will use this book as a tool to build a more engaging MMORPG that doesn’t have us killing crabs at level 20 with our boring Fighter/Cleric party combination. Buy it and read it for the good of us all.


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