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The whole History of RPGs


Happy Easter, fellow adventurers!

 

Today, we'll embark on an extensive journey through the history of RPGs! Oh yes, this will get very nostalgic! But I think, since we mention the term "RPG" or "roleplaying" a lot when we talk about games like House of Influence, Roll Out, unidiced Fantasies, Tale Spinner or many others of our applications, there is definitely a need to dive a bit into this topic. And honestly, this research was so awesome! I am not kidding you when I say that it gave me goosebumps summarizing my most favourite genre. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the thrilling history of RPGs!

 

 

What are RPGs?


Let’s start with a short definition. RPGs, short for “role-playing games”, are games that focus on playing a character that must be navigated through a story, a level, or a world. When starting such a game, you’ll either be introduced to an existing character or you’ll be able to create one yourself. RPGs typically offer features such as more or less detailed character creation options, narrative choices, and further character expressions like outfits or dialogues. Many also include some form of experience point (XP) and loot system that enables detailed character development. You’ll often need to choose between different paths to take, for example, when making quest-relevant decisions or equipping your character with an armour or weapons.



Illustration of 3 royals discussing about something. Representing our House Of Influence Game

House of Influence


RPGs made by unidice


So, if you're still pondering why RPGs are such an intriguing topic for a unidice blog, here's the scoop. Take a closer look at our games showcased on this website here, and you'll quickly grasp why we're so captivated by this subject. The idea of developing the unidice was originated from the idea of consolidating all the dice necessary for various TTRPGs like DnD, DSA, or Pen and Paper into one device, which not only streamlines your rolls but also aids in navigating through diverse narratives. But we didn't stop there. Actually, we and many, many supporters and experts brainstormed myriad ideas for playing different games with our gaming console, including several innovative RPG concepts. Take, for instance, Tale Spinner, one of our apps designed to immerse you in fantastical worlds, empowering you as the architect of your own story or also House of Influence, where assuming a role enables you to leverage unique skills and advantages to outmanoeuvre rivals and covertly elevate your house to prominence. And with our Software Development Kits (SDKs), the potential for crafting RPGs with the unidice knows no bounds. We aim to restore the freedom that RPGs have somewhat lost in some aspects over the past decades. We want YOU to be the master, the main character and protagonist of your own universe. Give it a whirl and become a part of the gaming revolution with the unidice!



Black and white screenshot of the game Spacewar

Spacewar Gameplay


The First Computer Games


Now folks, listen up as you’re about to get completely hammered by a storm of nerdy RPG facts. In 1958, William Higinbotham ushered in the era of digital gaming with Tennis for Two. It was a sports simulation of tennis originally played on an oscilloscope. Sadly, after the initial hype at its exhibition, this game was forgotten for a long time because the subsequent years in this field were filled with innovative and technologically advanced releases.

It is still a hot topic whether Tennis for Two or Spacewar! (1962) by Steve Russell was the true origin of digital gaming, but nonetheless, they both introduced a whole new era of entertainment. In contrast to arcades, the pioneers of computer games, the first digital attempts in RPGs were mostly text-based and thus not focused on the physical skill of the player. Just take a look at Zork (1977) or Colossal Cave (1972), they are very good examples for the early beginnings of video games in general. From that point on, people—often students with access to computers at their university—were developing multiple interactive worlds and stories, and with that, different genres slowly began to form.

 


The 80s – First RPGs


When it comes to roleplaying, one will inevitably spring to mind: Dungeons and Dragons. Originated in 1965, Gary Gygax pioneered the creation of interactive analogue adventures, and within a few short years, it skyrocketed to global fame. The premise was elegantly simple: players assume roles they've crafted themselves, and together with another player being the so-called dungeon master who guides them through a pre-written world they could explore and, most of all, create new stories. DnD offered maximum freedom and was also soon to be discovered as a great concept for digital gaming.

 

While some refer to them as CRPGs, with the "C" representing "computer," it's more commonplace to simply use the term RPG, so let’s stick to that in this blog here. With pedit5, an RPG dungeon crawler from the year 1975, the RPG genre made its way to our computers. Pedit5 was highly innovative due to its use of randomly generated monster encounters and loot placements but also introducing a gameplay system that should later be known as "roguelike." Actually, the term "roguelike" came up with the game Rogue in 1980, but that’s just for a nerdy side note :D



Rogue Gameplay, top down view.

Rogue Gameplay


Numerous RPGs emerged during this decade, each incorporating elements inspired by the foundational mechanics of analogue RPGs like DnD. Notable titles from this period include Swords and Sorcery (1978), Avatar (1979), and Temple of Apshai (1979), which garnered substantial followings.

 

Ultima 1 hit the market in 1981 and started a series of follow-up titles, each significantly improving graphical advancements and harnessing the full potential of contemporary PCs, while also introducing a far more intricate narrative than its predecessors.

Many games followed the same path, experimenting with storytelling, higher detail in graphics, or possibilities of interaction but nonetheless often being held back by technological boundaries. Just to name a few big players that were quite innovative and popular: All titles of the Ultima series, Starflight (1986), Wasteland (1988), and Quest of Glory (1989), all bringing up new things such as large open-world maps, menu-based combat, or playing multiple characters at once.

Of course, there were numerous other big titles, but as time went on, the landscape of game development expanded incredibly fast. PCs got more affordable and thus a bigger community formed itself around the world of digital entertainment.

 


JRPGs


So, what's the deal with "JRPGs"? Why don't we have something like "ARPGs" exclusively for America or "GRPGs" for Germany and so on? Well, Japanese role-playing games stand out for a reason. Their development took a slightly different path because Dungeons and Dragons didn't have the same impact in Asian countries. This unique origin story has shaped JRPGs into what we know them as today, with their distinct genre identity and a penchant for experimentation. Just take a look at the gameplay and narratives of classics like The Legend of Zelda (1986), Dragon Quest (1986), or the beginning of the Final Fantasy series (1987) compared to their Western counterparts. And this was something to learn from: Despite their experimental nature, JRPGs have been a massive commercial success, often prioritizing cinematic experiences and character development over well-established but old-fashioned game mechanics.

 


The 90s – And the dawn of consoles


The 1990s were the tipping point of RPG development. Gaming consoles provided a platform optimized solely for playing video games, and the world was ready. As the technological improvements brought a way higher performance to both console and later also to PC gamers, the gaming industry flourished. Titles like Wizardry 6 (1992), Ultima Underworld (1992) and The Elder Scrolls: Arena (1994) and Daggerfall (1996) were significant landmarks of this century. As 3D environments were no longer a big challenge, immersion reached unprecedented levels. RPGs of the 90s heavily emphasized character role-playing and interaction with the open world. Players were given more freedom, responsibility, and choices in complex questlines. Voice acting became significant in game development, along with the inclusion of complex decision-making and tactical components, exemplified by Blizzard's Diablo (1997). RPGs were the dominant genre at this time and gathered a huge fanbase. Titles like Fallout (1997), Baldur’s Gate (1998), System Shock (1994) and Planescape Torment (1999) were milestones and actually pretty famous until today, but the complex development process and increasingly saturated markets of games made it really difficult for many studios to compete. Big established studios like Origin and SSI closed but newcomers like Blizzard and BioWare found enormous success. Nevertheless, in the 2000s and 2010s RPGs should face troubled times.


Screenshot of Blizzard's Diablo. Chain lightning is hitting multiple enemies

Blizzard's Diablo


2000s until now


With technology developing incredibly fast, the world of RPGs did so too. However, you'll find that despite all the awesome and seemingly endless opportunities, this rapid change also has its ups and downs. As humans, we have the urge to constantly improve at what we do. Psychologically btw, the reason for this is because at our core we are so infinitely lazy, that we'd do everything to one day be able to do nothing. Weird thing, right? But this is something for another blogpost.

First, we faced a major improvement of hardware in the early 2000s, which developers could apply their software on. And so they went wild! Due to the sheer number of RPGs being produced during this time, I'll have to focus on some of the biggest successes.

With an atmosphere you'll never forget, Gothic (2001) invited us into an unforgiving world filled with NPCs that felt incredibly believable and a vivid environment that responded to each of your actions. The UI was so minimalistic that immersion hit another level. Gothic, along with The Witcher 3 (2015), The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (2011) and Baldur’s Gate 3 (2023) were among the best-selling titles on the whole gaming market. Complexity, combat, questlines, interactions, and visual details increased, but so did the standards of the industry.

Fans of the old-fashioned 80s and 90s RPGs, however, often didn’t like the path developers took. They had and have very mixed opinions about how things changed from nostalgic dungeon crawlers to overwhelmingly filled and complex storytelling. Nonetheless, RPGs were amongst the best-selling products in this entertainment sector.

 

Finding a balance between console and PC players, accessibility and individuality were of the highest priority. Settings became more experimental, and open-world environments, levelling systems, or decision-based story elements were not only key to RPGs anymore but also implemented by other types of video games. The RPG genre increasingly mixed up with other genres, making it hard to differentiate. Despite that, games like Divinity 1 and 2 (2014/2017), Disco Elysium (2019) and Baldur’s Gate 3 (2023) proudly stuck to their roots and made every RPG fan's heart beat faster with interactions lurking around every corner, characters acting believable and unique, and decisions feeling meaningful while also having a huge impact on the overall story. But what will come next?


A beautiful white fairy tale castle representing a story of our Tale Spinner App.

Our Tale Spinner App


Unidice and RPGs


The entire unidice team finds itself somehow infected with a virus of innovation, driving us to continually devise new experiences. Our mission? We want to inject joy into life and infuse just the right dose of gaming excitement. Unidice merges RPG gaming with a blend of nostalgia and groundbreaking features. To say so, it's your ticket to unleash your adventurous spirit and rediscover the thrill of gaming.

Whether you're itching to incorporate unidiced Fantasies into your next TTRPG session, explore titles like House of Influence or Roll Out, or immerse yourself in captivating storytelling with Tale Spinner, unidice promises to be the long-awaited gaming companion for RPG enthusiasts. Equipped with state-of-the-art technology and supported by our comprehensive SDKs, unidice empowers you to play and create to your heart's content. The possibilities? Limitless!

And you know what? This isn’t just a speculative chit-chat. By June/July, we'll be delivering our revolutionary console to our cherished Kickstarter backers, followed swiftly by a global market rollout. So why wait? Get your unidice now and be a part of the gaming revolution!


Happy Easter to all of you and a very diligent bunny!

Eva from the unidice Team :)






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