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    The full 1.0 PDF is linked on this page for free if that piques your interest.

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      After scanning the book and checking out a number of entries, I’m a little bit disappointed. The tagline is ‘Sharing the History of Computer Role-Playing Games’, and there is some of that, but all of the entries I read are essentially reviews. On the website, the list of entries is linked in the navbar as ‘Review Index’, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

      If you’re looking for a summary of what the considered games offer in the tone and style of modern game reviews, you’ll like the book.

      If you’re looking to understand the historical evolution of game design in this space, there isn’t as much present as you might hope for.

      If you’re looking to understand the core design of historical games you probably haven’t played, this really isn’t where you’ll find that.


      It has been bugging me and finally clicked. The difference is between reviewing the content of the game and its deeper design.

      A point like “There are many story and optional missions, all presented by great voice acting” (taken from the Dawn of War II review) only makes sense as a review of the content, which is ultimately about giving an up/down, play/pass opinion.

      Here is a bit more, from the next paragraph:

      Your units all gain experience as they battle, allowing you to customize their skills and equip them with the Diablo-like loot you find. This aspect of DoW2 is extremely satisfying – there’s a lot of freedom in how to build your squad so their abilities complement each other, and finding items such as Terminator armors and Power Swords will have any 40k fan grinning.

      Notice how each of these points makes most sense answering the question “would you enjoy playing this game”. You gain XP and customization, there is loot progression, the 40k lore is good. Do you like those things? Then you’ll like this game.

      The missions are called “rather repetitive” in the next paragraph, which is absolutely true, but the crucial why question at the heart of a design review is missing.

      I played a lot of Dawn of War II, so allow me:

      The core tension of each mission is “can you kill the things on the map”. All the objectives ultimately reduce to this question, and there are few meaningful degrees of success, so execution rarely matters. The enemies all present more or less the same challenges, both strategically of your choices and mechanically of your skill. Progression is through XP and gear, but it all shakes out numerically to be your stats vs the enemy’s, which are always stay close together.

      The only real variable then is how badass your Spacemarines are. Coolness is the biggest factor is gear progression: for the mission everything has been building up to you finally get to equip a squad with terminator armor. For the next major milestone, you get storm hammers and storm shields for your assault squad. A power fist. A plasma cannon. A holy relic mounted on your commander’s back. Unlocking the breadth of the Blood Ravens codex is the driving force of the campaign, and using it to ensure victory in beautifully rendered battles in the core appeal.

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        I think Matt Barton’s 5 part history of CRPGs from 2007 does what you were hoping this book would do. I don’t know if he wound up publishing it elsewhere, but the Gamasutra pages were crawled by the Wayback Machine. Here is part 1: http://web.archive.org/web/20070302065824/http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20070223a/barton_01.shtml

        I was transfixed by this when it came out. I remember printing out the pages so that I could read them on the subway. (No, there was not a WAP version of Gamasutra!)

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          Yeah, that’s a fair point. I wasn’t really expecting an integrated historical treatment, since the entries were written separately by different people, which isn’t a method that works for tracing development of features and design influences. But even as separately written, standlone per-game entries, it’s true that they’re written more for someone who wants review-style advice on which historical CRPGs they might find worth pulling up in an emulator, vs. design analysis like your example. I’ll still skim it, but yeah, I’d personally prefer writing more along the lines of what you were looking for.

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          Some of the links in that PDF need to be updated, for example the one for Grid Cartographer takes you just to page telling you that it has moved to http://gridcartographer.com