Sunday, 25 September 2016

Silk Road by the Sea

Well, since I am finishing off layover in Singapore I felt that it might be appropriate to write a post that is somewhat uniquely Asian in flavour (though at this stage I am unsure if I am actually going to get around to completing it, let alone posting it, before I return to Australia - as it turned out, I didn't). Anyway, we decided to visit the aquarium on the island of Sentosa, and as some museums are apt to do (though I'm not really sure if you can call it a museum, it is probably more like a zoo for fish, though we don't call them zoos for fish, we call them aquariums - but I digress) they had a display at the entrance to the aquarium, looking at the various ports of call a ship would visit on its way back from China back in the days of the sailing ships.

The curators referred to this as the Maritime Silk Road, though apparently that also refers to modern trade route between China and Europe, and scholars refer to it as the Silk Road by the sea. Honestly, whatever you call it, in the end it is  basically a  maritime trade route that allowed merchants to ship goods to and from China, and it was a route that eventually became dominated by the British (who effectively ruled the oceans from around the late 1700s to the mid-twentieth century - one thing that I have realised on my travels to Singapore is how World War II was effectively the catalyst that removed Britain from her position as ruler of the world).

What was the better route? Well, both have their pros and cons - it does tend to be slower by land, but ignoring the problems of bandits (because merchants would face them both on land and sea), the weather tends to cause much greater problems for sea-going vessels. However, the benefits of taking goods by sea tends far outweigh the risks, especially since you can also carry a lot more in the cargo hold of a ship than you can on the back of a bunch of camels (though if the ship is wrecked then you end up losing the lot - but that is why you have insurance).

Anyway, here is a map of the Route:

One of the interesting things about the exhibition is that there was no mention of Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Singapore, but I suspect the reason for that is that Shanghai was the beginning of the journey, and Hong Kong and Singapore were not only exclusively British colonies (and trading ports) but they only came to prominence in the 19th Century, while the other ports had been around for a lot longer. Anyway, since the exhibition didn't include those three ports (even though Shanghai is actually a pretty important port, all things considering) I won't look at them either.


I actually thought that Quanzhou was the ancient name for Guangzhou, but it turns out that they are two completely different cities. In fact Quanzhou is located halfway between Hong Kong and Shanghai and is the administrative seat of the Fujian province (well, according to Google Maps it is closer to Hong Kong than Shanghai, but that is beside the point). Anyway, it was basically the beginning of the long trek back to Europe and during its peak in the 13th Century it's harbour was so full of boats that Marco Polo described it as being a forest of masts (annoyingly, ever since a particular Simpsons episode, whenever I think of Marco Polo I think of some game that is played in the pool).

While there is a mistaken belief that Marco Polo took the idea of noodles (which became pasta, even though the Germans still use the proper term - Nudlen) and gunpower (and pizza) back with him, there were a number of things that he did pick up: paper currency, astronomy, and coal. Coal is interesting because even though we were using coal prior to Polo's expedition to China (and he wasn't the first to actually get there, it was just that the trade routes were disrupted when the Mongols stormed across central Asia), it was the way the Chinese used it that revolutionised our usage, and moved us closer to the industrial revolution.

There were a couple of other trade goods, such as silk (which was why it was referred to as The Silk Road) and porcelain. The thing with porcelain (and silk) was that they were revolutionary products. Silk is not only strong, but really soft, which is why people love the idea of silk sheets (though I personally don't like them). As for porcelain, it is much, much stronger than clay, meaning that it could more easily survive a sea journey. However while it was strong, it was also pretty expensive, which is why it is still valued even today (but then again the decorative pots are also highly sort after).

Qui Nhon

Qui Nhon is located halfway along the Vietnamese coast and is currently a very popular resort city (and also played host to the Americans during the Vietnam War). While the city itself is rather new, it was a Portuguese colony as far back as the 16th Century, and also played host to a Jesuit colony (and Catholicism is still a major religion in Vietnam even to this day). The colony was also a major trading port for the Champa kingdom, and it was through this port that Bhuddism, Hinduism, and later Islam, entered Vietnam.

One of the main focuses of the exhibition was the Vietnamese Water Puppets. This form of theatre (or puppetry) originated in the Red River Delta and reflects the climate of Vietnam, when major rainfalls would flood the rice paddies and the puppets would appear to be dancing on the water. Like most (if not all) forms of puppetry, the puppeteer would be hidden from site.


The city of Palembang is located upriver in central south Sumatra, and was the capital of an ancient kingdom. In fact colonisation in the area dates back to around 682 where the story of a king with magical powers (which apparently all mythological kings have, or if not, they happen to be favoured by some deity) lead an army over land and sea (which would have been necessary if one wanted to invade an island) and established his capital here. Palembang became a major trading city, despite the fact that it was located up river (but then again a number of important cities are actually located upriver - it wasn't until more recent times that cities were built on the coast), and it was through here that numerous religions came onto the island.

Palembang was the source of Camphor, an incredibly valuable commodity that was literally worth its weight in gold, as well as Benzoin resin. Camphor was used for religious purposes as well as simply making your room smell nice, while both Benzoin and Camphor also were used medicinally. This was one of the major reasons that the Dutch had a huge interest in the islands, but then again they were also a source of many other spices.


Malacca is one of those incredibly ancient, and very important, port cities. On 24th April, 1511, the Portuguese invaded and took control of this incredibly strategic city, and thus secured trade through these straights. In fact today a bulk of the world's shipping goes through these straights (though I am still a little baffled as to why they don't go around the other side of Sumatra, but that may have a lot to do with there being a volcano - namely Krakatoa - sitting in the straights between Sumatra and Java, and the other route is just a little too long).

Malacca has always been a highly sort after prize by many nations, and prior to the arrival of the Portuguese, the straights were controlled by the Malaccans. However other powers, including the Chinese and Vietnamese, had also attempted to seize control of the port with no success. Even though the Portuguese did succeed (so as to control all of shipping through this incredibly strategic stretch of water), it didn't mean that they ended up having a monopoly over the sea routes. The other problem that traders faced as they moved through this stretch of water were the presence of pirates - even having a fortress didn't protect the shipping coming through here. In fact with the increase in shipping came the increase in piracy.

The Saribas were one of the more famous groups of pirates (even though there isn't a Wikipedia entry for them). They comprised of the Dayaks and of the Malay Mohammedians. They obtained their name from inhabiting the river of Saribas and would not only raid the ships that passed through the straights, but would also raid the fishing villages along the coast. The Dayak people originally inhabited the island of Borneo however the ferocious Sea Dayak would reign terror on the South China Sea. In 1838, James Brookes, a British adventurer, took the battle to the Dayaks and subjugated them, though didn't necessarily bring an end to the piracy on the Malaccan staights (this continues even to this day).

As for trade goods, Malacca was the source of both Nutmeg and pepper.


Galle is located on the south-western tip of Sri-Lanka and its ancient history is shrouded in mystery. In fact some have suggested that it may have been the mythical Tarshish to which Jonah attempted to flee, that is before jumping ship and being swallowed by a fish. While it's modern history began in the 16th Century when the Portuguese set up shop, it has long been a sea port, having been frequented by Arabs, Persians, and the Chinese. In a way, like many of the ports, it was not only a stop off point for ships travelling the route (since time in port was necessary for ships in those days), but also a source of trade. It is even suggested that not only did King Solomon source Ivory and Peacocks from here, but also cinnamon.

One of the themes that seem to regularly pop up across the exhibition is that the trade route did more than just ship commodities from port to port: it also allowed for the free flow of ideas, both religious and technological. As the myth goes, it was Marco Polo who brought the concept of gunpower and noodles back to Europe which resulted in what is well known in Australia as Spag Bowl (which, for those not familiar with Aussie slang, it is basically spaghetti bolognese).

It was at this point that the exhibition looked at some of the famous explorers who travelled this route, namely Faxian, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, and Admiral Zheng. Faxian was a Chinese explorer who travelled the route on a religious pilgrimage, namely so he could gain access to some Buddhist texts that weren't available in China at the time (though Chinese legend has it that it was actually Monkey, of Monkey Magic fame, who actually brought Buddhism to China). Faxian recorded his travels in 'The Record of the Buddhist Kingdom'.

I'm sure we all know who Marco Polo is, but for those who don't you can always go and check out the Wikipedia article. However his journey to the east took him something like 24 years, and he went over by land, but returned by sea. He recorded his adventure in a book that has come down to us as 'The Travels of Marco Polo'.

Ibn Battuta was a scholar from Morocco who basically travelled all around Africa, Asia, and India because, well, curious people like to travel (and you can find a record of my travels on my travel blog, however since this is not my travel blog, I'll move on from there), and he also left a record of his travels in a book called Rihla, or The Journey.

Zheng He became famous because some guy came up with this bizarre idea that he actually discovered America, and wrote a book about it that made him a lot of money (which didn't particularly bother him, despite the fact that the evidence that he used was tenuous). However Zheng, who was born a Muslim, captured by the Chinese at a young age, made a eunuch, and then put in charge of a huge fleet (after distinguishing himself as a commander mind you - people don't simply make you a general because they feel like it - well, they do, but that's another story), did actually make some impressive voyages, and even went as far as Kenya. While he may not have discovered America, he did travel as far as Africa, bringing back lots of goodies (which included a giraffe) for the Emperor.


In all honesty I was actually about to write a huge spiel on Calcutta, believing that Calicut and Calcutta where one and the same - it turns out that this is not actually the case - in actuality it is the city that is now known as Kozhikode, which is basically on the other side of India from Calcutta (which is now known as Kolcutta). Now that I think about it, it does make a little more sense for one of the ports of the maritime sea route to be located near the tip of the Indian subcontinent, namely because the route is a lot more direct, particularly since the point was to get from Europe to China and back again a lot quicker than one would travelling over land.

Like a lot of the other ports that we have visited, it seems that the first Europeans to land up here were the Portuguese, but then again that isn't at all surprising since they were one of the first European kingdoms to ply the oceans. Sure, the Venetians had a pretty impressive navy, as did the Geonese, however their ships generally travelled the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, whereas the Portuguese went much further afield. In fact up until the arrival of the Portuguese, the Indian ocean was basically an Arab lake, however when the Portuguese finally made their way around the southern tip of Africa, it was a whole new ball game, and one in which the Portuguese prevailed.

Calicut had been around since the second and third centuries BC, and had existed as a trading port for most of that time. However when the Portuguese arrived the city suddenly changed. Unlike the previous merchants, who would simply trade with the locals, when the Portuguese arrived they made sure that everybody knew who was in control, which involved establishing a fort. Mind you, setting up forts and turning these cities into colonies wasn't a Portuguese development since the Venetians had been doing similar things across the Mediterranean. In fact if you travel around the Eastern stretches of the sea you will eventually encounter a Venetian fort (I found one on Crete in the city of Heracleum).

Calicut was famous for textiles, and calico in fact derives its name from the city. Actually, the one thing the Indians seem to be really good at is producing some amazing textiles, and it was because of this that Calicut became an incredibly wealthy city, with exports exceeding its imports. Of interest, the merchants are also said to have this ability to be able to perform rapid calculations using their fingers and toes, and also used secret handshakes to close deals (though one would probably have to know the handshake if one wanted to deal with them).


This city on the Arabian Peninsula was hotly contested over the centuries. The city is said to date back to the 6th century BC, and is referenced by both Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder. Being on the Arabian Peninsula meant that it pretty quickly fell to the Muslim invaders in the 7th century, however come 1507 the Portuguese decided that it would make a pretty good port. The problem was that the occupants weren't particularly keen on letting the Portuguese set up shop, for when they approached they were fired upon. Mind you, that was probably a mistake because the Portuguese then decided to take Muscat by force.

The problem was that while the Portuguese managed to hold Muscat for about 100 years, they were always facing rebellions from inside the city and without. In fact they faced opposition from both the Persians and the Ottoman Turks, who managed to capture the city twice from the Portuguese, once in 1552 and once from 1581 to 1588. The Portuguese were then forced to surrender the city to the local inhabitants in January 1650 after a small, but determined, force pretty much drove them out.

As for trade goods, it appears that Muscat is famous for things like coffee, porcelain (though I was under the impression porcelain came from China), and of course rugs. The other thing about the city are the camels, and no doubt it was a place where numerous trade routes would converge, particularly since it did offer quite a sheltered harbour. Actually, camels tended to be used quite regularly on the silk road, namely because there happened to be an awful lot of desert between Europe and China, and camels tended to fair much better than horses.


Apparently Malindi is nothing like it was back in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. In fact when the place was visited in the 19th century it was basically uninhabited and choked full of weeds. The main reason for this is because the Portuguese moved their base to Mombassa, and after the Portuguese left there was nothing to keep the city going - it is sort of like when major factory closes down - it results in the population moving out and the town pretty much becoming a ghost town.

Anyway, Malindi has traditionally been a city that was dominated by foreign powers, and usually as a place for ships and merchants to conduct business. In the 14th century it was visited by Admiral Zheng and his fleet where he got his hands on a giraffe that he took back to China as a present for the emperor. The Portuguese then arrived and set up shop. However, when they moved their base to Mombassa the town pretty much declined until it basically vanished. It did make a come back during the 19th century, but when the British abolished the slave trade, the town, which relied heavily on slaves for agriculture, the town once again lost importance.

Anyway, that was a brief overview of the Silk Road, or at least the seaborne version of it. Now that I am looking over the photos that I took of the exhibition some eight weeks after being there I am sort of kicking myself that I didn't take more photos of the plaques and the commentaries of the various displays, but then again it seems that I have written a decent amount as it is. Still, it was quite interesting, though somewhat amusing that you have to walk through this exhibition to actually get to the aquarium.

Creative Commons License

Silk Road by the Sea by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Swords and Sorcery - Computer Roleplaying Games

Okay, I've previously written about the Adventure Games (or interactive fiction) that I enjoyed in my youth, however the next step on from these games was what I knew of as The Computer Roleplaying Game (CRPGs). Okay, these days they are referred to as Roleplaying Video-Games, but the thing is that I'm incredibly old-school (as is indicated by the fact that I still used the term Adventure Game) so keeping with that I'll simply refer to them as CRPGs (particularly since Roleplaying Video Games sort of conjures up a different image in my mind).

Like adventure games, the computer roleplaying game found it's origins in Dungeons and Dragons (which in turn had evolved from the war game, though it had also been influenced by the world of Tolkien, among others). Like the adventure game, people where looking for ways to be able to experience roleplaying without having to bring people together on a Saturday night (or at least to be able to play outside of the game times). Obviously, in the early days there were severe limits as to what sort of experience this games could provide, however they did eventually lay the foundations of the Warcraft and what not of today.

The Beginnings

Honestly, CRPGs are probably as old as adventure games, though I would suspect that since adventure games tend to be a little simpler then they are probably a lot older (though Wikipedia does indicate that they began to appear in the mid to late 70s, which is about the time that Colossal Cave appeared). In my mind the difference between an adventure game and a CRPG was that in a CRPG you could create a character with stats, and also fight monsters in a way that didn't involve finding the item that you could use to kill them (and in fact I vaguely remember writing an adventure game with that function).

An Original CRPG
This is probably a little more sophisticated
However, as I look deeper into this (namely by reading the Wikipedia articles), it seems as if both types of games evolved concurrently - the difference was that the original adventure games involved solving puzzles where as the original adventure games involved you exploring a dungeon, killing monsters, and collecting treasure. In fact the original adventure games were little more than a slightly more sophisticated form of arcade game. Also, they tended to rely more upon graphics than did the original adventure games (even though the original graphical representations were ASCII, or Keyboard, graphics).

I do vaguely remember seeing people playing (and even playing them myself) the original CRPGs. As I suggested they were pretty basic - you would look down upon the action and basically explore a dungeon killing monsters and collecting treasures. As the games evolved you would be able to select what type of character you wanted to play, and also purchase equipment before descending into the dungeon. However, that was basically the last time you visited the shop, because then it would become a question of endurance - how long could you survive in the dungeon before you met your untimely end.

Nethack was is probably the closest that you can get to the original CRPG - in fact it probably is the original CRPG, but since it is an open source program it has been slowly, but surely, evolving over the years to what it has become today. However, as you can see, this legend, and game that was played at the dawn of the computing era, and during the golden age of computer gaming (that is the eighties), is still alive and well today. Oh, for those of you who are more technologically minded, you can even play it online.

Enter the Labyrinth

The monster had to be a T-rex
In fact there were two styles of roleplaying games that developed in this era - the first I have mentioned is where you look down on top of the dungeon, and explore it that way, and the other is where you would have a 3D experience of your surroundings. These two differing styles would form the foundations of two of the seminal CRPGs of the 80s (which I will explore shortly). The Labyrinth style initially evolved from a simple game where you had to make your way through a labyrinth  - pretty basic, though the larger the labyrinth the harder it would be to reach the other side. What happened though was to add a little bit more excitement (and my first experience of such a game was on the Apple II - a computer that I never owned, but I remember seeing an ad for it in a computer magazine once) they decided to throw in a monster, and to then allow you to create a character, and equip yourself, so as to survive as long as possible.

Wizardry: Okay, I did suggest that I was going to look at a couple of seminal CRPGs in a second, but I'll say a few things about Wizardry before that namely because it relates to the topic of the labyrinth CRPG, and also because I didn't actually get to play the Wizardry games until a lot later (namely because they weren't available on the Commodore 64). Also, the Wizardry franchise has been evolving continuously, and I believe that remakes still appear every so often. However it is the original versions, beginning with Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, than I am interested in here.

The thing about Wizardry is that it took the Labyrinth style to a new level. First of all you could return to the town to rearm and recuperate. Also you began the adventure with a group as opposed to being solo. However the game simply involved you exploring a massive labyrinth on multiple levels, and you had to descend to the bottom of the labyrinth and kill the big bad guy. Mind you these early adventures were really hard, namely because if one of your characters was killed you had to lug it all the way back to town, either dump it or, if you had enough money, resurrect it, and then return to the dungeon. The deeper you went into the dungeon the more powerful items you would find (and the deadlier the encounters became), meaning that returning to the town to purchase equipment at the shop by this time was pointless - everything you had was substantially more powerful that what you could buy (and you would land up with enough gold to literally purchase the entire kingdom).

Fighting five skeletons
Hunt the Wumpus: I'll finish this section with a rather odd CRPG - Hunt the Wumpus. This was a very basic game, but has had an enormous influence on the CRPG culture. In fact it was very hard not to find a copy of this game on any computer back in the 80s. As I mentioned it was very basic - you had to explore a labyrinth in an attempt to locate, and kill, the Wumpus, all the while avoiding either the bats, or a pit. Their locations would always be random, though you would be given hints if you approached too close to one of them. Mind you, that didn't mean it was easy because even though you would know that the bats, the pits, or the Wumpus, were in an adjoining room, you wouldn't actually know which room they were in.

Ironically, there is a video of this very game on Youtube, so here it is (though this is a graphical version, and not the original text based version):

The C64 Adventures

Okay, there were certainly a lot of CRPGs that appeared on the Commodore 64 (excluding Wizardry), however the first two that I can remember were Telegard Dungeon and the Temple of Apshai. Actually, they weren't initially created for the C64 but eventually found themselves on that platform (which was the case with many of the other early CRPGs, that is until the C64 pretty much became the standard). While I remember playing around with both games initially, Telengard Dungeon was probably the first proper CRPG that I played. Mind you, it was hard - really, really hard. In fact it was so hard that it was nigh impossible for me to last any longer than a few minutes - yet for some reason I would persevere. The other thing was that it was really easy to get lost - which was one of the main reasons that I never really lasted all that long after creating my character.

The main reason that I was attracted to this game was because the rule system was based on Dungeons on Dragons, and played it often despite the fact that I would create a character, walk two steps into the dungeon and proceed to be brutally murdered by the ancient dragon that happened to be lurking near the entrance - yep the game was a lot like that - and also because it was one of the very few, if only, CRPGs that I had on my computer at the time. Mind you, CRPGs have come a very long way since the days of Telengard Dungeon, but then when I think about it it was a pretty poor example of an early CRPG, especially since some of the mainframe ones didn't result in you being killed after two or three steps.

Telengard Dungeon
I'm sure my version had colour
Oh, and if you're game, you can play it online. Also, if you need some assistance, here is a partially completed map (though you will probably need to fill in the blanks yourself).

Temple of Apshai: This was another one of those games that I played every so often, however I really didn't like it as much as some of the others. The main reason was that you required the instructions to be able to play the game. Okay, that is probably a bit of a no brainer, however most (though not all) games should be able to played without having to look at the instructions every few minutes. Mind you, it wasn't as if the game play was all that difficult - it wasn't - it was just that when you entered a room you would have to turn to that particular part of the book to find out what was in the room. You could still play the game without the instructions, namely because everything that you would interact with in the game would be in the game (there were no hidden secrets in the descriptions), it is just that it wouldn't be anywhere near as colourful.

This had more to do with the primitive nature of the game - the creators were trying to create an atmospheric game with the limited computing power that they had available. Back in these days you couldn't create dungeons with detailed graphics, they were simply walls, maybe a treasure chest, and a couple of monsters, as well as a graphic of you that you could move around the room. Also replayablity was also a problem because Temple of Apshai, unlike some of the earlier games, wasn't random. However the creators did move in a new direction with another, more user friendly, game - Gateway to Apshai.

Gateway to Apshai: My brother absolutely loved this game. In fact he would spend hours on the computer playing it, and the main reason for this was that it was easy. What Gateway did was that it brought the CRPG and the action game together. Like a lot of arcade games there wasn't really much of a plot - you are an adventurer and your job was to descend as deep as possible into a dungeon without getting killed. Mind you, since you couldn't save the game at a specific point and come back to it later, you were restricted into seeing how far you could go in a single session. However as well as fighting monsters you could also collect treasures and weapons to make your character stronger. Replayability was also good because the dungeon layout would be random.

Sword of Fargoal: Before I move onto the next era of CRPGs I feel that I should probably pay tribute to another early CRPG - Sword of Fargoal. In many ways this is similar to Gateway to Apshai (though I believe that it was released earlier). Once again you explore a random dungeon with the intent on seeing how deep you can go without getting killed. Like Gateway, you would fight monsters, collect gold and items (though your score is based upon how much gold you manage to collect and then deposit in the temple, which is actually an interesting concept since the original Basilicas were banks - not sure how that term came to apply to a church). Mind you, one of the difficult things with this game was the random teleports - you could step into one and suddenly discover that you are so deep that the first monster you encounter pretty much wipes the floor with you (this was also the case with Gateway to Apshai). Mind you this game, and Gateway to Apshai, are still fired up occasionally on my PC because, well, despite their primitive nature they are still really fun to play.

CRPGs Reach a New Standard

As I have suggested, in the early days of the Computer Roleplaying Game, you had two different ways that you could experience the world - from a top down perspective and from a 3D perspective. Most of the games (with the exception of maybe Labyrinth) used the top down perspective - it was much easier to produce such games than the power intensive 3d games. The iso-semetric games were also beginning to appear, though they were more arcade games (computing power simply wasn't that strong to be able to do anything otherwise - in fact the C64 versions of some of these iso-semetric games were limited to mono-chrome).

However the CRPG was about to take another step forward with the appearance of two franchises - Bards Tale and Ultima. Since Ultima was the first of these franchises I'll begin there.

Ultima Series: Actually, the Ultima series was a constantly evolving series. There were eight different games (with Ultima 7 appearing in two chapters) as well as a couple of side games known as Ultima Underworld. The Ultima franchise also was one of the first franchises to tap the emerging MMORPG market with Ultima Online, though that didn't appear until the late 90s. In fact there were a number of things that the Ultima series broke ground with, including Ultima IV, where the goal was not to find the big bad guy and kill them, but to become what is known as the Avatar, which meant you had to travel the game and make sure that you were a really good person, but I'll get to that in a minute.

The first three Ultima games were actually a mix of the top down and 3D games. When you were wandering around outside, or in one of the towns, the game would be top down, however when you entered one of the dungeons then the game would shift to a 3D view. My first experience with the Ultima series was with Ultima II (but so far I have completed every one up to Ultima VI, as well as the two Ultima Underworld spin-offs). The first three simply involved building up your character (or party as in the case with Ultima III) and defeating the bad guy at the end, however as is the case the developers always looked to push the boundaries - Ultima II had you traveling across different timezones, as well as going on a space adventure, while Ultima III had you create a party of four (and the antagonist in Ultima III was actually a computer, and you didn't fight it like a normal antagonist, you had to collect cards that you inserted into the computer thus destroying it by infecting it with a virus).

Ultima IV, however, did away with the antagonist and introduced the idea of you becoming the Avatar, a legendary figure who would unite a war ravaged land. This meant that you had to behave in a certain way. You had eight traits (including honour, compassion, valour, courage) and you had to do things that would increase your rating in each. For example you could not flee from battle as that would affect your courage, and you had to give to the poor as that would increase your compassion. Also, while you started off with your own character, you would build your party as you met certain people on your adventures (though the number of people in your party was dependent upon your virtue).

The first three Ultimas were set on different worlds (though the bulk of Ultima II was set on Earth, though in different time periods - prehistoric age, the ancient world, the modern world, and a post-apocalyptic world, as well as the time of legends, a time period that existed outside of our own time periods. However, Ultima IV and onwards was set on the world of Britannia, which was ruled by Lord Britain. Lord Britain actually appears in all of the series, though in Ultima V he has been kidnapped and it is up to you to to rescue him. One of the interesting things in the development of the game was that in Ultima IV, when you descended to the bottom of the dungeons you would then enter a room in which you could travel to all the other dungeons. However in Ultima V this idea was expanded to become the underworld, and in Ultima VI this becomes the realm of the gargoyles (who up until that time were called demons). As I have mentioned previously, I never managed to get to anything beyond Ultima VI.

Bards Tale: To be honest with you this was the roleplaying game of the late 80s that any and every Dungeons and Dragons geek had to own and play. Unlike the Ultima franchise the Bards Tale, at least back then, only had three chapters (though it was revised in later years with a new, and somewhat more amusing, addition - I own a copy but have yet to get around to playing it). Like the Ultima series the Bards Tale had a plot, and a set dungeon. You would also create a party of six characters with which you would then proceed to explore the world.

Bards Tale was a 3D CRPG, though most of the screen would be filled with your characters immediate need to know stats, and another window was where important information (such as the record of the combat that you had become involved in) would be displayed. The actual window on the world was a small square in the upper left hand corner. However, unlike the previous 3D CRPGs, there was more detail in the Bards Tale location (even though it would use the same pictures over and over again).

The first chapter involved you exploring the city of Skara Brae, which had been taken over by a nefarious warlock. You would explore numerous dungeons (beginning with the sewers and then moving onto the crypts) to collected the items that you needed to get into the next dungeon and then finally take on the antagonist. The second chapter (which I never managed to complete) opened up the world where there were seven cities (each named after one of the cities that the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to - Corinth, Phillipi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Collosse - this was because the games' designer was a Christian), and each of the cities had a dungeon. The object of the game was to collect a piece of the destiny wand from each of the dungeons, and then have one of the characters, the archmage, become the Destiny Knight, and take on the bad guy at the end in what turned out to be a really interesting twist.

The final installment, which I vaguely remember, had you return to Skara Brae, however it had been destroyed in an invasion from another dimension, and you were required to travel across the multi-verse in an effort to confront an evil god. I still remember playing this game, and one really annoying aspect of it. I had almost completed it - I had got to the last dungeon - when silly me then lent the game to a friend and he proceeded to get me trapped in this part of the final dungeon where there was no way out (you could only have one save game from what I remember) which meant that you had no choice but to start all over again.

Might & Magic: Before I move onto the next era of computer games I probably should make mention of the Might and Magic franchise. From last count I believe that there were eight (actually there are ten, but I tuned out after number eight) incarnations of the game (and I managed to complete six of them - I was a real socialite back then). Like the Ultima franchise as the series progressed the games would become more and more sophisticated. The initial games were based on the 3D concept, however the dungeons weren't as deep as the ones in Bards Tale (only one or two levels), though this was made up by the huge world that you had to explore.

Looks like these guys are in a little bit of trouble

The thing with Might and Magic was that every incarnation of the game would run along a similar line - you would begin in a fantasy world with swords, spears, and magic users. However, as you progressed through the game it would become increasingly clear that there was a science-fiction element to the game. In fact it would not be a true Might and Magic adventure if by the end of the game each of your characters wasn't running around with energy weapons wandering through some alien spaceship populated by robots.

Mind you, the Might and Magic series were simply a series of games which followed the exact same plot with a more powerful engine - they also experimented with different concepts. For instance Might and Magic 7 (which I never got around to playing, but a friend of mine would rave about) had you playing the bad guys. Might and Magic 4 and 5 were actually one and the same game - you played the game on a disc world, and Might and Magic 4 was in one side while 5 was on the other side.

However there is one thing about Might and Magic that really ended up stealing the show - the spinoffs. They had one game called Crusaders of Might and Magic which sort of run like the first person shooter, and while I did complete it, as a game it was a bit of a fizzer. However the other spin off - Heroes of Might and Magic, wasn't. Heroes, as it was colloquially known as, was a turn based strategy games that took off like a proverbial house on fire. However, since I am writing about CRPGs here, as opposed to strategy games, I will leave it at that (though writing about strategy games - actually writing about games in general, makes me want to stop writing this post, call in sick for the next two months, and spend my time playing computer games - no, not really).

TSR Enters the Fray

It wasn't going to be long before the creators of Dungeons on Dragons decided to launch their own CRPGs, Mind you, ever since the first computer nerd created the CRPG back in the 1970s, it was only a matter of time before TSR, the then publisher of Dungeons and Dragons, would release their own game. Mind you, being a long time Dungeons and Dragons dork, I would try my hand a writing an adventure based upon the Dungeons and Dragons rules. You see that was the thing with Dungeons and Dragons - by the time that they had released Pools of Radiance (the first Dungeons and Dragons CRPG), there were plenty of CRPGs around, each and every one of them as good as, or even better than, the original roleplaying game. However it wasn't a question of whether it was a CRPG, it was a question of whether it was a CRPG that used the Dungeons and Dragons rules.

It wasn't the game, it was the rules that counted

Back in the day I was a huge Dungeons and Dragons fan. Hey, I still am, it is just that I simply do not have the time to invest in the game anymore - which is why I am going to sell a bulk of my collection at the upcoming church fete (you got to love a church that has no problem with you selling Dungeons and Dragons products at their fete). However, like with all successful franchises, it wasn't anything particular about the game but rather the marketing of the product as a whole - come to thing of it, gameplay wise, the Ultima and Bards Tales games completely romped over the Dungeons and Dragons games. Mind you, I completed almost all of them, namely because they were Dungeons and Dragons as opposed to anything that stood out with the game in and of itself.

The Post Apocalyptic World

I probably should mention a couple of other games that I fondly remember before I finish off this post (though as you can see this has already been a pretty long post as it is). The interesting this was that most of the CRPGs were all based in fantasy worlds - Science Fiction barely rated a mention. Okay, there were a couple of science fiction roleplaying games out there (including Buck Rogers, which was based on the TSR Buck Rogers Roleplaying Game). However it seemed as if the gaming community really wasn't all that interested in Science-Fiction.

However that sort of changed when Wasteland hit the shelves. It was created by the people who created Bards Tale and it was immensely popular. The game was based in a post apocalyptic world and you had to wander the wasteland (which was located in Nevada) fighting mutants, and later giant robots.  Unlike Bards Tale, the game was a top down CRPG, though the combat system was pretty much the same as that from Bards Tale.

You got to love some of the names of these creatures

There were attempts at creating a sequel, including a really bad game called Fountain of Dreams, but other than that nothing really ever came from it, that is until the immensely popular Fallout series was born. When this game first hit the shelves many of us believed that it was actually the sequel to Wasteland - however it wasn't. Rather it simply ran on a similar theme. Due to the popularity of Fallout a sequel to Wasteland, Wasteland II, was finally released, however I am now drifting into unknown territory so I will leave it at that.

Dungeons & Dragons is Reinvented

As I have suggested, there where quite a few games released under the Gold Box series, which included four games in the Pools of Radiance series (Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, and Pools of Darkness), and three games in the Krynn series (Champions of Krynn, Death Knights of Krynn, and Dark Queen of Krynn). However computing power had been springing ahead which meant that the creators of the Dungeons and Dragons franchise had to reinvent themselves or be left behind. At first was a series known as Eye of the Beholder, which was little more than a sophisticated maze game where you descended through a dungeon avoiding traps and killing monsters, until you met, and killed, the nasty at the end. These games were popular, but they needed something new.

Always the little nasties.

By this time computers had become powerful enough so that Iso-semetric games (games where you looked down on to the action from an angle) had become quite sophisticated. As such the creators of the Dungeons and Dragons games decided to go down this path - and thus came Baulder's Gates (and it's sequel, along with two Icewind Dale games). These games were much more complex, and had a lot more detail, creating a much better, and deeper, roleplaying experience. In fact the arrival of the Baulder's Gate series had effectively merged the Adventure Game with the CRPG.


Honestly, I've never actually played an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game), and I doubt I ever will. When we first got the internet at home I did play some strategy games on line, but after discovering that most of the world would wipe the floor with me, I ended up sticking with playing against the computer. However, the internet, especially broadband internet, brought roleplayers together in a way that hadn't happened before. Well, not really because back in the early days you did have what were known as MUDs, or multi-user dungeons, which were basically text based adventures where multiple users could play, but they weren't on the scale of, say, World of Warcraft.

One of the main reasons that I never got into them was because I knew people who had effectively shut themselves away from the world playing these early MMORPG (such as Ultima Online or Everquest). The thing is that not only were these games incredibly addictive, but they effectively didn't have an end - you could simply play through these for ages, and never actually get around to doing anything else. Okay, I have to admit that I did get caught up with Neverwinter Nights for about three years, but half the reason was because of the editor - I could create my own roleplaying adventures, and pretty sophisticated ones that that. However, that is now out of my system, so I can pour all my energy elsewhere - such as this blog.

Creative Commons License

Swords and Sorcery - Computer Roleplaying Games by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me

Wizardry: By Orion Blastar - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, 
Telengard Dungeon: By Source, Fair use,