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I downloaded the RPG Might and Magic 6-pack, containing the first six games in the series, from gog.com some time ago. I’ve been slowly working my way through it in order in my spare time, and once I got the hang of it I did start having fun, particularly at the subtle scifi elements inserted into the otherwise fantasy RPG games [1]. It got me thinking about how user-friendly the interfaces of RPG’s have gotten in the time since the MM series first started.

The first game, Might and Magic Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum (oldest PC version), is a bit of an interesting experience from the standpoint of interacting with my characters and the game world. In the game, the player characters cannot be seen at all, nor any close-up details of buildings or outdoor areas. Some text boxes fill in flavor, (and are occasionally snarky,) but the majority of things and people to interact with are never actually seen. There is no map at all in-game, so the toil of hardworking friends or printed, (now online,) guides must fill in the gaps. Interacting with the inventories of your characters is entirely keyboard-based and can sometimes be tiresome. Monsters are only visible at the beginning of a random encounter, and may or may not actually represent all monsters attacking you in that group. Much like traditional tabletop RPG’s, there is a lot left to the imagination as to how a given creature or area truly looks. Unusually from a modern perspective, the majority of quests are not vital to game completion. The game is playable and enjoyable, but immersion in the game world can be difficult [2].

Contrast this to Final Fantasy II/IV for the Super Nintendo [3]. In this game, player characters and some details of their armor are visible. There is a worldmap in-game and the position of the party can easily be judged on that map or in any of the dungeons. Significant or subtle details of forests, castles, or dungeons are visible. Kings, shopkeepers, random people, some bosses, pots, fireplaces and other things to interact with are quite visible on the maps. Inventory control is a snap not only due to larger inventories, but also due to ease of transfer of items between those inventories. All monsters per battle are visible. Because so much is visible, less is left to the imagination, and the design of the author of the game can shine through clearly. There are a few sidequests, but most of the quests in a given game are required to advance to the ending. This game is also dated, but immersion is easier due to higher visual details and ease of navigation.

These user-friendly choices of clear mapping and clear depiction of player characters, people, and objects have made it much easier to see the art and vision of the game author, and to make a given game more, well, playable. If your friends aren’t there playing with you, and you don’t have an experienced dungeon master to guide you through the world, shouldn’t you be having fun with a game instead of becoming frustrated due to somewhat awkward controls and navigation?

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[1] It is difficult in the way early RPG’s can be, in that you can walk into battles you cannot possibly win early on, or have equipment that simply cannot defeat a given monster. The original Nintendo versions of Final Fantasy I and Crystalis are guilty of this.

[2] Does this mean the game is bad? No, not at all, just that the author of the game had to work with severe constraints that modern games, or even games released a few years later, do not have to compete with. For a very basic and perhaps naiive idea of what early adventure RPG programmers had to work with, go complete the Choose Your Own Adventure exercises at Code Academy. Mr. Van Caneghem did a good job based on what was available at the time.

[3] This was the first RPG that I ever played, and I have a soft spot for it.

[Errata] While I have not played most of the latest video games, I do not take the stance that all old video games are better than new ones. Like many adults, I have not had the time or funding to invest in new systems or games.

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