High Score Ep 3 Recap – Role Players

High Score Ep 3 Recap – Role Players
By Douglas and Julie Shepard

If there is one well-known form of gaming, it's role playing games. These exist as myriad Tabletop Roleplaying Games (TTRPG's); Live Action Roleplay (LARP), and as a few genres within video games: Action RPG's, Strategy RPG's, Japanese RPG's and more. These games more than any other will feature a rich world to explore with lots of lore to it and a lot of places to go. It was (and still is) easy to get lost in them and end up playing a single game for months or even years. This episode looks at the origins of these games and some of the people who helped bring the genre out from its simple text-based roots to the online multiplayer fully-absorbing worlds we know today.

The first person interviewed for this episode was famous for her involvement with Sierra Games: Roberta Williams. She started talking about how she wanted people to feel like they were in the world she created; that it was a place to explore and learn about. She met her husband Ken Williams in high school and they were married just after graduating. Roberta got into game making after Ken brought home a computer that had the game “Colossal Cave.” Roberta found herself consumed by the game and when she beat it, she was convinced she could write a game like it. Ken proposed adding graphics to the game, a completely new concept at the time. Ken and Roberta would work together to build games. Roberta could design worlds, mapping them out with a flowchart, and building a story to it. Ken would take that and create the program. Ken talks about how he would add the graphics, the tricks he used to fit the graphics on the 360 kb of storage on a floppy disk. These tricks would allow their new company, Sierra, to create first computer game with graphics: “Mystery House.” This was what allowed computers to enter the gaming sphere and helped Sierra become a very successful development company.

Richard Garriott then introduced the viewer to his inspiration, TTRPG's like “Chainmail” or “Dungeons and Dragons” (D&D). This part explored the development of RPG's in video games by the influence TTRPG's had on them. It was Garriott's love of storytelling and his appreciation of D&D that would mix with the emerging technology of computers; specifically, their forerunner, the Teletype. He explained that he convinced his High School to let him use their 2 Teletypes to figure out how they worked and eventually wrote a game for it. But it was during the era of the Apple II that he genuinely began making the games he was interested in. His first was “Akalabeth.” This would lead him to create the series he was most famous for: “Ultima.” This gave a far more open world for people to enjoy. It offered many unique things, but Garriott saw ways to improve it. And he would, several times over. He wanted the player to be a hero, for them to play a version of themselves in the game and for their in-game choices to have an impact on gameplay. (A technique famously used in later RPGs such as “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic”.) This all took form in “Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar,” creating responses to the Avatar's in-game actions. These were meant to block a villainous player from being able to even finish the game.

The next person interviewed was the artist Amano Yoshitaka. He is best known for his work on the Final Fantasy series, having helped design many of the characters throughout the series' decades-long history. We got a look at the process of Amano designing the characters and the artwork that would be included to help with the visualization of the characters and monsters that would fill the world. The technology was getting more capable of rending something in-game very much like Amano's illustrations.

This part of the episode was very interesting because it has been story designers and programmers to this point. Amano being an artist offers a different look at the process. His artwork is very distinctive and has touched a lot games and influenced countless others. It is a refreshing and different voice from the rest of the episode, offering insight into a very talented creator.

The final interviewee of the episode was Ryan Best. His section started with him talking about his hobby of searching for things. From there, they talk about the game that he made just after teaching himself to code: “GayBlade.” He talked about the times that he wrote the game in, the 1980's when he lived in San Francisco. This was just as the AIDS crisis was building within the LGBTQ+ community. Ryan explained that of the central figures opposed to helping this marginalized community, the figurehead of choice for him was Pat Buchanan. But this lack of support from the Government had the community band together, protest, and help each other. “GayBlade” was Ryan's form of protest. We got to see gameplay from “GayBlade” while Ryan explained the enemies and the influences on the game. This game ends with the party fighting against Pat Buchanan. He goes on to explain just how much the game helped him. He also expanded on how it was the first game to focus on the Queer community. While a small game, it was very helpful for the countless people who played it. The letters that he got about “GayBlade” let him know just how touching (and hilarious) the game was for the community throughout the world. Sadly, Ryan's original disks and source code for the game were lost. The episode dives into some whimsy involving a vengeful Pat Buchanan before Ryan reveals the real story of how the source code and disks were lost in a move.

The episode wrapped up well. This started with a few simple blurbs about the search for “GayBlade,” ending with “I have a copy and want to send it to you.” The narrator then talked about the emergence of the RPG genre, the addition of consequences and failure. All this was what gave rise to our modern scene of RPGs, like the “Elder Scrolls” and “Mass Effect” series, the tactical series of “Fire Emblem,” and JRPG series like “Final Fantasy” and “Shin Megami Tensei.”

Overall, this was a very good episode. There was still plenty getting skimmed over, but focusing on these creators was critical. The Williams founded Sierra games, which would go on to become famous for the point and click adventure games. Richard Garriott has done a lot already with his life and continues to be just as adventurous as ever. Looking at a smaller, but no less influential, creator like Ryan Best was also important. Games influence people across a much broader spectrum than can accurately be traced by anyone. The RPG genre was easily the most influential piece where innovation, especially with morality and player choice, was always going to be key. While a video game RPG cannot fully match the experience of a TTRPG, they have come a long way. This episode did a great job at showing how it all began.

Comments (0)

New comments are currently disabled.

Subscribe to me on YouTubeFollow us on Twitter!
Join our Steam group!