[MUD-Dev] TECH: CRPGs vs. RPGs, Way Back When...

Michael Tresca talien at toast.net
Sun Jul 1 22:16:57 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

Thought people might find this amusing, from Dragon Magazine 26,
Volume III, No. 12, June 1979:

D&D Meets the Electronic Age

by Rick Krebs

While the subtitle to the original Dungeon & Dragons rules set
states that it is a fantasy role playing game playable with paper
and pencil and miniature figures, to many fanatics of the game and
its genre, the equipment used has gone far beyond that point. Not
that the D&D claim is false, far from it. It's in the nature of
fanatics to take their interest seriously and to constantly seek new
ways to expand their interest.  Over the years access to
photocopiers and mimeograph machines have aided many Dungeon Masters
in copying maps, charts and even publishing their own zines, all to
the expansion of their campaign. But, the recent electronics
explosion has now brought another tool to those DMs fortunate to
have access to them: the micro-computer.

We were one of those fortunate groups to gain the use of a 4K (4,000
bit) memory, BASIC speaking microcomputer. We mentioned to several
fellow DMs and gamers of our plans to program it to handle role
playing games (D&D, Boot Hill), and to my surprise there was a lot
of concern about letting a machine become a part of role playing
games.  Well, either I did a lousy job of explaining the planned
programming (possible as I am by no stretch of the imagination a
computer scientist, merely a gamer looking for new ways to use
technology in gaming) or the concern was unwarranted. As any of our
group of gamers can testify, the SAFE has improved our handling of
the mechanics of our cam-paign, at no expense to creativity.

An analysis of D&D reveals that movement around a dungeon (which way
to go, which door to open, should we fight or run, how do we disarm
the trap, etc.) is basic logic (sometimes good logic, sometimes bad)
problem solving that can be broken into a mathematical or a
com-puter flow chart. But, the contents of the rooms, how monsters
react, what a chamber looks like is an art that a DM develops from
experience and use of his/her imagination. So why not let the
computer handle the mechanics and the DM handle the material. With
the computer doing part of the job it leaves the DM more time to be
creative and interact with the players.

What does the computer do in the Realm of the Celestial Wizard (our
campaign)? At present with our limited memory, the SAGE is
prog-rammed for the hit charts and damage allocation, name
generation (for the thousands of minor NPCs), creating requisites
and levels of non-player characters, handling the bookkeeping
details on player charac-ters, and a basic Dungeon that runs itself.

The hit charts are easily programmed, though repetitiously dull to
work on, but the knowledge that once done it never has to be done
again is compensation. The program is based on simple if. . . then,
as well as logical AND' and 'logical OR' statements. First you tell
the computer to generate a random number (X) from 1 to 20. Now you
INPUT the monster's hit dice (Y) and then foe's armor class (Z). A
sam-ple program entry shows what is done with the preceding
information: If Y equals 1 and Z equals 9 and X is greater than or
equal to 10, then go to 600.

The computer's dice rolls a 12, it goes to line #600 in the program,
where it is told to print 'hits.' The computer tells you the monster
has hit, but it now waits for further input. It needs to know what
type of die to roll and how many in order to give damage. Since the
monster in the example was an orc, we enter 6 for type of dice and 1
for how many.  Had the computer rolled a 20, it would have informed
us of double damage and the 6 would be rolled twice. Now the
computer returns to the start of the program ready for more action.

Had the computer rolled less than 10 in the example, the SAGE would
have gone back to the beginning of the program, indicating a
miss. No need to have it print 'Miss' as it takes up valuable space
in the memory. Another important thing to remember is to include a
'timer loop', when the damage is rolled, as it will disappear from
the screen as rapidly as it appeared. Even the computer is eager to
get back to battle.  Programming to generate names is accomplished
by giving letter values to numbers and generating randomly a string
of numbers (let-ters) according to certain pre-determined
patterns. Professor Barker's article in the Strategic Review on
names in the Empire of the Petal Throne provides a reference for
these patterns which can be adapted to suit your own taste.

Our computer dungeon is based on a labyrinth, and the only limit to
it is the size of SAGE's memory bank. But by using reoccurring rooms
and passages, the size of the memory can be compensated for. As to
try and explain the program for the dungeon would take too much
space, a few generalized patterns will be demonstrated, and if you
have access to a micro computer try and expand on it yourself,

The computer dungeon is based on if. . . then statements such as,
'You are standing in an east-west corridor. Which way?' If east, go
to Room #1, which is empty but has 3 doors. If west, then go to
Chamber #2, which contains a dagger trap and 2 doors. From here the
computer can take you back to the initial corridor, or to a series
of other rooms, which also leads to the initial corridor. By wording
corridors and rooms similarly, it makes the trick of repeating rooms
impossible to detect and this misdirection poses as much of a threat
as the Minotaur and other creatures trapped within the labyrinth. To
demonstrate how confusing a program can be, try navigating your way
through it right after complet-ing the program.

The computer in gaming has been around awhile, but now as technology
takes steps forward, the e next several years contain the
possibility of general access to the more complete systems for the
aver-age consumer. However, the fear that the use of a micro
computer will destroy the creativity of role playing games if used
in them is groundless.  Our experience in recent months has been
very positive in SAGE's use in both D&D and Boot Hill (our program
for Gamma World is not finished yet), and if anything, has helped
this DM in handling his chores.  We now are adding new ideas that
previously couldn't be adopted, as we were busy enough rolling dice
and trying to locate all the different charts.

The micro computer has its place in role playing gaming as long as
its limitations are understood, and the human programmer remembers
that his duty is in creativity, while the computer can and should
only speed up the mechanics. The computer provides the skeleton for
gam-ing, and the DM still creates the flesh of the campaign.

Mike "Talien" Tresca
RetroMUD Administrator

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