Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

The world of gaming has come a long way since its inception, and one genre that has captured the hearts of millions is the real-time RPG. But, have you ever wondered which game was the first to bring this immersive experience to life? Join us as we embark on a journey to explore the origins of the first real-time RPG, and uncover the rich history of this beloved genre. Get ready to be transported to a world of adventure, magic, and endless possibilities as we delve into the annals of gaming history. So, buckle up and let’s set off on this exciting expedition!

The Evolution of RPGs: From Pen and Paper to Video Games

The Rise of Pen and Paper RPGs

The origins of RPGs can be traced back to the 1970s, with the rise of pen and paper RPGs. One of the most popular and influential games of this era was Dungeons & Dragons, which was first published in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

Dungeons & Dragons was a revolutionary game that combined elements of fantasy, role-playing, and tabletop gaming. Players assumed the roles of fictional characters, such as wizards, warriors, and rogues, and embarked on adventures in a mythical world filled with magic, monsters, and treasure. The game was designed to be highly interactive, with players using dice rolls and their imaginations to determine the outcome of actions and events.

While Dungeons & Dragons was the most well-known and influential pen and paper RPG of its time, it was not the only one. Other early RPGs included:

  • Chivalry & Sorcery (1978): This game was set in a medieval fantasy world and featured a detailed combat system, as well as rules for magic and character development.
  • Traveller (1977): This game was set in a science fiction universe and allowed players to explore the stars as they searched for adventure and fortune.
  • Call of Cthulhu (1981): This game was based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft and focused on investigating the mysteries of the Cthulhu Mythos.

These early RPGs helped to lay the foundation for the development of video game RPGs, which would come to dominate the gaming industry in the decades to come.

The Transition to Video Games

Early RPGs on Home Consoles

The first video games were simple, pixelated affairs with minimal graphics and limited gameplay options. However, as technology improved, game developers began to experiment with more complex and immersive experiences. In the early 1980s, home consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the Sega Master System began to offer RPGs that allowed players to explore virtual worlds and interact with non-player characters.

The Emergence of Computer RPGs

While home consoles offered a new way to experience RPGs, it was the emergence of computer RPGs that truly revolutionized the genre. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, developers began to create RPGs that could be played on personal computers. These games were often text-based and featured simple graphics, but they offered players the opportunity to explore virtual worlds and make choices that affected the outcome of the game.

One of the earliest and most influential computer RPGs was “Akalabeth,” created by Richard Garriott in 1979. This game allowed players to explore a virtual world, complete quests, and interact with non-player characters. While the graphics were simple and the gameplay was limited, “Akalabeth” set the stage for the development of future computer RPGs.

As computer technology improved, so did the capabilities of computer RPGs. In the 1980s, games like “Ultima” and “Wizardry” offered players massive, open-ended worlds to explore, complete with complex characters, quests, and puzzles. These games were a major step forward in the evolution of RPGs, and they paved the way for the development of the first real-time RPG.

The First Real-Time RPG: Dungeon Adventure

Key takeaway: The evolution of RPGs began with pen and paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s. The first real-time RPG, Dungeon Adventure, was developed in 1975 and paved the way for future RPGs. The Ultima series was one of the first successful Western RPGs, and the 1990s saw the rise of JRPGs, with series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest becoming popular. Cloud gaming and cross-platform play have made it easier for players to access and play RPGs. AI and procedural generation have allowed for more immersive and personalized experiences in RPGs. The evolution of storytelling in RPGs has led to more branching narratives and player choice. The continued appeal of single-player RPGs can be attributed to the innovation and creativity of indie developers, the enduring legacy of classic RPGs, and the fusion of old and new in retro-style RPGs.

The Creation of Dungeon Adventure

The Developers Behind the Game

The development of Dungeon Adventure was led by Don Winslow, a prominent video game designer in the early 1970s. Winslow had previously worked on the development of the game Spacewar!, which was one of the first video games ever created. He was joined by a team of programmers and artists who shared his passion for creating an immersive gaming experience.

The Inspiration for Dungeon Adventure

The inspiration for Dungeon Adventure came from a combination of fantasy literature and tabletop role-playing games. Winslow and his team were fans of works such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons, a popular tabletop role-playing game that had been gaining popularity in the early 1970s. They sought to create a game that would allow players to explore a virtual world in real-time, much like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

The Technology Behind the Game

Dungeon Adventure was created using a combination of hardware and software that was cutting-edge at the time. The game was played on a DEC PDP-10 computer, which was one of the most powerful computers of the era. The game was programmed in FOCAL, a programming language specifically designed for use on the PDP-10. The graphics were created using a technique called vector graphics, which allowed for highly detailed and customizable images.

The Gameplay of Dungeon Adventure

Dungeon Adventure was a text-based game that allowed players to explore a virtual dungeon in real-time. The game was divided into different levels, each with its own unique challenges and obstacles. Players could move through the dungeon using a joystick, which controlled a character avatar on the screen. The game featured a simple combat system, with players able to attack monsters using a variety of weapons. The ultimate goal of the game was to find the treasure hidden deep within the dungeon.

Overall, the creation of Dungeon Adventure was a significant milestone in the history of video games. It represented the first time that players could explore a virtual world in real-time, paving the way for the development of later RPGs and other immersive games.

The Gameplay of Dungeon Adventure

Real-Time Combat and Exploration

Dungeon Adventure, developed by General Computer Corporation (GCC) in 1975, was the first video game to introduce real-time combat and exploration elements in a role-playing game (RPG) setting. Players controlled a character navigating through a maze-like dungeon, fighting monsters and collecting treasure along the way. The game featured a top-down perspective, allowing players to see their character and the surrounding environment.

In real-time combat, players could attack or defend using a set of predefined commands, with success depending on the characters’ stats and the player’s strategic decisions. The exploration aspect of the game involved moving through the dungeon, finding hidden passages, and discovering secret rooms filled with treasure or dangerous creatures.

Character Development and Progression

Dungeon Adventure allowed for character development and progression through a unique system called “experience points” (XP). As players defeated monsters and completed tasks, their characters gained XP, which could be used to increase stats such as strength, intelligence, and hit points.

Players could also find and equip items such as weapons, armor, and potions to further enhance their characters’ abilities. These choices impacted the outcome of battles and influenced the difficulty of the game.

Additionally, Dungeon Adventure featured permadeath, meaning that if a character died, they would have to start over from the beginning. This mechanic added a layer of risk and strategy to the game, as players had to carefully manage their resources and decide when to fight and when to retreat.

Overall, the gameplay of Dungeon Adventure combined elements of exploration, combat, and character development, laying the foundation for the real-time RPG genre that would later become popular with games like Ultima and The Elder Scrolls series.

The Legacy of Dungeon Adventure

Its Impact on the RPG Genre

Dungeon Adventure, the first real-time RPG, left an indelible mark on the gaming industry. Its groundbreaking gameplay mechanics and immersive world-building set the stage for the countless RPGs that would follow in its footsteps. The game’s focus on player choice and freedom, as well as its emphasis on exploration and character development, paved the way for a new genre of gaming that would captivate audiences for decades to come.

One of the most significant impacts of Dungeon Adventure was its introduction of the “roguelike” genre, a subtype of RPG characterized by permadeath, procedurally generated levels, and a high degree of difficulty. This mechanic added a layer of challenge and replayability to the game, encouraging players to explore every nook and cranny of the game world and carefully consider their every move. The roguelike genre would go on to influence many subsequent RPGs, including the popular series Dark Souls and Bloodborne.

Modern Re-Releases and Retrospectives

Despite its age, Dungeon Adventure remains a beloved and influential game in the RPG genre. In recent years, it has been re-released on modern platforms, allowing a new generation of gamers to experience its pioneering gameplay and unique world. Retrospectives and critical analyses of the game have praised its innovative mechanics and impact on the RPG genre, cementing its status as a classic of early video game history.

The Early Years of Single-Player RPGs

Ultima and the Birth of the Western RPG

The Emergence of the Ultima Series

The Ultima series, created by Richard Garriott and published by Origin Systems, was one of the first successful Western RPGs. The first game in the series, Ultima: The First Age of Darkness, was released in 1981 for the Apple II. The game featured a combination of role-playing and strategy elements, allowing players to create their own characters and embark on quests in a medieval fantasy world.

The Influence of Ultima on the RPG Genre

Ultima had a significant impact on the development of the RPG genre. The game’s open-ended world, character creation system, and emphasis on exploration and problem-solving influenced many subsequent RPGs. The series also introduced many iconic elements of fantasy gaming, such as the eight virtues (honesty, compassion, valor, justice, sacrifice, honor, spirituality, and humility) and the Avatar, the protagonist of the series.

The Ultima series also pioneered many aspects of game design, such as the use of mouse-based interaction and the implementation of complex dialogue systems. The series continued to evolve and innovate throughout the 1980s and 1990s, with each new installment introducing new features and mechanics that would become standard in the RPG genre.

Overall, the Ultima series was a key factor in the development of the Western RPG genre, and its influence can still be seen in modern RPGs today.

The Golden Age of RPGs: The 1990s

Key Games and Developers of the Era

The 1990s were a pivotal decade for the RPG genre, with several groundbreaking games that redefined the genre and established new standards for storytelling, gameplay, and visuals. Some of the most influential RPGs of this era include:

  • Final Fantasy series: Square’s flagship RPG series, which debuted in 1987 and continued to evolve throughout the 1990s with each new installment. Final Fantasy IV (1991) and Final Fantasy VI (1994) are particularly noteworthy for their engaging storylines, memorable characters, and innovative gameplay mechanics.
  • Chrono Trigger (1995): A collaboration between Square and Nintendo, Chrono Trigger combined a time-traveling narrative with turn-based combat and an imaginative world filled with unique characters and environments. The game’s story, which spanned multiple eras and alternate dimensions, was widely acclaimed for its depth and emotional impact.
  • Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) RPGs: The SNES was home to several iconic RPGs, including Square’s Secret of Mana (1991), Enix’s Altered Beast (1990), and Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991). These games showcased a diverse range of RPG experiences, from the action-oriented Secret of Mana to the mythical adventures of The Legend of Zelda.

The Rise of JRPGs

The 1990s also saw the emergence of JRPGs (Japanese Role-Playing Games), which were characterized by their distinct visual style, anime-inspired character designs, and emphasis on storytelling and character development. JRPGs like Square’s Final Fantasy series and Enix’s Dragon Quest series became wildly popular both in Japan and around the world, capturing the hearts of gamers with their engaging narratives and memorable characters.

During this period, several JRPGs gained critical acclaim and commercial success, including:

  • Final Fantasy series: As mentioned earlier, the Final Fantasy series, with its unique blend of storytelling, music, and gameplay, was a driving force behind the rise of JRPGs. Each new installment brought new gameplay mechanics, innovative worlds, and unforgettable characters, making it one of the most beloved and influential RPG series of all time.
  • Dragon Quest series: Debuting in 1986, the Dragon Quest series was one of the earliest and most successful JRPG franchises. The series, developed by Chunsoft and later Enix (now Square Enix), featured classic turn-based combat, colorful characters, and epic storylines that spanned multiple console generations.
  • Chrono Trigger: Although primarily associated with the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger can also be considered a JRPG that exemplified the storytelling, character development, and gameplay mechanics that defined the genre during the 1990s.

These games and series paved the way for the evolution of RPGs, setting the stage for the emergence of real-time RPGs and the next chapter in gaming history.

The Future of Single-Player RPGs

The Impact of Modern Technology

Cloud Gaming and Cross-Platform Play

Cloud gaming has revolutionized the way players access and play games. With cloud gaming, players can access games from any device with an internet connection, eliminating the need for expensive hardware or software. This has made it easier for players to access and play RPGs, especially for those who may not have the means to purchase expensive gaming consoles or computers.

Cross-platform play has also become increasingly popular, allowing players on different devices to play together in the same game. This has created a more connected gaming community and has made it easier for players to find others to play with, regardless of the device they are using.

AI and Procedural Generation

AI has become an integral part of modern gaming, particularly in the realm of procedural generation. Procedural generation involves using algorithms to generate game content, such as levels, terrain, and NPC behavior, rather than creating it manually. This has allowed game developers to create vast, immersive worlds with minimal effort and resources.

In RPGs, procedural generation can be used to create unique quests, dialogue, and NPC behavior, making each playthrough feel fresh and unique. AI can also be used to create dynamic enemy behavior, making battles more challenging and unpredictable.

However, the use of AI in gaming has also raised concerns about the potential loss of jobs for game developers and the possibility of over-reliance on technology. It remains to be seen how AI will continue to shape the future of gaming and the role of game developers.

The Evolution of Storytelling in RPGs

As the popularity of RPGs continued to grow, so too did the complexity and depth of their storytelling. With the advancement of technology, developers were able to create more immersive worlds and characters, allowing for more nuanced and branching narratives.

Branching Narratives and Player Choice

One of the key developments in the evolution of storytelling in RPGs was the introduction of branching narratives, which allowed players to make choices that directly affected the course of the game. This allowed for a more personalized experience, as players could tailor their journey to their own playstyle and preferences.

In early RPGs, these choices were often limited and had little impact on the overall story. However, as technology improved and developers became more adept at creating complex worlds, branching narratives became more sophisticated and offered players a greater degree of agency in their journey.

The Blurring of Lines Between RPGs and Other Genres

Another significant development in the evolution of storytelling in RPGs was the blurring of lines between RPGs and other genres. As RPGs continued to evolve, they began to incorporate elements of other genres, such as adventure games, simulation games, and even strategy games.

This allowed for a more diverse range of experiences within the RPG genre, as well as a greater degree of innovation and experimentation. For example, the inclusion of simulation elements in RPGs allowed for a more realistic portrayal of the world and its inhabitants, while the addition of strategy elements added a new layer of depth to the gameplay.

Overall, the evolution of storytelling in RPGs has been a gradual process, with developers constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible within the genre. As technology continues to advance and players become more discerning, it is likely that RPGs will continue to evolve and innovate, offering ever more immersive and engaging experiences.

The Continued Appeal of Single-Player RPGs

Despite the rise of multiplayer gaming, single-player RPGs continue to hold a special place in the hearts of gamers. There are several reasons for this enduring appeal.

The Indie RPG Scene

Indie developers have breathed new life into the single-player RPG genre. These smaller, independent studios have created unique worlds and characters that have captivated gamers. Indie RPGs often offer a more personal, intimate experience that is hard to find in larger, triple-A productions. Many indie RPGs have won critical acclaim and have become cult classics.

The Enduring Legacy of Classic RPGs

Classic RPGs from the 1980s and 1990s continue to influence the genre today. These games, such as the original Final Fantasy and The Elder Scrolls series, have left an indelible mark on the industry. They pioneered many of the gameplay mechanics and storytelling techniques that are still used in modern RPGs. Even though these games are now several decades old, they remain beloved by gamers and continue to inspire new RPGs.

Additionally, the rise of retro-style RPGs has helped to keep the classic RPG experience alive. These games often draw inspiration from the graphics, music, and gameplay of classic RPGs, while also adding modern mechanics and features. This fusion of old and new has helped to keep the genre fresh and relevant.

In conclusion, the continued appeal of single-player RPGs can be attributed to the innovation and creativity of indie developers, the enduring legacy of classic RPGs, and the fusion of old and new in retro-style RPGs. These factors have ensured that the single-player RPG genre remains a vital and vibrant part of the gaming world.


1. What is a real-time RPG?

A real-time RPG (role-playing game) is a type of video game that allows players to assume the role of a character in a virtual world, and interact with other characters and the environment in real-time. These games typically feature a open world, non-linear gameplay, and a focus on exploration, combat, and character development.

2. When was the first real-time RPG released?

The first real-time RPG is widely considered to be “Ultima Underworld: The First Age of Darkness”, which was released in 1992 for the PC. Developed by Blue Byte and published by Origin Systems, the game was a pioneer in the genre, featuring 3D graphics, first-person perspective, and a dynamic world that reacted to the player’s actions.

3. What made Ultima Underworld unique for its time?

Ultima Underworld was unique for its time due to its use of 3D graphics, which allowed for a more immersive and realistic gameplay experience. The game also featured a open world that was filled with secrets and hidden areas to explore, as well as a dynamic combat system that allowed players to use various weapons and spells to defeat enemies. Additionally, the game featured a deep storyline that tied into the larger Ultima universe, making it a must-play for fans of the series.

4. What impact did Ultima Underworld have on the gaming industry?

Ultima Underworld had a significant impact on the gaming industry, as it helped to popularize the real-time RPG genre. The game’s use of 3D graphics and open world gameplay inspired many other developers to create similar games, and its focus on exploration and character development helped to set the standard for the genre. Additionally, the game’s success led to the development of two sequels, “Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds” and “Ultima Underworld III: The Black Gate”, which further expanded on the series’ innovative gameplay mechanics.

5. Is there anything else notable about the development of Ultima Underworld?

Yes, the development of Ultima Underworld was notable for its use of a proprietary game engine called “The First Age of Darkness Engine”, which was specifically designed to handle the game’s 3D graphics and dynamic world. The engine was developed by Blue Byte, who had previously worked on flight simulators, and it was designed to provide a more realistic and immersive gameplay experience. The engine was later used in the development of the game’s sequels, as well as other games in the Ultima series.

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