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It introduced the standards that continue to define RPGs more than four decades later: hit points, character classes, the chimerical combination of rules and luck that drive combat, and finally the need for some sort of narrative framework to motivate players. Every RPG designer has a different idea of what it means to transform the tabletop experience into something that fits within the boundaries of a computer.

So, too, do players… which is where those semantic debates come in. Over the coming months, this series will explore the history and evolution of computer and console RPGs by documenting the milestones of the genre.


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I wrote my first games on a teletype, with strips of paper tape as the memory and an electromechanical typewriter as the input device. Garriott doesn't necessarily look like someone who helped revolutionize video games back in the medium's earliest days. Yet he designed his first game in His breakout hit, Ultima, launched a few years later, right as America was collectively calling in sick to work due to Pac-Man Fever. There's no denying the influence of Garriott's work over the past four decades.

Of course, there's a reason for Garriott's relatively youthful appearance: He was still a teenager when he made his RPG debut. His prodigious aptitude for multiple disciplines—design, programming, and storytelling—blossomed against a backdrop of the fantasy genre's explosive popularity in the U. All these factors came together to inspire Ultima.

As the creative visionary behind Ultima, Garriott can arguably claim responsibility for more medium-defining works than any other game designer outside of Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto. Along with Sir-Tech's Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord and Atari's Adventure, Ultima laid the groundwork for how role-playing games should work on personal computers—and, eventually, on consoles. The influence of the Ultima games, and 's Ultima 3: Exodus in particular, reached far beyond the U.

They guided a generation of Japanese and European designers as they ventured into the role-playing genre with works of their own. The Ultima concept didn't spring from Garriott's forehead fully formed, of course. Nor did he single-handedly invent the computer RPG.

After all, the sort of person who was likely to get heavily into computer programming in the s was also likely to be in love with the formative fantasy genre works that inspired Garriott. He spent several years learning the art of computer game design, building on the earliest examples of the genre. He worked within the limits of the era's impossibly limited technical constraints—sometimes even hashing out his work on systems that lacked a screen, as with the aforementioned teletype device.

Those three things in my sophomore year mixed together and I wrote a series of… well, they weren't exactly text games like Zork or Adventure. They were 'graphical' in the sense of having asterisks for walls, spaces for corridors, dollar signs for treasure, and this would print out every time you made a move. So if you moved north, you'd actually have to wait for the machine to print a 10x10 grid of text to see what the scene around you looked like from sort of a top-down perspective.

Even working on these primitive proto-RPGs, Garriott proved to be on the right path. The ASCII-based approach he used to present his dungeon layout printouts would become a permanent fixture of gaming a few years later. Rogue, that famous breakthrough in procedurally generated content, used a similar text-based mechanism to create its dense, ever-changing worlds.


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  4. Rogue was designed to be played on shared mainframes via text-only shared terminals, which themselves were only one step removed from Garriott's teletype. Garriott certainly didn't aspire to create anything as infinitely replayable or deep as Rogue with his teletype-based high school practice projects. Instead, he treated them as if he were a tabletop game master and each teletype project was a self-contained campaign.

    Even though he admits his early creations were only ever seen by "people who were literally with me at the time," he still approached them with a GM's mindset. Those tentative early works, he says, were inspired not simply by his experiences playing tabletop RPGs, but specifically by his own preferred approach to pen-and-paper games.

    When you went to any one of those tables, you would see some really amazing storytellers, and what all of us felt was that the rules were irrelevant. No one really paid any attention to the die rolls. They'd sit around arguing about, 'I'm up behind you and I'm up on a rock and I have an initiative,' and they'd do complex calculations for a few minutes, roll a die, and… miss. Then, 'Let's start arguing about the calculations again. Of course, telling dynamic stories may have been an unreasonable expectation for a teenager creating computer games stored in a few kilobytes of RAM and played on a scroll of printer paper.

    Yet it's not hard to envision Garriott creating his dungeon maps and simple computer-powered combat as a visible manifestation of the adventures he imagined in his head. His teletype efforts allowed him to create a foundation for the works that would come later, becoming the technical and mechanical underpinnings for games that would revolutionize the concept of video game narratives.

    Well, if you look at what I was just describing of asterisks for walls and spaces for, spaces for corridors, that was a scrolling tile graphic map. Physically, on an actual scroll. While these pre-Ultima projects have long since vanished into the digital ether—Garriott even ran a contest a few years back in which fans were asked to explore their vision of what those teletype adventures played like—they served as a bridge between Garriott's pen-and-paper sessions and the sprawling computer worlds he would build throughout the s. Starting out, Garriott didn't feel the need to obfuscate his influences, since his teletype projects were largely made for his own satisfaction.

    With primitive graphical features, a small amount of RAM, and data storage cramped by the minuscule capacity of 5.

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    That makes it a contemporary of several other pivotal takes on the RPG genre, such as Rogue, Atari's Adventure for , and the official commercial release of Zork. Of all these efforts, Akalabeth was arguably the most ambitious.

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    Fans often refer to Akalabeth as "Ultima Zero," and for good reason. Despite its small scale compared to the actual Ultima games, Akalabeth featured many elements that would appear in the series to come. Perhaps most remarkably, it depicted its world through two different points of view. Players explored the world through a top-down perspective, a direct extension of Garriott's teletype efforts.

    But once they entered a dungeon, players were treated to a crude first-person viewpoint via wire frame graphics. While this concept would be expanded on more impressively a year or two later by Sir-Tech when Wizardry arrived, it was quite remarkable at the time. And unlike Wizardry, the first-person perspective amounted to merely one window on the game's world. The FBI should develop a process map for information sharing that clearly defines the current state of and a desired end state for the information-sharing process so that the numerous information-sharing initiatives can be coordinated and properly monitored and managed.

    How the Ultima Trilogy Took a Genre from Tabletop to Hi-Tech

    The FBI should immediately develop plans that address recovery of data and functionality in the event that essential technology services come under denial-of-service attacks e. In the area of program and contract management, the most important recommendations others are presented in the main text are the following:.

    Because testing is such a critical dimension of system development and deployment, the FBI must allow adequate time for testing before any IT application including the VCF is deployed, even if dates of initial operational capability are delayed. In future IT applications development, particularly of large-scale end-user-oriented applications, procurement contracts should be conditioned on the development of small-scale prototypes that can be built rapidly and tested with user feedback before committing to large-scale development.

    For IT applications beyond the VCF, the FBI should exploit proven methodologies of contracting and contract management, including the use of detailed functional specifications, specific milestones, frequent contract reviews, and earned-value metrics. In the area of human resources, the most important recommendations others are presented in the main text are the following:. In the short term, this effort will almost certainly involve borrowing experienced and capable contract managers from other agencies. In the long run, establishing its own internal IT expertise will involve the creation of long-term high-status career tracks with the FBI for IT personnel.

    The FBI should develop an improved system for internally reviewing the state of progress in key IT programs and for communicating relevant findings to key stakeholders, thus preempting the perceived need for and distraction of constant external investigations.

    Virtual Green Screen

    The committee believes that the FBI has made significant progress in some areas of its IT modernization efforts, such as the modernization of the computing hardware and baseline software and the deployment of its networking infrastructure. Some useful and valuable returns from the investment in the Trilogy program appear to be within reach. Nevertheless, the committee believes that a major effort is needed to bring the FBI to the state where it can be characterized as an effective exploiter of information technology.

    But it emphasizes the difference between a pro forma adoption of these recommendations and an adoption of these recommendations that is both fully embraced throughout the agency and aggressively executed. The former may be the metric that auditing and oversight agencies and offices often use in assessing agency performance, but it is the attitude and willingness of senior staff to act that really count. The senior management of the FBI has a substantive and direct role to play. This role either has not been understood or it has been given a lower priority based on the perception of more immediate operational priorities.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation FBI is in the process of developing a modern information technology IT system—the Trilogy program— that is designed to provide a high-speed network, modern workstations and software, and an application—the Virtual Case File VCF —to enhance the ability of agents to organize, access, and analyze information.

    Implementation of this system has encountered substantial difficulties, however, and has been the subject of much investigation and congressional concern. This report presents that review. The current status of four major aspects of the program—the enterprise architecture, system design, program management, and human resources—are discussed, and recommendations are presented to address the problems.

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