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Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games

3.8 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1568814117
ISBN-10: 1568814119
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Editorial Reviews


" phenomenal, first-class job. Dungeons and Desktops is so insightful and thorough, it is a must-read for all RPG fans, and every RPG designer. Don’t miss it!” -February 2008
""Dungeons & Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing games is an incredible tour-de-force of a recreational industry."" -The Midwest Book Review, April 2008
""In a Gamasutra holiday bonus feature extracted from his new 'Dungeons & Desktops' book, author Matt Barton looks at 'The Silver Age' of role-playing games, from Richard Garriott's Ultima I through Sir-Tech's Wizardry and beyond."" -www.gamasutra.com, May 2008
""...this is not a casual book - it's a very serious treatment of the genre ... Barton writes very well, as his language is neither pretentious nor dim-witted. He clearly loves his subject and does an excellent job of sharing his enthusiasm and insights with his readers. A real pleasure to read. "" -www.amazon.com - by Michael E. Strupp, May 2008
role-playing games have moved the traditional board game to the desktop, and includes a cast of popular games: while many books cover rules and playing, few provide the essential overall history of the genre's development and evolutionary process. DUNGEONS AND DESKTOPS: THE HISTORY OF COMPUTER ROLE-PLAYING GAMES surveys not only game development and milestones, but issues affecting the industry and playing computer role-playing games. From how players create and interact with characters to the ethics of good and evil in gameplaying, DUNGEONS AND DESKTOPS is an outstanding choice for any high school to college-level collection catering to computer gaming fans."" -California Bookwatch, August 2008
""This . . . is not a programming manual, although the content is just as useful to the budding games programmer. . . . Dungeons & Desktops is a good reference and insight into the thoughts and implementations―both successful and not so successful―of some of the biggest and most resilient game designers, creators and publishers."" -The Game Creators Newsletter , September 2008
Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-playing Games chronicles the rise and fall of the Computer RPG industry, from Akalabeth to Zelda and everything in between. While the bulk of the book is devoted to the genre's 'Golden Age' in the late '80s and early '90s, author Matt Barton explores the entire history of CRPGs, from their origins in the mid '70s to the very recent past. While not entirely comprehensive, the book covers not only the major players and award-winners, but also dozens of obscure 'also-ran' as well as notable games in related genres. ... [T]he book is well worth picking up if you're a fan of CRPGs or fantasy games in general. -Michael Fiegel, Slashdot, July 2008
Listen to an interview with Matt Barton on a Phoenix radio show about games. -ChatterBox Video Game Radio, September 2008
""Without doubt, gamers will appreciate the game comparisons and the enormous detail Barton offers (especially if they are familiar with the games in question), as well as the quotations from famous (worshipped?) game designers. 'Older' gamers―those in their thirties―will hugely enjoy the nostalgic trip on which Dungeons & Desktops takes them .... Scholars and gamers alike, who might be interested in reviewing/analysing/playing earlier games, especially for the first time, will find the book an absolutely invaluable resource for sorting through what would be most productive and/or enjoyable. Hardcore CRPGers, of course, will love the book through and through. ... [Barton's] love of games and gaming is made apparent throughout the text, a quality of his writing much appreciated, at least by this reader. His credibility as a gamer is, ultimately, unquestionable."" -Matthew S. S. Johnson, Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds , December 2008"

About the Author

Matt Barton is an assistant professor of English at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in writing and technology. He is the co-founder of Armchair Arcade, a website dedicated to classic videogames and computers, and a frequent contributor to Gamasutra.com and Adventure Classic Gaming.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 451 pages
  • Publisher: A K Peters/CRC Press (February 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568814119
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568814117
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,092,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Dungeons & Desktops is a comprehensive and thorough history of the Computer Role Playing Game genre. It's basically a more fleshed out version of the author's earlier four-part series on the Gamasutra website, maintaining the same format of dividing the games into different ages (Dark, Silver, Gold, Platinum) and devoting some time to each game, explaining key gameplay features, release information and sometimes the author's thoughts on the game's merits.

The book's greatest strength is in cataloging both well-known and obscure games in the genre and explaining how each was innovative in some way or representative of a trend in the genre. In this way, the book gives a fairly good outline of the history of this wide-ranging genre. Even hardcore fans of the genre may be surprised by some of the very early examples Barton was able to unearth. As the book moves into the more familiar modern age, it becomes less interesting in this regard.

Although the book covers an impressive number of titles, there were spots were I felt the writing was bogged down by the repetitive nature of looking at game after game, a result of being an expanded Web feature article. Although Barton pauses at times to discuss major trends, I thought this was inconsistent, and the bulk of the book reads like Mobygames summaries of dozens of games. At times, I wanted more about the people behind the games, and voices other than the author's to break up what amounted to a series of opinions on various games.

This isn't helped by some questionable choices in organization and selection.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wow! What a comprehensive book. The book consists of several sections covering the history of computer RPGs. It starts with the origins, and goes into the bronze age, silver age, early golden age, golden age and onward into the platinum age and the modern era.

The Dark Age concerns itself with the pre home computer works on university mainframes, progresses into the Bronze Age with titles like Apshai and Akalbeth. The Silver Age brings us Wizardry and the early Ultima's I to III. and so on.

The book gives reviews of hundreds of games across many platforms. Often accompanying with a screenshot. This is one of the books weaker moments. The screenshots (apart from a couple of colour slides in the middle) are black and.. black. They are very very dark, often to the point of useless. Some are not too bad to look at and you can make them out.

The book does have a comprehensive index at the back, letting you quickly look up your favourite titles.

On first getting the book, I scanned my favourites and they were all there. Some of the more obscure titles like Legends on the TI99 were not present.

Gamasutra featured several articles by the author, which gives you an insight into the books contents, of which they are greatly expanded opon.

Most games get several paragraphs but I would have liked to see a little more critical thought in the reviews, but understanding that early games often had the 'Kill the big Foozle' plot, makes things hard to expand opon after the first time.

More notable games get much bigger coverage, like the classic SSI Gold Box games (Pool of Radiance, Azure Bonds, Champions of Krynn etc).

The book ends with discussion on recent titles like Dungeons and Dragons Online, Guild Wars and its ilk.
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Format: Hardcover
Dungeons & Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing games is an incredible tour-de-force of a recreational industry. Chapters cover early tabletop wargames such as "Chainmail" and its precursors, to the pencil-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons game, to the very first computer role-playing games programmed into university mainframe computers (and often deleted by administrators, making many of the first RPGs forever lost to history!). The saga continues with early classics like Wizardry, The Bard's Tale, Ultima, and Pool of Radiance; the rise of casual-friendly action RPGs like Diablo; and the success of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) such as the wildly popular World of Warcraft. Console RPGs are also mentioned briefly, most notably trailblazer console RPGs such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. What sets Dungeons & Desktops apart is its in-depth discussion of literally dozens of early CRPGs, many more that even the most avid gamer has likely ever heard of. From two paragraphs to several pages are devoted to each CRPG title, giving a crystal clear picture of what playing the game was like (including its highlights, flaws, and bugs), its commercial success (or failure), and sometimes notes as to what its development team may be doing today. Black-and-white computer screenshots and a handful of color plates illustrate this "must-have" history and resource for CRPG aficionados everywhere. "My advice to anyone who really wants to learn the history of CRPGs is to start with the newer classics and gradually work backwards. It's still relatively easy, for instance, to find copies of Baldur's Gate or [Might & Magic VI: The] Mandate of Heaven and get them running on a modern PC... I would recommend skipping the early Windows 95 or Windows 3.1 games though - these can be excruciatingly difficult to get running even for emulation experts. If you a little further back, though, to the DOS era, things get much easier thanks to DOSBox." Highly recommended.
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