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Books - Book Review - Dungeons & Desktops - The History of Computer Role Playing Games


Dungeons & Desktops - The History of Computer Role Playing Games


History / Non-fiction / RPG

Released By / Year

A K Peters Ltd. / 2008

Book Review

Dungeons & Desktops chronicles the history of Computer Role-Playing Games from its inception in the 1970'ies until shortly before the book was first published in 2008.

Author Matt Barton gives a very thorough overview of the genre, including numerous sub-genres and goes through every game mentioned with a short review or general comment. These quick reviews are done from an objective point of view and the author's opinion is well integrated, in a way that doesn’t take focus.

This is a great book for anyone with an interest in RPG's or computer games in general. The book is well written and has a clear and concise language along with a casual writing style, which makes it an easy read from start to finish. Matt Barton's knowledge of the genre is convincing and quite impressive. There is a treasure trove of information here, both for those with a nostalgic mind and those who want to discover some long forgotten gems. While reading through the book from beginning to end, I wrote down a list of games that I wanted to check out in the future. In addition to having great memories resurface, the book is sure to please anyone who wants to check if they have missed anything of importance in this genre. Classics as well as several obscure titles I had never heard of get their space, side by side.

You can always discuss what genre boundaries exist for something to be called an RPG. The way Matt defines the genre boundaries and splits the time periods is sensible and provides a sound base for the games included in the book.

As an overview of a genre that has evolved, stagnated and evolved again over more than 30 years, this is the best work on this subject that I have yet discovered. There were passages of the book which I had little no interest in, like multiplayer online games (MMO’s) and the whole JRPG genre, which I have never played, but altogether there was a great amount of information here I enjoyed.

Ok, so deep down I questioned the inclusion of some action-focused games and wanted much more info on my personal favorites, but the point of the book is to give an overview of the genre and point the reader in directions that were unknown. And it does a tremendous job at that.

Most of the black and white screen shots included in the book don't quite have the impact they could have, since they are often too small or too dark to really enjoy. I guess the economy of publishing the book made it impossible to include color screen shots, but it would have been nice with at least some full page shots. It's a small niggle, and while this is a shame, it is still the text that matters and you can always find more information and screen shots on the Internet.

The book has been a nostalgic trip through time and made it clear how much I miss the golden age of RPG's, how focus has changed and how much the genre has evolved over the past decades.

Struggling to find a way to enter Kylearans Tower in The Bards Tale, spending hours creating the perfect party in the Might and Magic series, fighting strategic hour long battles in Champions of Krynn and many other SSI games, spinning the code wheel in The Bards Tale 3 for the umpteenth time, exploring the caverns of Ultima Underworld 2 to the sound of Manowar's Sign of the Hammer and Into Glory Ride, drawing detailed dungeon maps on sheets of cubic paper or roaming the living world of Ultima V for the next amazing discovery, are all glorious memories of a time of hard core RPG's that have been relegated to the annals of time and the back of my mind, in favor of more mainstream, user friendly and graphic intensive games. This book woke those memories and that has been half the pleasure of reading it.

Bottom line: This book comes very highly recommended. Excellent work.

On a sidenote, I checked around on the web to see what else Matt Barton has done and discovered the Armchair Arcade and Matt Chat, both great resources I'd recommend you to check out.

Written By Steen
Online: Wednesday, July 25, 2012