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Below is a sample from my Extended Project Qualification paper in which I decided to explore whether Dungeons & Dragons was a good foundation for computer role-playing games and if staying true to it or moving further away brings better results.

Fallout (Interplay, 1997) is an important step in the legacy of CRPGs as, along with Baldur’s Gate (Interplay, 1998), it launched the popularity of the isometric style and set the standard that future CRPGs would be held up to, even now over 20 years later. Interplay continued to dominate the CRPG market, even acquiring the licence to make official Dungeons & Dragons games in 1994 (Cain, 2012); however, whilst many teams at Interplay got to work developing titles that would use the licence, another team began looking back at a different game for inspiration. Fallout began development with the intention of being a spiritual successor to Wasteland (Cain, 2012), bringing back the bleak post-apocalyptic setting that was still unique at the time, with even other pioneering Action Role-playing games like The Elder Scrolls: Arena (Bethesda, 1994) and Diablo (Blizzard, 1997) sticking to fantasy settings. This uniqueness was augmented by the addition of a 50s retro sci-fi aesthetic being added to the game, which gave the game a visual style that made it stand out from everything else at the time. Also inherited from Wasteland was its focus on narrative, freedom and consequence; this is also reflected in the game’s mechanics, with the most notable change being the return to focusing on a single character instead of a party. This change was made to reinforce the sense of isolation and loneliness of the wasteland that the player is thrown into. However, the player can acquire companions along the way, although they only assist the player in combat instead of being controlled by the player. Despite this, the help they provide now feels more impactful as the player initially must survive without them. Combat is again a variation of the turn-based system found in D&D; however, the game uses a system of Action Points (AP). Every action the player takes in combat uses up a certain amount of AP, this includes moving, attacking and reloading. The amount of action points that the player receives is determined by their Agility score. Combat is more like D&D than previous games but much simpler as the movement and action meters are not split up; though, this also gives the player more freedom as they can forgo moving in order to make more attacks. This also reflects the lesser importance of movement as ranged weaponry is far more common. Fallout also has a character creation system that is much closer to D&D. Like Wasteland it lacks race and class options but makes up for it by offering the most robust set of options seen yet. The game features seven ability scores to distribute points between with the major changes from D&D being the addition of Luck, and Wisdom being replaced by Perception. Fallout also includes an extensive list of skills that are affected by the ability scores; however, these can now also be individually increased by the player on a level up. The most unique aspect of Fallout’s character creation is the addition of Traits and Perks. Two optional Traits can be selected during character creation which aim to make characters more unique and fun by giving advantages with trade-offs, for example, one Trait called ‘Fast Shot’ lowers the AP cost for firing a weapon but also lowers the accuracy of the shot (Fallout Wiki, n.d.). On the other hand, Perks are unique buffs that the player chooses when levelling up and that can require certain ability scores, for example, ‘Awareness’ requires the player to have an Agility score of 5 and it allows you to see the equipment and health of your enemies in combat (Fallout Wiki, n.d.). These were both added with the goal of making the player’s choices in character creation and upon levelling up feel more impactful and unique even without having classes or races to pick from.

Not only did Fallout increase the complexity and depth of character creation, it also massively expanded on story and narrative complexity. Instead of just being thrown out into the world with the only goal being to explore and level up, the game begins with a short cutscene explaining that you have been living with other survivors sheltered in a secluded vault your whole life, but the vault’s water chip has broken, and it is now your job to venture out into the wasteland and find a replacement. This setup provides the basis for the game’s story that unfolds as you trace the breadcrumbs to find the chip you are after. Wasteland began experimenting with consequence by having each area permanently save any changes that you cause. However, Fallout takes this a step further by adding an ending slideshow that showcases the long-term effects of your choices on the various characters and locations you come across. Furthermore, the game features a fully-fledged dialog system that allows players to talk to most NPCs in the game by selecting different pre-determined dialog options for your character to say. This shift in focus demonstrates how CRPGs were starting to move away from replicating the moment-to-moment gameplay of D&D and instead making use of the fact that CRPGs are more suited to personal stories as the game is played by one person instead of a group. This means the story can be more focused on conversation and choices. Something, that would be highlighted a year later by the next major CRPG from Interplay, Baldur’s Gate.

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