Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 14, 2011
I played through the first couple of levels of the first Eye of the Beholder game the other day (“research”). I’d only really played the second game in the series to completion, so it was fun to revisit the original (well, original AD&D-branded imitation of Dungeon Master, at least). Going through a couple of levels, I was struck by the simplicity of the game. Even compared to other RPGs of the era.
Strip out any economy. Gathering gold – typically a staple of D&D-based RPGs – is outta there.
Strip out NPC interaction outside of combat. Or any idea of “quests” (which hadn’t quite gelled as a regular feature of RPGs at the time anyway).
Story is paper-thin, without much more plotline or background than your run-of-the-mill roguelike.
The gameplay is really just three things:
#1 – Solving a maze. With lots of puzzle-like obstacles blocking your way, involving things like keys or other objects to be found, lever / pressure plate puzzles, teleporters, spin-tiles, figuring out solutions based on cryptic hints or riddles, illusionary walls, and so forth. Basically enhanced versions of the same fare we’d seen since Wizardry 1.
#2 – Real-time combat. With challenge being more in managing the real-time aspect than any kind of tactics.
#3 – Exploration – generally to get the clues / items you need to solve the maze (#1), or to make sure you got every piece of needed gear or food (or experience point) needed for #2.
It’s easy to see how those simple mechanics can get exhausted after a single game, let alone a series. And to a degree, they were. Yet going back and playing after a long hiatus from this style of game was fairly refreshing, and also compelling. Particularly when they mix the three activities above together, and let you build on those individual skills. Use those traps and doors to your advantage in mid-battle!
Though people who claim Diablo isn’t an RPG might be on thin ice defending the label for this game. Although EOB was based on the original dice-and-paper role-playing game rule system, it seems to me that Diablo incorporated more traditional RPG elements. (As an update – I don’t have a problem calling either one an RPG, though they both illustrate some of the breadth of the description).
Compared to this, many modern games (including my own) feel like a mess of subsystems. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s interesting to look at this game through the lens of a couple more decades of RPGs. Just like playing a game like Desktop Dungeons today, it’s interesting to see what can be done if you strip out some of the additional trappings of the genre and focus on really maxing out a few elements.
Simple and clean works. I should take my own advise. Someday.
I wonder what someone could do today with a similar focus, but two decades of more advanced technology? Could we get more three-dimensional puzzles? No doubt we could get more interesting combat. As I recall, Dungeon Master – the inspiration for Eye of the Beholder – had more interesting combat. Or at least spellcasting. Maybe with a decade and a half of hiatus, what was old may be new again, and some fresh ideas injected into a classic design.
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