As you may have already seen, this month’s Forum contains a letter from an irate Robert Gilmour on the matter of RPGs and home computers (particularly Spectrums). His claim is that RPGs, apart from not using such devices as joysticks, have a crucial social interaction aspect and far more complex rules, something that computer games inevitably lack. Mr Gilmour has missed the point of the argument by a long way.
Let’s deal with the similarity between Elite and Traveller first. Elite uses a two dimensional interstellar mapping system just as Traveller does. Its concept of only having one major world for each system is identical to the philosophy expressed all the way through Traveller’s rules (until Book 6 Scouts, which contains a revised and more detailed system generation procedure). Both games make use of Tech Levels, industrial and agricultural trade classifications (and indeed, the items listings bear a marked resemblance). World data is similar for both systems. The way starships expend fuel is identical in both games as is the concept of having Free Traders as player characters — the list goes on. Of course there are some differences. But to say that they are ‘nothing like’ each other is quite simply not true.
To be fair, Mr Gilmour’s main argument is that you cannot either fit an RPG onto a home computer system or have any of the best features of RPGs because computer gaming is primarily a solitary pursuit. But even so, it has taken D&D twelve years to develop into the game you see today. Just because you cannot fit all the rules for that game into your Spectrum, is it fair to dismiss Swords and Sorcery as a solo-RPG? The combat sequences for S&S are far more complex than those in Tunnels and Trolls and are more realistic.
The computer provides an excellent medium for solitaire role playing as S&S proves so well. While the computer RPGs are inherently weaker than their conventional alternatives in direct comparisons, they present a viable and satisfying experience for those who have neither the time, the money, or the players to explore anything else.
And now, onto another subject. As you will see from this month’s Frontline Forum, the response to the suggestion that Swords & Sorcery could be treated as much as a strategy game as anything else has been favourable. As a result, I’ll be looking at such games much more closely in the future. However, there’s another matter that I would like you to consider. One of the fastest growing areas of computer strategy gaming is the PBM phenomenon. Although such games do not run on home computers (in fact, owning a computer isn’t required at all), the games have intriguing plots, present incredible challenge to the players and have a social side to them as well.
I don’t see why a column for computer strategy games should necessarily stop at those available for the Spectrum when there are games available to people regardless of which actual machine they own. Obviously, Spectrum games should constitute the main part of the column and there’s no point in covering games for other machines. Nevertheless, PBM gaming is a fascinating area (as those who read John Minson’s piece last month, will have seen) that doesn’t receive much coverage in the computer press at present.
Of course, that’s just my opinion. I would like to hear yours. Should coverage of these games become part of Frontline? And if the answer to that question is ‘yes’, to what kind of extent should they be discussed? Please let me hear your views on this matter as the sooner I have an idea of what you want, the faster I can go about supplying it.
And finally... This month should have seen the conclusion of my look back at some golden oldies. However, I’ve decided to hold over part two for a couple of reasons. First of all, lots of interesting letters have arrived on my desk and secondly, the all powerful Graeme Kidd won’t give me any extra pages. So instead, we revisit Desert Rats and find that my prayers for a 128K strategy game have finally been answered — by CCS, no less. Read on...