While numerous computer games and genres have been inspired by board games and books, ranging from chess to more complex strategy games and even J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy writings. The computer roleplaying game widely has its origins in pen-and-paper tabletop games, like Dungeons & Dragons.
By the late ’70s and early ’80s, Dungeons & Dragons had become a cultural phenomenon and heavily influenced the earliest computer games. Computer roleplaying games, CRPG’S, derive much of the terminology, settings and game mechanics from this classic tabletop game. Typical this includes a central character (or party) which the player assumes the role of and takes responsibility for its actions within the narrative.
The character typically has to be victorious by completing different quests while exploring the world, solving puzzles, and engaging in combat – All this while a game master (or dungeon master) controls all aspects of the game and its storyline.
From the earliest mainframe CRPG games to the huge success of the genre on personal computers up through the ’80s, the games had almost exclusively been limited to the small phosphorous screen – maybe with a little aid from notes or drawn-out maps.
The Star Saga adventure roleplaying series created by Masterplay in the late ’80s would turn this upside down and put almost the entire game back on the table and only using the computer as game master and for it to do the more tedious and cumbersome aspect of “bookkeeping” throughout the game.
Star Saga ended up as a series of two sci-fi adventure roleplaying games, set in a way distant future. The games were designed by the three college students, Rick Dutton, Walter Freitag, Michael Massimilla and co-creator of Wizardry (one of the first and best-selling series of CRPG’s for the personal computers), Andrew Greenberg.
In 1982 Dutton, Freitag, and Massimilla founded the Harvard Society for Interactive Literature – later shortened to, Society for Interactive Literature, or SIL. The group innovated a theatre-style form of role-playing game and in 1983 began organizing weekend-long game events called Rekon, which were played at the Boskone science fiction conventions held in Boston.
Just before the second Rekon, Massimilla, had an encounter with Greenberg, when they both competed in a bridge tournament. Massimilla introduced Greenberg to Dutton and Freitag, an encounter that eventually led to Greenberg attending Rekon-2 and sparked the idea to capture the experience in the form of a computer game. The four sat out to create a computer role-playing game inspired by the elements of Rekon.
In 1987, Massimilla moved to Florida, when his girlfriend started attending grad school in Tampa, Massimilla managed to drag the Greenbergs with him.
Massimilla incorporated Masterplay Publishing Corporation as a Florida company in 1987. Greenberg was put in as President and Massimilla as vice-president.
The Star Saga project soon grew and the four would end up making the game a trilogy and enlisted the assistance of two more; Sheila Greenberg, Andrew’s wife, who contributed with much of the text and humor, and Gerry Seixas, who edited the text into a slick and well-written sci-fi story.
Star Saga: One – Beyond the Boundary
In the first title, released in 1988, the players would leave their homeworlds setting out to explore the vast unknowns of space, travel between different planets to trade goods, acquire resources, improve their spacecraft’s capabilities, and progress through the game’s narrative – beyond the boundary of the nine homeworlds.
Star saga: One – Beyond the Boundary, the IBM/PC release from 1988. The game included 13 booklets with almost 900 passages of text, 6 token’s and a color fold-out map
Star Saga: Two – The Clathran Menace
In the second title and direct sequel, released in 1989, a gigantic armada of alien ships scours the galaxy, seeking to eliminate all life. The players must explore space uncovering technologies with which to oppose the eminent threat.
Star Saga: Two The Clathran Menace, the IBM/PC release from 1989. This title got even bigger than its predecessor, with 14 booklets
At the beginning of a game, one to six players would choose from six different character profiles. Each character has different background stories and motivating goals. These goals were intended to remain undisclosed to the other players and could only be completed by exploring and interacting with the game’s universe. You’d win the game when your character had completed its assigned goals.
All players would start out with a non-upgraded starship and then physically plot the desired moves on the included color fold-out map, and then enter the movements and other desired actions into the game master program, the software then determines the results, updates the character’s statistics and inventory, and directs the player to read one or more text passages from the accompanying booklets. Upon reading, the player discovers the consequences of his or her actions, as well as any new information to help narrate the fictional story. In some cases, the actual results of a turn will be quite different from those planned.
If the floppies weren’t present you would think this was a classic board game
While the large amount of reading would slow the gameplay down considerable, it did give a feeling of playing a true board game with far more social interaction than what a computer-only game would produce, much of its entertainment value came from the interaction between players, not between player and computer. And with a neutral game master that easily would keep track of all stats, the storyline, and inventory, the focus was on gameplay and interaction.
The game master software was text-only and could be consulted for information regarding your player. The text passages referred to, by the software, were broken into multiple booklets so players simultaneously could read from separate sources.
Over a number of turns, each player would slowly progress through the game, discovering the unlabelled planets on the map and uncovering the mysteries of the galaxy.
While the central game plot itself is somewhat linear, players are generally free to move back and forth between worlds, trade various goods as desired, and otherwise explore the game’s various sub-plots. Additionally, some elements were randomized between games, in order to increase the replay value.
Both Star Saga titles were released for the Apple II, IIgs, the IBM/PC and Tandy 1000.
While the Star Saga originall was meant to be a trilogy, poor sales had Masterplay selling the series to Cinemaware in 1990 and unfortunately, the third and final title never materialized.
The games were received with great reviews and praised not only for their unique and highly innovative approach to CRPG’s but also for being some of the most well-written and well-produced games of their times.