Sunday, June 14, 2009

KOTOR I & II revisted

With SWTOR in development what better time is there to revisit the experience that was ‘Knights of the Old Republic I & II”?   

 David Seaman – who runs his own PC gaming blog – is linking to ‘PC Gaming Forum’; and in turn we are linking with his own quality reviews of these Bioware/Star Wars classics. 

 David’s review of KOTOR I can be found here:

Further – his review of KOTOR II can be found at the URL below;

If you’ve already played KOTOR I&II – perhaps these reviews will encourage you to ‘dust off’ their old boxes an revisit your adventures.

And if you’re interested in SWTOR – but haven’t played the KOTOR series yet – then perhaps this will whet your appetite – to partake of the Star Wars universe – without having to wait until 2010 – or whenever SWTOR is published.

What follows is a 'run down' on the KOTOR series from David: 

With all the excitement caused by LucasArts announcing the development of Star Wars: The Old Republic, it’s sometimes easy to forget that this MMORPG was created due to the success of two other games; Knights of the Old Republic (known affectionately as KOTOR) and its sequel, KOTOR 2: The Sith Lords.   In the first game you played the role of a soldier who became a Jedi initiate, and who turned out to have an incredible secret.  I can still remember my amazement as I first saw the scene in which your player character’s part was revealed.  The first KOTOR game had one of the best storylines ever to grace a video game, and it remains a game that I and many others are very fond of.

As is the way with most sequels, KOTOR 2: The Sith Lords had a rather mixed reception.  Many criticised it for not adding much new to the game, though the first game was so good that more of the same didn’t seem a bad thing to me.  The storyline clearly wasn’t as good though and the fact that LucasArts rushed it to the shelves with a disappointing ending and a whole sub-story just completely missing didn’t impress fans.  Still, in general it was still a good game and very enjoyable, whether you played the Light Side or the Dark Side.  As sequels go it wasn’t at all bad.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the ending of KOTOR 2 is that is seemed to be leading to a plot-resolving third game.  From what I’ve read of SWTOR, the time period in which the game takes place is significantly different.  So are Bioware / LucasArts holding out for a third KOTOR game?  I certainly hope so...

Following on from that brief review - while you're at it - you may like to take a closer look at David's blog.  It contains an awful lot of 'retro' gaming material - that true enthusiasts will really appreciate.


nb:   If you're not interested in reliving the KOTOR experience then there's a lot of material on SWTOR below.   You're welcome to read, comment, speculate...  

And in the coming weeks we expect to 'broaden our horizons' beyond SWTOR.  It might not be everyone's idea of fun - but I'm curious about how 'The Sims 3' will turn out.

See you all around.  :-)

All the best,


NEW! SWTOR Interview at MMORPG

Over at MMORPG an exclusive interview with Lucas Arts Executive Producer Tom Nichols has been posted: providing a detailed consideration of what features players will enjoy in “Star Wars the Old Republic”. 

The interview focuses on the games immersive story-with greatly different (indeed unique) experiences for all classes.  All dialogue, meanwhile, will be ‘voiced over’: again providing deeper immersion.

Further, Nichols discusses the game's art-style: what they call 'stylized realism'.   Nichols contends that this style is "distinctive" and "unique" compared to other Star Wars games, and other MMOs.   Despite the complaints of some fans, my own impressions have been positive.

Interestingly, in the background there is a poster featuring what looks like an assassin droid. This leads one to wonder:  will assassin  or droid characters feature in the game?

Finally: Nichols reveals that “combat will be heroic”: and that the sense of heroic combat will be clear right from the beginning of the game; with each new character facing multiple opponents.  

Drop in and check the interview out.   For anyone interested in SWTOR it’s worthwhile.


Tristan Ewins

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Star Wars The Old Republic: Introducing ‘The Smuggler’

By Tristan Ewins

The Smuggler has been revealed as the latest class in the upcoming MMORPG, Star Wars the Old Republic. 

As the galaxy descends into war,entire star systems are brought to heel by the Sith and their allies. Smugglers – under the leadership of one ‘Hylo Visz’ have played a key role in response.  Moblising a motley armada of starships, smugglers restored Coruscant’s supply lines – breaking a Mandalorian blockade. 

While these Smugglers were hailed as heroes, though, they took little pleasure from the attention and accolades.  Hylo is supposed dead as a consequence of a dispute to the Hutts: but as the war continues, so too do opportunities for profit.

Basically, the smuggler is in some ways a ‘self-serving’ kind on character: always in search of credits, but determinedly guarding their freedom. Whether to preserve their freedom; or because of moral qualms, however, there are some smugglers who [refuse] “to work with slavers and…the Sith Empire”.  According to Bioware, Smugglers have also turned down work “when the clients have demanded too much control.”   To summarise, circumstances have driven smugglers to work for the Republic

Smugglers are known for their ‘notorious’ charisma, and they are often able to ‘talk themselves out of’ tricky situations
 “Whether sweet-talking an attractive alien or bargaining with a hardened criminal contact”: charisma is one of the smugglers’ most valuable assets.

The new class also features a variety of useful combat manoeuvres: from head shots and fast draw to a dynamic system of utilising cover.  It also looks as if Smugglers will enjoy use of rapid fire: in addition to a spectacular dodge ability.  Lacking heavy armour, the agility of the Smuggler will likely be one of his/her greatest assets.

While some may have questioned the capacitiy of Smugglers to ‘hold their own’ in a battle, therefore, the news coming from Bioware suggests that they will be far from helpless.

There are other issues pertaining to the Smuggler class, however, that have not yet been addressed by Bioware.

To begin with: what about stealth?  Will Smugglers receive a bonus to stealth, and will they enjoy other critical hits beyond the ‘head shot’.  (maybe a ‘called shot’?

Also: if the Smuggler is a ‘jack of all trades’: what other sorts of skills do they they enojoy a bonus in?   What of ‘opening [electronic] doors’; computers (including hacking); repair; spotting hidden; and laying and disarming traps?  

Further: what about a ‘gambling’ ability – with a special bonus for the Smuggler class?  Such options can add greatly to game depth and enjoyability.  While it would have to be controlled in order to prevent abuse, such skills would certainly be ‘in character’ for Smugglers.

And finally: as some fans have asked on Bioware’s community message boards: what about actual smuggling?  If ‘actual smuggling’ is included: how would it be implemented?  Could there be a ‘space travel’ mini-game?  Or perhaps there would be an automatic check to skill – with players being informed in advance whether or not they would succeed?  Perhaps it could be possible to hire pilots to run any blockade – in the event that they player is not yet of sufficient skill? 

The Smuggler class may demand more ‘nuanced’ gameplay: involving careful use of stealth, and ‘hit and run’ tactics.  If they turn out to be a true ‘jack-of-all-trades’, also, then they could be valuable for any party.

Hopefully there’s still much to be revealed about the Smuggler class.  And perhaps we’ll have the opportunity to view more streaming video on the class’s content and features over the coming weeks.  (as was the case with the Trooper class)

Smugglers don’t have the raw firepower and impregnable armour of the Trooper, or the state-of-the-art black market equipment of the Bounty Hunter.  But for those with a ‘Han Solo fantasy’ there should be much to command the player’s attention. 

Tristan Ewins

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Anticipating a best seller


By Tristan Ewins

Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) is perhaps the most anticipated Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMORPG) we’ve seen in years.  

Its developers entreat us:

“Explore an age thousands of years before the rise of Darth Vader when war between the Old Republic and the Sith Empire divides the galaxy.”


In brief, the background story is as follows:

After centuries of relative peace, the Sith have returned from ‘deep space’  Catching the Republic and the Jedi Order by surprise, the Sith sacked the republican capital of Coruscant. A disadvantageous treaty has been signed, and the Jedi have relocated their council their home-world of Typhon.  The galaxy is on a ‘knife-edge’: the peace treaty is fragile; and skirmishes are common.  It is into this arena that players will step.  Whether to support the Sith, or the Republic – or simply to serve themselves – that is the choice facing players.

Regardless of which choice they make, gamers around the world are in expectation of an expansive and deep role-playing experience. 

Developers, Bioware have proclaimed that whichever class players choose, the game will be story-driven: with unique storylines for each class, and moral challenges which affect story-line and character development.  

So far only two classes have been revealed at the official SWTOR website: the Trooper and Bounty Hunter classes.  But in an exclusive interview with Gamespot, the developers have confirmed another class: ‘the Smuggler’.

Ultimately, there are expected to be eight classes: two of which will most likely include the Jedi and the Sith.

Each class choice is expected to provide a distinctive experience. 


The Troopers are to be the Galactic Republic’s finest: elite soldiers with access to advanced heavy weaponry, grenades and “almost impenetrable armour”.   While based on the ‘clone troopers’ and ‘storm troopers’ of the Star Wars movies, the SWTOR Trooper class are ‘the best’: and are not to be underestimated. 

Streaming video at the SWTOR website also feature Troopers’ use of “sticky grenades”: which upon attaching themselves to an enemy, appear impossible to evade.

(Further: in breaking news from Bioware, Troopers are now expected to enjoy a range of "morale themed party buffs."   (a very important development with regards to game balance) Hopefully we'll hear more of this soon.)

And as with other classes, the Trooper class will confront tough moral quandaries in search of victory over a ruthless and callous foe.   Will they do whatever is necessary – achieve victory “at any cost”?   Or will they adhere to a moral code: but risk defeat?


The ‘Bounty Hunter’ class, meanwhile, is to provide a ‘shadier’ and possibly “morally-ambiguous” role-playing experience.  Bioware describes the class as “Hunter, seeker, Killer for hire”.   These men and women spend their lives “on the edge” – their life-paths leading to “a life of infamous glory… or to a quick and ignominious death.”    “Shifting allegiances, unbeatable odds, and deadly showdowns are common in the occurrences in the life of a Bounty Hunter.”  

Bounty Hunters also have access to state-of-the-art equipment from the ‘black market’: wrist rockets, flamers, heavy yet flexible armour. jetpacks.  For those wanting to play a “Boba Fett fantasy” this class will surely hold a strong allure.

Finally, there is the Smuggler class.  The Smuggler is set to appeal to those with “a Han Solo fantasy”.

 To date Smugglers have not formally featured as a class at the official SWTOR website.  But in an exclusive interview with Gamespot, we are given an ‘advance insight’ into this intriguing class choice.  Crucially, Dallas Dickinson reveals that:  

“The smuggler class utilizes a dynamic cover system in combat, which is also a first for the MMO space.”   

The ‘dynamic cover’ system includes ‘shooting from around corners’, and – because of superior initiative – shooting first. 

In addition to use of cover, the Smuggler is set to have powerful charismatic force, and is to make use of ‘quick thinking’.   Further, the Smuggler class provides the choice of whether to take sides “for patriotism” or for “simple profiteering.”  Possible missions could involve: “contraband, people, lost treasures” – enough for a fully immersive role-playing experience.


Hopefully the class will be more fully ‘fleshed out’ in the coming weeks.

Weapons, armour, and cover – what kind of choices will we have?

There are other issues, though, that face Bioware in developing this title: and we will consider some of them now.

The Smuggler class’s use of cover will be a critical aspect of the game.  Clearly developers are searching for ‘signature’ abilities which define each class.  But while use of cover could comprise a critical skill for Smugglers – surely such tactics should not be restricted to them only.

Assuming advanced training, surely Troopers should also be able to take advantage of cover.  This should be a 'feat' – available to all classes: but one in which certain classes (eg: the Smugglers, Troopers) enjoy bonuses in its acquisition and application. 

Use of cover – and related actions - might also involve tactical questions not yet explored in ‘developer dispatches’ from Bioware. 

While the Trooper’s armour may have a significant power to reflect, absorb or otherwise neutralise attacks which hit; dodge and evasion skills, and use of cover could prevent attacking from making contact in the first place.

And in addition to this, all players ought be able to lay on the ground: to minimise the area vulnerable to attack – and provide a smaller target. 

Such tactical choices could provide depth to the game-play experience: and a more satisfying and authentic gaming experience.

Availability of a wide range of grenade types could also provide greater tactical choice to the Trooper class – and possibly others capable of using such weaponry..  Already we have the ‘sticky’ high explosive grenades: but what of electronic grenades to short-circuit droids; or what about ‘flash’ grenades (blinding) or stun grenades?   Grenades hold potentially critical tactical importance -  as they may be able to overcome the enemy's use of cover - because of blast radius...

And for all classes there needs to be a wide variety of weapons - not just heavy weapons. 

 Pistols and light rifles could be less cumbersome – easier to use ‘from around corners’ (especially useful for Smugglers) – or to wield while laying on the ground.  Heavier weapons, meanwhile, might be more difficult to use from a position of cover. Some might even ‘overheat’ if over-used.    

 Heavy weapons might also have recoil (affecting accuracy depending on the players’ skill and strength); or because they are cumbersome may affect agility/dodge/stealth.  (But if so expect this to me ‘made up for’ by ‘packing an incredible punch!’)  Finally, sniper rifles might involve slow reloads, but may have no problem with overheating, while providing excellent criticals, accuracy and range.

 Armour type should also be of critical importance.  Some heavy armour should be cumbersome, incurring penalties to agility/dodge and stealth abilities.  Advanced (maybe experimental) armour may at least partly overcome this.   And maybe some light armour could include stealth functions. Some suits of power armour may boost strength and melee potency.  Some may enhance speed.  Others could absorb certain energy types. 

Importantly: whether for armour, or lightsabers, or other weapons: there needs to be maximum scope for customisation.  Think, here, of Mass Effect, and the Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) series: customised plates, scopes, crystals, ammunition, ad infinitum.  A great variety, here, is what I think players will want.

Other skills 

There are many other possible dimensions to the game also – that so far have not received much attention.   Let’s not underestimate skills such as stealth, dodge/evasion, healing, ranged and melee critical hits, and the influence of charisma and diplomacy... Smugglers, in particular, could specialise in some of these areas – increasing their appeal and versatility – even if use of cover is not their exclusive domain.  

 Other possible skills could include: disarming or laying down traps, opening electronic doors, and hacking into computer systems. 

 Perhaps there may even be scope to incorporate 'mini-games' associated with some of these skills – providing greater depth and variability of game-play.    Indeed: this could be but ‘the tip of the iceberg’.   


What about factions and moral choice?

Most modern MMORPGS today involve factional and/or political affiliation choices – and hopefully SWTOR will expand and improve on this.  The developers have trumpeted the core role of ethical choices for each player and each class.  Players will desire for this will be implemented in as credible manner as possible. 

 Some classes seem relatively ‘clear cut’ on the surface – such as the Trooper.  But even here – as recognised earlier – there will be morally ambiguous decisions to be made – where ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are not clear cut.  (eg: the use of physical threat to extract information from an enemy when there are many lives at stake)   

 Meanwhile: the Bounty Hunter and Smuggler classes should provide relative flexibility in terms of affiliations and allegiances.  Ultimately, some will ‘follow the flow of credits’.  Others may be won over by their ‘better angels’ – their consciences – to work only for the Republic –and fight against the Sith. 

 Depending on the storylines Bioware develops –even a Jedi might turn to darkness; or a Sith ‘to the light’.  (It has been done before – and thus shouldn’t be too surprising)

But assuming there are to be hard moral choices - what effect does this have on the game?   Assuming there is real flexibility in affiliation and advancement of the story line: how will this flexibility be handled?   The system of KOTOR I & II ought be reflected upon here.  In rewarding extremes of benign and malicious behaviour, moral ‘shades of grey’ were excluded.  

The difficulty is in allowing for ‘shades of grey’ while discouraging inconsistent, erratic and seemingly senseless changes of behaviour.  ‘Extremes’ ought not be rewarded on principle: but genuine ‘role-playing’ in the advancement of the story ought be rewarding in of itself.  This is an important issue for discussion: raising questions that Bioware ought address sooner rather than later.


Keeping them coming back for more…


Much has been said of the real choice offered to players: and the ‘unique’ gaming experiences that are being planned for each class.   That said, the developers must be aiming for an immersive gaming experience -  the sort that will keep players ‘coming back for more’.   

 Instead of subscribing for a month or two and ‘burning out’ – the developers will want to provide a product that provides satisfaction over ‘the long term.’  Unique class story lines are part of this challenge – but even ‘maxing out’ in one class, and finishing the storyline of one class – should at least take several months.  

Some have suggested a cap of ‘level 10’: others of “level 50”!    Most importantly, though - there needs to be plenty of scope for  multiple branching storylines with real options for character development; a gripping and evolving main story-line – where the world changes with the actions of the various player factions; and enjoyable and challenging PvP combat.

 Critically: Don't let it turn into another grind: ‘camping out for spawns’ with little story or substantial content.  (thankfully this doesn’t look likely)

Also importantly: the developers need to get the balance right with regard to character advancement.  There must always be another accomplishment 'within reach' - 'over the next horizon'.  And yet ‘levelling up’ - or gaining skills in between levels - needs to be a real achievement too.

A three hour gaming session ought be able to provide some kind of advancement in skills – at least at the lower and middle ranged levels.  And if advancement at higher levels is more challenging – how then to keep high level players involved?  What motivation will there be to keep them playing?    Hopefully all these issues will be addressed in the coming months… 


Star Wars: The Old Republic is a game of enormous promise.  Because it is likely to be in competition with ‘Star Trek Online’ and ‘Stargate Worlds’ – it will have to deliver to players on an ongoing basis to achieve the market share its publishers must be aiming for.    

Over the coming months we will be following the game’s development: commenting on breaking news as it arises through official channels, and in community forums. The formal announcement of the Jedi and Sith classes will be eagerly anticipated: and as the picture emerges – as to what the final product will be – we will be there.  

We encourage readers to consider the issues in this article: discuss them in various forums – including here in this blog.  It is to be hoped – with the feedback of ordinary gamers – that the developers will make SWTOR the great success we all wish it to be.  Economic gloom aside, 2009-2010 may yet emerge as a groundbreaking year for the genre.

Tristan Ewins 

June, 2009

NB: The author would be glad to answer any expressions of interest from anyone who would like to republish this article. Furthermore, he would welcome any offerings of casual work reviewing or previewing PC games from interested web-sites. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

A veteran computer gamer's odyssey

This is an account of the author's experience in computer gaming over the decades - with emphasis mostly on CRPGs....


 The early years

Computer gaming has been an interest of mine ever since I was a young child. This article is part-reminisence; part history - tracing the development of gaming culture over the decades.

My youthful experiences - in the 1980s - included playing Pac-man on some of the early Atari models, to playing the early instalations in the legendary Ultima, Wizardry and Bard's Tale Series on my beloved Apple //c. While the Ultima series was comprised mostly of two dimensional tiles, the early Bard's Tale and Wizardry titles involved a rudimentary grid-based first person view.

The graphics - by today's standards - could be described simplistic at best.

Over the years game designers sought continually to to extract more and more from the limited potential of Apple II and Commodore 64 personal computers. (Although I do not include, here, the IIGS)

Bard's Tale 3 'The Thief of Fate' - was perhaps the most impessive title to emerge for the Apple II- not long before the line was abandoned to concentrate instead on Apple's Macintosh series.

For its time, 'Bard's Tale 3' provided a sprawling game world, and devilish, maze-like dungeons. Given the extraordinary limits of the Apple // line of personal computers, the musical score of the Bard's Tale titles was lively and 'pleasantly catching.' It comprised the 'pinnacle' of what could be achieved with the limited 128 kB Apple // c frame.

Hand-held electronic games were also popular for the time. Popularity at school rested at lest partly on possession of such titles as 'Frogger', 'Scrambler', 'Burger Time', 'Donkey Kong' and others.

I even recall my mother staying up late at night: entranced by my Pacman hand--held electronic game. Even then, gaming was not 'just for the kids'.

Computer role-playing games, however, were always my favourite - and they still are.

At the time - of course - no one had even heard of 'Massively Multiplayer' games OR of the internet.

Some of my favourite memories of my youth include days I spent at my local libaray, playing the quiz game 'Millionwaire', wagering 5 1/4 inch floppy disks on who would be winner. Back then, amongst enthusiasts, there was a real sense of community.

Looking back, now, it is hard for younger gamers to envisage the joy which my friends and I knew - despite what today would seem to be rudimentary graphics and sound.

And while those of my generation may have 'moved on' in our expectations for modern day gaming, I personally enjoy occasionally reminiscing about 'a simpler age' - now so long ago.

into the 1990s

As 'time marched on' - into the 1990s - I found myself turning to the PC as the Apple //c 'passed into history'. The advent of VGA - and then SVGA - graphics while I was in secondary school - marked a milestone - and the quality of the gaming experience improved markedly also.

It was then, also, during this transitional phase - that the 'Gold Box' series of Dungeons and Dragons games set the standard. The ever-renewable D&D franchise would serve developers well for many years to come. Even within this series, the difference was marked between the original titles - which had been available on the //c - and those which made the most of the-then groundbreaking SVGA graphics.

To this point, also, Computer Roleplaying Games were mainly charcterised by 'turn based' rather than 'real time' combat. But the 1990s were to see a paradigm shift to 'pause and play' or 'real-time' combat.

Meanwhile, the later installations in the Ultima series boasted interactivity which - for the time - caused the series to 'stand out from the crowd'. I can still remember the 'buzz' I felt from making bread in Ultima VI: and even cooking it in an oven. Trivial by today's standards, such 'touches' added character to the Ultima franchise.

This was also the 'coming of age' of the real-time-strategy genre. Dune II, and 'Command and Conquer' in particular - set a basic template that was to be remodelled and improved upon - time after time.

The same might also be said of the first-person-shooters - which during the 1990s included such titles as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. These titles 'spread like wildfire in this the 'heyday' of 'shareware', and again provided a standard template which was later to be refined and expanded to include Player versus Player action.

The advent of multiplayer and online gaming - into the new Millenium

In good time first-person shooter gaming, as well as the real time strategy genre - were to evolve to the point where player versus player gaming became a lucrative 'sport'. Today, Quake 4, Starcraft, Warcraft III - and other titles - are played competitively - often with thousands of dollars at stake.

Into the late 1990s, the computer role-playing franchise expanded to provide for online, and massively multiplayer gaming. Ultima Online comprised one of those original titles: just as the internet was 'taking off'; but while broadband was still rare.

Ultima Online, in particular, was marked -originally by an uncontrolled 'Player versus Player' (PvP) element. This allowance for 'Player Killers' (PKs) greatly reduced the enjoyability of the game. Later developers were to learn from this - and provide 'PvP' under more controlled circumstances - often only with mutual consent.

Also the late 1990s saw the rise of such 'first person' titles as 'Everquest'. For some time the 'Everquest' franchise 'ruled supreme' - comprising the standard by which games of the genre were measured.

But come the mid '2000s' Blizzard's "World of Warcraft' (WoW) erupted onto the scene: providing new opportunities for (consensual) PvP combat, lush environments, rewarding multiplayer, and appealing animations.

WoW also struck 'the right balance' in instances of player death - with the resultant penalty not being so onerous as to seriously compromise gameplay.

World of Warcraft's beautifully-rendered animation - cartoon-like - with no pretense of realism - featured as one factor behind the game's appeal and longevity. This also might be seen as one factor behind Blizzard's eclipse of the 'Everquest II' title - which failed to capitalise on its forerunner's success.

Perhaps the only weakness of WoW - and other Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) - is the tendency for gameplay to be reduced to a 'grind''. There is only so much fun players can glean from 'camping out' for spawns.

Despite this, as of 2009 the World of Warcraft franchise continues to be enjoyed by millions of gamers: with two major expansions having been released: and possibly with more to come.

Opportunities for meaningful PvP is also important for many. Epic overarching storylines are also desirable: and comprised a central feature of Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) - perhaps the best MMORPG of 2007.

Most importantly - a player should never be lost for something to do. Hours of 'grinding' simply are not good enough.

Other recent competitors of WoW include 'Dungeons and Dragons Online', and "Warhammer Online'.

'Dungeons and Dragons Online' - in particular - encourages co-operative rather than solo gameplay. Such are the class designs that they complement each other.

Upcoming titles planned for release this year (2009) include 'The Old Republic' (based in the Star Wars universe) and 'Stargate Worlds'.

Amongst all this, Industry watchers are left to speculate as to who will one day usurp the 'WoW' crown. The challenge for MMORPG developers is to balance options for single and multiplayer co-operative play, while minimising the all-too-familar 'grind'.

Looking back: single player gaming - late 1990s to the present day...

The late 1990s and early '2000s' saw more breakthroughs in the depth and complexity of first person shooters, computer roleplaying games, and real-time strategy.

We will close, however, with a final consideration of the CRPG genre.

This period was marked especially by the 'Baldur's Gate' series; as well as the 'Icewind Dale' titles, and the masterful 'Planescape Torment'. Bioware's 'Infinity Engine' provided lush graphic backgrounds, accompanied by moving musical scores and deep, immersive and epic plotlines. Adaptable as ever, the Dungeons and Dragons franchise was brought to a new generation. Despite a massive fan base, though, the Infinity Engine line was abandoned before its time - and the much-awaited 'Baldur's Gate III' never emerged.

The 'Fallout' series, meanwhile, provided a gritty third person and turn-based gaming experience. Its post-apocalyptic themes developed such a solid following that - in 2008 - Fallout 3 was one of the most anticipated titles of the year.

Diablo I & Diablo II also emerged through this period - marking a new age of 'action RPGs': and heralding a new age of 'co-operative' online multiplayer gaming. The series is notable for its deeply atmospheric music, and for its dark and foreboding environments.

So popular - and resilient - has the series been, that even now - almost ten years since Diablo II, veteran gamers are eagerly awaiting the new instalment. Diablo III looks set to comprise one of the best-selling CRPG titles for 2009.

Other recent impressive titles include Elder Scrolls IV 'Oblivion', Bioware's 'Neverwinter Nights' series, the 'Knights of the Old Republic' (KOTOR) series.

Neverwinter Nights I & II provided a 'makeover' for the Dungeons and Dragons franchise - with expansive opportunities for user-created content and customisation.

'Oblivion', meanwhile, provided for an immersive world, with a plethora of individual characters - each with their own quirks, voice recorded dialogue, and routines. Oblivion's graphics were ground-breaking for the time - and have left industry watchers to speculate: what next for the Elder Scrolls franchise? Many suppose a new instalment will emerge in 2010.

Meanwhile, The 'Knights of the Old Republic' series, (also by Bioware), introduced players to a Star Wars universe set several thousand years before the subject-matter of the original Star Wars universe.

Finally, the KOTOR series (I&II) featured epic storylines; detailed character development system, immersive game play, weapon and armour customisation, and spectacular combat animations. Such elements comprise solid fundamentals which might be borrowed from in 'The Old Republic' when it is released some time in 2009-2010.

In conclusion

2009 is set to be a most interesting year. Aside from what we have considered already in this feature, there is a mass of titles in production - many for release this year.

Red Alert 3 was one of the best real-time strategy titles of 2008: offering challenging multiplayer combat, with innovative and often humorous story lines and units. 2009 will see another instalment in this series: 'Red Alert - Uprising'. Undoubtedly for some this expansion will find its way onto the 'must-have' list.

Mass Effect II, Dragon Age, Guild Wars II and Star Trek Online, meanwhile, will likely be amongst the most popular in their respective genres.

Twenty years ago virtually no-one could have foreseen the evolution of games genres and computer technology that has unfolded since.

Regardless - looking to the future - who knows what awaits?

Tristan Ewins, republished at 'PC Gaming Forum' May 2009

NB: The author would be glad to answer any expressions of interest from anyone who would like to republish this article. Furthermore, he would welcome any offerings of casual work reviewing or previewing PC games from interested web-sites.