The date was early June, and while searching on the Internet to find some gainful employment (unfortunately, the life of a professional writer also contains the occasional dry spell; I was in the middle of one of those), I came across a name I hadn’t heard in almost a decade.
Legend of the Red Dragon. Also known as “L.O.R.D.” Arguably one of the first multiplayer fantasy role-playing games ever made.
I have come to think of it as the grandfather of Diablo. I know that many would point to Rogue and Nethack, declaring them the proper ancestors. However, neither of those were multiplayer games in the way that L.O.R.D was.
The format was extremely simple and elegant. A small village is being terrorized by an evil creature known as the Red Dragon. The player enters the realm, creates a character of either sex who can be a fighter, wizard, or thief, and then wanders into the forest to pick fights (let’s just say that most of the game isn’t big on conversation). Along the way the hero gets to rescue maidens, level up, and buy powerful new types of weapons and armor. When a character reaches level 12, she or he can go after the Red Dragon, who is all too happy to shorten them by a foot or so off the top. All of this in glorious ASCII text!
Most of the elements of a game such as Diablo are present. No wonder I found myself addicted to it for about a week, trying to keep characters decimating the local wildlife in no fewer than nine separate games, and giving myself a mild form of multiple personality syndrome in the process (yes, my dear readers, you can still find and play L.O.R.D if you go looking; the place that I adventure is Acad’s BBS, and you can probably guess my character’s name).
But there is something truly special about L.O.R.D, and it all lies in the details. Besides a wonderfully quirky sense of humor (after all, who wouldn’t get a chuckle out of fighting the “headbanger of the west” in the forest), it has several aspects that one would expect to find in a massive multiplayer game such as EverQuest. Characters can seduce one another, marry, and even have children, although rarely in that order. Among the activities in the local inn are listening to a bard, and trying to bed the local barmaid. A collection of In Game Modules expand the realm, allowing a player to dig for gold, or even enter the Twilight Zone (from my own experience, I can assure you that there IS something gnawing on the aircraft wing).
However, what is truly outstanding is how it deals with player killers. So far, it is one of the only games that I have seen do it in such a way that getting hacked to pieces doesn’t disrupt gameplay.
If you want to kill somebody, you go into the “Slaughter Other Players” menu, select a player, and fight him/her. Since it is all turn based, and each character is allowed to adventure every day, if you have been player-killed the previous day, what you get is a message when you log on saying so. As long as you’ve deposited your money in the bank (where it earns interest, by the way), you barely lose anything but some experience. Want to avoid the player killers? Rent a room at the Inn and rest there (if a player killer wants to get you then, they have to pay an exorbitant bribe to the innkeeper). Even the player-killed have full health and all their equipment when they log on the next day.
Just imagine it…a game with all of these features, going back as far as the late eighties/early nineties. All quick and easy to play.
I think there is a lesson here for game designers. So many new games try to make things as complicated as possible, on the grounds that complexity adds quality. Flight simulators where a pilot license is almost required, role-playing games which are more complex than real life, and first person shooters that are anything but intuitive. At least Diablo and its sequel were on the ball; you can do almost everything in those games with a two-button mouse. Looking at L.O.R.D, which manages to be addictive and fun without even having graphics, one can clearly see that simplicity and elegance will win out over the complicated every time. Blizzard learned that lesson years ago, and I believe that it is finally catching on. God only knows it took long enough.
And it all goes back to Legend of the Red Dragon. L.O.R.D may not have the graphics or refinements of Diablo II or Icewind Dale, but like a classic movie, its age only adds to the charm.
Disclaimer: Garwulf’s Corner is written by Robert B. Marks and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of Diii.net.