Ian Livingstone is one of the most important figures in the videogame industry. He’s one of the founders of Games Workshop and was instrumental in distributing Dungeons & Dragons in Europe. Those two properties alone have been formative parts of PC games – think how many of them have D&D blood coursing through their design, or feature space marines fighting back an alien menace. But that was just the start of his career.
Livingstone and his friend Steve Jackson also created the Fighting Fantasy series, which mixed choose-your-own-adventure novels with dice rolls – adding an extra layer of roleplaying depth. Then, in 1993, Livingstone joined the board of videogame publisher Domark, right before it got acquired by Eidos Interactive. While working there as acquisition director he brought Eidos series such as Tomb Raider and Hitman.
Since leaving Eidos in 2013, he’s lobbied for the importance of the videogame industry to the UK government and, more recently, returned to his Fighting Fantasy series. He’s written a new book in the series, The Port of Peril, but has also started adapting some of the earlier books into videogames. The Hero of Deathtrap Dungeon is currently seeking funding on Fig. You’ll have 30 in-game days to find your way through the dungeon, overcoming each nefariously crafted deathtrap.
So, with all that in mind, we thought there would be no better person to review the biggest D&D games on PC than the man responsible for bringing it to Europe.
This ambitious game felt not like a module as much as an entire campaign brought to life on the computer. Boo & Minsc and the other characters gave it a real party feel. It had overland, underground, and city exploration, and instantly turned isometric games into a thing.
Read more: here’s Warren Spector reviewing Dishonored
Of course, isometric real-time + pause was a little too chaotic for a single player controlling an entire party. The LAN co-op play was really great. Not until the recent Divinity games has that feature returned in major PC RPGs.
Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment were sort of a one-two punch for D&D fans at the closing of the last millennia. Great storyline. Novel setting, based on Planescape. Hard to get into at first because there’s not much human anchoring – a floating burning skull, the Nameless One, drow, and the setting is intentionally kind of dark and ugly.
However, the richness of dialogue, character, and plot made for an unforgettable experience for those who stuck with it. The emphasis on knowledge / wisdom give experience, like many other parts of this title was also incredibly creative and out-of-the-box design.
Here D&D moved into true 3D and a new ruleset. Although the games were good – and got better as the series went on – the real star of the show here was the tooling that allowed fans to create and modify adventures. I hear there are still people creating mods today.
There is a lot to like and admire about these games based on Steve Jackson’s gamebook series. Inkle did an amazing design job and also added significantly to the content to make the experience truly epic.
The titles were a fresh take on our Fighting Fantasy format with a magic system and a novel combat system, yet still managed to retain much of the feel of the original Fighting Fantasy experience. I especially love all the full-colour maps by Mike Schley. Everybody likes a good map. And Mike’s were great!
Games Workshop Warhammer Games
I don’t think it would be right for me to comment on videogames based on content produced and owned by Games Workshop, the company I co-founded with Steve Jackson in 1975. No doubt they’re all great though…