Revisiting yesterday's dungeons

Here’s a real blast from the past: the Dungeon Craft project, which aims to perfectly emulate the SSI “Gold Box” D&D games of the late 80s/early 90s. Judging by the screenshots, the graphics look a bit sharper but in general the look and feel is straight out of the original games.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s a cool project, and I always love to see people celebrating the great games of yesteryear. Many of those games are still as fun today as they were back then, despite outdated graphics. But I have to ask: are there really that many people interested in replaying the Gold Box games?

They were great RPGs back in the day—I spent a lot of time playing Pool of Radiance and Secret of the Silver Blades (and who could forget Curse of the Azure Bonds, with the memorably impractical chainmail armor depicted on its box cover?). But thinking back about those games, I’m really hard pressed to think of a way in which they were not completely surpassed, gameplay-wise, by later RPGs like Baldur’s Gate.

I recall the time last year that I sat down to replay, for the first time in well over a decade, the original Final Fantasy on the NES. That was my favorite game for the old Nintendo system and ever since encountering it in high school, I’ve kept it carefully placed on the pedestal of nostalgia as one of the greatest RPGs ever designed. But when I tried replaying it recently, I could scarcely go for five minutes before being overwhelmed by the tedium—endless, repetitive combats, over and over and over, just while traveling from one city to another. Somehow that was an acceptable part of the gaming experience when I was a kid, but these days… not so much. Revisiting classic games is most fun, I think, when the original game has never been built upon by succeeding generations of games—games in unusual genres or styles that were never replicated. But when a genre has been continually tweaked, evolved, and improved over the course of years, it’s sometimes rather painful to go back and try playing through the earliest iterations, no matter how nostalgic it feels.

That’s how I feel about the thought of reliving the SSI Gold Box games. They were a lot of fun back in the day. But would I want to sit down and replay an exact, unimproved recreation of one of them today? What do they have to offer that their grandchildren Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights can’t handily beat?

But hey, obviously somebody enjoys this, enough that they’re using Dungeon Craft to design their own Gold Box-style dungeon crawls. More power to them. (And I enjoyed Devil Whiskey, a modern recreation of the old Bard’s Tale games, so I’m not really one to complain.) Game on, then, wherever nostalgia may take you.

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