‘Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar’ 1985
Having closed his original Ultima trilogy with the events seen in Exodus, Richard Garriott began to look at user feedback from those games, something he hadn’t done in the past due to California Pacific Computer and Sierra On-Line having a policy against forwarding their developers mail. Looking back over the Ultima games to date Garriott, who came from a Christian background, began to realise that acts of thievery and murder against innocent citizens of the fictional world he had created were easy exploits for the players or in some cases necessary to proceed in the game more often than he had previously thought without a moral subtext to justify the action. Wanting to improve the quality of his storytelling past the simplistic ‘work your way to and then kill final boss’ structure that was prevalent in games of the time and to add “ideas and symbols of meaning” to his games that would sit better with his own moral upbringing.
Garriott developed Ultima IV over the course of two years, doubling the production time on both the second and third instalments and made a Christmas deadline for release. Developed for the Apple II, this entry into the series saw release onto the NES and Sega Master System (the only time a Sega system would house the series) ushering in the concept of console gaming in the RPG market.
The game itself saw the player in the newly formed world of Britannia (so named because Lord British has unified the world under his noble rule and brought about an age of peace), searching for an understanding and mastery of the Eight Virtues. Learning these and living by their teachings in Britannia will earn the player access to artefacts and ultimately lead you into the Stygian Abyss to retrieve the Codes of Ultimate Wisdom. Embodying all eight principles correctly grants the player the status and title of Avatar. A character who would go on to be central to the on-going series. The Eight Virtue, Garriott’s answer to the perceived lack of morality in his earlier games, are based on the three principles of Courage, Love and Truth and function to guide the player approach in a unique method that encourages players to avoid fighting where possible, give money to beggars and even achieve enlightenment through meditation.
Toppling Wizardry from its mighty five year run in reader’s polls for best Adventure game, Ultima IV was praised for taking the genre in a new direction that avoided the hack and slash approach to storytelling that had come before. Though combat was still a major element of the game, the onus on the player to fight according to his or her beliefs and a moral system gave it a framework where it counted for more than strict level progression. Although Garriott attempted to produce both a direct sequel to IV and V simultaneously he eventually folded both concepts into Ultima V. In 2013, IGN placed Ultima IV at number 26 in its list of the top 100 RPGs of all time, whilst in 1996 Computing World Magazine ranked it the second best video game of any kind ever made.
‘Dragon Quest’ 1986
Also known as Dragon Warrior after being retitled for its western release (a name that would stick until 2005), Dragon Quest was the first true JRPG and to this day remains the undisputed king of the genre. Created by Yuji Horii and developed by Chunsoft for the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System or NES), the series was published by Enix up to their merger with Squaresoft, and continues to be published by Square Enix to this day.
Yuji Horii took inspiration from the massive success that both the Ultima and Wizardry series were enjoying in Japan, encountering Wizardry in person at a ‘Macworld Conference & Expo’. At the time it subtly influenced elements of his current project, a visual novel named ‘The Portopia Serial Murder Case’, but Horii was taken with Wizardry’s depth of play and visuals. Noting that games in the RPG genre were largely being produced in the West and that many remained western-exclusive, he decided to attempt to create his own foray into the genre. Although Horii personally enjoying the difficulty and statistical nature of Wizardry, an artist he was working with at the time names Koichi Nakamura pointed out that the general public were currently enjoying more simple and streamlined titles, citing the recent success of ‘Super Mario Brothers’ which enjoyed great depth from a simple control scheme and was easy to pick up and play, a factor that had also swung the gaming public toward consoles as a key gaming device. Making a transition from computer to console gaming would mean that a different approach to how the game would be made and the limited input of a controller over a keyboard needed to be taken into account. Horii agreed, and having at the time begun to play ‘Ultima III: Exodus’, decided to abandon a first person perspective for an over the head view. From that point onward the mandate for the title was to create a new kind of RPG that would not rely on the previously established links to pen and paper role playing and featured less of a difficulty curve. Storytelling would take president over statistical features due to the streamlining of many in-game systems for the console market and in order for players to best associate themselves with the hero the story would essentially be a coming of age tale.
A simple visual language was quickly implemented to the game in order that player understood their level of challenge. Monsters in one area would be of a different strength to those in another, which required that players crossed bridges to enter, therefore warning them of the danger. Levelling the player’s avatar would still be paramount, but rather than have levelling be a hard grind the curve was graded to that earlier levels came quickly and encouraged more gameplay, only slowing later when the rules of the game were firmly established. Memory constraints made multiple-character parties impossible at the time, leaving only a single player character for the series’ first outing, but that character could learn spells to help himself. Essentially an open-world environment, players would need to level to advance to delve through harder areas before finally facing off against the games’ final boss. Popular manga artist Akira Toriyama, who at the time was publishing ‘Dragon Ball’ was brought in to lend his unique style to the games visuals, with special attention lavished on monster design. Composer Koichi Sugiyama sought Enix out at the time, a well-known television composer he wanted to transition into games and Horii leapt at the chance to bring him onto the Dragon Quest project.
Gameplay used the NES’ d-pad to walk in four directions and is largely menu-driven with most actions being selected through lists of available options. The A and B buttons on the NES are mapped to confirm and cancel actions, allowing easy navigation at all times. Combat is turn based and from a first person perspective, with health and magic points increasing as the player levels. At pre-described levels the player will learn magical spells, which are key to surviving harder fights and some elements of exploration. In the original release a password system was used to save progress, and the player name (entered in Japanese kana upon starting a new game) had a direct impact on the statistical growth of the player character.
Initially sales of the game were so low that Enix began to lose money on Dragon Quest, however an advertising campaign through the magazine ‘Shonen Jump’ helped to increase sales, eventually going on to shift 2 million units. Release of an English language version saw some small tweaks to gameplay and the addition of a proper save system, although the title was shifted to Dragon Warrior in order to avoid licensing issues with DragonQuest, a pen and paper RPG available at the time. However a three year period had passed while the game was being localised and the title was a significantly less complex game than the current RPGs on the market, including new Ultima and Wizardry games. Nintendo, having assumed that the game would be as popular as their Mario title had ordered a huge stock of the game and became unable to shift it, instead opting to give a copy to every subscriber to Nintendo Power, their official magazine at the time. This placed Dragon Warrior into over 500,000 homes and secured the game as a success of the later titles of the series in the Western market, even if ultimately the first title hadn’t made the same number in real sales.
Enix would later remake Dragon Quest and bundle it with Dragon Quest II onto a single cart for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) to great acclaim and a Gameboy port of the joint title as well as a Satellaview edition were all greatly received. Recently the game has become available on Mobile phones and devices with touchscreen integration and has appeared on several anniversary collections for the series. The legacy of games under the Dragon Quest banner would go on to spawn 11 main-line titles and over 20 spinoff games, cementing itself as Japan’s most beloved RPG series.
‘Might and Magic Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum’ 1986
Designed almost single-handedly by Jon Van Caneghem over three years, Might and Magic initially struggled to find a publisher, forcing Caneghem to self-publish as New World Computing, handling distribution himself from his home until a distribution deal was eventually settled upon with Activision. This didn’t stop the title from achieving a level of success that brought it to the attention of the RPG playing community, and ports to different platforms such as the NES and the TurboGrafx-16 were promptly produced.
Set in the mythical world of Varn, which encouraged players to explore outdoor terrain, castles, caverns and underground cities as well as visit the Astral Plane, the game centres on six adventurers of the player’s own choosing as they search for the Inner Sanctum. This quest leads them on a hunt for missing villain Sheltem, who is masquerading as a king, and foiling his plans before jumping between worlds to a place known as Cron. Though primarily a fantasy tale, science fiction elements are included throughout the story in a manner similar to Ultima and Wizardry, with the team even investigating the site of a crashed space ship and encountering the aliens within.
Choosing from a pool of character types including Paladins, Archers and Robbers in addition to the more usual Knight, Cleric and Sorcerer roles, the game also offers up a choice between five races with each having a deep impact upon the stats of the characters in question. Male or female versions of each can be produced with the game taking sex into account for some traps (one city has all men take damage upon entry) and magic is split into Clerical and Sorcery spells with the daily spell casting mechanic seen in Dungeons and Dragons put to good effect. The whole world is presented as a single labyrinth that operates in a turn-based structure not unlike a RogueLike but without the randomly generated content. Viewed from the first person for exploration, the game switches to a text format for combat in most versions.
Whilst Might and Magic Book I borrows heavily from other games within the genre at the time, in particular the Bard’s Tale series, the scope of the world it encouraged players to explore was vast and complete freedom was given to explore it at your leisure. Interestingly the game has very little music of any kind bar a small tune on the opening screen. Might and Magic also put a greater emphasis than had been previously seen on the act of character creation, with race, alignment and gender all playing into the experience and stats of the party. The title is considered to be one of the defining examples of early PC role playing games, and one of the first games that can be categorised as a WRPG. A NES port was made that included greatly upgraded graphics and sound, however lost the ability to create your own party and came with its own glitch where light sources would only light up one area in a dungeon before being extinguished. An automap feature was included however to help players keep from getting lost. The PC Engine CD-ROM port of Might and Magic contained CD quality music and a fully voiced opening cinematic in addition to the upgraded graphics from the NES release, but only ever became available in Japan.
Joe Van Caneghem would go on to produce almost every entry into the rapidly growing series and keep a single running continuity between them until Ubisoft purchased the brand for 1.3 million U.S. Dollars and rebooted the franchise. At this time there are 10 games in the main-line series and multiple spinoff properties including the Heroes of Might and Magic series which has another 7 core entries and its own spinoff titles. In the Western market it’s entirely possible that Might and Magic has been the most successful RPG brand of all time.
‘Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna’ 1987
The fourth scenario in the popular Wizardry series introduced the most drastic changes from the trilogy that pre-dated it. Rather than continuing the adventures of an imported party that the player had needed to keep saved between titles in Wizardry I-III the Return of Werdna’s protagonist was in fact the evil wizard who had served as the antagonist of the original game and been imprisoned by the party.
This turn around saw the player begin the game at the bottom of a 10-level dungeon with Werdna’s powers heavily depleted after her defeat and in need of recovery. The initial goal that the game lays out for the player is to climb his or her way out of the dungeon to the world beyond, although every level of the dungeon contains at least one pentagram that can increase Werdna’s strength, summon monsters to aid you and refresh any health and spells that have been depleted along the way. Up to a maximum of three monsters can be summoned at any pentagram to help by joining the party. This costs nothing but existing monsters are totally replaced by new ones. An interesting addition to the game is that instead of battling monsters the player instead faces off against heroes from Wizardry I-III in random encounters. These were submitted by actual players who sent their discs to Sir-Tech at the time.
The Return of Werdna is considered to be an extremely difficult game to complete, with designer Roe R. Adama III stating that he’d pitched the game at the difficulty level of an expert player. Knowledge of the first game was considered to be vital for completion of this title and it is as unforgiving in terms of traps and monster encounter levels as the trilogy that pre-dated it. The main cause for concern however was that the game bravely ignored the concept of experience points for defeating enemies and instead chose to focus on Werdna becoming more powerful through pentagrams and party summoning. Hero parties would frequently contain mages capable of one-hit kills or area of effect spells to damage the full group, leaving combat to be an uphill struggle. Worse, thieves are capable of stealing items from your inventory that may be key to survival or game progression, rendering the game unwinnable.
As with previous titles, mapping out areas is vital to avoiding getting lost and the game does a great deal of things to try to throw the player into doing so incorrectly. Traps that spin, teleport and drop players into other floors are in an abundance in Wizardry IV. An early level contains a mine field with an invisible safe route through it to work out whilst another is a series of seemingly identical crossroads with spinning intersections. The most powerful puzzle that had many a fan of the series quit after a short period of play time was exiting the first room, which can only be done by revealing it with a light spell after recruiting a group of Priests to your side. The game gives no clues as to how to achieve this or to the fact there’s even a door there to look for. Players of the original game in the series will know what to do based on prior experiences however, and will recognise that the Priest’s spell ‘Milwa’ is one to cast light. Eventually in acknowledgement of this difficulty spike the developer packaged a sealed envelope in with the game containing the solution to this first puzzle, to be opened if the player became stuck.
At the time of Wizardry IV’s release, copyright protection was becoming a major issue in games. Wizardry’s answer to this was to ask the player for a code after the first level of the dungeon that was printed in red on red on the box to prevent photocopying. At the time it was a relatively well structured system as it effectively allowed illegal copies to act as demos of the full game.
Sadly, although the game was received favourably by critics it sold poorly in comparison to other titles in the series. Graphically and in terms of design the game was unchanged from the original title and the engine was beginning to look dated in comparison to other titles on the market. The Bard’s Tale had shown what else could be done with the same tech and Might and Magic was starting to make an impression, Wizardry was fast becoming outdated. The addition of the difficulty level and self-referential puzzles meant that many who picked up the game never finished it and word of mouth was not to buy it. Wizardry V, which was confirmed soon after the launch of IV, was going to have to raise the bar in order to allow the series to continue. Releasing just a year later it was considered an overhaul of the original series’ engine and a moderate success, but failed to live up to the new direction that the story had attempted to take, reverting to a traditional party-led tale that was a semi-sequel to Wizardry III.
‘Final Fantasy’ 1987
Hironobu Sakaguchi has gone on record to state that he’d petitioned to make an RPG for Square for quite some time before Dragon Quest was launched and proved enough of a hit in Japan that the company bosses would finally allow him the chance. It’s a matter of record that Square was in financial trouble at this stage and the title was changed from its original working name to Final Fantasy in the early stages of production to reflect that it may well be the last title the company would ever produce. Sakaguchi however states clearly that the abbreviation was always intended to be ‘FF’, which sounded good in Japanese.
Final Fantasy was developed by a core team of just 7 staff members from within Square at the time, and who would be referred to as the ‘A-Team’ internally. Sakaguchi was joined by fellow game designers Koichi Ishii and Akitoshi Kawazu (who was mainly responsible for the turn based battle system which was inspired by Wizardry) as well as freelance writer Kenji Terada providing scenarios based on ideas handed to him by Sakaguchi himself. Artist Yoshitaka Amano acted as character designer whilst Nobuo Uematsu composed music. Finally Nasir Gebelli was hired to code the game and later a B-Team was established with more members to aid development. Sakaguchi was considered something of an outsider within Square at this time and the lack of faith put into the title encouraged everybody working on it to up their game to show the world what they were capable of. Sakaguchi at one point took an in-development version of the game to a magazine which refused to review the title before its final release, and through careful arguing was able to up the total number of copies printed for shipment from 200,000 to 400,000. Enough to spawn a sequel if they sold.
Although similar to Dragon Quest in that it was built as a console exclusive RPG on the NES, Final Fantasy greatly refined the current identity of a console RPG into something more streamlined. The player was able to start the game by selecting their party of four characters from a selection of classes including Fighter, White, Black and Red Mages, a Black Belt and a Thief. These could be named and allowed the player to try different tactics and approaches to the game. Combat was viewed from a side-on perspective to incorporate the party dynamic and a slew of spells were made available for purchase with magic strictly limited to a growing total of spells available for casting at each strength level that evolved with the character. An elemental theme was also added to the game with water beating fire, and so on in order to add additional depth to encounters. Where the game significantly pushed boundaries however was in categories such as music and graphics, with the game coming together as a whole with careful direction throughout.
The initial story is very simple, with a world kept in balance by elemental Orbs that have gone dark causing the seas to rage and winds to howl. Four youthful Warriors of Light arrive in response to the summons of a king of Coneria to rescue his daughter Sara from the evil knight Garland, each of them carrying an orb that marks them out as destined heroes. However whilst most games would use this plot as their entire narrative, the game manages to surprise players by resolving the princess kidnapping before the title appears in-game and moves on to a story concerning the great dragon Bahamut (who evolves the party into new, more powerful job roles) and an ancient, timeless evil known as Chaos. Like Ultima before it the game indulges in some time travel and science fiction concepts to set it apart from other fantasies on the market, and although by today’s standards the story elements are quite light the inclusion of character dialogue, evolving quests and missions was a deep and fertile playground.
The game went on to sell 600,000 copies and a further 700,000 copies in America. Re-released onto multiple systems in a variety of remakes that include touch devices, Playstation Portable and the Gameboy Advance the title has sold over 1.99 million copies since its original release. Reviews at the time praised the games graphics and music. Final Fantasy would progress to become a series of stand-alone titles that would generate a rivalry with the Dragon Quest line that remains to this day, even in light of the merger between Square and Enix to form Square Enix. Sakaguchi would steer the course of the series personally through the first 10 installments before leaving to found Mistwalker Studios, with Final Fantasy IX set for release soon at the time of writing and over thirty spin-off titles from the series already on the market to date.
‘Phantasy Star’ 1987
With the Nintendo possessing both the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy franchises, budding rival Sega was keen to show that their console, the Master System was equally up to the task of handling RPGs, which were starting to gain popularity in the mainstream gaming market. Sega’s first in-house entry into the genre was Phantasy Star, which set out to be as different to its competition as possible whilst showcasing the strengths of its native platform.
Designed by Kotaro Hayashida and Miki Morimoto, the game used 4 megabits (512 Kilobytes) of ROM, which was several times as much memory seen in other Master System cartridges at the time. An additional five saved games could be saved onto this cart with a battery-backed RAM chip, pushing the game into almost legendary status for its specs even before its release. Yuji Naka (who would go on to become the head of Sonic Team) programmed the game, whilst Reiko Kodama provided character designs in her own unique style. The game features two very different soundtracks composed by Tokuhido Uwabo based on the region it is being played in due to the Yamaha YM2413 chip only being inside the Sega Mark III in the Japanese edition, allowing for a greater depth of music. Missing from the European and American releases the soundtrack had to be heavily edited to work without it.
Set in science fiction driven story as appose to the more common fantasy one seen in derivatives of Dungeons and Dragons and in vogue due to the success of Final Fantasy, the game takes place in a solar system consisting of three planets called Algol. The lush, leafy green world of Palma, the arid and barren Motavia and icy wasteland that is Dezoris all get adequate exploration time before the game has run its course and great effort has gone into differentiating the three worlds whilst linking them into the same universe. At the story’s opening Algol is ruled by King Lassic, who has begun to become a cruel and petty dictator after converting to a new religion. Pockets of rebellion against him have begun to emerge across the system after a string of harsh political announcements, but none of them are organised enough to pose a serious threat to his rule. When the leader of one such uprising is publically executed, his sister Alis swears that she will have revenge. In her shoes the player begins to travel and witness first-hand the cruelty of Lassic’s oppression. Eventually the story begins to become less of a revenge tale and focus on her role as ultimate liberator of the solar system as she meets and learns lessons from different people she encounters. Whilst putting a female character into the main role of an RPG had always been possible (especially in games where character creation was a necessity) it was uncommon at the time and Alis’ treatment throughout the game is never overtly sexualised, making her portrayal extremely well received.
Selling at the high price of 70 dollars at release, with some retailers adding additional charges to the games cost, Phantasy Star was the most expensive game ever produced at the time. To put this into perspective, when Sega reduced the price of the Master System console it was only 10 dollars more expensive than the game itself. Despite this the title was well received in multiple regions and became the first RPG to be released in Portuguese and Brazilian. Reviews at the time praised its depth of vision, soundtrack and graphical prowess. Today elements of Phantasy Star still look amazing, with smooth first person scrolling in dungeon segments that even contains animated turning for corners. Outside of dungeons an overhead angle similar to that seen in console RPGs on the NES was used to allow easy navigation of large towns and settlements.
Remade as part of the Sega Ages line-up on the Playstation 2 in 2003, the game has also seen inclusion in a number of Sega and Phantasy Star specific collections on various consoles including the Playstation 3 and PSP. In addition a port to the Gameboy Advance received mixed reviews. Today it is easily available via digital download on Steam and the Virtual Console. Phantasy Star was successful enough to spawn a 1989 sequel in Phantasy Star II on the Mega Drive (Genesis), which would gather three more sequels to form an ‘original’ series. Later spinoffs would include a selection of Action RPGs and the massively popular Phantasy Star Online series of MMORPGs. In 1996 the series was ranked 72nd in a list of best games of all time by Next Generation magazine and was inducted into the GameSpy Hall of Fame in 2000.
‘Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished’ 1987
Sometimes known as ‘Ys: The Vanished Omens’ and ‘The Ancient Land of Ys’, this title was originally developed for the PC-8801 by Masaya Hashimoto and Tomoyoshi Miyazaki for the Nihon Falcom corporation and remains their flagship franchise to this day.. An extremely early example of the Action RPG genre, it’s most notable for its unique combat system and direct chronology between titles that follow the red-headed hero Adol Christin on his adventures.
Interestingly, the first two titles in the Ys series (‘Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished – Omen’ and ‘Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter’) were initially developed to be one larger single game but the creators decided to split the game in half after a serious debate with Nihon Falcom concerning release dates and available memory space. They were later re-released together in an enhanced remake using CD-ROM, which also included better graphics, animated cutscenes and voice acting. Its English localisation was the first example of voice dubbing in the genre and the game was exceptionally well received by fans and critics alike. Ports of the original releases were released for the Master System, MS-DOS and the Apple IIGS however, and quickly the game found an audience upon its original release.
The plot of the game sees Adol arrive in a town called Minea in the kingdom of Esteria. There he is called upon by a fortune teller named Sara who informs him that a great evil is sweeping the land and only he can stop it by seeking out the 6 Books of Ys. These historical documents will give him the knowledge to allow him to defeat these forces of evil. Ys II picks up immediately after the point where Ys I ended, with Adol transported to the floating island of Ys where a woman named Lilia escorts him to Lance Village and he can begin to unravel the secrets of Ys that he’s learned.
The game plays entirely from a top-down perspective and the player can freely move Adol in any direction. Combat is handled in real-time using a unique system where the player runs Adol into an enemy from the side or behind, bumping them and dealing damage. Miss-timed or frontal collisions harm him, with the armour and weapons that have been equipped to Adol effecting the outcome. This system was designed primarily with accessibility in mind, as well as speed of play and compared to the turn-based combat favoured by RPGs of the time the game feels very quickly paced because of it. It also allows for all encounters to be visible on the field at all times and players to be able to pick and choose what fights they want to become involved in. Recharging health also plays a major factor in the game, previously seen in the title ‘Dragon Slayer’ and the ‘Hydlide’ series. Recharging health has since become a common aspect in non-RPG titles, in particular First Person Shooters.
Musically the title makes great strides in quality for video games of any genre, with many titles in this period featuring sparse or no music at all. The Ys soundtrack, composed by Yuzo Koshiro and Mieko Ishikawa is considered to be a masterpiece of the genre and one of the finest and most influential RPG scores of all time. It received the honour of being the first soundtrack available to purchase for purely listening purposes and has seen three subsequent re-releases since 1987.
Today the Ys series currently stands at eight official entries with multiple spinoff titles (including a short-lived online title). The original game and its sequel are still being re-mastered and re-released to this day, with the PSP edition seeing a complete visual remastering of the pair and a Steam release adding even more tweaks to the games. A prequel, ‘Ys: Origin’ was released in 2006 that deals with many events that are later tackled in the original titles and marks the only game in the series to not feature Adol as the protagonist. Elements such as the Darm Tower (a major plot point in Ys I) would go on to become a linking fabric for every game in the series.
The jump from desktop computers to consoles would have a major impact on the RPG genre, with established elements that had been recurring themes in every game to that point being re-assessed or redesigned to better fit the change of platform. The advantage of a controller quickly pressed their way into reassessing how games could move and feel, with four directional movement made more fluid and games being designed to keep the total number of buttons used lower than the previous keyboard-friendly titles had done. Mapping a spell to each key was now impossible, so menus and quick-fire buttons were established in their place, making gameplay more natural in its rhythm. These changes in turn fed back into desktop gaming, improving it greatly.
Story and Music were beginning to be placed closer to the foreground of games and seen as a draw for audiences. Titles such as Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star created large worlds that were explored through narrative-driven means, whilst Ultima began to bring complex systems of morality and heighten player involvement by introducing the freedom to do what you want but law-like codes that needed to be followed in order to win. Graphical prowess has also become a major selling point, with games such as Phantasy Star retailing at greater price than had ever been seen and still making a huge profit.
More frequently games in this period are shifting from solo endeavours to small teams who work collaboratively in defined roles in order to communally increase the products worth. Where are before a great coder may not have been the best graphic artist or scenario writer, now that burden is being carried by other professionals.
Slowly a divide is beginning to occur between games produced in the West and those in Japan that would later go on to become the foundation of the J and WRPG sub-genres, although any titles are still straddling the line between both. The RPG genre can be seen in this small period to have exploded from a relatively niche part of the wider gaming community into a mainstream phenomenon.