The CRPG Family Tree

I‘ve been wanting to get more into CRPGs lately, and while looking for which one I wanted to start with, I noticed that there were certain names you’d see over and over again across different companies and franchises. So I decided to map the flow of sequels, developers, and companies over time:

[upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/e1YUYUG.png]

I also put together an alternate view that groups the games by developer. For me, it highlights just how unusual this genre is, with developers bouncing between franchises, and franchises jumping between development houses:

[upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/C8surUb.png]

A few notes:


  • 1. I started by including games that come highly recommended as the best CRPGs of all time. I left out a few big franchises like Divinity, Shadowrun, and Pathfinder, as even though they come highly recommended, they don't share any personnel “DNA” with the other games
  • 2. I generally avoided including sequels if they were the exact same company and creators as the previous game, or if they started branching away from being considered a traditional CRPG (apologies Fallout 3)
  • 3. While dozens or hundreds of people worked on some of these games, to avoid making the chart look like spaghetti I did my best to identify a single "creator" for each game (generally the lead designer/director). This was easier for some games than others (especially older games where titles hadn't really been formalized) and for some games I included a second person if they seemed equally involved.
  • Would love to get your feedback, as well as any recommendations for which one to start with!

    This is cool!

    I respectfully suggest swapping the order of _Torment_ (December 1999) and _Icewind Dale_ (June 2000) in your first tree if it's chronological. It seems accurate in the second one.

    Seeing the [SSI Gold Box games](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_Box) in here may highlight some very cool relationships in your chart too as they are very AD&D2 influenced in their design. They will have through lines into almost any of the Infinity Engine games. This may be out of scope for what you want to accomplish though.

    you could do a creator line from Vampire to Alpha Protocol

    As for recommendations:

    KOTOR and KOTOR II, ToEE, Vampire are all good imo. I like the shorter, more focused games personally. Not a big elf guy

    also aren't you the console true color person? Can you do Dreamcast some day, please?

    This is so cool. What application did you use to make this? I have tons of stupid use cases for a good flow charting app.

    Also -- pentiment is such a weird beautiful game. Tim Rogers used to (?)joke(?) that most video games are worse than books so people should just go read. Pentiment was the rare game that made me go "huh maybe this deserves to go on the shelf with my favorite books." It really makes me wonder if the obsidian team didn't want to make narratively ambitious games after New Vegas, or if they just didn't know how (maybe besides tyranny?).

    It's a darn shame the game [only exists](https://www.eurogamer.net/pentiment-wouldnt-have-been-possible-without-game-pass-says-obsidians-josh-sawyer) because of microsoft's expanding, purchased monopoly, but its existence (and brandon talking about stadia revenue sharing) have me trying to keep an open mind about the "pivot to streaming."

    As for the rest of the chart: for my money planescape torment is obviously head and shoulders above anything else on this chart (but I'm more about story and characters first, balanced mechanics second). It might be a tough entry point with combat that's as obtuse as baldur's gate but without the reward of being actually good (as baldur's gate appologists swear that game's combat is...).

    This is cool. Divinity‘s developers are working on the new Baldur’s Gate, so I'm sure there will be some DNA splicing in the future, though I have no idea if anyone from Bioware was brought back for it.

    Without giving thought to how it would mess up the diagrams, I feel like Origin, Looking Glass, and SSI should be represented.

    There's likely a whole fresh diagram one could make tracking the output of Warren Spector and those he worked with / mentored.

    @“antillese”#p99255 Is it wrong? I have Planescape above Icewind Dale in both I believe. But that‘s interesting about the Gold Box stuff, I’d actually never heard of it. I did think it was kind of odd that there‘s a 10 year gap between Wasteland and Fallout, and it’s cool to see what else came out in that time (I also fell down a rabbit hole and rediscovered some weird old DOS games I played as a kid).

    @"yeso"#p99276 Interesting, for Vampire + Alpha it looks like you're referring to Brian Mitsoda? I'd actually not seen him come up in my research, but I guess whether or not he gets credited for Alpha Protocol is a point of controversy. Interesting! And yes I did work on the color thing, I should revisit that and I'll definitely prioritize Dreamcast first!

    @"deepspacefine"#p99286 I used GraphViz to make the graph. I was a bit hesitant because it's code/command line based, and I assumed there'd be a simple visual editor to make something like this. But actually it's super simple, you literally just define nodes like `IceDale [label="Icewind Dale"];` and connect them like `IceDale -> IceDale2`. It does all the formatting for you which is awesome, though it takes some work to get things to appear where you want (for example, I would prefer if Troika appeared over Obsidian since it appeared first, but for some reason the algorithm decided it should go at the bottom. And I think Planescape is generally what I've heard is the best to start with? I'm a little scared it will feel dated at this point, which is actually what inspired me to make this graph. I was wondering what the modern successor was to Planescape, assuming it was Torment: Tides of Numenara, but then discovered that was a completely different team, and actually the most recent game lead by Chris Avellone was Alpha Protocol (though it also seems like he's had his hands in basically every one of these games).

    @"Tradegood"#p99287 Oh that's rad! That would definitely bring them in the fold I think, it's a sequel even if none of the original team is involved.

    @"rejj"#p99319 That's actually really interesting. I thought the level of inter-company movement seemed unusually high within the CRPG genre, but I wonder if the same is true for immersive sims?

    @“manalive”#p99328 Avellone was a writer on Torment: Tides of Numenara, even if he didn‘t seem to be the lead. It’s kinda the successor to Planescape: Torment. But we all know the real (&only) successor is Disco Elysium… (But that's a whole other team with its own can of worms rn)

    There is another thread in which some recommendations for CRPGs are given which might also serve as inspiration for figuring out which ones to get into? https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1382-wrpg-canon

    Planescape Torment is my favorite of these as well (for some more detailed thoughts see https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1382-wrpg-canon/35), but I gave up on Tides of Numenara after maybe 3-5 hours. Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for it when I tried to play it, but it definitely felt less interesting to me.

    spiderweb software branch just a straight line

    @“Syzygy”#p99355 I've never heard of this. Which does one start with, and where does one play it?

    I think they‘re all on gog, but Jeff Vogel and his company Spiderweb Software have been making very good indie CRPGs for nearly 30 years or so. They’re definitely worth checking out, but would probably look a bit uninteresting on this map haha

    Avernum: Escape From the Pit is probably the best entry point it's a remake of a remake of the first game from 1994

    @“deepspacefine”#p99358 the geneforge games are interesting mechanically

    Also might go without saying, and they probably aren‘t the best place to start, but there are a ton of CRPGs before Wasteland. Interplay was making the Bard’s Tale series which Wasteland shares a lot with. Wizardry, Ultima, and Might and Magic were all huge franchises that started in the 80s but were getting regular new games up until the late 90s and were huge influences on all of the games on that list. Early 90s games like Darklands and the Gold Box DnD and Buck Rogers games were also massive influences on basically everyone working in this space as well.

    A good place to look into those super old games that are probably more worth watching or reading about tham playing is https://crpgaddict.blogspot.com , a blog of someone who's been playing through every crpg ever released in chronological order and is now into the 90s, and Scorpia, one the first big video game critics, she specialized in CRPGs and reviewed them for much of the 80s and 90s and was very influential in her own right, even getting in game jabs and shoutouts in some of the series she was reviewing.

    @“sdate”#p99330 Painful weed?

    Worth mentioning in this thread is the CRPG book: https://crpgbook.wordpress.com/

    hardcover: https://www.bitmapbooks.co.uk/products/the-crpg-book-a-guide-to-computer-role-playing-games

    current PDF: https://crpgbook.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/crpg-book-expanded-edition_3.6a.pdf

    If you are looking at this thread/post significantly later than January, 2023 it is worth going to the book's website (first link above) to see if there is a newer edition of the PDF.

    https://crpgbook.files.wordpress.com/2022/01/preview3.jpg

    Frank and Kelsey have an episode of the Video Game History Hour on the topic, episode 34: https://gamehistory.org/ep-34-the-crpg-book/

    Digging this up to ask, has anyone / is anyone playing Baldur's Gate 3 at this point? Impressions?

    I played the first couple hours last summer, whichever release version that was. Was more bare-bones than I expected so shelved it until the full release. It looks more like a divinity game that it does the earlier BGs. That's a negative imo, not personally a fan of the divinity visual design