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Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  219 ratings  ·  33 reviews
Computer role-playing games (CRPGs) are a special genre of computer games that bring the tabletop role-playing experience of games such as Dungeons & Dragons to the computer screen. This genre includes classics such as Ultima and The Bard's Tale as well as more modern games such as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars. Written in an engaging style for both the computer game en ...more
Paperback, 456 pages
Published February 22nd 2008 by A K PETERS
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Average rating 3.65  · 
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Michael Scott
I bought Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-playing Games Kindle Edition by mistake. I wanted to read Dungeons and Dreamers and did not check the title while clicking ok on my Kindle. I was in for a good treat!

Matt Barton's monumental survey of Computer Role-Playing Games (CRPGs) is a significant improvement over the printed edition, covering almost twice as much material (and, thus, games). CRPGs are perhaps less known to the gamer audience, partly because they have been eclip
Sep 14, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A good survey of computer RPGs, though a few were missed, including my favorite, Demise. Screen shots are nearly pointless, small and greyscale. Actually 443 pages.
Jamie Belanger
Apr 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dungeons and Desktops is a great overview of computer role-playing games from the beginning of the era all the way to when the book was published in 2008. The research required for these summaries must have been staggering, although I'd guess it was fun "research" since the author actually played at least most of the games.

One thing the author does repeatedly that sometimes confused me is referring to games by their subtitles. For instance, he'll make a reference to "The Black Gate" instead of u
Ondrej Sykora
Mar 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: games, history
The book wants to be the history of computer role playing games (CRPGs), but it's only half-way there. Overall, the book is stuck somewhere between the possible ways how such a study could be performed:
- the book is not a academic/historical study and review of the genre: it contains a lot of personal opinions, judgments and biases of the author. Some of them are introduced as such (which is OK), others are not (and it's not OK for such a study). The descriptions of most of the games are quite s
William McDuff
What this book comes down to is a list of games. I think the first part of the book is the most useful, as the mainframe games of the 70s and the like are not well known, and it's good of the author to make a record of them before they get completely forgotten.

However, I didn't find the book particularly well written. It has an arrogant tone at times, defining the reader as someone who has most certainly read Lord of the Rings (nope, didn't get through the slow open of that), must be well aware
Joe Mirakian
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Let's get something straight: this is not a history book. This is two men gushing about their nostalgia for classic CRPGs through text. The claim that this contains "The History of Computer Roleplaying Games" is completely false; the text is littered with opinions presented as facts or simply the most widely held view, a lack of comprehensive coverage of many important parts of the CRPG industry after the turn of the century, lame jokes, and worst of all a heavy degree of arrogant PC elitism. Th ...more
Sep 15, 2013 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this history of the CRPG genre, especially the coverage of older games. Despite their rudimentary graphics and interfaces, some of the old games featured surprisingly sophisticated mechanics!

Also mentioned are quite a few games which, despite being good and innovative, didn't manage to achieve success in their time. They are waiting to be rediscovered, or at least mined for inspiration.

Here's a quote from the book describing a complex and deliberate game: "This game [...] takes players
Apr 20, 2013 rated it liked it
This book is great when it discusses trends, contrasts games, and looks beyond the superficial. Unfortunately, that only consists of about a third of this book. The rest is largely a listing of games with brief summaries of somewhat dubious value (although it did remind me of some great games I haven’t thought of for years, like The Summoning and Star Trail). These sorts of lists are a dime a dozen on the internet and Barton doesn’t bring any particular insight or wit to push this one above the ...more
Sep 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
About as comprehensive a treatise on how CRPGs developed as you're ever likely to find (aside perhaps from 2019's 'The CRPG Book'). Barton is clearly the heavy-hitter here when it comes to insider knowledge of game mechanics and developer backgrounds as a result of his truly excellent 'Matt Chat' Youtube channel, but Stacks brings plenty of flavour text to the mix in this updated edition. In fact, the two of them have a sort of 'Elminster and Volo' dynamic going with their back-and-forth banter ...more
Jul 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Can't remember where I got recommended this book from, probably a podcast, but it has sat on my shelf for a long time before I read it. Learnt quite a bit and picked up some good recommendations for games which I will likely end up playing. The author clearly knows his stuff, but reading through the plots of some early CRPGs melted my brain after a while... wizards, orbs, dragons... I think I would have enjoyed a history of CRPG design, instead of the history of the games themselves. A bit too r ...more
First parts on the very earliest CRPGs were actually fun to read, but then the book devolved into a giant listicle of sorts, kind of like "1001 RPG game to play before you die". I was also irked that it mentioned Faery Tale Adventure exactly once and promised to discuss it later only to forget about it completely.

The edition I read was from 2008 and it shows. Doom and gloom prophecies on how WoW and MMORPGs will dominate the market and there will be no more single-player RPGs are abound and were
Chris Aylott
Dec 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019-reads
Interesting survey of computer RPGs from the early days of mainframes to the then-current day of 2008. A little too US-centric and prone to getting lost in the weeds of minor titles, but a nice summary of industry trends and full of ideas that could potentially be revived for future games.
Anthony Alvarez
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
It was wonderful to revisit a bunch of games I played when I was younger. I can tell that Mr. Barton really loves computer role-playing games and this book is a wonderful testament to this genre.
Sep 03, 2015 rated it liked it
Come check out my Book Blog for more fun stuff and reviews!

I grew up in the early 80's. I was born in 82. And I grew up gaming on the PC.

One thing I love now, and I have loved since the day I played Betrayal at Krondor, are Computer RPGs. I cut my teeth on the likes of Baldurs Gate, Lands of Lore, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights. Curious about the games I might have missed growing up, I found this book and picked it up.

The early parts pre 2000 were very well done but after that the book sho
Mar 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Richard Oosse
Feb 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: video-games
Drop this down to 3 *'s if you're not a complete computer/D & D fanatic. What info is here is good but there's nothing BUT information here; the entire book is basically nothing but one long chronological list of computer role playing games listed by release date. For someone like myself who grew up playing each and every one of these games, this book was like a sentimental trip through my childhood and beyond. As Barton ticked off title by title, I could remember exactly where I was in my life ...more
Nov 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
An overview of the origins and development of computer RPGs (with a few sidesteps into the world of Japanese console RPGs), this book was a pretty fun read.

Part of that is due to my interest in and fondness of old computer games in general - I think someone who's never experienced any of the earlier games might wish Barton had been more systematic, since he basically does a capsule review of each game as he moves from past to present, which makes the coverage somewhat rambling (though he does a
Sep 29, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: video-game
Barton provides an incredibly detailed list of the many games fitting in the CRPG genre. It's an impressively exhaustive list, though a little tedious at times if you're not coming into the book with a reasonable acquaintance with the games at hand. The history he crafts is interesting enough, beginning with the proto-adventure games, leading into the mainframe Rogue-era, and the early pangs of the genre before seguing into long-lasting series such as Ultima and Wizardry, and finally concluding ...more
Davia Finch
Sep 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, videogames
Dungeons and Desktops is more of a survey of dozens of early CRPGs than a history. It is interesting to follow the development of CRPG game mechanics over the decades, and to read about games that I knew little or nothing about, but it would have been nice to see a little more 'behind the curtains' stuff. Overall, I enjoyed reading Barton's book, despite the occasional editing issue. If you're new to the genre, Dungeons and Desktops serves as an excellent primer, though it only covers up to the ...more
Oct 30, 2013 rated it liked it
This book reads like a wikipedia entry. Just the facts, a little bit of opinion, and not much else. if you're not interested in the history of CRPGs, pass.

On the other hand, if you're like me and grew up playing these games from the 80s and 90s, its a very nice stroll down memory lane. I have played way more of these games than I'd like to admit, and can now remember lots of fond moments from many of these games (a good number I had forgotten about). If you're a fan, this is definitely a decent
Shannon Appelcline
Jul 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, rpgs
The book does a very good job of extensively crawling through every major computer roleplaying game ever, with brief stops with MUDs and MMORPGs. It does a little less of a good job of actually being interesting. The dig-through-every-game bit tends to occasionally result in page after page of dross, which might have been useful in an encyclopedia, but not a historical book. The methodology also sometimes manages to obscure the first-movers by talking so much about everything else.
Grant Laird
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book, published in 20008 which is little older, a lot of happening since 7-8 years later. Very details on many older games, many of them, I did not have an opportunity to play when I was teenage. I got married and started family when I was 18 years old. I did play a few more CRPG over years and catch up a few games by now, but plenty games I may never get to play forever. Who knows.

Updated edition would be nice :)
John Carter McKnight
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
Don't buy this book. It's not much of a history, but rather a tedious, exhaustive catalog written in a deeply annoying, self-absorbed fanboyish style. Literally every game ever gets a page, with perhaps a page or so of analysis of trends per chapter.

If you really want a review of some obscure hack&slasher from 1987, look up the original reviews. Don't bother with this dead-tree doorstop.
Aug 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
While not always the greatest-written book, it's hard to argue with as thorough a review of CRPGs as this is. If you just want to hear about almost every CRPG since the dawn of time in some depth, this is the book for you. Just be aware that your enjoyment of the topic will be what carries you through some rougher patches. ...more
Jun 28, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2009
The content worked, but many of the screenshots were practically blobs of black (understandable in b/w since the games are often dark to start with), and, less acceptably, the copy editing was atrocious.
Asher Riley
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Interesting, engaging and very informative, "Dungeons And Desktops" is one the richest books ever written about the history of videogames. Anyone who has a passion for old-school RPGs will really cherish this book. ...more
Jan 22, 2016 rated it liked it
The first couple of chapters are the most interesting, aqs they uncovered what was to me a largely unknown era in CRPGs.
Later chapters are mostly dry and list-like, but encountering unknown games and some loooking at industry trends made it wirth reading (in small chunks).
Ben Turner
Jan 06, 2017 rated it liked it
part nostalgia, part education, a little dry in places and most of the pictures are lost to the black and white printing, but a good comprehensive coverage of a genre of game I grew up with, and like the author, have some concerns around the future of.
Feb 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
If I didn't derive some pleasure from reliving the days of my youth, this book would be unforgivably bad. The author badly, very badly, needed an editor. ...more
Timothy Schroeder
Aug 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book has more information on the history of CRPGs than I thought possible. For those that played most of these games it is fun to read about their place in the history.
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