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May 26th, 2014, 22:25
The CRPG Analyzer: A checklist for computer roleplaying games


One of most discussed questions in computer roleplaying game forums is the question: “What is a CRPG?”
You can find a lot of different answers and opinions about this question all over the net. Some say “This question never gets old” other say “Please, don’t beat this dead horse again”
Because we belong to the former group about one year ago Wulf, Arhu and I started a discussion trying to identify the characterizing defining elements of the CRPG genre. Others joined us and over the course of one year we created a checklist that helps to understand why a game is labeled as a CRPG or not. This article describes our approach to the leading question and presents the results.
The easy answer:
A CRPG is a computer game that belongs to the CRPG genre: A class of games that allow you to role-play an in-game character. Leads directly to the following new questions when you try to decide whether a given game belongs to the CRPG genre or not:
  • What are the characterizing elements (=recurring patterns) of computer role-playing?
  • Which of these elements are essential, which are important and which are optional?
  • Which elements distinguish CRPGs from related genres like strategy games, adventure games shooters and simulation games?
  • Are there similarities to pen&paper role-playing games?
After some brainstorming we decided to cluster characterizing CRPG elements in four main categories: Character Development, Exploration, Story and Combat. The consensus is that the main categories Character development, Exploration and Story are essential for the CRPG genre and the main category Combat is common but optional.

Character Development
Describes ways to create, change or enhance your characters in order to increase their effectiveness in the game.

Exploration
Includes how you can move through the game world, as well as everything you can find, see, manipulate or interact with, like locations, items and other objects.

Story
Concerns all narrative elements like setting, lore, plot, characters, dialogue, quests, descriptions, storyline(s) and similar, including how you can interact with them.

Combat (optional)
Describes how combat(or more general: conflict resolving) corresponds with elements of Character Development, Exploration and Story.

To deal with the fact that the CRPG label changed a lot over time - from early dungeon crawlers to modern more story driven games - and not all elements are always implemented in all subgenres a second classification method was introduced for each main category:
The checklist distinguish between essential “Must Have” elements, important “Should Have” elements and optional “Nice to have” elements. With this trick we were able to create a very flexible checklist that covers all shades of CRPGs and can recognize even the so called hybrids (Deus Ex, Spellforce, XCom etc.).

The main problems that occur when you try to characterize the CRPG genre are:
  • Today a lot of games from other genres borrow some role playing elements as a selling factor
  • The CRPG genre evolved and changed a lot over time (and will continue to change)
  • The CRPG genre is overlapping naturally with some other genres; there are no clear cut borders to the Adventure, Shooter or Strategy genre for example.
  • As in other genres like Rock Music, Horror movies, Criminal Story books etc. the answers to the the question which elements are considered essential (=necessary), important or optional depend a lot on the people you ask. So a genre-checklist can only be a representative cross section of subjective opinions of a group of people that were interviewed or involved in the creation process.
After many discussions (even on other boards like the RPG Codex), many internet and book researches, testing against a lot of games, and juggling around with the elements a consensus was reached and after many iterations the following checklist was created:


The CRPG Analyzer (Version 1.00)

The three core categories Character Development, Exploration and Story that need to be applied and quantified to determine if an interactive computerized game can be labeled as a Computer Role Playing Game (hereafter referred to as CRPG) are listed to show the necessary component elements and qualifying factors.
Any proposed or purported CRPG must contain all three core categories and their essential necessary Must Have conditions fulfilled to achieve the (minimal) CRPG status.

These core categories must maintain some form of progressive nature that will improve from when the game starts and leads to a conclusive game ending.

Each core category and the auxiliary category Combat also have related Should Have conditions; the reviewer should make a comment if a Should Have condition is not fulfilled.

So we have these scenarios to reflect the broadness of the genre:
  • At least one Must Have condition is violated => the game is not a CRPG.
  • All Must Have conditions are fulfilled => the game is at least CRPG'ish or a CRPG light.
  • All Must Have and some Should Haves conditions are fulfilled => the game is a CRPG that needs to be further qualified with (subgenre) tags and/or reviewer comments.
  • If all necessary Must Have and all Should Have conditions are fulfilled there's no further discussion necessary => the game is a true CRPG.
Optional elements are listed in the Nice to Have (NtH) list. With it you get precise information which optional CRPG elements are implemented in the game. A general game info questionnaire is added too, to do some rating.


I. The Checklist:

Character Development
Describes ways to create, change or enhance your characters in order to increase their effectiveness in the game.
  • Must Have
    C1: you can control and role-play one (=Avatar) or more (=Party) unique characters (-> not only uniform units)
    C2: you can progressively develop your characters' stats and/or abilities (-> e.g. through an in game value (usually exp. points) gained by quests, exploration, conversation, combat, …)
    C3: Checks against character stats and/or character abilities/skills are necessary to make progress and finish the game
    C4: you can equip and enhance your characters with items you acquire
  • Should Have
    C5: you can create your characters
    C6: the player needs preplanning for the development of the character(s)
    C7: the primary means of problem solving, gameworld interaction and overcoming challenges is the tactical use of character/party skills/abilities (-> the player's physical coordination skills are secondary)

Exploration
Includes how you can move through the game world, as well as everything you can find, see, manipulate or interact with, like locations, items and other objects.
  • Must Have
    E1: your character(s) can interact with the gameworld and find new locations by exploring.
    E2: your character(s) can find items that can be collected in an inventory (-> there have to be more item types than quest items, weapons, ammunition and consumable stat boosters.)
    E3: your character(s) can find information sources (-> e.g. NPCs, entities, objects that provide info)
  • Should Have
    E4: there are NPCs in the game
    E5: you can choose a path (-> there is at least some branching)
    E6: your character(s) can manipulate the game world in some way (-> e.g. pull levers, push buttons, open chests, …)
    E7: the gameworld can affect your character(s) (-> e.g. weather, traps, closed doors, poisoned areas, …)
    E8: there are initially inaccessible areas in the gameworld that can only be reached by enhancing your characters' abilities, solving quests or puzzles (-> e.g. unlock locked areas, overcome obstacles, repair bridges, dispel barriers, …)

Story
Concerns all narrative elements like setting, lore, plot, characters, dialogue, quests, descriptions, storyline(s) and similar, including how you can interact with them.
  • Must Have
    S1: your character(s) can get information from information sources (-> e.g. hints, goals, quests, skills, spells, training, …)
    S2: your character(s) can follow quests (-> there is at least one main quest)
    S3: your character(s) can progress through connected events and play their role
  • Should Have
    S4: the story is influenced by your decisions and your characters' actions and stats/abilities/skills.
    S5: your character(s) can interact with information sources (-> e.g. NPC conversation, riddle statue question, …)
    S6: your character(s) can make choices in those interactions
    S7: at least some of these choices have consequences
    S8: advancing in the story requires thinking of the player (-> e.g. irreversible choices, moral dilemma, riddles, …)
Combat
Describes how combat (or more general: conflict resolving) corresponds with elements of Character Development, Exploration and Story.
  • Should Have
    F1: Combat efficiency is in some way tied to character stats or abilities (-> e.g. amount of damage, chance to hit, weapon access, …)
    F2: Combat works with some random elements (game internal dice rolls)
    F3: Combat should provide some challenge (-> e.g. preparing, use of tactics or environment possible)

Hints:
  • A game that fulfills conditions in the categories Character and Exploration but not in Story could be a Dungeon Crawler or a Rogue-Like.
  • A game that fulfills conditions in the categories Exploration and Story but not in Character could be an Adventure game, a Strategy game or a Shooter.
  • A game that fulfills conditions in the categories Character and Story but not in Exploration could be a Simulation game or a Linear CRPG.

Spoiler – II. (Informative) Tags

Spoiler – III. (Optional) Nice to Have: 115/115 = 100%

Spoiler – IV. (Informative) General Game Info


Explanations:
C1: you can control and role-play one (=Avatar) or more (=Party) unique characters (-> not only uniform units)
This is a necessary condition for roleplaying games. Contrary to pure strategy games your characters are named and unique and are not undistinguishable uniform units.

C2: you can progressively develop your characters' stats and/or abilities (-> e.g. through an in game value (usually exp. points) gained by quests, exploration, conversation, combat …)
Character progression is another necessary element. Some very rare games like Megatraveller features character progression only during the character creation process.

C3: Checks against character stats and/or character abilities/skills are necessary to make progress and finish the game
Checks against stats and skills levels during dialog combat and skill using etc. are essential and a typical feature of role playing games.

C4: you can equip and enhance your characters with items you acquire
This is another necessary condition that all CRPGs have to implement.
It would be theoretically possible to create a CRPG that doesn’t implement some kind of equipment, but I have yet to see one. The absence of equipment could be an indicator for an Adventure game. Adventure games feature often only an inventory for puzzle items.


C5: you can create your characters
This Should Have condition is important, but not necessary. Pre-created characters like in Gothic for example are quite common nowadays.

C6: the player needs preplanning for the development of the character(s)
This is another important Should Have condition that reflects the strategic aspect of character creation, progression and party mix planning.

C7: the primary means of problem solving, gameworld interaction and overcoming challenges is the tactical use of character/party skills/abilities (-> the player's physical coordination skills are secondary)
A game that doesn’t fulfill this condition is probably a more action oriented game or a shooter where the skills of the player are more important than the skills of the in-game characters.

E1: your character(s) can interact with the gameworld and find new locations by exploring.
This simple necessary condition excludes games that have no kind of exploration or gameworld interaction.

E2: your character(s) can find items that can be collected in an inventory (-> there have to be more item types than quest items, weapons, ammunition and consumable stat boosters.)
This condition is necessary to exclude Adventure games and pure Shooters. Theoretically someone could construct a CRPG without an inventory, but this would be a very rare and very special CRPG, so this is a Must Have element.

E3: your character(s) can find information sources (-> e.g. NPCs, entities, objects that provide info)
A CRPG without the chance to find any information source at all is not possible.

E4: there are NPCs in the game
This is only a Should Have condition, because especially early dungeon crawlers have often no NPCs in the game.

E5: you can choose a path (-> there is at least some branching)
You can create a linear CRPG, a “game on rails” with close to no exploring like Banner Saga, so this is only a Should Have condition.

E6: your character(s) can manipulate the game world in some way (-> e.g. pull levers, push buttons, open chests, …)
It is rare to find a CRPG without any gameworld manipulation, but possible.

E7: the gameworld can affect your character(s) (-> e.g. weather, traps, closed doors, poisoned areas, …)
Not all CRPGs can affect your characters with gameworld conditions, so this is only a Should Have element.

E8: there are initially inaccessible areas in the gameworld that can only be reached by enhancing your characters' abilities, solving quests or puzzles (-> e.g. unlock locked areas, overcome obstacles, repair bridges, dispel barriers, …)
Exploring should depend on your character abilities, too.

S1: your character(s) can get information from information sources (-> e.g. hints, goals, quests, skills, spells, training, …)
S1 is closely related to E3. After finding an information source you have to able to get information from there.

S2: your character(s) can follow quests (-> there is at least one main quest)
Does a CRPG exist without a quest at all? No, this would be a sandbox or simulation game.

S3: your character(s) can progress through connected events and play their role
At least in some ways the in-game character must be able to stay in his role when he encounters game events. Otherwise his chosen role would be meaningless.

S4: the story is influenced by your decisions and your characters' actions and stats/abilities/skills.
A two part Should Have condition. The second part is mandatory for pen&paper role-playing games; unfortunately we can’t demand it for computer role-playing games.

S5: your character(s) can interact with information sources (-> e.g. NPC conversation, riddle statue question, …)
Dialog/Interaction is mandatory for most modern CRPGs, but was not common in older Dungeon Crawlers, so this is only a Should Have condition.

S6: your character(s) can make choices in those interactions
Choices should be in a CRPG – not every CRPG features this.

S7: at least some of these choices have consequences
Consequences should be in a CRPG, too – not every CRPG features this.

S8: advancing in the story requires thinking of the player (-> e.g. irreversible choices, moral dilemma, riddles, …)
The player has to use his brain to advance through the story. Mindless Hack&Slay games or pure sandbox games in which every action is reversible are detected here.

F1: Combat efficiency is in some way tied to character stats or abilities (-> e.g. amount of damage, chance to hit, weapon access, …)
Combat that is not tied to stats and skills, indicates often a Shooter or a simple fighting game that relies only on the player’s twitch skills.

F2: Combat works with some random elements (game internal dice rolls)
Almost all CRPGs work with some kind of internal dice rolls or probability functions based on stats.

F3: Combat should provide some challenge (-> e.g. preparing, use of tactics or environment possible)
Another Should Have condition that reflects that in most CRPGs you have to use some kind of tactics to survive battles.



Bottom Line:
The checklist approach to check a game for CRPG elements works very well and is easy to execute. CRPGs, borderline games, hybrids and non-CRPGs are detected most of the time. The checklist can be useful as a first step when someone is writing a review for a CRPG.
If a user disagrees with one condition he can simply ignore it or change it from Must Have to Should Have and vice versa in his mind according to his tastes. So this solution is very flexible and user friendly. The checklist can certainly be enhanced even further, especially the part of optional elements - the Nice to Have List.
I hope this checklist encourages the discussion about gameplay elements of CRPGs that are necessary, important or simply fun!


Thanks go to all involved, especially Arhu & Wulf.
Have Fun – HiddenX
Attached Files
File Type: txt CRPG_Analyzer.txt (21.2 KB, 30 views)

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. - HL Mencken
Last edited by HiddenX; May 27th, 2014 at 11:02.
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