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December 13th, 2006, 07:59
There's a mood…a sense the greater gaming public has embraced Oblivion as the new template for all future RPGs. Rules are out, simulations are in. But is it really the best path to better gameplay in future RPGs?
There has been an inexorable move toward action/RPGs for many years (in fact, the term is redundant – they’re almost all action/RPGs) but since the success of Oblivion, there’s a sense that the general player base has awakened and co-opted the genre — finally, they’re saying, RPGs have crawled out of their grognard past and caught up with modern gaming. Rules-based play is old-fashioned and out-moded; being the character on screen in a cinematic first-person action extravaganza is real roleplaying.
Read our latest Side Quest here — and don't forget to express your opinion.
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December 13th, 2006, 07:59
I've heard it argued, that action/rpg's are actually an oxymoron!! This would especially apply to PnP rpg's, though is a little harder to defend with computer/console based games. I tend to agree with the thrust of your argument Dhruin, so the question posed then, is WHY isn't this marriage being consumated? Why don't we see what you are proposing? Does it have to be one or the other because of cost factors and the rule of the marketplace? Why do games which strive for this ideal not succeed commercially to the same extent as say Diablo? Perhaps this compromise (if it's seen as such) leaves both sides of the debate somewhat dissatisfied!! I'll be interested to see where this discussion goes!!

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December 13th, 2006, 08:14
Well, I don't have a background of playing PnP games. I was the kid running around with the wooden sword and wooden shield. Not throwing the dice. After I entered High School in 1997 I almost only played RTS/Strategy games (Civ2,Red Alert, Age of Empires, etc). I only started playing RPG's when Morrowind came out. I guess, I got something like running around with a wooden sword and I was happy with it. The big difference was that the setting wasn't of my own making any more but made by the developers.
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December 13th, 2006, 11:13
Nice article Dhruin! The way I see it the heart of the matter is that a true RPG should be educational. A successful design should be able to convey characters and situations that are out of the ordinary and that we rarely or never experience in real life. The original Gothic comes to mind; it did an excellent job in exploring the feeling of helplessness of someone thrown into jail, for me that was the game's strongest point. In this respect, what makes a good RPG is no different than what makes a good novel or movie.

Take away this premise and any RPG quickly degenerates to a strategy or action game, according to whether it emphasizes rules or reflex. This is the reason that it takes more than skillful programming and spectacular artwork to create an RPG and this might be the reason that good RPGs are very rare (as are good movies or books).

In fact RPGs take this premise one step further. Not only do they allow experiencing of certain characters and situations, they also allow experimenting with them, thus raising the educational value to an unprecedented degree. What makes 'Silence of the Lambs' so popular if not for the fact that it allows any non-expert to get a glimpse into the criminal mind? Take the following dialogue for instance:

Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask: 'What is it in itself, what is its nature?' What does he do, this man you seek?
Clarice: He kills women.
Lecter: (scolding sharply) No, that is incidental. What is the first and principal thing he does, what needs does he serve by killing?
Clarice: Anger, umm, social acceptance, and umm, sexual frustrations…
Lecter: No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.
Clarice: No, we just…
Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don't your eyes seek out the things you want?

Even if they came out of the mouth of a psychopath, those words left me a bit wiser. Now imagine an RPG with the same setting; allowing you to play with a male as well as a female version of Clarice, various classes, different backgrounds, multiple dialogue options, different endings. The possibilities for exploring the psyches of your avatars seem limitless. Of course this presupposes that the respective material already exists in the game. Now this is exactly where the importance of rules and character generation lies.

Character creation should not be about different ways of killing things, it should be about creating different character types, allowing each avatar -and thus the player through her/him- to experience the game world from a different angle, thus effectively making for different game worlds.

Keeping in mind that all that most players really want when they sit in front of the screen is to equip an axe and start killing 'stuff', it seems that RPGs have a long way to go. In my opinion this is only natural considering this is a very young genre, one might say at its infancy. Pen&paper RPGs have the advantage that they involve real people. Hence it becomes simpler to explore their personalities since they are there in the first place! To transfer the illussion to a computer game is a challenge of a completely different order. But it does have the plus of allowing for the creation of unusual and out of the ordinary characters that we would not be able to 'meet' otherwise.

To conclude, let me say that we live in an age that most human relations are described as being superficial. RPGs might be one of the ways of bridging this gap by enabling us to better understand our fellow humans. Maybe not the best way, but then again, everything is relative.
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December 13th, 2006, 11:48
Nice how do you get psychopathic killers to enter a discussion like this? you do have a point though, it is interesting to explore the mind of people in an RPG and how it is affected by your different choices. It does appear a bit out of context though.

I want to reply to the fact about rules and action RPGS! First it is sad if Oblivion would become some kind of "example" of how a good RPG is done. Because all it has going for it is its graphics. I really hope this will not be the case.

But unfortunately I think this is a matter of money! BG1 / BG2 are by many considered to be great C-RPGS, yet they didn't even generate enough money to keep the people who made them hired! IMHO opinion Wizardry 8 is the greatest game, it has it's own brilliant rules… they did a lot of things right.. sirtech is gone. There are just too few people who buy these kind of games. Fallout series is another example.

Throw togheter a fairly simple action RPG, it requires a lot less development time and depth, you don't need to focus on balancing or implementing a lot of rules, and it'll sell better. This argument doesn't really work on NWN2 I know because it has faithful DND rules so they don't have to put that much time into balancing or making the rules good. But all the choicec and possibilities takes a lot of time, and creates many bugs. In an action RPG everything can be focused on making the pretty graphics ( which sells games these days ) instead!
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December 13th, 2006, 12:05
@GothicGothicness

I was just trying to make a point in what makes 'depth' by providing an example of a popular book.
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December 13th, 2006, 13:54
Empty choices make for hollow gameplay.
That exemplifies Oblivion *as a RPG* to me - I had great fun with it as an action game, but not really as a RPG. I had tremendous fun in NWN2 *as a RPG* - I loved watching my choices have impact in the world, with people and places. And I looked forward to watching the world change as a took a new character through who was different and made different choices …

My FPS nature gives me the twitch skills to take on action or turn-based combat - but what I want differs by genre. In strategy, I *really* want turn-based - I have played enough of the RTS genre to know that it holds little interest for me, yet that is where things are headed. For the RPG genre, I prefer turn-based, but am fine with action-based - but it depends on the role-playing and story elements. Too much focus is put on making 'the next Diablo' … or now 'the next Oblivion'. I want the next Divinity … or Bloodlines. I like the action - but want more than the Diablo-clones can offer. But I really want more turn based stuff. Yet everything is going for that visceral kill - for the small-scale, short-term tactics over the large scale strategy. And that is a pity.

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December 13th, 2006, 13:58
Lethal, you must have loved PS-T, it had all you envisage. Pity it wasn't more successful. One day I hope that team is able to revisit that setting and give us more!! Obsidian, the challenge is out there!!

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December 13th, 2006, 14:09
You need to write more and more often, Dhruin.
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December 13th, 2006, 16:20
First of all, thanks for the article, Dhruin. It’s always good to read something thought provoking about RPGs.

It seems to be the heart of the matter here is about expectations. As noted we all play these games for different reasons. Some people want to level up, some want to destroy everything, some want the loot, and some what to talk to every NPC and avoid combat all together. Along with this, some people want thought-out tactical battles, while others want quick, action-packed battles. And some people play as themselves, some play as a certain character, and others just play whatever is most powerful.

When a game comes along that meets our expectations we consider it great, and hail it as the RPG of year or something. If it fails to meet our expectations, then we cast aspersions on it and ridicule it (Oblivion comes to mind here. Am I the only one who gets tired of everyone ripping on this game?) I think we should play each game with a grain of salt, knowing that it probably won't do everything the way we want it to. Play the game for what it is and just enjoy it!
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December 13th, 2006, 16:26
Originally Posted by bpstrat View Post
(Oblivion comes to mind here. Am I the only one who gets tired of everyone ripping on this game?)
So long as reviewers hold it up on a pedestal as some sort of perfect holy grail of RPG excellence it will get ripped for being the imperfect action game with RPG elements that it is. Many of us who do so put many, many hours into it, and enjoy it for what it *is* - but hate to see people portray it as something else, or suggest that *all* games should be more like that (except for the level of completeness and polish … I think that*is* something all games can aspire to … )

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December 13th, 2006, 17:10
Might as well throw my 3 cents into the pile…

I personally have never done the PnP thing, mostly due to lack of availability at the time. But now as a 34 year old (or maybe 33, don't remember), I don't over analyze RPG's too much. I've always thought of RPG's (pc/console games) as good books with great stories into which I actually have input as to the progression along the line of the story.

I don't value say Oblivion over NWN2 over Gothic3 based on any adherence to any rules of any genre. I value them based on the story they create, and more importantly, how well they draw me into the story. Stats and level progression interests me a great deal as well, but I don't care which rule set the system stems from, if any at all. I like to feel that my character is progressing, the best way is through stat/gear improvements. What I DO hate is when the game puts the grind ahead of the story, to stay 'challenging' or something. When that happens and I notice myself getting annoyed with the progression difficulty, I have no qualms about cheating to get past whatever's annoying me. I pay to play and have fun, not be 'challenged'. If I want challenge all I have to do is step back into the real world.

I'm enjoying NWN2 right now, and I really love the depth/vastness of the game/story, and the fact that its staying interesting. I may not like the fact that everything feels extremely segmented (sections of the world/map), but everything else about the game is great enough that I don't care (didn't care about that in NWN1+ either).

There's pluses and minuses to every RPG out there, I don't think a perfect one exists, nor will one ever. As long as they continue making FUN games I'll be there.
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December 13th, 2006, 21:44
Originally Posted by Lethal Weapon View Post
Character creation should not be about different ways of killing things, it should be about creating different character types,
I instictively regard this as a very important sentence.

Modern games focus so much on fighting and killing, that "role playing" is nowadays / has become = fighting.

And I'm sure Publishers believe this. Becauxe they don't understand the genre. They only see what sells, and not understanding they perceive by (what's) selling, and that is killing in action games (which also includes RTS and FPS).
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December 13th, 2006, 21:48
Hannibal Lecter FTW ='.'=
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December 14th, 2006, 04:19
I can't respond to your editorial directly, because we disagree on two assumptions that underpin it: that a fantasy simulation has few rules, and that such a simulation requires you to roleplay as yourself. I agree with a great deal else, and I'll make most of my points with your words.

A computer simulation is a set of rules acting on data. The finer the granularity of the simulation, the more rules it has. With its RAI and advanced physics, Oblivion has many rules. You just don't see them. I think Matt has failed to articulate his real objection to the game, and that he actually resents NWN2 for exposing its rules to him and requiring him to learn how they interact. (Although he may believe that the combat system has too many.) He just wants to interact with NWN2's world and rules without playing the numbers game of DRs and SRs. Anyway, enough of him.

I like your intimidation example. A host of factors influence your real-life ability to intimidate someone: your clothing, cosmetic accessories like prison tattoos, your physical size, your gait and stance, your mannerisms, your voice, your words, as well as the other person's estimation of himself and his knowledge of you and your actions. Some of these factors result from in-the-moment decisions, some are fixed in the short term but still reversible like your appearance, and some are permanent facts, like your height and your past. NWN2 abstracts all of these factors into a single number. Oblivion ignores them. A fine-grained simulation could conceivably model them all.

In a game with such a high level of player control, you could imagine your character as a swaggering brute, you could play him as one, and the other characters would recognise and respond to him as one. You would be roleplaying with the game, not with yourself — not play-acting a ranger at your desk. The game would be managing a metric fuckton of rules, but you wouldn't need to know any more about them than "pirate hats are scary". And you would make plenty of big, permanent choices, but the game would write them into the memories of the NPCs, rather than your character sheet. Or both. As you say, one doesn't preclude the other.

Fable took the first, faltering step towards this ideal. Even if it fell flat on its face, since Molyneux didn't know what the hell he was doing, you could still see glimpses of a vision behind his raving nonsense. I think we'll make more progress toward it once the potential for improvements in graphics reaches its inevitable dead end, and advances in processing power outstrip our ability to spend it. Once everything is as shiny and articulated and deformable as it can possibly be, that only leaves AI.

Nice edit. Thanks for the read.
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December 14th, 2006, 06:57
Originally Posted by araczynski View Post
I personally have never done the PnP thing (…), but I don't care which rule set the system stems from, if any at all.
PnP and CRPGs (where the C stands both for 'computer' and 'console' - one might just as well call it VRPGs, with a V for 'video') have not much in common, at least not for me. Experiences are quite different, perhaps because of the aforementioned presence of the gamers. My behavior, however, tends to be the same no matter which type of RPG I'm playing… I'm not interested in killing things, and I'm not interested in being swamped with rules, either. The less visible (and easier to memorize in the case of PnP games) a set of rules is to me, the better, hence my preference for WEG's Star Wars RPG and Traveller (the rule of 8 rules ) when GMing. Stats-crunching? Get lost. For me, character development is not a matter of stats and numbers, thus VRPGing will never be 'real' roleplaying. Apart from that, I don't care about the genre of a game as long as it's immersive and entertaining - hybrids are very welcome, just like their non-mongrel brothers and sisters. I care more about story continuity (if there's more than one game) than game mechanics.

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December 14th, 2006, 16:45
Great article Dhruin
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December 14th, 2006, 19:15
But is looking glass Thief a RPG? Maybe it is. Maybe a real rpg is a Thief game in which you can act from the start as Garrett (thief), or as the boss-hero of hammerites (sect of steampunks), the boss-hero of pagans and so on. The game world is the same but you can play the game in different ways with different objectives, with differnt tactics, with a differnt story. Not 1 game but 3-4 games to play not only different starts and story endings. In this way you can see the big gameworld from different prospectives and have a real different role playing. The opposite of Gothic 3 because you start as a thief and can improve only thievery skills.

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December 15th, 2006, 09:05
There's some really interesting discussion here.
Abbaon makes a good point that a game's rules don't necessarily need to be exposed to the player in the form of statistics. As the RPG genre matures, I would prefer to see more of a move toward realism and away from statistics. In real life, if you do a favour for someone or offend a person, you don't have a number to tell you the exact effects of your actions. You have to gauge the effects of your actions by observing the person's behaviour toward you. Obviously, in a game, the numbers will still be there, but I find the world feels more natural if they are kept under the hood. The same can be applied to combat. At present, most rpgs employ a hit bar to show the damage inflicted on an opponent. A preferable way, imo, would be to get rid of the hit bar and instead have the game accurately reflect the damage onscreen, so that if a boar is attacking you and you hit it with your staff, it will limp, or stagger, or squeal and run away to show you how the blow affected it. A lot of hardcore RPGers cringe at the idea of taking out stats, but less stats doesn't necessarily mean less depth; it just means presenting information to the player in a more believable way.

On a related note, regarding rules, it would be nice to see them applied on a more global scale, not just to the player character, but also to factions within the game world. I'm so tired of the approach used by most RPGs: You're the Hero of destiny, only you can save the world, and everybody else just stands around and waits for you to interact with them. It would be nice to see more single player RPGs adopt a dynamic approach to game design, (ala space rangers 2) so that factions in the game world create alliances, go to war or take up projects independent of the actions of the player. You would, of course, have the ability to alter world events through your actions, but the world should still evolve even if you do nothing at all.
Programming NPCs to realistically respond to such changes would be almost impossible, so you would have to either sacrifice story and character interaction for unpredictability, or have major global events be scripted rather than handled by the AI. I would prefer the latter approach, since I think story and character depth are the most important elements in an RPG, and it would also be less of a programming nightmare. As long as the scripted approach still allows for a good amount of branching, I would generally prefer a dynamic world over the static model used by virtually all non-MMOGs. Sorry if I veered a little off topic here.
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December 15th, 2006, 10:37
I'm afraid there is a trap in computer games trying to accurately simulate real life. This is simply impossible. The most powerful computer on earth cannot make an accurate weather forecast; real phenomena are too complex to understand let alone simulate, there simply cannot be enough processing power for that. The best computer programs can do is to create simplified models of reality. Of course, as technology progresses, these models are becoming more and more accurate, but a game should 'accept' that it is just a game; although tech improvements are welcome, a game's main purpose lies elsewhere. This is the reason why a classic will always be playable and will be better than many -if not most- of its next gen successors. To put it simply: the race for better graphics will never end.
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