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Default Age of Decadence - RPG Sub-Genres

February 5th, 2008, 06:24
Vince from Iron Tower has followed up his earlier 'What is an RPG?' piece with an article on sub-genres. While the introduction is careful to point out this is purely his personal interpretation, it proves to me how difficult (and possibly pointless?) this excercise is. Let's take a quote on action/RPGs:
Action RPGs - games that offer nothing but fast, real-time combat. You kill monsters, collect items, level up, kill bigger and badder monsters, collect better loot. Rinse and repeat. Nothing distracts you from killing, looting, and levelling. Silly things like story and characters won't get in the way of your action. Choices mean "which item compliments this build more". The goal is to make an ultimate killing machine in the chosen class, capable of cutting through anything the game throws at you like a hot knife through butter, achieving the prized "IT'S OVER NINE THOUSAND!" power status.
Contrary to popular beliefs, the concept of killing things in real-time as the main attraction isn't a novelty, but a 25-year old veteran. Two biggest events are Gauntlet, an arcade 1985 game, and Diablo, a 1996 game that started the clone war mentioned in Star Wars. Condor Games pitched the idea of "Gauntlet with better graphics" to Blizzard and although the idea was laughable, Blizzard decided to give this craziness a shot, bought Condor and renamed it into Blizzard North. The idea was laughable because in 1992-96 huge behemoths like Darklands, Star Trail, and Daggerfall ruled the RPG world offering so much more to players. Ironically, the dinosaurs died, sticking with the the evolution program, and were replaced by waves of Diablo clones: Nox, Darkstone, Revenant, Lionheart, Space Hack, Harbinger, Blade & Sword, an army of Dungeon Siege games, Sacred, Fate, Loki, Silverfall, Restricted Area, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, Titan Quest, that outstandingly horrible MageKnight game, Space Siege, Rise of the Argonauts, Mythos, and circle-completing Hellgate.
Diablo 2 still remains the king of the genre, offering brilliant and unmatched design.
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February 5th, 2008, 06:24
Quite a nice summing up of the various points that distinguish one rpg from another.

…finally mastering such a game will give you more satisfaction than beating Heavenly Sword in a day.
Have to agree with that conclusion— difficult games are far more satisfying, whether it's your preference to wade through trap-infested dungeons, die and reload your way through a tactical rpg, or strive to pinpoint the one flaw in your otherwise perfect build that keeps you from finishing act 3—it's the sense of accomplishment that you get when you've outwitted the worst nastiness the devs can dream up that makes it worth it.

And I have every hope of seeing some truly challenging nastiness in AoD.

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February 5th, 2008, 06:43
Yeah, while I tend to agree with much of what he says, he's certainly setting himself up as a target once AoD is released!!

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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February 5th, 2008, 09:37
Originally Posted by Corwin View Post
Yeah, while I tend to agree with much of what he says, he's certainly setting himself up as a target once AoD is released!!
Of what I know of VDweller, I don't think he'd talk like that if he didn't know what he's doing…

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February 5th, 2008, 10:35
Seems to me there's a lot of overlap between some of these categories, in particular the "story-driven" and the "classic" varieties. MotB, Bloodlines, The Witcher, and BG could be filed just as well in either box IMO (as indeed Vince does with MotB). OTOH Fallout clearly doesn't belong in the "story-driven" box, so perhaps the division is justified.
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February 5th, 2008, 13:24
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
Seems to me there's a lot of overlap between some of these categories, in particular the "story-driven" and the "classic" varieties. MotB, Bloodlines, The Witcher, and BG could be filed just as well in either box IMO (as indeed Vince does with MotB). OTOH Fallout clearly doesn't belong in the "story-driven" box, so perhaps the division is justified.
I think there is going to naturally be *tremendous* overlap … I mean, look at Divine Divinity - clearly action-RPG, but with massive dungeon crawls, loads of story and character development and so on. That is fine - more is better

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February 5th, 2008, 15:38
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
Seems to me there's a lot of overlap between some of these categories, in particular the "story-driven" and the "classic" varieties. MotB, Bloodlines, The Witcher, and BG could be filed just as well in either box IMO (as indeed Vince does with MotB).
Not sure if The Witcher belongs in the "classic" category. It's too story-driven (read "too restrictive") to be a "choices & consequences" game. BG definitely doesn't belong there as there are no meaningful choices there at all. In BG2 you are given an option to side with the thieves or the vampires, much like in NWN2 you can side with the thieves or the city watch, but the rest of those games are as linear as adventure games.

Originally Posted by txa1265
I think there is going to naturally be *tremendous* overlap … I mean, look at Divine Divinity - clearly action-RPG, but with massive dungeon crawls, loads of story and character development and so on. That is fine - more is better.
I disagree. Any RPG has some kind of story, dungeons, etc. Overall, DD is an action RPG with loads of quests.
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February 5th, 2008, 15:53
Originally Posted by VDweller View Post
In BG2 you are given an option to side with the thieves or the vampires, much like in NWN2 you can side with the thieves or the city watch, but the rest of those games are as linear as adventure games.
The sahuagin city? The underdark? You can go straight, double or triple cross there… There are some other quests as well.
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February 5th, 2008, 16:07
Originally Posted by VDweller View Post
Not sure if The Witcher belongs in the "classic" category. It's too story-driven (read "too restrictive") to be a "choices & consequences" game. BG definitely doesn't belong there as there are no meaningful choices there at all. In BG2 you are given an option to side with the thieves or the vampires, much like in NWN2 you can side with the thieves or the city watch, but the rest of those games are as linear as adventure games.
You think The Witcher is more story-driven/restrictive than Bloodlines? Why?
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February 5th, 2008, 16:23
Originally Posted by VDweller View Post
I disagree. Any RPG has some kind of story, dungeons, etc. Overall, DD is an action RPG with loads of quests.
I don't disagree - I was merely saying that it is much easier to see category overlap than it is to see absolute distinction.

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February 5th, 2008, 16:59
Originally Posted by KazikluBey View Post
The sahuagin city? The underdark? You can go straight, double or triple cross there… There are some other quests as well.
Bio design: do exactly the same things, usually in exactly the same way (you progress by killing things in BG2; there are no class-specific solutions), then talk to the questgivers and decide what answer to give them. One may say that Bio games let you role-play different personalities, but the way I look at it, if I were to replay BG2, I would follow exactly the same path and will do exactly the same things but will be able to pick different, but meaningless dialogue options.

In the Sahuagin City:

You can't leave until you kill the king or the prince. So instead of an interesting situation it turns into "which NPC I kill to get out of here". Regardless of your choices you still get ambushed in the middle of the city, still have to fight your way to the prince, even if you agree to negotiate, still have to fight in the end to leave the city.

From a walkthrough:

"You are brought before their King, who soon enough asks you whether you are the surfacers of prophecy. It doesn't matter what you say as they think the same thing of you in any case. Accept their challenge to fight one of their slaves.

The King wishes the Rebels to be exterminated, while the priestess who sponsored you wishes them to be negotiated with. Agree to the King's demands to bring back the heart of the Rebel Prince to him.

Don't worry about killing the rebels on the way there, they're insignificant. (i.e. even if you decide to side with the rebels and have that "I'm a rebel sympathizer" orb, you still have to fight your way through to the prince)"

Etc.
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February 5th, 2008, 17:09
Two biggest events are Gauntlet, an arcade 1985 game, and Diablo, a 1996 game that started the clone war mentioned in Star Wars.
I don't understand this sentence. A game started the Clone Wars ???

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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February 5th, 2008, 17:14
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
You think The Witcher is more story-driven/restrictive than Bloodlines? Why?
The Witcher: You need to get into the city. The only way is through that Reverend character who wants you to do things for 3 people: kill 2 plants for one, kill ghouls for the other, and kill drowners for the third. Once that's done, you kill the bandits who now appear in the village, then deal with the witch, then kill the beast and only then you can enter the city. Then you get arrested, thrown to jail and the only way out is to kill another beast.

Bloodlines at less restrictive and lets you do things in different ways. Playing the Witcher you feel like you're playing a book. A good book, granted, but a book nonetheless. In Bloodlines you are just trying to survive and find your place in the vampires world. I mean, what is the story?
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February 5th, 2008, 17:17
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
I don't understand this sentence. A game started the Clone Wars ???
Aside from Doom, is there another game whose name is so often invoked regarding 'clones'? We still constantly say 'Diablo clones' when talking about action-RPG's, even if it is D2 we're talking about.

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February 5th, 2008, 17:19
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
I don't understand this sentence. A game started the Clone Wars ???
It's a joke. A reference to the army of clones Diablo unleashed on the unsuspecting gaming public.
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February 5th, 2008, 17:22
Interesting article. Thanks for the link!

I don't agree with everything he says — or rather, I think it's more useful to see game genres as a system of check-boxes rather than an "it's a roguelike, it's a story-driven, it's an action RPG" selection. That said, he did admit as such in his opening, and I think that as a way of opening discussion, it's a fantastic start.
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February 5th, 2008, 17:52
Originally Posted by VDweller View Post
The Witcher: You need to get into the city. The only way is through that Reverend character who wants you to do things for 3 people: kill 2 plants for one, kill ghouls for the other, and kill drowners for the third. Once that's done, you kill the bandits who now appear in the village, then deal with the witch, then kill the beast and only then you can enter the city. Then you get arrested, thrown to jail and the only way out is to kill another beast.

Bloodlines at less restrictive and lets you do things in different ways. Playing the Witcher you feel like you're playing a book. A good book, granted, but a book nonetheless. In Bloodlines you are just trying to survive and find your place in the vampires world. I mean, what is the story?
I thought Bloodlines was pretty tight in the story department — it all revolved around that sarcophagus everyone was after. It had boxed-in "chapters" with set mission goals that you had to solve in order to progress; there were frequent choke points where you were funneled through specific events or locations in a specific order, even if sometimes (but not always) you had some choice with regards to tactics.

Examples: "get the explosives," "sort out the ghost," "blow up the warehouse," "check out the sarcophagus on the ship," "check out the museum" etc. etc. Linear, pre-scripted quests that you had no choice about accepting or not accepting, and with predetermined outcomes: if you succeed, you continue the game, if you fail, you die (or reload).

Yup, Witcher felt like a book, but Bloodlines felt like a TV series. A very *good* TV series, to be sure, but IMO it was as story-driven as they come.
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February 5th, 2008, 17:58
It was a linear game, that's for sure, but not every linear game is story-driven.

The way I see it, story-driven games focus on the story. They are more interested in telling a good story and forcing you to play a cool character (Baalspawn, Geralt, Revan, the spirit-eater, etc), than in letting you do what *you* want to do. That to me is a key difference between The Witcher and Bloodlines. While the sarcophagus is in the center of Bloodlines events, the game doesn't really have a story.
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February 5th, 2008, 18:04
By that logic (which I don't disagree with, necessarily), the NWN1 OC was a dungeon hack, since, yes, there was a story, but it was more about whacking monsters with your friends than exploring a deep choice-based narrative. (I know that the NWN OC was a lot more fun when I played it coop with my wife.)

The NWN1 expansion "Hordes of the Underdark" was either story or roleplaying. Act one is pretty much just a dungeon, but in act two, your actions in each of several dungeons help determine the makeup of your allies and your enemies in the big-ass fight at the end, and players with very high Persuade scores or a lot of exploration time or money to burn can get endings to the game that nobody else ever gets to see.
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February 5th, 2008, 18:23
Originally Posted by VDweller View Post
It was a linear game, that's for sure, but not every linear game is story-driven.
Quite. I just finished playing Half-Life 2 (plus Episodes 1 and 2) again. Calling them story-driven would be a pretty big stretch indeed.

The way I see it, story-driven games focus on the story. They are more interested in telling a good story and forcing you to play a cool character (Baalspawn, Geralt, Revan, the spirit-eater, etc), than in letting you do what *you* want to do. That to me is a key difference between The Witcher and Bloodlines. While the sarcophagus is in the center of Bloodlines events, the game doesn't really have a story.
I see what you mean, but I still disagree. I'd call that "character-driven," a subset of "story-driven." And while the story in Bloodlines isn't really about *you* — it's about the various factions using you to get at what they want, namely, the sarcophagus —, that doesn't mean it isn't there.

It's this design characteristic — linear, funneled, and a pre-written story arc with twists, turns, and surprises, but a very limited amount of "plot freedom" and possible outcomes — that defines that particular sub-genre IMO, much more than the decision to make the story about the protagonist rather than about the supporting characters. This is qualitatively different from the "consequence-driven" design in e.g. Fallout, where, as you so aptly put it, you have a pretty vague goal and are free to pursue it however you see fit, thereby (having the illusion of) making your own story.
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