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Default Joystiq - What Makes a Classic RPG?

September 24th, 2012, 14:50
While I would generally agree that some can be overly dogmatic about what is a true RPG video game, particularly when talking about things like perspective and combat, I think this article does an awful job of trying to make that point. What might be an interesting way of stating "great RPGs run wide and varried gamut of perspectives, combat schemes, world-geographies, etc." turns into a bit of a mess.

If I were in there place I probably would have tried to talk about how attempts to emulate the table-top RPG experience can be both enhanced and stymied by how a designer attempts to simulate that experience in a game system. For example perhaps talking about how faithful recreations of turn-based gameplay can effectively capture much of the tactical challenge of those PnP games but is also prone to creating similar repetitive slogs if executed poorly or overused considering you can't take smoke breaks or talk about random stupid stuff while waiting on your turn.

I would have talked about how different games have attempted - and succeeded or failed to varying degrees - at giving the player a feeling of ownership over the character they create and how some of these design decisions have played roles in those successes or failures and why that might be.

The article itself…

Then Obsidian's Project Eternity Kickstarter heralded its isometric perspective regularly.
Its listed once on the main-page in the broad sub-description. It is mentioned in none of the texts of the updates and used infrequently in a few videos and blog posts. Heralded regularly? Oook

GOG.com advertised the new throwback RPG Inquisitor by saying it was "true to the isometric roots of classic PC gaming."
In a tweet. Overanalyzing semantics in a 144 character medium not exactly known for its users (professional or otherwise) being particular careful and deliberate in their choice of words seems a bit thin. The word doesn't even appear on the product description page that GoG uses so I wouldn't exactly suggest its use was particularly central to their marketing.

first-person (Skyrim), third-person (Knights Of The Old Republic), isometric (Fallout), overhead (Ultima VII), and tiled, which is a first person perspective where you move forward in squares,
Wouldn't First-person grid-based, first-person semi-continuous, third person fixed-perspective and third-person moveable-perspective be a more even way of categorizing things?

Only 15 of the games on the list were pure turn-based, while 21 were real-time.
There's some incosistent things like listing Arcanum and Might and Magic VI as straight up "real time" combat, while calling Wizardry 8 just turn based despite all of these games having the options of some form of continuous combat and turn based combat. The author also calls Fallout 3 and New Vegas action hybrids (due to the ability to use pause and queue up attacks) but not the Mass Effect games despite the ability to pause and order attacks for each squad mate. On higher difficulty levels of Mass Effect I often spent more time in the command window than I did in VATS in the Fallout games so the distinction here seems arbitrary at best.

There's a few problems with this section to and the actual choice of categorizations to use. Separating turn based into tactical and menu seems more about the wider adoption of GUIs and the computer mouse than design intent.

I would say there are really two categories here being mushed into one. The first is combat time-progression (real-time, turn based, real-time with pause and hybrid). The first two should seem obvious - don't think turn-based and timed turned based deserve seperate categories as that's just chess with or without a clock. The distinction between real-time with pause and hybrid would be that the first are games where the combat itself always plays out in the real-time simulation while the player is able to pause to use items, queue up or order attacks, etc; a hybrid would be defined as a game which allows the player to chose from and switch between two or more options such as "real-time", "continuous turn-based", "round-by-round" etc.

The second would be mode of combat (tactical, action or hybrid.) Action games are games requiring the player to direct and target each specific attack of a controlled character to be effective (so success being determined largely by some combination of timing, reflexes, aim, etc. on the part of the player. Games with an obvious tactical focus would be those such as the early Ultimas or Fallouts - where positioning of character(s) and ability selection are done more or less by orders from the player and the correctness of those choices is the key factor in determining success. There are fewer hybrids here I think. The mass effect games tried at this but only on very high difficulty levels would I say that both player skill and tactical decisions (ordering squadmates for example) would decide success; still at other difficulty levels one could supplement a deficiency in one for the other to achieve similar results. I suppose a fool playing MM VI entirely in real time even in hard fights with limited kiting potential could be said to be playing a bit of a hybrid in this case too.

Fallout may be turn-based and isometric, but it feels quite similar to other quest hub-using games like Knights Of The Old Republic.
Alright so they appear to be conflating openness of exploration/quest acquisition with whether a world is continuous or dual map. They're also confusing what they do come up with considering they also categorized Fallout:New Vegas as "hub based." World geography might be able to be better categorized as linear, hub-based, semi-continuous, or dual-map. Fallout New Vegas was just as semi-continous as Fallout 3 and the initial need to use more interior cells in Fallout New Vegas does mean more loading screens but doesn't really change the semi-continous geography of the world.

Exploration/quest aquisition can also be categorized by similar descriptions - but this is a matter more of how those progressions look on a flow chart than inherently determined by the geometry. I would divide these up into open, linear, and hub (maybe call it branch-node to distinguish.) Exploration in Fallout 3, Skyrim, Fallout 2 and many games with different world geographies can have relatively open progression of exploration and quest aquisition.

I've called the switch from party creation to single-character with recruitable companions one of the most important shifts in RPG history.
I won't argue with that much.
Last edited by jhwisner; September 24th, 2012 at 15:02.
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September 24th, 2012, 15:13
I think ultimately "old-school" is simply a chiffre for "things we miss in current games" - it is therefore very personal and subjective what people mean by it. That said, Isometric/Blob perspective, TB combat, stat-heavy character system and party-based design seem to be among the most common elements that people mean when they speak of "classic" or "oldschool" CRPG elements.
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September 24th, 2012, 15:28
Often classic crpg-elements are sacrificed/softened in modern crpgs to lure new (casual) gamers into crpg-gaming.

As a hardcore gamer / crpg enthusiast I can only say:

Improving crpg-elements / enhancing the game interface -> YES!
Deleting crpg-elements / watering down the crpg-experience -> NO!

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September 24th, 2012, 16:40
But what if I was wrong?
I certainly hope this is a question I never have to ask myself…

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September 24th, 2012, 16:52
Originally Posted by GhanBuriGhan View Post
I think ultimately "old-school" is simply a chiffre for "things we miss in current games" - it is therefore very personal and subjective what people mean by it. That said, Isometric/Blob perspective, TB combat, stat-heavy character system and party-based design seem to be among the most common elements that people mean when they speak of "classic" or "oldschool" CRPG elements.
Well, I must like old school then, because reading those things makes me drool a bit. I do however like realtim with pause as much as I like pure turn based, but then I want it to be "round based" like the infinity games.

That's actually the one thing I'm worried about when in regards to Project Eternity, that they want real time with pause WITHOUT "rounds". I suppose that's what DA:O had, and I never really liked the combat in that game…still too clicketyclicky for me for it to feel tactically interesting.

Edit: And as a sidenote, I'll take interesting text before voice overs anyday. Hell, I can probably read five to ten times as fast as they can deliver the lines anyway. Full vioce overs are fine, but give me text so I don't have to listen to it all. (Can you imagine PS:T with full unskippable voice overs? The game would take years to finish…)
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September 24th, 2012, 17:41
So, this guy wanted to gather data about "classic" "old school" RPG's, by compiling a list that included the likes of Dragon Age II and Skyrim?

That… doesn't seem quite logical. I don't think anyone is thinking of those games when they say "classic, old school RPG."
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September 24th, 2012, 18:27
Originally Posted by tomasp3n View Post

That's actually the one thing I'm worried about when in regards to Project Eternity, that they want real time with pause WITHOUT "rounds". I suppose that's what DA:O had, and I never really liked the combat in that game…still too clicketyclicky for me for it to feel tactically interesting.
And the lack of round would influence in what way?

I suspect DA:O had rounds by the way…
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September 24th, 2012, 18:38
Originally Posted by MigRib View Post
1- Uses outdated mechanics
The term "outdated" always lies in the eyes of the beholder, so to say.

When I was studying Geology at the University, the people from the Mineralogy section insisted on NOT using ANY computer technology in their crystal growth experiments (those with crystal growth from liquids) : Computer technology might fail, they said, a bug, they implied, and the current cut somehow off.

Therefore they relied on "outdated mechanics" in a most literal way : Their structure they used for their crystal growth experiements with liquids entirely consisted of mechanical means. No computers at all, of any kind involved.

Most "outdated".

And, by the way, people begin to bicker around more and more because "modern" car technology creates more problems than it solves : Every now and then the high-tech electronics have bugs, and the source of the problems they evoke just cannot be found. Or barely.
Someone i know from another forum recently stated that the mechanics needed
half a year until they finally found the reason of some malfunctioning . A blank cable.
My father's car has a malfunction of which any source cannot be found as well. A button to manually invoke the car's cooler had to be built in.


Originally Posted by HiddenX View Post
Often classic crpg-elements are sacrificed/softened in modern crpgs to lure new (casual) gamers into crpg-gaming.
I can agree to that.

Because in my opinion this has led to the newer sub-genre of the so-called "Shooter-RPGs" (ME series, for example).

“ 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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September 24th, 2012, 18:49
Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post
And the lack of round would influence in what way?

I suspect DA:O had rounds by the way…
Hmm, you might be right about DA:O. What I'm getting at is the abilities with cooldown timers feels alot more like a MMORPG to me, when there's a player behind every character who is rapidly clicking his hotkey buttons to use the best abilities with minimal time loss. I never felt I needed to or even wanted to control all the characters i DA:O. But you're right, maybe talking about rounds is the wrong way to go in regards to what makes combat fun for me.

Maybe I'm just getting old and nostalgic when I imagine Baldurs Gate had more tactical depth. What I would most like to see is probably a system like the one in Fallout tactics (in real time), when it comes to tactical squadbased rpg combat that's my definite favourite.
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September 25th, 2012, 04:47
Originally Posted by GhanBuriGhan View Post
I think ultimately "old-school" is simply a chiffre for "things we miss in current games" - it is therefore very personal and subjective what people mean by it. That said, Isometric/Blob perspective, TB combat, stat-heavy character system and party-based design seem to be among the most common elements that people mean when they speak of "classic" or "oldschool" CRPG elements.
Quoted for truth.

I think it would be better to talk more about eras. Write down the top 100 or so RPGs, note the release dates, and draw some lines where the pickings get slim.
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September 25th, 2012, 05:57
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
The term "outdated" always lies in the eyes of the beholder, so to say.
Why should it? Elements can be said to be exclusive to the RPG genre. So why should certain mechanics not be said to be out dated?
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September 25th, 2012, 06:00
Originally Posted by tomasp3n View Post
Hmm, you might be right about DA:O. What I'm getting at is the abilities with cooldown timers feels alot more like a MMORPG to me, when there's a player behind every character who is rapidly clicking his hotkey buttons to use the best abilities with minimal time loss. I never felt I needed to or even wanted to control all the characters i DA:O. But you're right, maybe talking about rounds is the wrong way to go in regards to what makes combat fun for me.

Maybe I'm just getting old and nostalgic when I imagine Baldurs Gate had more tactical depth. What I would most like to see is probably a system like the one in Fallout tactics (in real time), when it comes to tactical squadbased rpg combat that's my definite favourite.
Project Infinity is introduced as real time with pause, a vague term that usually include rounds and turns.

I doubt the developpers will go the real time way but will rely on the familiar structures of turns and rounds. For what results? To be seen.
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September 25th, 2012, 13:29
Originally Posted by ChienAboyeur View Post
Why should it? Elements can be said to be exclusive to the RPG genre. So why should certain mechanics not be said to be out dated?
Because of a thing called "fashion".

In clothes fashion, here, things that were "modern" in the 60s are actually coming back here, in part. I've even seen a couple of end-teenager hippies in the tram months ago - much to my astonishment !

And - what if "modern" becomes "history" ? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernism
OMD did an album about that, in 2009 or in 2010.


And, by the way, Real Time With Pause usually plays so :

"Hey, I'm doing a real-time fight right now, but I can jump in and pause it any time it gets critical !"

Turn-based combat forces you into "rounds" from the beginning on !

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September 25th, 2012, 13:47
The classic is becoming fashionable in the role playing area of computer games, at least in the independent/ kicktarster sector. That is absolutely true. But don't you think that turn-based tactical combat affects immersion? And that it is based on the less important part (less important in my opinion, of course) of pen & paper RPGs? I mean, having an "initiative" rolled, a "turn" with 3 or 5 seconds, or whatever, and declaring the actions of players and NPCs isn't really what role playing is all about… Those are just the mechanics used by (some, not all) pen & paper RPGs, because it's the easiest way to be fair within the rules set, and to let the game master and players have the time to prepare and think, and whatnot… But with the use of a computer, why do we need that? Real time with pause, as in Dragon Age and The Witcher, can do the trick. As activating the Pip Boy in Fallout 3/NV, or entering the UI does in most other games. These methods don't destroy immersion (although real time with pause usually turns the game a bit too tactical for my taste), but (again, in my opinion) turn based does it, and the game stops being an RPG, or something that looks like an RPG and starts looking like strategy.
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September 26th, 2012, 04:04
But don't you think that turn-based tactical combat affects immersion?
No. Bad combat systems affect my immersion.
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September 26th, 2012, 13:15
To me the able to pause or turn based does not diminish the immersion in any way. I'll take the two original Fallout over number 3 any day. But I see your point, especially when you say it gets a bit to tactical for your taste. My favourite RPG's are excactly that, tactical RPG's.

First person can absolutely increase immersion in some ways, I mean, some of the Ghouls in Fallout 3 actually scared the shit out of me. But the suspense when playing the old X-com games is more the kind of immersion that I find thrilling. It's just a matter of taste.
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September 26th, 2012, 13:30
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
Turn-based combat forces you into "rounds" from the beginning on !
I think that round means something else here than what I suppose it to mean.

Turn: period of the game when one player's character takes one's action.
Round: a subdivision of the time of the game that is connected to real time.
One round is supposed to represent 4 minutes real time for example.

Turn based games not always include rounds. Anytime a game has no connection to time, rounds are not compulsory.

They cant force you into rounds.
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September 26th, 2012, 14:25
Originally Posted by tomasp3n View Post
First person can absolutely increase immersion in some ways, I mean, some of the Ghouls in Fallout 3 actually scared the shit out of me. But the suspense when playing the old X-com games is more the kind of immersion that I find thrilling. It's just a matter of taste.
Well, if you put that way, I guess that, unlike you, I hate anything that get's too much into the tactical aspect of gaming. Real time with pause I can bare with it, real turn based doesn't make it for me, because I loose all immersion. But, of course, it is a matter of taste.
My real problem with this is that some people who love the "old school" mechanics are very much vocal about their preferences all over the internet and, everytime a new entry in a old franchise comes out they take it out on it. Let's say Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas, as sequels to Fallout, or Skyrim as a sequel to Morrowind and Deus Ex: Human Revolution as a sequel to Deus EX - although these last two couples aren't turn-based in the original version either, but I suppose they must be considered old school.
What worries me about this habit some "old timers" have of putting down what's new in a kind of destructive way - "I don't care about Fallout 3, I love Fallout and I wont have anything to do with what Bethesda's going to do with it in the future", what worries me, I was saying, is that company developers or even executives start taking notice to that (maybe they already did…) and forget a part of their target audience, the mature one. Then, one day, all new big budget role plays could be targeted for kids who also love Call of Duty, and that really would spoil cRPG for me… I suppose that's already happening, not for this reason I mentioned, but there are still good "not-old school" role playing games once in a while and I would like it to be that way. I love Skyrim, but I wouldn't like the next Fallout to be Skyrim with firearms and radiation sickness…
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September 26th, 2012, 15:57
Originally Posted by Tuco View Post
No. Bad combat systems affect my immersion.
Agreed. Impossible to disagree with that statement. But what is a bad combat system? I don't like shooters, nor strategy games. I like RPGs and adventure games. For me, turn-based tactical combat is (as a rule) a bad combat system, because it gets in the way of what I apreciate most in a game: the story, the interaction with NPCs, the dialogues, the optional ways of resolving conflicts without actual combat. You probably like strategy games, so it doesn't bother you, or, in fact, being turn-based is a plus. Well, when I'm playing a cRPG having turns in combat gets in the way of my immersion as much as having a game master with a severe stutter in a pen & paper RPG…
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September 26th, 2012, 16:36
MigRib, all AAA-RPG's are already targeted toward partly a younger, but more importantly a broader market. It has to be accessable and streamlined to sell alot of copies.

And although I have to admit there have been som good RPG's released the last decade, I can't honestly say any of them holds a place among my top ten gaming experinces. Skyrim was ok, and I put around 100 hours into it, but I can hardly remember any of it. To me, Morrowind was a better game.

I've played through Fallout 3 two times, once without expansions and once with them all in. It is a really good game. But to me, nowhere near the fantastic games that are Fallout 1&2. I do have high hopes for New Vegas though, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

DA:O was a decent game, and I played it through start to finish. But I've never even considered replaying it, and it wasn't a hard choice to ignore the second installment entirely. Dragon Age is abolutely nothing compared to Baldurs Gate 1&2.

I'm playing Deus Ex:HR right now and have to say I like it, but since I never played the original I can't make a comparison there. Still a good game though, maybe because I didn't have any expectations.

Expectations. There in lies one opf the reasons for a lot of "Old-Time RPG'ers" complaining about new games. I was really really happy when they announced Fallout 3. But got dissapointed by the end product. A good game, but not a "real" Fallout. I was deliriously happy when Dragon Age was announced. But it came up short.

Since we are all so old our grumbling will probably go away eventually when we start to get senile and forget just how great some of the games in our past was (and that's without the nostalgical glasses on, they're simply good games). Until then, I'll keep bickering every time a major company promises one thing but delivers another.

Thank God for Kickstarter. I would probably have given up on RPG's by now if I werent looking forward to Shadowrun returns, Wasteland 2 and Project Eternity so much. I just hope they won't let me down too…
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