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September 23rd, 2012, 13:16
Joystiq's Rowan Kaiser writes his usual weekly RPG column, examining the idea that "isometric" equals "old school". His methodology is hit-and-miss — but then again, it's hard enough defining the concepts:
In the past few weeks, I've noticed a few different sources that have used isometric perspective as an indicator of classic role-playing games. First, GOG.com advertised the new throwback RPG Inquisitor by saying it was "true to the isometric roots of classic PC gaming." Then Obsidian's Project Eternity Kickstarter heralded its isometric perspective regularly.

I found this focus on perspective to be a little confusing. Certainly I love Diablo and Fallout and other isometric RPGs, but the genre has such variety in it that focusing single components seems narrow. But what if I was wrong? What if classic RPGs actually are almost all isometric, or turn-based, or story-driven, or open-world? What if there isn't that much variety after all?

So I decided to test my theory that classic RPGs come in a variety of flavors. I made a list of the most important and famous western, non-massively multiplayer role-playing games – which spanned 50 titles. Then I looked at the components that usually distinguish RPGs from one another: perspective, combat style, complexity of character development, story importance, whether there are puzzles, geography, and how the game provides the character(s) you control. What I found is that the RPG genre is not easily categorized. What I found was a genre filled of diverse titles.
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September 23rd, 2012, 13:16
Proposal :

"old scholl" = "big companies don't do that anymore"

“ 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 23rd, 2012, 14:19
I would put it another way. Old school cRPG:

1- Uses outdated mechanics (turn based tactical combat system) to emulate the feeling of a Pen & Paper RPG in a virtual computer environment. No surprises here, given that most of the (real) old games were made on a time when D&D was the paradigm of role playing, and dungeon crawling, dice roling and number crunching were what most people thought of when thinking about a role-playing game. Now D&D is agains the paradigm of Pen & Paper RPGs, as the others are mostly dying, so I guess thats one of the reasons old school is becoming new school (off the mainstream circuit, of course).

2- Story driven? Well, text driven, in fact. As the old school games had (and still have) little to no voice acting, it was (and still is) compensated with verbose dialogues that took hours to read. Turning what was (or is) supposed to be a gaming experience into an exercise in bad literature reading. But, yeah, story driven…

3- Isometric view. Or, in other words, the best means to address the fact that tecnology had not yet evolved, and the games graphics were ugly as sin. As isometric perspective is, I guess, the best way to hide the fact that most old school games look like ZX Spectrum adventure/RPG games from the early 80s, but with a little more detail. And colours, of course.

4- Cheaper to make. Nowadays, certainly, but not when the "old school" was the "new school". Cheaper to make, and, fortunately for indie developers, with guaranteed sales among nostalgic gamers that still feel the thrills they had when playing, say Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment, when those were new and groundbreaking (now, in my opinion, they are no more than good memories, and museum artifacts that should be left where they belong - the past).

Well, that's old school for me… I agree there's much good things on those old games that should be remembered and still used in big bucks games, but not what is being ressurrected in the 1000 kickstarters I red about lately.
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September 23rd, 2012, 14:56
Old School RPGs are those who have their production focused on plot and gameplay (usually party based, though not exclusively). They are made by a much smaller team than the AAA games of today. There is usually more to character development (more classes/races/ways to develop characters) and more tactical options in gameplay (at least once you get to the fallout/baldur's gate era).

This is instead of the current mainstream focus of voice acting (which means less overall story/plot since everything has to be voiced), simplified, more linear plot (so as to be more 'accessible), single player third person action rpg, and a majority of development needed to be spent on graphics. Also usually a heavy focus on multiplayer. And these games are almost always on (and often focus on) consoles making the computer rpg experience a second (or third when you consider mobile) choice.

More importantly to me - the current crop of mainstream games will not be made if they are not guaranteed a bazillion sales. Look at Kingdoms of Amalur which needed (I don't remember the exact amount) several million copies sold to just break even.
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September 23rd, 2012, 15:20
This article is kinda silly and irrelevant. He uses a lot of modern RPG's in his example and he deliberately lowers the relevance of certain series' in favour of others, pretty much arbitrarily. Picking two random "gold box" games would be fine if he limited other series' to two entries, but he doesn't! Ultima gets 3 tiled/overhead listings, Wizardry gets 3 'tiled' listings. So, that's unbalanced. Also, Ultima 6 is tiled, just like 5 and before just with different graphics. So why does he mark it as only 'overhead'? Also, X-Men Legends is an RPG? Freedom Force?!? If Freedom Force is an RPG, so is Fallout Tactics! The author's data selection was skewed to match his hypothesis.

MigRib, before you spout off about the state of tabletop RPG's, know a little about what you're talking about.
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September 23rd, 2012, 17:31
Originally Posted by MigRib View Post
I would put it another way. Old school cRPG:

2- Story driven? Well, text driven, in fact. As the old school games had (and still have) little to no voice acting, it was (and still is) compensated with verbose dialogues that took hours to read. Turning what was (or is) supposed to be a gaming experience into an exercise in bad literature reading. But, yeah, story driven…

4- Cheaper to make. Nowadays, certainly, but not when the "old school" was the "new school". Cheaper to make, and, fortunately for indie developers, with guaranteed sales among nostalgic gamers that still feel the thrills they had when playing, say Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment, when those were new and groundbreaking (now, in my opinion, they are no more than good memories, and museum artifacts that should be left where they belong - the past).
Ouch, that's harsh. Altough it's kind of refreshing to read those opinions on a forum where most probably disagree. Bad literature? True in some cases perhaps, I don't think anyone playes Might&Magic for the fantastic story. But on the other hand, Fallout, Baldurs Gate and especially Planescape Torment are examples of fantastic writing (In my opinion of course).

I replayed Planescape last year, and it's much more than a good memory. It's probably one of the best "books" I've ever read.
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September 23rd, 2012, 19:17
Originally Posted by tomasp3n View Post
Ouch, that's harsh. Altough it's kind of refreshing to read those opinions on a forum where most probably disagree. Bad literature? True in some cases perhaps, I don't think anyone playes Might&Magic for the fantastic story. But on the other hand, Fallout, Baldurs Gate and especially Planescape Torment are examples of fantastic writing (In my opinion of course).

I replayed Planescape last year, and it's much more than a good memory. It's probably one of the best "books" I've ever read.
Well, I must admit I was expecting a harsher reply - though I didn't write this to provoke an argument, it's really my opinion. About Fallout, I agree with you. I love the story, but I do think that Fallout's universe was better explored (not necessarily on written form, but as a multimedia experience) in Fallout 3 and New Vegas than by the first two games. Most Fallout die hard fans disagree with this, I know, but I can't understand their point (except for the nostalgia thing). The universe is the same, but with better graphics, better mechanics (OK, I hate turn based games, that's for sure), with much more voice acting (I do consider voice acting to be a big plus), and much better soundtrack. About the other two (Baldur's and Planescape), I really don't like the stories that much, but I didn't finish any of them. I can believe they are good fantasy "books".
This said, I have nothing against old school, it just isn't my thing, and I would rather have all the talented people developing old school kickstarters using their know-how to increase the quality of "new school" games (which, I must admit, are usually rather bad, probably much worst than the old school ones). But I'm not that naïve, for each Falout New Vegas and Deus Ex Human Revolution that comes out, there are ten other rather awful role playing games, and maybe that can't be avoided because companies are in it for the money… So basically I was venting my frustration. I guess these are the days for everybody else who love's old school gaming!
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September 23rd, 2012, 19:21
Originally Posted by darkling View Post

MigRib, before you spout off about the state of tabletop RPG's, know a little about what you're talking about.
Well, I did know what I was talking about about two years ago, when I was still playing Pen & paper RPGs. Not anymore, so when I said that I guess most games are dying away, that's just it, I guess. I know there are much more independent publication nowadays than before, and many new games. I have no knowledge about how they are doing these days. I hope the hobby never dies, though I have no intention of going back to tabletop gaming.
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September 23rd, 2012, 19:23
Originally Posted by MigRib View Post
I would put it another way. Old school cRPG:

1- Uses outdated mechanics (turn based tactical combat system) to emulate the feeling of a Pen & Paper RPG in a virtual computer environment. No surprises here, given that most of the (real) old games were made on a time when D&D was the paradigm of role playing, and dungeon crawling, dice roling and number crunching were what most people thought of when thinking about a role-playing game. Now D&D is agains the paradigm of Pen & Paper RPGs, as the others are mostly dying, so I guess thats one of the reasons old school is becoming new school (off the mainstream circuit, of course).

2- Story driven? Well, text driven, in fact. As the old school games had (and still have) little to no voice acting, it was (and still is) compensated with verbose dialogues that took hours to read. Turning what was (or is) supposed to be a gaming experience into an exercise in bad literature reading. But, yeah, story driven…

3- Isometric view. Or, in other words, the best means to address the fact that tecnology had not yet evolved, and the games graphics were ugly as sin. As isometric perspective is, I guess, the best way to hide the fact that most old school games look like ZX Spectrum adventure/RPG games from the early 80s, but with a little more detail. And colours, of course.

4- Cheaper to make. Nowadays, certainly, but not when the "old school" was the "new school". Cheaper to make, and, fortunately for indie developers, with guaranteed sales among nostalgic gamers that still feel the thrills they had when playing, say Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment, when those were new and groundbreaking (now, in my opinion, they are no more than good memories, and museum artifacts that should be left where they belong - the past).

Well, that's old school for me… I agree there's much good things on those old games that should be remembered and still used in big bucks games, but not what is being ressurrected in the 1000 kickstarters I red about lately.
…Seriously? So much annoying crap in a single post.

1) There's nothing "outdated" about turn based tactical combat. Going for turn based battles isn't a technological limitation, it's a design choice. Turn-based games aren't "real time strategy restrained by tech limits", they are an entirely different sub-genre.

2) A game being story-driven or not has hardly any correlation with using voice acting or text.
In fact, most "cinematic" (aka "linear and scripted") RPGs today are marketed as "story-driven", with very few notable exceptions.
The amount of text isn't a way to "compensate the lack of voice over".
It's the other way around: games with voice over have to cut a lot of content because paying actors and recording all these lines make dialogues a damn lot more expensive.
Also, your snarky remarks about the quality of "literature" in games is completely pointless. How good is the writing in a game is completely up to its authors, it's not up to what they chose between text or audio.

3) Choosing an isometric/axonometric perspective has literally *nothing* to do with technological limitations. It's just a choice like many others about how to visualize the world in the game, and it's usually picked because it's very practical when you manage more characters at once and you have to face tactical combat.
In fact even today there are around games that chose that kind of camera and can easily humiliate most of the products on the market to this date in terms of production value and/or overall budget invested (DOTA 2, Starcraft II, Dawn of War, Company of Heroes, Diablo III, etc).

4) Yeah, an isometric game can (eventually) be cheaper to make than a full fledged 3D world. But the point that makes that choice popular among gamers is not about being cheaper in absolute.
It's about offering a great ratio in terms of prettiness-for-dollar-spent.
It's very easy to make a nice looking isometric game with a modest budget, while it's almost impossible to obtain similar results with a full immersive 3D world, unless you don't have the luck to count some incredibly talented artist that works for a modest salary in your team.
If you actually think that people like isometric RPGs just because they are overwhelmed with emotions and nostalgia, then you have no clue of what you are babbling about.
Last edited by Tuco; September 23rd, 2012 at 19:37.
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September 23rd, 2012, 19:55
Originally Posted by Tuco View Post
…Seriously? So much annoying crap in a single post.
Thank you for your kind remark.

Originally Posted by Tuco View Post
1) There's nothing "outdated" about turn based tactical combat. Going for turn based battles isn't a technological limitation, it's a design choice. Turn-based games aren't "real time strategy restrained by tech limits", they are an entirely different sub-genre.
Well, they are outdated in the sense that they were extensively used in the past, and have been avoided since. I didn't mention that it was for techical reasons, I suggested that it was the method developers found in the 80s and 90s to emulate the feeling of tabletop RPG. I may be wrong about this, but if I am, than it was just a dumb option (in my opinion) because (in my opinion), turn based creates precisely a mix between real time strategy and role playing. I like role playing, and dislike strategy. It is, again, my opinion.

Originally Posted by Tuco View Post
2) If a game is story driven or not has hardly any correlation with using voice acting or text. in fact, most "cinematic" (aka "linear and scripted") RPGs today are "story-driven, with very few notable exceptions.
The amount of text isn't a way to "compensate the lack of voice over". it's the other way around: games with voice over have to cut a lot of content because paying actors and recording lines make dialogues a damn lot more expensive.
Yes, I agree with you on this (well, I don't have to agree, it's a fact. Maybe I explained point 2 wrongly): The content is cut because voice acting is expensive and more demanding. But I like voice acting and I find it indispensable for a good role playing game, nowadays. I can read, and I like to read, but when I do want to read, I read a book, not a computer game. It's my choice, my option, and I guess it's a valid crap. It's my kind of crap. About the quality of writing, well I don't expect people who create games to be professional writers. Scripts aren't literature, be it in a game or a movie. So, yeah, mostly isn't literary stuff, and it isn't suposed to be, but then again I like games with less text than the old school ones, and much more voice acting (good voice acting, of course). My kind of crap.


Originally Posted by Tuco View Post
If you actually think that people like isometric RPGs just because they are overwhelmed with emotions and nostalgia, then you have no clue of what you are babbling about.
To be overwhelmed with emotions and nostalgia is not an insult, is it? Anyway, when I mentioned the nostalgia part I was referring (or babbling about, as you prefer) to the whole "old school" package, which includes isometric, but also turn based mechanics, lack of voice acting and lot's of text content. Of course there are still isometric games being made which aren't nothing like old school…
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September 23rd, 2012, 20:43
Originally Posted by MigRib View Post
To be overwhelmed with emotions and nostalgia is not an insult, is it?
That's not the point. The point is: that's not why people like isometric games.
They like them because it's a good compromise between having something that looks pretty and having a comfortable viewpoint to manage the game.
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September 23rd, 2012, 20:54
Originally Posted by Tuco View Post
That's not the point. The point is: that's not why people like isometric games.
They like them because it's a good compromise between having something that looks pretty and having a comfortable viewpoint to manage the game.
Allright. But, again, when I said that the ressurgence of old school is, in part, a result of nostalgia and the gamer's point of view based upon what they experienced playing the old games (which now are "old school", but back then were just games) in the old days, I meant the whole concept of old school, not just the isometric view. You like isometric view. OK. I don't. But even for me that's not the worst part of old school: what I dislike the most is the turn based tactical approach to role playing and the verbose dialogues with lot's of text and little or no voice acting at all. This is what I find the least immersive. Isometric view doesn't really work for me, but if that's the only old school thing, maybe I'll buy it, maybe I'll like it (though it never happened until now - maybe I'll like Wasteland 2. I certainly hope so…).
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September 23rd, 2012, 21:20
Well, the hypothesis is very weak.

I noticed that many so called RPGers dismissed the idea of progress. But I never suspected it would be to that point.

Classic RPG, isometric view?

What does this mean by the way? Isometric is a way to give 3D impressions while displaying 2D graphics.

It all starts from that: technology limitations. No access to 3D graphics, but the urge to provide for exploration of a virtual world.

All these guys no longer remember how revolutionary and how demanded the introduction of 3d graphics were.

Why are all of those old games in isometric 2D graphics? Simple. Because it was not possible to render a 3D environment in another way.

The idea of confining RPGs by listing mechanics that could be involved into a cRPG was already gross. But if now the new flavour is to try to confine RPGs to technological means, maybe, at this point, it is better for those people to stop writing about RPGs…
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September 23rd, 2012, 22:11
The article seems conclude that by pointing out a CRPG is 'isometric' and therefore 'old school' is somehow wrong thinking.

I wouldn't consider it so much as 'wrong thinking' as I would consider it 'shallow thinking.' And 'shallow thinking' isn't necessarily wrong or lazy. Shallow thinking can also translate to 'first impressions.' And I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with seeing a modern CRPG made with an isometric viewpoint and thinking 'old school.'

But it's just a first impression and most people who like old school CRPGs with an isometric perspective are the same people who won't draw hard and fast conclusions based on a first impression. The style of isometric does not automatically equate to substantiative 'old school' gameplay… but a modern CRPG with an isometric perspective certainly gives that first impression.

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September 23rd, 2012, 22:21
Originally Posted by Tuco View Post
That's not the point. The point is: that's not why people like isometric games.
They like them because it's a good compromise between having something that looks pretty and having a comfortable viewpoint to manage the game.
Exactly. The fixed viewpoint means that you are not having to reset the camera viewpoint during combat, which feels awkward and interrupts the flow. Also, games like DA2 where the engine keeps turning down the camera angle are really irritating; who doesn't look up from time to time when they are running somewhere? I'd rather have the angle fixed at a favorable position. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind having a rotatable isometric viewpoint; perhaps turning in fixed increments for simplicity and speed.
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September 23rd, 2012, 22:36
not AAA = oldschool
good old games were made by a small bunch of freaks not a whole multi million company,that only want to earn as much as possible.
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September 24th, 2012, 07:06
Originally Posted by darkling View Post
This article is kinda silly and irrelevant. He uses a lot of modern RPG's in his example and he deliberately lowers the relevance of certain series' in favour of others, pretty much arbitrarily. Picking two random "gold box" games would be fine if he limited other series' to two entries, but he doesn't! Ultima gets 3 tiled/overhead listings, Wizardry gets 3 'tiled' listings. So, that's unbalanced. Also, Ultima 6 is tiled, just like 5 and before just with different graphics. So why does he mark it as only 'overhead'? Also, X-Men Legends is an RPG? Freedom Force?!? If Freedom Force is an RPG, so is Fallout Tactics! The author's data selection was skewed to match his hypothesis.
I see this is your first time reading a Rowan Kaiser article. It's okay, you didn't really need that sanity of yours anyway.

The man can scarcely write an article without contradicting himself halfway through. Many of his pieces don't have any clear thesis and often the examples he picks are either not appropriate or (as you said) hand-picked to prove his points while he simply ignores anything contrary to them. After all, this is the guy who once wrote an article saying that the Mass Effect series "changed his understanding of what an RPG can be" but the only concrete example he gave was that it had film grain (????).

He's gotten a little better with time, but only because he actually started playing the classic RPGs he professed to be a master of (or at least, he watched an LP or two), and only after people started calling him out as intellectually bankrupt and for having not done the research on his subject matter (and in those cases he simply lifted other people's points from the Joystiq comments).

Basically, hack writer is a hack. Move along, nothing to see here.
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September 24th, 2012, 08:14
Originally Posted by turian View Post
good old games were made by a small bunch of freaks not a whole multi million company,that only want to earn as much as possible.
They were the millions dollars earners. Most of the old classic games were big budgets for their times.
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September 24th, 2012, 12:36
I say good writing makes a classic RPG , Torment sucks combat wise and the art is terrible yet it is a classic because of the writing.
I say atmosphere makes a classic RPG, Bloodlines do almost everything wrong yet it is a classic because of great atmosphere.

I agree with Tuco about "old school" mechanics , none can dictate which mechanics should be regarded as "modern".
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September 24th, 2012, 13:31
I'd say old-school is primarily about the audience. As in, the more your game appeals exclusively to the "core" audience segment - the more old-school it is.

But I don't think it needs to be about outdated gameplay, but more about design values.

At the most basic, I think that the more the game demands AND rewards investment - the more old-school it is.
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