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Default Gamasutra - Ken Rolston RPG Design Lessons

February 26th, 2014, 14:43
Gamasutra has a new guest article with The Elder Scrolls Online Developer Alex Horn. He writes about the three RPG lessons he learned from working with Ken Rolston.

Before the much publicized closure of 38 Studios/Big Huge Games I had the fortune of sharing an office with the inimitable Ken Rolston. You might know Mr. Rolston from the Elder Scrolls titles Morrowind and Oblivion, or from his contributions to the tabletop RPG Paranoia and the board game Tales of the Arabian Nights. Some only recently learned of Mr. Rolston from Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning; others know of him from his old-school, pen-and-paper contributions. Whether or not you're familiar with his games, you've most likely played something influenced by him.

And what are the hallmarks of his legacy? The type of fun he wants to elicit in a video game can just as easily be found in Paranoia or Tales of the Arabian Nights. His creativity seems to spark from that same kernel of imagination that is so integral to what makes table-top RPGs viable. It's a smile or a sense of accomplishment, but more importantly it's your smile or your sense of accomplishment. It's emergent narrative in the truest sense, and he instills it in everything he touches.

And how does he bring about his particular brand of emergent narrative, you might ask? I will hereby endeavor to translate as best I can the incoherent ramblings of genius.

Disclaimer: The following design principles are not meant to be representative of Mr. Rolston's design philosophy in toto. They are simply three digestible points made by Ken frequently enough to leave a lasting impression. These three principles are Ken's Four Pillars of Open World RPGs, the Rolston Switch, and the Importance of Competitive Research.
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February 26th, 2014, 14:43
Obviously Mr. Horn feels differently, but personally I think the lead designer for Oblivion and Kingdoms of Amalur is one of the very last people on the planet that I'd listen to on the topic of designing a good RPG.
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February 26th, 2014, 14:44
Rolston is on par with Molyneux on the full-of-shit-incompetence meter, but he does have the occasional interesting thought.
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February 26th, 2014, 19:17
Can't recall where I read it but, the story goes one of Ken Rolstons commandments of good RPG-storytelling is: never ever let the player experience betrayal of any kind. The reasoning being that a game should never make the player feel bad in any way… No wonder all of his games are completely devoid of emotion and totally uninspiring.
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February 26th, 2014, 21:14
Paranoia was an excellent pen & paper game. He should probably have stuck to pen and paper games.
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February 26th, 2014, 23:27
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
Rolston is on par with Molyneux on the full-of-shit-incompetence meter, but he does have the occasional interesting thought.
True. Molyneux for instance is so full of shit nowdays that it truly amazes when he actually has something worthile to say…

Like they say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
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February 27th, 2014, 05:46
Paranoia was a brilliant game concept (and utterly chock full of betrayal!), but I'm not sure i would rank it well in terms of great game mechanics. they were simple enough, certainly, and stayed mostly out of the way as people cursed each other's clonedom and defiled corpses. but rather scant on the design, as pnp games went. just sayin.
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February 27th, 2014, 20:09
Originally Posted by qpqpqp View Post
Paranoia was a brilliant game concept (and utterly chock full of betrayal!), but I'm not sure i would rank it well in terms of great game mechanics. they were simple enough, certainly, and stayed mostly out of the way as people cursed each other's clonedom and defiled corpses. but rather scant on the design, as pnp games went. just sayin.
I agree with you. It was not meant to be deep in terms of game mechanics. Still it had a great and original game concept.
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