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RPGWatch Forums » Games » General RPG » Why: Planescape Torment, Balders Gate 2, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights

Default Why: Planescape Torment, Balders Gate 2, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights

February 10th, 2014, 02:12
This thread is about you and cRPGs.

By the time you finish this article, you should have a clearer understanding of why you like the cRPGs you do and why you may, or may not, feel represented by any cRPGs which may or may not hit the market.

For this article I shall use the 1998-2006 D&D Bioware/Black Isle/Obsidian Bell Curve of Forgotten Realms games which peaked with the release of Neverwinter Nights in June 2002. I use this era and these games as this grouping is now widely accepted as the Golden Era of Western cRPGs, possibly of all cRPGs ever made to date.

While other games and other eras can be argued to have produced better or more true RPGs, there has never been a better selection than these games with which to write an article such as this. It is as if the mere existence of these games and their associated Bell Curve of creativity practically writes this article itself, without me even having to stretch or labor any minor point.

The chronology and the game variety:

1998/1999 - Balder's gate is greeted with enough popularity to garner an expansion and enough profit to turn enough heads towards greater creativity in a similar direction. The curve begins its assent.

Late 1998 - Development meetings. Agenda: "So what shall we do next? What sells the best or what is artistically right?" There follows arguments and discussions and coffee and sandwiches. Result: "Let's find out what sells best, we have enough money to properly test the market, so… let's go for it."

During 1999 - Three very the same but also very different cRPGs are in motion while the expansion to Balders Gate satiates the now expectant new followers.

Version A: December 1999 - Planescape: Torment

Strengths: Massively plot-driven, massively choice-driven in an open world setting, intellectually stimulating, absolutely original.

Weaknesses: Small choice during character creation, low on strategic action, not really sword and sorcery, a bit buggy.

The critic's favorite, the specialist RPG'ers favorite, an example of the good that can come from creative thinking and profit be damned, the 9.8er… which doesn't seem to bring in the mass crowds. The Oscar winner rather than the box-office smash. Spawned no expansions or sequels.

I've played this game once, all the way through, and I liked the experience generally. I had quite a few moments of extreme frustration during the game, some bug-related, some plot-related and some mechanics related, but the overall feeling upon completion was positive. But I haven't played it again, but retain a copy in case I ever get in the mood again.

Version B: June 2000 - Icewind Dale

Strengths: Massive choice during character creation, Massive on strategic action, full-on sword and sorcery, very quickly virtually bug-free, unique ice-world setting with amazing musical score and delightful writing.

Weaknesses: Low on plot and has very limited choices defined by a completely linear adventure, some sections will tire you by their lack of intellectual stimulation as you have to kill so many monsters before your next plot-point.

The simple man's favorite, the traditional gold-box RPG'ers favorite, an example of the good that can come from keeping it stupidly simple with classy undertones, the 9.0er… which doesn't seem to bring in the mass crowds. The popular action movie that the boys lap-up but the girls find 'boring'. Spawned two expansions (one unofficial but now considered official) and one sequel.

I've played this game four or five times, all the way through, and I grew to love the experience. I had quite a few moments of extreme frustration during my first game, some plot-related and some mechanics related, but the overall feeling upon completion was very positive. The second time I played it I felt completely at home and I now seem to play it once every year, most likely during winter.

Version C: September 2000 - Balder's Gate 2

Strengths: Generally plot-driven within a massively open-world setting, massively choice-driven via a plethora of interactive companions, a stable mix of strategic action versus dialogue. Eternal questing. Has that sword and sorcery backdrop. Very quickly generally bug-free. You can learn something new about the game every time you play it, even if you've played it loads of times.

Weaknesses: limited choice during character creation, a confusion of plots and quests, too many irritating forced companions, easy to miss/fail one little (non-dying related) thing that upsets your adventure/plans in the long-term. You don't completely feel like you're ever in full control of a situation.

The people's choice, the summer blockbuster, an example of the good that can come from trying to appeal to both males and females in equal measure, the 9.4er… which brings in the mass crowds and endless forum threads. The total box-office smash which leaves the intellectuals curious and cynics wondering what's happened to humanity. Spawned an even more popular expansion.

I've played this game once and I didn't get very far (I think? About character level 6/7ish?), and I didn't really like the experience. I had many moments of extreme frustration during the game, some plot-related and some mechanics related, but the overall feeling upon quitting was "that's enough of that". I haven't played it again, but retain a copy in case I ever get in the mood to try again. I just couldn't get to grips with companions gallivanting off left-right-and-center whenever they walked passed a building or spoke to someone - I got quest-dizzy.

The grand finale:

So… you're a games developer who now has to decide which model will best fit the next great RPG adventure. The players have been spoiled with choice during a hiatus of experimentation - now it's time to make the big decision, "what shall we take from each game and apply to our masterpiece?"

Version D: June 2002 - Neverwinter Nights

A game which was designed by a committee - neither good nor bad. Neither brilliant nor dumb. Just a nice game. Does the job.

I've played Neverwinter Nights twice from the OC to the end of the second expansion, and though grueling in places, and though I couldn't do it every year, is still one of my favorite all-time RPGs.

But it did mark the peak of the era and signal the slide back to the bottom of the Bell Curve for the golden era of D&D Forgotten Realms cRPGs.

Neverwinter Nights 2 was a whopping 4 years wait for fans (2006) and the next Bioware project didn't turn up until a massive 7 years later with Dragon Age in 2009.

But… does it now make sense to you why all the big cRPGs made since 2005 have tried to do nothing more than emulate Balder's Gate 2. Even when they are not even tied to a D&D rule-set. Management will always just stick to what they know, and they know the BG2 formula is the winning formula…

No matter how much minorities such as myself object.

So, to all those of you who are, like myself, much more of a Version A, B, D'er, let us just join together for one brief moment and lament the fact that we are not market viable, and let us rejoice that, for one brief moment, someone was allowed to give us some truly GREAT games to play.

Games of the like we may never see again…

(Or will we… )

((as for you poor PoR and ToEE dudes, I can't even begin to sympath…))
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February 10th, 2014, 03:40
I've played this game once and I didn't get very far (I think? About character level 6/7ish?),
You think right.

But… does it now make sense to you why all the big cRPGs made since 2005 have tried to do nothing more than emulate Balder's Gate 2.
!?!? Where did THAT come from? The pause-on-demand combat system is pretty rare once you get outside of Bioware games. Games where you actually control the development of an entire party are even rarer.
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February 10th, 2014, 08:17
Never replayed IWD1/2 as I disliked the style, replayed PST and BG1/2 many times, didn't even bother to finish the lousy NWN.
That probably puts me into a case E.

Welcome to the forum.

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February 10th, 2014, 09:27
No to realtime (with or without pause) combat. Yes to turn-based combat

No to simple character creation. Yes to complex character creation

No to only creating one PC. Yes to creating your whole party

No to relationship simulators. Yes to a focus on adventure

No to level caps. Yes to no realistic level cap.

The recipe is a turn-based, complex whole-party character creation system, adventure-focused, no level cap D&D CRPG. Liberally add a lot of story, C&C, intrigue and finish with a heavy dose of physics-based emergent gameplay.

That would be my perfect CRPG

Currently developing Subterranea, a 3D, turn-based, custom party, fantasy CRPG, using the Open Game Content.
http://www.cloudninegames.net
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February 10th, 2014, 09:30
I've played and replayed them all a lot, though IWD2 less than the others. I just didn't like the XP model which punished you for not having a full party.
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February 10th, 2014, 09:49
Originally Posted by MinorityReport View Post
This thread is about you and cRPGs.
No, it is not. I am very capable of understanding and enjoying games in my very own way.
I'm sorry but this is awfully biased and written in a way that suggest that this is how people should think. Me and many others have been enjoying rpg's for many years and to this day, including everything from strict D&D rule sets to go nuts action rpg's.

((as for you poor PoR and ToEE dudes, I can't even begin to sympath…))
Not sure if this is meant to be an insult or not, if it is then I rest my case. If it's not then nevermind. But people enjoy plenty for crpg's still, if you can't enjoy them then I feel sorry for you.

Speak your own words of wisdom instead of quoting someone else's.
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February 10th, 2014, 10:55
Originally Posted by MinorityReport View Post
But… does it now make sense to you why all the big cRPGs made since 2005 have tried to do nothing more than emulate Balder's Gate 2. Even when they are not even tied to a D&D rule-set. Management will always just stick to what they know, and they know the BG2 formula is the winning formula…
Did you happen to realise maybe because it is actually a winning formula? BG2 is widely beloved game and it's rather obvious others want the same kind of success.

No matter how much minorities such as myself object.

So, to all those of you who are, like myself, much more of a Version A, B, D'er, let us just join together for one brief moment and lament the fact that we are not market viable, and let us rejoice that, for one brief moment, someone was allowed to give us some truly GREAT games to play.

Games of the like we may never see again…

((as for you poor PoR and ToEE dudes, I can't even begin to sympath…))
Have you not heard of Torment: Tides of Numenera?

BG2 fan girl
BG2: Eowyn & Anomen
IWD: Orhlanna & Korin
ME: Shepard & Garrus
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February 10th, 2014, 12:19
I don't understand the intention of this (first) posting.
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February 10th, 2014, 13:10
The best AD&D game in the last years was Knights of the Chalice.

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February 10th, 2014, 13:26
!?!? Where did THAT come from? The pause-on-demand combat system is pretty rare once you get outside of Bioware games. Games where you actually control the development of an entire party are even rarer.
Ah yes, this is where cutting text word count down causes confusion - my bad, I was trying to keep everything as short and as blunt as possible and was hoping people would kind-of get that I was just talking about Bioware/Obsidian Forgotten Realmsy type games - to be specific, Neverwinter Nights 2, Dragon Age and Dragon Age 2 (the big games) that tried to continue in the same vein as the golden era and serve this automatic specific popular market base.

Never replayed IWD1/2 as I disliked the style, replayed PST and BG1/2 many times, didn't even bother to finish the lousy NWN.
That probably puts me into a case E.
Do you object to being a Version A, C'er? I don't see why you need to invent a new category for yourself?

That would be my perfect CRPG
Yes, whenever you find specialist forums this version of RPG is a common request, but I guess it's just not financially viable? What was the closest game to ever match your criteria (last time a game like that got a massive 'mass-release' from a major developer, as in, buy it in the shops on the high street).

I've played and replayed them all a lot, though IWD2 less than the others. I just didn't like the XP model which punished you for not having a full party.
Yes, IWD2 is commonly talked about as the weakest of all the series, for a whole host of reasons, but it's still a great game by comparison to a lot of games which get made. Had it been made with a different title by an underdog developer it would probably have a golden reputation.

No, it is not. I am very capable of understanding and enjoying games in my very own way.
I'm sorry but this is awfully biased and written in a way that suggest that this is how people should think. Me and many others have been enjoying rpg's for many years and to this day, including everything from strict D&D rule sets to go nuts action rpg's.
Yes it very much is. I know you are capable of making your own decisions. The only biased aspect of my post is where I use a small paragraph to describe my own experience, but nowhere do I suggest how people should think. And yes, on an RPG specific forum, I'm guessing people here will play no end of different RPGs and approach them all with a very open-minded academic mindset.

This thread is using a specific era of games which follow a specific common style in order to establish why the big release games since Neverwinter have been the way they are. There's no bias here at all, NWN2, DA:O, DA2 have all followed the BG2 model, people who preferred either Version A, B, D have never been given another game since 2002.

Not sure if this is meant to be an insult or not, if it is then I rest my case. If it's not then nevermind. But people enjoy plenty for crpg's still, if you can't enjoy them then I feel sorry for you.
No, I am giving my sympathies from a position of mutual understanding. Since you misunderstood my post, you also misunderstood the inference. I don't understand you last sentence, It's all black-and-white like-it-or-hate-it nonsense, what has lamenting the lack of certain types of cRPG got to do with not liking RPGs generally?

Did you happen to realise maybe because it is actually a winning formula? BG2 is widely beloved game and it's rather obvious others want the same kind of success.
Yes, that's what I wrote. But does that mean every film company always wants to make Titanic? Why has the Bioware/Obsidian cRPG franchise been more stifled by technological advancement and a wider player base rather than invigorated with experimental variety?

Have you not heard of Torment: Tides of Numenera?
I heard of a gazillion games which call themselves 'spiritual successor' to anything and everything prior to release. But you are right, it does suggest hope. But you are being a bit obstreperous because why doesn't Bioware do the sequel, why is it up to some random to take this game-concept further? If there is all this demand for Version A games, why don't we ever see any on the high-street shelves from the company that's already an expert at them?
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February 10th, 2014, 13:31
I don't understand the intention of this (first) posting.
I don't understand what it is you don't understand. But others are making similar misunderstandings, so it's likely that my post is either worded badly or is a topic not many are very familiar with. I hope my last large post has enough additional descriptive text for you to understand better.

The best AD&D game in the last years was Knights of the Chalice.
When was that released? Is it available in the shops?
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February 10th, 2014, 13:36
Originally Posted by MinorityReport View Post
When was that released? Is it available in the shops?
2009 -> It is available via the author's website:
http://www.heroicfantasygames.com/KOTC_Introduction.htm
http://www.heroicfantasygames.com/Di…rPro/index.php

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. - HL Mencken
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February 10th, 2014, 13:41
Originally Posted by HiddenX View Post
2009 -> It is available via the author's website:
http://www.heroicfantasygames.com/KOTC_Introduction.htm
http://www.heroicfantasygames.com/Di…rPro/index.php
Thanks. How would you like to integrate this game into the debate?

Why is it, do you think that this developer's only option is to release such a game from a website? In 2009 there was booming high-street game sales. If this is the 'best' AD&D game since 2002, does that suggest that this type of game is not a shop-viable kind of game (even though we know it is)?.
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February 10th, 2014, 13:45
The game features turn based, challenging combat and is NOT pretty GFX wise.

And the author doesn't care for sales at all
He's making games for his own fun.

I compare it to the old SSI Gold Box classics and the Dark Sun games.

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. - HL Mencken
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February 10th, 2014, 13:53
Originally Posted by HiddenX View Post
The game features turn based, challenging combat and is NOT pretty GFX wise.

And the author doesn't care for sales at all
He's making games for his own fun.

I compare it to the old SSI Gold Box classics and the Dark Sun games.
That's nice dear. Why do you think the larger, polished companies have abandoned this kind of format? Why is it up to independents to experiment with varieties of formats? Why have the large companies stopped innovating in such a way?
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February 10th, 2014, 14:00
Originally Posted by MinorityReport View Post
That's nice dear. Why do you think the larger, polished companies have abandoned this kind of format? Why is it up to independents to experiment with varieties of formats? Why have the large companies stopped innovating in such a way?
That's easy, because the big companies think that they can reach more gamers with easier more casual games.

Hardcore CRPGs are considered as a niche product.

But in 2013, 2014 games like Might & Magic 10 and Blackguards reintroduced turn based combat and old school game mechanics. We will see if this retro trend sells enough copies to keep bigger companies interested.

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. - HL Mencken
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February 10th, 2014, 14:10
Originally Posted by HiddenX View Post
That's easy, because the big companies think that they can reach more gamers with easier more casual games.

Hardcore CRPGs are considered as a niche product.

But in 2013, 2014 games like Might & Magic 10 and Blackguards reintroduced turn based combat and old school game mechanics. We will see if this retro trend sells enough copies to keep bigger companies interested.
I don't see why it's an easy answer. PS:T is regularly voted the no.1 RPG of all time on any gaming forum. And yet the company who would be expert in making similar formatted games… never have made anything approaching that game's design.

While the BG2 model might well be a bestseller and best way to please-all, why have the big companies lost their desire to innovate? You would think the revenue from the star wars, Dragon age, mass effect franchises would permit an opportunity to spend some money 'just to make something for artistic value' and general street-credness of it all. Most large companies spend a lot of money on research and development and investigating how to farm niche markets.
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February 10th, 2014, 14:24
Don't forget: Planescape Torment is in all "Best of…" - lists, but its Return on Investment (ROI) was pretty bad.

Baldur's Gate still sells today, but it costs several years of development. Which is a huge risk.
Another argument: Big publishers sell games with lots of gfx, voice overs and videos. They innovate unfortunately only in eye candy not in game mechanics or new game concepts.
Again: They want a risk free investment.

I can live with that as long they are some indie developers on the market that deliver my old school needs and find new interesting game concepts

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. - HL Mencken
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February 10th, 2014, 14:51
Originally Posted by HiddenX View Post
Don't forget: Planescape Torment is in all "Best of…" - lists, but its Return on Investment (ROI) was pretty bad.

Baldur's Gate still sells today, but it costs several years of development. Which is a huge risk.
Another argument: Big publishers sell games with lots of gfx, voice overs and videos. They innovate unfortunately only in eye candy not in game mechanics or new game concepts.
Again: They want a risk free investment.

I can live with that as long they are some indie developers on the market that deliver my old school needs and find new interesting game concepts
I can see why you have that point of view, the gaming community is still at a point where individuals can fill the gap in the market. But what you suggest about what big companies want sounds more like how you've been conditioned to think because of their decisions rather than what you say is actual reality.

Film/TV companies have an ambition to both art and profit, they want the oscars as much as the profit and want the action addicts as much as the Titanic block-busters. A film company will try to net 'everyone' with one product or another. Even if a product fails financially one year, they will attempt a re-boot at a later date, especially if the original concept holds underground favor.

And this holds true of the car industry as well. Car companies spend monumental quantities of their profit on cars that might only have 100 or so production numbers. I could list no end of production products which follow the 'artistic/specialist development' format.

The fact that even today, over 10 years since their production, you can still find 'countless' people playing the games in the forum title as if they had been released yesterday suggests that the company who made them should have every incentive imaginable to, at some point, at the very least, attempt a re-boot or re-imagining of their core products, if only for industry reputation and customer loyalty if nothing more.

If not remakes, reboots and re-imaginings, then just their own versions of 'spiritual successors' (such as DA:O is to BG2).

I agree that a lot of the problem is based on technical rather than artistic priority, but why is that problem there? That problem existed in 1998-2002, the difference, technically, between BG1 and NWN is mind-boggling, and yet, in this period, the relevant companys managed to make 6 full campaigns and countless expansions.

Now we are supposed to believe that one every 3 years is somehow 'all that's possible'? Why is that?
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February 10th, 2014, 15:04
Originally Posted by MinorityReport View Post
I don't see why it's an easy answer. PS:T is regularly voted the no.1 RPG of all time on any gaming forum. And yet the company who would be expert in making similar formatted games… never have made anything approaching that game's design.
Yes… Well… The first reason behind that is WotC cancelled Planescape setting thinking it's crap and not caring there is some outstanding cRPG out there.

The second reason is disgusting business moves Interplay did (and continues to do) to Black Isle Studios.

Back then, there was a plan for a game that could/should be a sort of a same thing in another setting, it was called Torn. That game was cancelled. I've asked on old BiS forums WTF, one of devs, maybe Chris himself, answered that nothing felt right inside it and the best solution was to stop the project completely. I bet it was a statement in gloves that Interplay wants BiS to die by investing into console crapgames instead of cRPGs.

What other studios did? Well, if Interplay went down and they had BiS, noone wanted to risk with that genre. CEOs don't care for the backgrund stories and decisions in other companies, all they saw is a RPG studio going down. Maybe it would work, just maybe. But if you're a head of EA or Ubisoft, better safe than sorry.

Let's not cry over spilled milk because we don't depend on decisions made by CEO Morgan in Alpha Centaury game any more. Kickstarter happened. Hopefully, where PST stopped, upcoming Wasteland2, Torment2 and Eternity will continue.

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