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Default RPGWatch Side Quest: Where is the "R" in CRPG?

November 13th, 2006, 13:46
I think it's less that the role has disappeared than that it was never there to a large extent in the first place. The disappearances of Troika, Black Isle, and Bioware from PC gaming haven't helped.
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Default RPGWatch Side Quest: Where is the "R" in CRPG?

November 13th, 2006, 13:46
In our first Side Quest at RPGWatch, Corwin looks at roleplaying in modern CRPGs from both the player's and the game's perspective. Do modern CRPGs really offer any roleplaying and do modern players really want it?
How much Role playing really happens in a modern CRPG? According to a recent readers poll on a well known gaming site, more than a third of all respondents said they only played ‘themselves’ and fewer than that actually tried to play a role. Should this be surprising, or has the ‘Role’ disappeared from our gaming?
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November 13th, 2006, 14:45
In NWN 2, I am playing a Paladin. Can't say I am one in real life *g*

It always depends on the game. It allows me to play this or that role. In Oblivion, for example, I am playing an explorer/free spirit - something that would be hard to play in NWN 2.
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November 13th, 2006, 14:57
I think that it depends on how heavily scripted the 'hero' is. Many games allow you some flexibility of action and choice, but others dictate your responses too heavily, to the point where it is jarring. I like games that provide a rich experience for whatever 'alignment' you choose - that was one of my biggest issues with Oblivion: it felt like it was meant to be played once as good / neutral / evil all at once, taking on fighter / mage / rogue roles …

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November 13th, 2006, 16:58
Originally Posted by doctor_kaz View Post
I think it's less that the role has disappeared than that it was never there to a large extent in the first place. The disappearances of Troika, Black Isle, and Bioware from PC gaming haven't helped.
I'll agree that "Role" has never existed. Planescape tried, but you were really just a page turner in a story already written. I don't think SP crpgs can have multiple meaningful roles to play and be successful. Oblivion works for me because your "role" is a master-of-all trades character. Playing only one role in Oblivion would be impossible. Games like Gothic and PS:T tackle this differently. They make an adventure game, and add x amount of statistical crpg elements to their character and call it a crpg. You have basically two choices in single character role-playing games:

Designer Roleplaying games-This is a game where your character has been created for you and you're playing the role the designer drew up for you. There will be several choices within the game, but your role is defined already. You get to "flesh out" the character to differing degrees. Planescape, Gothics, Ultimas, Deus Ex, etc., fit this mold.

Statistical-based Roleplaying games-This is a game where picking your stats, skills, abilities, etc., define your role. You're not playing a role, you're picking a set of rolls/choices to build your game. These games are much less focused because of the number of options in character creation. The best of these games make your choices have consequences, but most games don't bother. The rest of the game is written so that no matter which set of rolls you choose, the outcome of the game is the same. There might be a few things that are specific roll related, but these won't affect the main storyline. The Elder Scrolls games are like this.

Games like NWN try to blend the two by having a party. The main character is statistical-based and the party is designer roleplaying.

I'm thinking that Corwin is right. If you want to play a "role" playing game, join a persistent online world that has game mechanics you enjoy. This is the closest thing we have to roleplaying.

I like character building and exploration games. That they call these crpgs is okay with me "Role" playing demands other people be involved; either other actors or an audience. SP games don't give that.
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November 13th, 2006, 17:11
First Coriwn let me say great article, I've been thinking exactly the same thing. I disagree on one point. I don't think there is roleplaying in any single player game at least not currently. Because to me true roleplaying is using your own imagination. In a SP game you can only choose between predefined dialog and see how a pre-written story evolves. This could change in the future with for example a neural network.. which would be very interesting… but currently we are not there for SP games.

As far as multiplayer goes. The only game I found which offered truly great roleplaying was text-based games. ( Before someone cover in horror and stop reading, at least read why I think so ) The reason is that here, I can write the description of my truly unique character, create any kind of EQ I want him to have create the enviroment you want to have around you. Your actions are not predefined by the animations the character can do or the limit of emotes in a list. The world can constanly evolve, any environment is immidietly changeable. On top of that the people is simply great. In the average MMORPG for each good RP'er there's at least 100 noobs who just want to kill. The people who take the time to play a text based game are ussually great roleplayers. Neverwinter nights has a huge limitation, it doesn't have a constant world, when you stop one campaign you can keep the same character but the numbers of participating players is highly limited as well. IMHO there is no MMORPG or other game in multiplayer that currently has a chance to compare to the best text based roleplaying games. I playe one for 7 years, unfortunatly it had to shut down because people took it too seriously they'd flame the creator like crazy just because he changed something in a way they didn't like. After it shutdown I just couldn't find anything nearly as good as this…. so I stopped. My rating of WOW would be 2/10 as a roleplaying game ( yes I know about the RP servers ) the text game would get 10/10… no other game has given me so much fun… not even close.



and your wizard won’t be very effective running around in plate mail armour, but is this ‘really’ playing a role?
Really, in Oblivion I found this kind of wizard the most effective of any class I tried if you're a master in heavy armor it works really great Just goes to show how flawed this game is…..
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November 13th, 2006, 17:21
Oblivion is great at what it is: a powergamers crpg. You're a master of all and it does this without blinking. If someone buys Oblivion expecting anything else, they're going to be disappointed. If you buy Oblivion, acknowledging it's for powergamers, you'll have a great time. The game is beautiful and it's chock full of loot and critters to powergame against. This is not for the group that wants every fight to be a challenge and each quest to have 100 solutions.
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November 13th, 2006, 17:22
sorry my fault, I shouldn't have brought in Oblivion in this, it's not what I wanted to discuss… though I can never miss a chance to pick on it.
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Default Great Article

November 13th, 2006, 17:35
First off, great article. There's a reason why RPGDot became so popular and I have no doubt that with some great articles like this backing up this site, RPGWatch will do the same…

…we find two other divisions; those based on class distinctions such as D&D and those where your character can develop anyway you choose as in Oblivion or Gothic. It goes without saying, that people who choose a particular class, such as Paladin, or Wizard will have certain restrictions imposed on them which, in a sense, force them to ‘role-play’ to some extent. You can’t be an evil Paladin and your wizard won’t be very effective running around in plate mail armour, but is this ‘really’ playing a role?
This is such a great point, there are so many examples to site from and discuss.

I understand what you're saying here. But really, the same issue could also be raised with Oblivion and especially with Gothic… both fantastic games mind you. While in a game like D&D with its buffet of races and classes and restrictions thereof, to a lesser extent, Oblivion still imposes itself upon the player because unless I decide to create a mod, I have to choose from available races and available skills to define the character I make. According to what you wrote, to be a 'role' playing game, the developers would have to somehow build a game where the player could literally define every aspect of a character… which is not really a realistic approach… at least not with today's technology. Gothic is actually far worse in this aspect than both Oblivion or games like say, NWN…where you start with a canned 'hero.'

But there is an alternative way to view this from the gamer's perspective. Your article seems to assume that playing a role must be a role that the player chooses. But the notion that a player can play the role of a character someone else chooses is possible as well… in which case as it relates to this article, we are talking about the developers. There isn't anything wrong with this and both Oblivion and Gothic are quite entertaining games.

Another spin on this subject that came up during Oblivion's devlopement was when the developers starting releasing information about Oblivion that some aspects of combat would be player initiated rather than purely stat based. For example, instead of blocking being based on a skill of the character, in Oblivion the player would instead actually press a button to initiate a blocking move, where the stat would simply define the effectiveness of the block. Then the outrage followed and statements such as 'Oblivion won't be a true roleplaying game' if features like this were incorporated.

But really, by that logic, the character should just play itself then. Because as a player, if I take any control of the character in any way, say, such as running him around the game world to places that I choose to go to as the player, isn't that a violation of the complaint that blocking should be purely stat based? If I as the player choose to talk to a certain NPC, is that the character's choice or my choice? If it's my choice, have the developers failed? The truth is that to play a role playing game is to accept the imperfection that exists that while there may be a line between the player and the character, that line is always going to be blurry. As developers make games that blur that line in different way I find it better to try to enjoy the experience rather than bitch and moan that the line should be blurred differently.

What happens when a developer goes out of their way to offer many meaningful choices that will have serious consequences for the player? Well, in my experience, all it leads to are pages of whining forum postings about how unfair it is that someone cannot complete certain quests, or join certain factions, just because they made a choice early the game which has come back to bite them. Welcome to real world! I feel sorry for the developers, who appear to be in a no-win situation.
I agree on this point. I remember games like the early wizardry series, Bard's Tale, Ultima and other games like those where there were more consequences to your choices. They were fun games. But there is an inverse relationship between the gaming audiance expanding and the level of maturity in the gaming community. This disparity creates a lot of different expectations between newer RPGers and older ones… and it plays out grossly in many forums, mostly of which I avoid anymore.

I find it best, as in most things in life, to focus on what you have rather than what you don't have… to focus on what you like rather than what you don't like. When it comes to games, this is a good approach as well. It allows a gamer to enjoy games that subjectivley miss their mark.

If I'm right but there is no wife around to acknowledge it, am I still right?
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November 13th, 2006, 19:14
Excellent article. And many excellent comments. The issue is not so much what is role-playing as what do people think it is or want it to be.

From Merriam Webster online:
Main Entry: role-play
Function: verb
transitive verb
1 : to act out the role of <role-play a shy person>
2 : to represent in action <students were asked to role-play the thoughts and feelings of each character — R. G. Lambert>
intransitive verb : to play a role


Most cRPGs would answer to this definition—you are suspending disbelief in your own probably less-muscled, more effete computer-operating self and becoming someone else—but it's "playing the role of," not actually becoming. It's all a fantasy, and as in all fantasies, its what the fantasizer himself is bringing to the table that makes it work or not. Thus, Gothic is the prime example for some, PS:T, Fallout, BG1, Oblivion, etc for others, because of how each game can address that player's expectations.

So is a cRPG only truly a role playing game if it incorporates one's own personal slant—i.e., must be party oriented, turn-based, real-time, have complex dialogue interactions, consequences, inventory sorting whatever?

I don't think so—I think it just has to work as a proper fantasy should—taking one out of oneself and into another world as another person with the minimum of distraction from the process.(I suppose that's the immersion thing we hear so much about

And I think Gothicgothicness had a cogent point about the old MUDDs—my son used to role-play a barbarian in one, and he would disappear for days into it—the people he played with were more real and present in his life than most of his buds—because he could almost totally control his character and quite literally become it. Not to mention really getting good at keyboarding…

Where there's smoke, there's mirrors.
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November 13th, 2006, 19:41
had a cogent point about the old MUDs —my son used to role-play a barbarian in one, and he would disappear for days into it—
Yes, thank you for bringing that up as I forgot it in my first point… it was kind of a problem. But some people would get so into the mud that they forget their real-friends, their real-life and even to sleep. Kind of like world of warcrafts does to some people. But this addiction was different in some ways I think. It was not the "I just need to do another quest thing, gain some more xp… get some more gold" It was I want to keep roleplaying this wounderful character I created a bit longer. It's cute and funny how a rather large part of the mud got married on there at first… and after that proceded to get married in real life. No wounder people took the changes to the place so seriusly.
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November 13th, 2006, 21:14
Originally Posted by GothicGothicness View Post
Yes, thank you for bringing that up as I forgot it in my first point… it was kind of a problem. But some people would get so into the mud that they forget their real-friends, their real-life and even to sleep. Kind of like world of warcrafts does to some people. But this addiction was different in some ways I think. It was not the "I just need to do another quest thing, gain some more xp… get some more gold" It was I want to keep roleplaying this wounderful character I created a bit longer. It's cute and funny how a rather large part of the mud got married on there at first… and after that proceded to get married in real life. No wounder people took the changes to the place so seriusly.
I didn't think it was a bad thing then nor do I now—you're quite right about it being more like the creative side of the psyche coming out as opposed to plain unadulterated greed! I think it was just the call of kindred spirits—and it required a lot of mental energy. Some of the challenges and puzzles these people devised for each other were quite tortuous. But it can always be too much for some people—too much better than the world they are supposed to be living in, which is not nearly as much fun.

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November 14th, 2006, 00:08
Great article corwin, but I think you missed the big aspect of role-playing, that being action and the core of what a role is. Dialogue in game i think hurts this, as it forces a role, or role-type on you. I much rather prefer the old games with no character dialogue, just ambigious choices. I can fill in what was said myself, something my character would actually say. Your example of PST is the antithesis of roleplaying, but is a great example of what a great story and dialgue driven rpg can be like. In PST you are the nameless one, with a set history, and very few different ways of playing an actual role.

The difference between role-playing and playing a role is the difference between being an improv actor or reading a cscript for a play or movie. In The RoA series, ToEE, Darksun, Wizardry, etc, all my characters had very different personalities. They all interacted with each other and npcs differently. That might make me crazym or maybe I play crpgs the right way

A good example of this is ToEE. I went into Nulb beet up badly and went into the inn to the south, one of my character's, a tough guy that doesn't back down from a fight, got his pocket picket by the serving lady and caught her doing it. I know if I called her on it all the npcs in the bar would attack. I was playing in Ironman and I knew this was a life and death situation for him and the party. So I have a character that doesn't back down from a fight having to choose between backing down or getting himself and all his buddies slaughtered. This choice took a long time but he finally decided he would ignore it, for now, and come back and get his revenge later alone. Making this decision killed him, and he was quiet and sullen the for the rest of the game, even after we killed everyone in that inn later, it just killed him to back down.

Now, all this was represented with in game was one option, fight or ignore (and we wouldn't of had that option if he didn't spot it). Roleplaying is something you put in a crpg that actually supports your attempts at it. And instead of games trying to support roleplaying, they are trying to kill it with pregenerated characters, backgrounds, set dialgue, etc.

Roleplaying a character is a lot more than rolling up a paladin and running around and doing good and lawful deeds. You have to really create another person, a fully fleshed person that is motivated with greeds, vices, dreams, and desires beyond having a LG,CE, NG, CG, etc. designator
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November 14th, 2006, 01:56
roqua, I had to leave some concepts unsaid, so that people like you with your very strong opinions would have something to contribute to the discussion. After all, the purpose of the article was to generate discussion, not to be a definitive statement!! I'm just pleased people are enjoying it and having their say on this issue.

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November 14th, 2006, 14:39
I'm not saying what your opinions where wrong, just showing a different perspective on what roleplaying is. I personally didn't roleplay at all in PST because the game did it all for me. The background was set, the choices were mostly set, etc. If you compare that with ToEE, a game that had crap dialgue and a weak story, you get two opposite ends of the spectrum. Most people here would say ToEE was weak on role-playing aspects, but it was perfect for how I play games, as I fill in the motivations with make-believe party banter bewteen my characters. I had a paladin leave the one of my groups because everyone was making fun of him for being such a conservative stickler, and that screwed everyone else because we needed him for the end fights, and they all got slaughtered at the boss frog fight.

I'm not saying your wrong and I'm right. In fact, most people want the computer to take the place of imagination I would say. Chances are the fact I have make-believe conversations filled with high drama with made-up fully fleshed characters on a crpg makes me a little (or a lot) retarded. But thats how I have fun, and thats how I believe role-playing on a crpg should be, or at least supported. I would love a backstep to the good old days of one word ambigious answers to npcs from party members. But everyone wants 100% voice acted fully fleshed out, pregenerated responses to choose from, that I feel put words in to one of my characters mouth and forces the character to say or do things they would actually never do.

I can see why the voice acted, pregenerated route would be appealing, I just believe its the antethesis of roleplaying.
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November 14th, 2006, 14:56
Originally Posted by roqua View Post
In fact, most people want the computer to take the place of imagination I would say.
That was something from the IGN thing that interviewed all of the RPG folks - they all said that we viewed the old days as 'Golden' because the games ignited our imagination and left much for our minds to fill in, therefore immersing us deeply as part of the overall experience. But then they say things are much better now

No game with fixed dialogue options captures my role-playing completely, but I like having AI NPC's to say crazy stuff like Minsc …

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November 14th, 2006, 18:55
Great article Corwin. I'm going to address one facet that I, as a designer of NWN mods, have found particularly irksome with cRPG gamers.

First, here's your quote: "What happens when a developer goes out of their way to offer many meaningful choices that will have serious consequences for the player? Well, in my experience, all it leads to are pages of whining forum postings about how unfair it is that someone cannot complete certain quests, or join certain factions, just because they made a choice early the game which has come back to bite them. Welcome to real world! I feel sorry for the developers, who appear to be in a no-win situation."

There are two problems with the notion of non-linear questing in a cRPG. For one, it is simply impossible to replicate the experience of "total freedom" that is central to playing pen-and-paper D&D, V:tm, or Das Schwarze Auge with your best buds. It is this lack of freedom that makes traditional role-playing so much more immersive and engrossing than the computer-based variety. And second, designing a non-linear, single-player cRPG is kind of like creating a giant house of cards. The resulting product is such a fragile, disjointed thing that pulling one card out of the stack can cause the whole game to collapse in a pile of broken sub-quests.

However, cRPG designers are so desperate to re-capture that feeling of "true" role-playing that they look past all the inherent difficulties and attempt the impossible anyway… with varying results.

But, the question must be asked: Is it worth the trouble? Apparently, publishers don't think so. They seem perfectly happy with funding linear, action-based cRPGs where the focus is placed squarely on stats and the accumulation of new armor and weaponry. Btw, these action-based games have more in common with the old Rogue-based games like Angband, Moria, and Ragnarok than they do with D&D. I would lump Obsidian in this pile, as Daggerfall was essentially designed to be Rogue in 3D.

Unfortunately, I tend to agree with the publishers on this one, as the majority of cRPG gamers out there seem more concerned with their ability to min-max stats and swap out new equipment than choose a path through a non-linear adventure. In fact, I would say the majority of cRPG gamers are quite happy to play "follow-the-dots" through a linear story-line if it means they have total freedom in crafting the character that most meets their needs.

Btw, creating a unique-looking character is not role-playing either. It is the equivalent of playing "dress up" with your Barbie or G.I. Joe doll.

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November 14th, 2006, 19:55
Originally Posted by TheMadGamer View Post
But really, by that logic, the character should just play itself then. Because as a player, if I take any control of the character in any way, say, such as running him around the game world to places that I choose to go to as the player, isn't that a violation of the complaint that blocking should be purely stat based? If I as the player choose to talk to a certain NPC, is that the character's choice or my choice? If it's my choice, have the developers failed? The truth is that to play a role playing game is to accept the imperfection that exists that while there may be a line between the player and the character, that line is always going to be blurry. As developers make games that blur that line in different way I find it better to try to enjoy the experience rather than bitch and moan that the line should be blurred differently.
There isn't a blurred line. The difference is between physical and mental control. Roleplaying is a mental activity, not a physical one. If I were a cripple I could roleplay an untra agile ninja that can do flips and crap. Poelplaying always has been and always will be a mental activity. You can not make a clear devide between mental aspects when the person is supplying the personality of the character played. Obviosly, a retarded person could not roleplay a genius very well, but a genius should be able to roleplay a retarded person with ease. A blind person could roleplay a sharp-eyed ranger with fantastic elven super vision. A big fat fattty fatso lady with a mustache and horrible acne and nose warts could roleplay a beautiful princess. You supply only the character, nothing physical in a roleplaying game. And character's character falls 100% in the land of the mind, not the body. The character's physical attributes are supplied by numbers, and the player's physical actttributes have no effect on these numbers. So a real life midget doesn't have to play a hobbit or dwarf in a roleplaying game, he can be a huge half-orc with bulging muscles and the ability to have his feet touch the floor when sitting.

This is really a very easy concept to grasp. There is no fine line between when a game incorporates too much player physical ability and skill into an rpg. If any amount is important then the game isn't an rpg. This can be easily tested by what i call the Stephen Hawking Test. If Stephen could give dirrections to someone hitting the controls and that dictates the actions happening in the game 100%, its an crpg. If not, its not. So Oblivion isn't an rpg because there is no way for him to say what to have the character he is roleplaying do as he could in a pen and paper rpg, or in real crpgs like ToEE.

In Oblivion and other non-rpg action games of that ilk, your character's skill doesn't dictate if s/he is a master swordsman, your personal skill does. So if you aren't playing the role, but are yourself the role, you cannot be playing an rpg. its simple logic.

Please realise this is not an argument of what games are good or bad, or what games are the awesomest in the world, just clarification on an element of video games that must not be present for the game to logically in a sane world be considered an rpg, and that of course is the twitch factor, or player physical input factoring in to success or failure of a character who is supposed to be roleplayed, not played factor.

I am right, there is no getting around it. This isn't an argument, just fact. RPGs and crpgs cannot incorporate player physical ability into a game and still call it an rpg. Its impossible. It is a fallacy and violates the theory of non-contracdiction and just simple common sense. Maybe its fun, or funner, or even the funnest way to do it, but its not an rpg when alls said and done.
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November 14th, 2006, 21:28
"For me, the worst examples of CRPG’s are those which present the player with no character choice whatsoever. Instead, you begin with some sort of pre-generated character which you are then expected to role-play. How can I, a somewhat elderly male, be asked to realistically play a female teenager? Sorry, but my creativity does not extend quite that far. That’s NOT to say it makes for a poor GAME, it’s just not a ROLE-playing game for me."

So to you, Betrayal at Krondor is not an RPG? I find that ludicrous. True, the inability to create a character limits imagination. On the other hand, one can develop the characters that fall under one's control in great detail, thus offseting the disadvantage entirely. In fact, it could be argued that roleplaying characters forced upon oneself is more rewarding, because one is not tempted to shape their personality after one's own while creating them, and one must adapt to their particular flaws. It is a healthy way to dissuade powergaming; in IWD, on the other hand, it is hard to resist the urge of building a 18-strength warrior - a prodigy! - , while the game, focused on dungeon crawling, encourages one to proceed in such fashion.


"But, the question must be asked: Is it worth the trouble? Apparently, publishers don't think so. They seem perfectly happy with funding linear, action-based cRPGs where the focus is placed squarely on stats and the accumulation of new armor and weaponry. Btw, these action-based games have more in common with the old Rogue-based games like Angband, Moria, and Ragnarok than they do with D&D. I would lump Obsidian in this pile, as Daggerfall was essentially designed to be Rogue in 3D."

I don't like where you're heading with this. These contemporary action RPGs should NEVER be compared to roguelikes. The latter are not straightforward in the least, presenting instead complex gameplay in which there are consequences to one's actions, in which the world is rich and surprising, and in which many modes of play are possible besides senseless hack and slash.
Last edited by Aides; November 14th, 2006 at 21:44.
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November 14th, 2006, 22:26
As others have said there really isnt any roleplay in single player rpgs. I think the closest we had was Ultima IV (even without the ability to really craft your own character) you were thrust into the role of being a hero and had to act appropriately. But even then it didn't really allow for the character of the player to come through. And I doubt that any crpg will ever allow for that because there are limits to the dev's imaginations, and to the technology which we have today.

In multiplayer though the roleplay is basically limited to the interactions between the players. The gameworld is a static place and has to be that way because everyone has a "right" to the content for all intents and purposes. Then of course there are the different camps of roleplayers that make life miserable for people that don't RP their way, which in turn turns roleplayers against each other and turns off potential roleplayers.
Things may change eventually, but I dont have alot of hope for it. The dev teams aren't really focused on making truly groundbreaking innovative games anymore, as they are more interested in the dollar amount that their competitors make. Sure there are companies like Bioware out there that are basically our last best hope but, Bethesda ,once upon a time, was a bastion of hope as well.
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RPGWatch Forums » Comments » News Comments » RPGWatch Side Quest: Where is the "R" in CRPG?
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