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-   -   RPGs and PnP Roots (https://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3811)

Dhruin February 2nd, 2008 00:53

RPGs and PnP Roots
An editorial at Next Gen called Adventureland challenges the idea that CRPGs developed from PnP roots and suggests that CRPGs should escape PnP conventions to evolve. Ed de Castillo from Liquid, Pete Hines and J.E. Sawyer are quoted at various points - here are some clips from the end of the article:

The RPG is increasingly becoming a paradox – more progressive in its mechanics, and ever more pure in its attempts to make the role you play a persuasive, transparent experience. Although there is justifiable nostalgia for games like Fallout, Planescape: Torment and their predecessors, persisting in the use of tabletop gaming mechanics is in some ways a backwards perspective. Alongside gaming’s infatuation with cinema, the reliance on tabletop mechanics is the result of a fledgling medium attempting to ground itself within the familiar. Such structures are used in the PnP world to lend solidity to what can otherwise be difficult to grasp, difficult to control. The digital medium has other problems, but a lack of restriction is rarely one of them. […]
Increasingly, the dependence upon statistics and other abstracted means of representation is becoming an albatross, insofar as singleplayer videogames are concerned – strangely so, for a medium whose strengths are in direct interactivity and immediate visual feedback. In fact, games that make the best of these qualities have a better chance of truly fulfilling the only important goal of those tabletop games: the ability to imagine yourself in another’s shoes – the freedom to choose a role.
More information.

chamr February 2nd, 2008 00:53

*sigh* Reading this snip and the RPS brouhaha over AoD makes me think these folks just don't get it. We're talking about games. As in plural. As in game. What does that mean? It means that any attempt to characterize some great struggle for all games to attain a single goal or standard is inherently silly and nothing more than a self-created myth that gives folks something to write/rant about. There is no one standard. Games are about having fun. There is no single kind of fun that everyone should appreciate while forsaking all others. In other words, there will always be people that enjoy PnP-style, stat-heavy, turn-based games. Just as there will be folks that like fast-paced, reality-simulating, action-fests. And that's OK. Neither is better. Neither is worse. And they can both be fun.

I'm all for considering video games a unique art form. But sometimes I think some folks forget that, at their heart, they're supposed to be a game. Not some abstract "experience" that developers must strive for a single, ultimate incarnation of.

Morbus February 2nd, 2008 00:55

I say we throw away all those numbers and make ALL (with no exception) RPGs like Fahrenheit (indigo prophesy). Whaddaya say? Sounds good huh?


Brother None February 2nd, 2008 01:16

Who wrote that drivel? Gas Powered's Chris Taylor? He might be the only one who thinks that "RPG without numbers" is somehow not the factual equivalent of "FPS with dialogue." Want to play that kind of game? Pick up BioShock. Please stop pretending all cRPG design should be like that.

More and more I'm getting irked on one side by these types who present cRPGs as some kind of monolinear monolith that's rampaging towards its ultimate goal of pretty graphics and on the other side RPGCodex with its attacks on any attempt to widen the cRPG canvas and obsession with the main anal bantering on the definition of words at the centre, as if that should matter to anyone.

It's mostly industry bobos in suits that cause these kind of concepts that annoy me, though. At least the RPGCodex will allow for the existence of Diablo and Oblivion as long as you don't call them RPGs, these suits are xenophobic enough that the thought of PnP-based cRPGs as something that can evolve further inside the medium of computer games without shiny graphics makes them physically ill.

Regardless, all they show is that RPG really is a canvas definition on the computer. And rather than this idiotic struggle on defining what is a "true" RPG, either the design school as the Codex tends to hang on it or the monolinear graphicy version of the suits, why don't we grow up and recognise that there is no such thing as a "true" RPG no more than there is some kind of predefined monolinear path for RPG design. RPG is a highly inadequate canvas definition that should allow for design from any school of thought, not the AAA shiny graphics or AAA deep gameplay school only

Dhruin February 2nd, 2008 02:02

Good posts, all.

Corwin February 2nd, 2008 02:12

BN, now the Codex spies will invade your various websites and undermine all your work!! :biggrin:

guenthar February 2nd, 2008 03:30

I would never play an crpg that doesn't have some king of stats and they don't have to be numbers if the developer doesn't want them.

I don't play non-rpg games but have tried and lost interest very quickly because they are boring. If all developers went with this crap then I would stop playing games all together and just stick to anime, reading, board games, and card games.

PS. Why bring up an action/adventure (indigo prophecy) in a discussion about trying to stop the above people from becoming the Master and mutating our rpgs out of existence.

Squeek February 2nd, 2008 06:33

I enjoyed the comprehensiveness of this article, but I have to agree with everyone that some of it was pretty hard to take. I hated the conclusion for its oversimplification and rational.

And there was this:


…since they rely on visual representation rather than imagination, videogames have to reconcile the disparity between a player’s desired action and his avatar’s capabilities in a way that is clear and avoids frustration.
I thought that was well said, but it validates the notion that the player's imagination can't be employed in any valuable way.

Dantre February 2nd, 2008 06:44


Originally Posted by guenthar (Post 65945)
I would never play an crpg that doesn't have some king of stats and they don't have to be numbers if the developer doesn't want them.

What do you mean by "king of stats"? ;)

Funny typo, though.

RampantCoyote February 2nd, 2008 07:52

Wow - it's been fourteen years since Doom, and I never realized at the time that I was playing the ultimate evolution of the RPG. Who'da thunk?

syllogz February 2nd, 2008 08:51


Originally Posted by RampantCoyote (Post 65966)
Wow - it's been fourteen years since Doom, and I never realized at the time that I was playing the ultimate evolution of the RPG. Who'da thunk?

You don't remember correctly. It was Hexen where you could choose a class out of three. And that was twelve years ago. ;)

Jaz February 2nd, 2008 10:11

Yeah - and for me, Hexen is far superior to games like NWN.
While H. is one of my most replayed games of all times (I don't think 40 replays would come close to the truth), I had two unsuccessful bouts with NWN. Terminal boredom set in far too early. The only redeeming factor of NWN was Barbie's Fashion Studio, er, I mean the tool set's armor designer.
IMO there's no way to transport the pnp atmosphere to a mere video game, so no video game can be a real RPG (my definition now). But even for PnP games there's my rule of 'number crunching lessens the enjoyment of any game but Sudoku' - so if the developers of a game absolutely need stats to be happy, they'd better be of the invisible sort. The stats, not the developers. I know that there are people out there who like their games stats-heavy, which is fine - diversity is what counts.

Prime Junta February 2nd, 2008 11:00

I think I may have learned something when head-butting BN.

Namely, that he's right about the attitude of the writer -- seeing, or at least presenting, game evolution as a linear progression from something to something else. That's clearly screwed-up.

That said, I agree with the author's central thesis -- that the "classic" cRPG mechanism of simply automating PnP rules and making that the game mechanism is unnecessarily limiting. People improvise and socialize, computers crunch numbers. That makes the cRPG experience fundamentally different from the PnP RPG experience. Designing a cRPG around a PnP ruleset gets the worst of both worlds -- hyper-simplified "simulation" ('cuz that's what rules are, in the end -- they do simulate stuff like combat, magic, and what have you), without the improvisation, socialization, and imagination of PnP gaming.

I think that any game design could benefit if it dropped the PnP "albatross" and framed the design problem differently: how to create a game design that plays to the strengths of the medium, supports role-playing (choices and consequences, character development), is well balanced, *and* is fun.

I'm quite certain there are a myriad of different solutions out there, from a pure stat-less shoot-em-up with character and object interaction, to a system with "hidden numbers" (as discussed recently in another thread), to a system with "visible stats" permitting explicit tweaking in character development; with real-time first-person or third-person combat, real-time tactical squad-based combat, or turn-based tactical single-character or squad-based combat, or perhaps even fully abstracted combat -- maybe like the "storyboard" approach tantalizingly suggested in the Synaesthesia thread.

RampantCoyote February 2nd, 2008 11:12

Well, that's cool and all - but the FPS Hexen didn't do much for me I played it for… I dunno… four hours? But I played NWN for YEARS. Mostly multiplayer, but also the campaigns / expansions and user mods.

Maybe it's my indie & pnp roots showing here, but when I read the article and what the Liquid Entertainment people say, all I can really hear is, "Oh, this way MUST be better because it costs more!"

To use a movie analogy, it sounds to me like they are trying to sell me on a movie by saying, "You know, we finally realized that all that DIALOG and stuff was really just getting in the way of what the audience really wanted - more action and explosions. I was watching The Empire Strikes Back the other day, and realized that they sometimes went a whole FIFTEEN MINUTES just showing scenes of Luke running around with a green dude on his shoulders, and Han Solo trying to make time with Princess Leiah or something… I mean, it was a whole HOUR between the battle on Hoth and the Light Saber battle between Luke and Darth Vader! We realized that movie makers were just stupid back then, and movies have to evolve. Our new movie is two hours ofl light-sabers and land battles. We're calling it Attack of the Clones - The Music Video."

Yeah, I'm sure there are some kids that would totally eat that up, too. And hey - I think the Empire Strikes Back was the least financially successful of all of the Star Wars movies - including the new trilogy. So maybe I'm just an idiot, and what the Empire Strikes Back needed was more Jar Jar Binks and lightsabers.

Prime Junta February 2nd, 2008 11:36

@RC, I think your analogy breaks down a bit there. IMO PnP mechanics doesn't equate to the dialog and slower storytelling you're referring to, and RT/FP mechanics don't equate to fight scenes and explosions. Dialog and atmosphere are dialog and atmosphere, and fight scenes and explosions are fight scenes and explosions whatever the medium.

It's totally possible to make a slower-paced, deeper, dialog-, character-, and story-driven game in RT/FP mechanics, just like it's possible to make a fast-paced, shallow, combat-driven game in TB/TP/PnP based mechanics.

Alrik Fassbauer February 2nd, 2008 13:09

What does the author mean with "is becoming an albatross" ?
I've never heard this before.

Dhruin February 2nd, 2008 13:21

The albatross (as in, the sea bird) is apparently considered a good luck symbol by mariners. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, a seaman kills an abatross (which is obviously bad luck) and is forced to wear the corpse around his neck as a sign that he was to blame, not the whole ship.

So, the saying means a "guilty burden" or thereabouts.

Morbus February 2nd, 2008 13:25


Originally Posted by guenthar (Post 65945)
I don't play non-rpg games but have tried and lost interest very quickly because they are boring. If all developers went with this crap then I would stop playing games all together and just stick to anime, reading, board games, and card games.

Hopefully that's not happening. "All developers" are not one entity, so their opinions differ. Of course "most of them" don't, but that's another thing.


Originally Posted by guenthar (Post 65945)
PS. Why bring up an action/adventure (indigo prophecy) in a discussion about trying to stop the above people from becoming the Master and mutating our rpgs out of existence.

Because that's what they're turning RPGs into! If things were to go on like this (which they aren't, I'm sure of it), in five to ten years all RPGs would be like that. Storydriven cinemactic crap with action in the middle. Twitch action. Look at what they are doing: STALKER is considered an RPG, Bioshock sometimes, even Crysis, for god's sake! What the hell is wrong with them?

Dhruin February 2nd, 2008 13:37

With regards to the topic, a diversity of choices is a good thing, so if developers can find new directions to take their RPGs that open new roleplaying opportunities, I'm all for it. That said, I firmly believe the "classic" model is still the best when properly exploited and it expands the roleplaying options rather than limits them.

And Ed de Castillo sounds like a walking next-gen action advertisement. Lots of flash - time will tell on the substance.

I agree that video games are a visual medium but (currently) there are restrictive practical limits on content creation, so the insistence that a game have high visual fidelity is obviously a strength for what most people call "immersion" but a limitation on the number of possible options and interactions. I can't scale walls to enter an upper window in most games because the additional animations and so on are just too much work for little payoff, but I can easily have as many text based options as the designer wishes to imagine. I'm not suggesting games should abandon nice graphics and only rely on text but some of the old techniques have advantages for this genre in particular.

Alrik Fassbauer February 2nd, 2008 13:51

Thanks for the explanation.

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