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September 18th, 2012, 00:32
The point of this article was to demonstrate how being old-school for the sake of old-school does not always make for a better game.
I may get burned as a heretic here myself (joke intended), but I do agree. This is something I have been fighting with a bit myself on the game design front (I have Inquisitor, but didn't start playing it yet… how weird is that?)

The thing is… making an "old-school" style game *right* is HARD. It's a heck of lot easier to slap some modern-era lead-you-by-the-nose contrivances onto the game than to put all the context-dependent clues into the game to help the player find his own way through the game. It's a lot easier to put in a modern, paint-by-numbers, rigid quest system in place than to make the quest system flexible enough to allow for the player to do it his own way. The classics we draw inspiration from often did this by making the quests very *simple* - and whatever flexibility there was came from that simplicity. A lot of the old Ultimas, for example, didn't really care how you came about a particular quest item - whether you talked to all the right people or not - only that you had it in your possession and used it at the appropriate time.

If you do it wrong, it becomes a case of "Guess what the designer was thinking?", the intellectual equivalent of the "hunt the pixel" puzzles that plagued (and still plague) many mediocre graphic adventure games. The player's only interface into the world - the only way to find clues - is what you, the game-creator, give him. You have to provide all the clues, all the dialog, all the suggestions, all the journal texts. Man, it'd be easier just to throw a "Go here!" cursor on the screen, wouldn't it?

The problem really is really finding the appropriate mix of modern design and old-school sensibilities. You can't just appeal to the gods of old school and be done with it. From what little I've read from these old-school designers, they really did agonize over these same kinds of problems back in the day, too. The wall of stats during character creation? It worked okay when you only had six attributes, plus armor class and hit points, and all your players were pen-and-paper D&D'ers. It became more challenging as the art advanced and the audience expanded.

I'm with the majority (I think) of RPGWatch readers who love old-school RPGs, and who are frustrated by some of the directions modern games are going. But it's not like old-school style was any sort of uniform design, or that any of the games back then were perfect. I don't think games should strive to slavishly ape old approaches. Instead, I prefer to use them as jumping-off points… to reexamine those approaches from a modern perspective, keep what's cool about 'em, and build up from there.

Since I've not played Inquisitor, I'm not going to claim they did it wrong. But I will reiterate that the old-school approach is NOT the easy road. That's undoubtedly one of the reasons it was so long in the making.
Last edited by RampantCoyote; September 18th, 2012 at 00:46.
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