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October 8th, 2007, 07:37
I think BG is a fairly good presentation of AD&D to satisfy both AD&D gamers and computer RPG players. The realtime combat and the well-designed interface made it accessible, too. You may think the lack of originality is downer but it is quite a contrary in most of the cases. Otherwise, it would not be explicable why D&D became so dominant in PnP RPG while there were some unique and original RPG systems around. I think consensus on some formula is needed to share plots/worlds and this tendency descended to MMORPG world, where it is difficult to find originality. There should be considerable popular media, which let the people share the settings. While Bioware basically keep their winning formula unchanged, with Jade Empire, they made a relatively brave move by creating their own setting based on Chinese mythology. The designers tried to make the game-play more accessible but I think they couldn't cultivate the market of new audiences much. The majority is not interested in the settings including Asian audiences, who are satisfied with their own products. Also, they lost some RPGamers except some royal fans through "consolized" game-play. The game itself may not be that bad but I think their commercial success is rather limited. This comes to a question if the originality should be avoided or not. Most of publishers may think it should be and, in fact, Bioware seemingly went back to more conventional Sci-Fi setting. They may have toned down the originality of Dragon Age, too.

Unfortunately, at the moment, I see originalities come from other genres than so-called RPG. However, some works use RPG elements such as Bioshock. Personally, I think the key of the success of Bioshock is immersive feel which works well with the sandbox game-play. Some people says that it is too easy but not so many says it is dumbed down. The game-play requites some intelligence without forcing the players to read manuals since the sandbox game-play allows the players to learn the world around them by simply exploring it. Unlike Jade Empire, the art design direction is aimed to enhance the feel of being surrounded by them rather than beautiful scenes like a postcard, enhancing the immersion: Bishock designers tried to make full use of the first person view. RPG makers try to offer both first person view and third person view to let the players to make most of NPC conversations and tactical combat but the art direction cannot be as integrated as in the first person only games. Many Japanese RPGs are turn-based and seeing realtime simulation games alive and kicking, there may be places for Baldur's Gate style game. However, the audiences are drained to MMORPG and sandbox CRPG such as Oblivion. Even in narrativist sense, the aforementioned setting restrictions make the designers less creative even compared with their FPS competitors. I don't know how much can be amended by Mass Effect's Star Wars-like setting and cinematic presentations but personally, I don't expect much from Bioware since I don't feel creativity from them.
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