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Sunday - January 27, 2013
Joystiq - Publish those numbers!
Rowan Kaiser's weekly RPG column on Joystiq turns to the subject of stats and the importance of their transparency:
Most all games abstract some manner of real-world behavior. Press the jump button in a game that allows it, and it'll make your character leap into the air in an animated approximation of how humans jump, but that's usually it – the rest of the jump has more to do with the needs of the game's level design than anything else. Even those aspects that aren't real, like casting magical spells, have consistent in-game rules, which often abstract other concepts, like a mage theoretically chanting magical words in a way irrelevant to the player.
What separates RPGs from most other genres in terms of abstraction is the style's origins in pencil-and-paper games. You want to punch an orc? You can punch that orc, but game rules simple enough to work with a couple of die need to exist in order to make that orc-punching workable for a group of people playing a game. Players need to know what the numbers are in order to make informed decisions. So you have things like 'strength statistics,' 'unarmed damage skills,' 'orc hit points,' 'dexterity rolls,' and so on. Shifting to the computer may have allowed these mechanics to be calculated faster as well as potentially more complex. But critically, even though those mechanics could have been masked, RPGs generally kept the numbers transparent and public.
Sunday - December 23, 2012
Joystiq - 2012: The Year in RPGs
Joystiq's weekly RPG column looks at the releases and events in 2012:
March: Mass Effect 3 came out and dominated discussion of all games for the next two months. My dislike of the ending itself is well-documented, so I'll just make two quick points: first, it's only because everything else worked so well, through all three games, that a five-minute ending could be such a shock; and second, how crazy awesome is it that a video game's story inspired such argument?
April: Lots of old-fashioned RPGs got funded on Kickstarter this year. But The Legend Of Grimrock actually got released in April. It's an homage to the tile-based, real-time, puzzle-filled, party-created RPGS of the late '80s and early '90s-important games like Dungeon Master, Eye Of The Beholder, Lands Of Lore, or Stonekeep. The puzzles and I don't get along, so I've always struggled with this subgenre. But I'm delighted that it exists, delighted that it's successful, and especially delighted that its developers have added a construction kit.
Tuesday - December 18, 2012
Joystiq - There's an RPG in my FPS!
From a few days back, Rowan Kaiser's regular RPG blog on Joystiq examines the marriage of RPG and FPS:
At the end of the 1990s, the superb Deus Ex managed to fuse both role-playing games and first-person shooters into a coherent whole. This wasn't an RPG with shooter bits, nor was it a shooter with RPG elements; it was both genres, in their totality, together at once. This
was a neat trick, and one that hasn't really been duplicated, not even by Deus Ex's sequels.
The crucial issue is this: first-person shooters reward player skill. The faster you are at aiming, the better you are at moving, the more likely you will succeed in an FPS. Role-playing games can involve that (especially action-RPGs), but they always rely on character skill. Your character statistics, items, and skills will help you succeed, or cause you to fail, regardless of how speedy you are with a mouse or a controller. Deus Ex managed to find just the right balance where both player and character skill were important for success.
Sunday - November 18, 2012
Joystiq - The Future of WRPGs
Rowan Kaiser's regular RPG column a Joystiq ruminates on the future of the genre (and related fields like MMOs) this week:
The last few years should have finally put to the rest the idea that RPGs are an old, dying genre. The success of Bethesda and BioWare at the top, as well as a surprising amount of attention to games like The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Torchlight 2 and Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning indicate that the genre is, if anything, on the upswing.
The wildly successful Kickstarters of Project Eternity and Wasteland 2, as well as the re-releases of Baldur's Gate with potential for a sequel, also indicate that even some of the styles of RPG which have gone out of fashion, primarily party-based, may be making a comeback, in addition to adding more games at a lower price point. In a business sense, this looks to me like the healthiest the genre has been in nearly two decades.
Saturday - October 20, 2012
Joystiq - How RPGs colonised some of 2012s best games
In Joystiq's weekly RPG column, Rowan Kaiser writes how RPG elements have enhanced some of the year's best games, such as XCOM, The Walking Dead and FTL:
XCOM tweaks the initial game's form in ways that align with traditional role-playing games. The squad size is limited to 4-6 characters, traditional RPG numbers, and only having one base means you rarely need large numbers of squaddies – I never had more than 15 at once, and even that was high due to playing on "Classic" difficulty. It also slightly decreases the importance of the strategic decision-making level, putting the focus on the characters in the field.
It's the level of RPG-like character customization that makes XCOM different, and in many ways stronger, than its predecessor. Spending time customizing character face, voice, and hair is a hallmark of an RPG (although those options are too limited for my tastes). On the other hand, the ability to customize armor color and design gave instant differentiation and personality to the soldiers. But the RPG-style customization isn't simply cosmetic. XCOM assigns the soldiers into classes. As they complete missions, they gain promotions, which act as levels, and with those, they're given new skills, most of which are choices. A third-level Sniper gets to choose between the "Squadshot" skill and the "Snapshot" skill, letting you customize a character for accuracy or mobility. I'd still hesitate to call XCOM an RPG but I wouldn't hesitate at all to say that it's a better game for its similarities to RPGs.
Monday - October 08, 2012
Joystiq - What gives role-playing games their longevity?
I didn't get around to posting Joystiq's regular RPG column last week, which was titled What gived role-playing gamed their longevity?
The strong stories in role-playing games are one major reason for their longevity. Alongside adventure games, RPGs have long been at the forefront of storytelling innovations within the medium. And a story isn't going to become outdated. I may prefer Ultima VII's or Mass Effect 2's interfaces and graphics to Ultima VI and the first Mass Effect, but I find the storytelling more appealing in the chronologically earlier games. Improved technology can't make this obsolete.
RPGs have another strength beyond that: their systems are comprehensible. By this I mean that the mathematical interactions of their internal statistics are usually published in such a way that the player can learn, analyze, and play with them. This is, of course, a manifestation of their roots in tabletop games where everything had to be simple and fast enough to be utilized by people. These systems can thus be weighed against one another, and judged external to technological factors.
Sunday - September 23, 2012
Joystiq - What Makes a Classic RPG?
Joystiq's Rowan Kaiser writes his usual weekly RPG column, examining the idea that "isometric" equals "old school". His methodology is hit-and-miss -- but then again, it's hard enough defining the concepts:
In the past few weeks, I've noticed a few different sources that have used isometric perspective as an indicator of classic role-playing games. First, GOG.com advertised the new throwback RPG Inquisitor by saying it was "true to the isometric roots of classic PC gaming." Then Obsidian's Project Eternity Kickstarter heralded its isometric perspective regularly.
I found this focus on perspective to be a little confusing. Certainly I love Diablo and Fallout and other isometric RPGs, but the genre has such variety in it that focusing single components seems narrow. But what if I was wrong? What if classic RPGs actually are almost all isometric, or turn-based, or story-driven, or open-world? What if there isn't that much variety after all?
So I decided to test my theory that classic RPGs come in a variety of flavors. I made a list of the most important and famous western, non-massively multiplayer role-playing games – which spanned 50 titles. Then I looked at the components that usually distinguish RPGs from one another: perspective, combat style, complexity of character development, story importance, whether there are puzzles, geography, and how the game provides the character(s) you control. What I found is that the RPG genre is not easily categorized. What I found was a genre filled of diverse titles.
Saturday - August 11, 2012
Joystiq - How to keep a good RPG going
Joystiq's weekly RPG column looks at the different styles of DLC being made for RPGs and concludes a number of models just aren't suited to the genre. The piece is built around Dragon Age: Origins, with the author having just caught up on the DA:O DLC:
Add New Quests: Two of the Origins add-ons, "Warden's Keep" and "Golems Of Amgarrak," simply give you a new location and new quests to do. "Warden's Keep" is nothing special, but it succeeds in giving you a new location to travel to while playing Origins, a decent challenge, and an expansion of the world. On the other hand, "Golems," which takes place after Origins and can only be accessed from the "Other Campaigns" menu, is a disaster. Detached from the main quest and the main characters, "Golems" has to stand entirely on its own – and it doesn't.
This helped me realize something critical about adding content to RPGs: it has to fit within the game. Dragon Age: Origins is an epic, multiple-character-based RPG. It's not perfect, and not every quest is a model of storytelling, but by building the characters and world over the course several interconnected quests, under the aegis of saving the kingdom, each quest can feel bigger than it would be on its own. The weaknesses are papered over by the larger context. In "Golems Of Amgarrak," there is no larger context. It stands on its own, without a connection to the troubles of Ferelden, and without the characters who make Dragon Age: Origins so interesting. On its own, the weaknesses are all that's apparent. "Golems" might have been a decent quest had you wandered through it with Morrigan and Shale, as "Warden's Keep" was. Instead, it's a waste of time and money.
Wednesday - August 08, 2012
Joystiq - Grinding and its relationship with RPGs
Rowan Kaiser's regular RPG column at Joystiq looks at "grinding" within the genre:
Describing one's actions in Skyrim sounds a lot like "grinding": you randomly fight enemies in non-essential caves, and in so doing, improve your character with experience, money, and items. How is that different from spinning in place in (increasingly rare) games with random encounters? That's where the traditional definition of grinding starts to fall apart. See, the joy of Skyrim is the exploration. One may not play for the main plot at all, so defining these actions as "not-grinding" sounds absurd. But in Wizardry VII, the joy isn't completing the main plot either. It's interacting with the skill and class system, which, of course, is accessed through the experience points gained primarily from combat. Actions which are traditionally described as "grinding" – inessential, repetitive tasks which build up the player character's abilities – are not inessential after all.
Sunday - July 29, 2012
Joystiq - RPGs Deserve A Better Class of Criminal
Joystiq writes about the quality of villains in RPGs. The article is aimed at jRPGs and, for the most part, I think we fare better on the wRPG side but it's still valid for a lot of games:
Like much of America, I saw The Dark Knight Rises last weekend. Like much of America, I left the theater completely enamored with the vicious (and occasionally ridiculous) villain Bane.
My first thought: "Holy crap, Bane sounds exactly like Deckard Cain."
My second thought: "Why don't RPGs have villains this awesome?"
Okay. Maybe it's unfair to ask every role-playing game to be more like the $250 million blockbuster that everyone on the planet went to see last weekend. And it's absolutely unfair to expect polygonal enemies to exude the personality of a real human being on a thirty-foot screen. But can't RPG makers learn something from the chilling villains in Christopher Nolan's wonderful superhero trilogy? Can the Joker help tell better stories?
Saturday - July 21, 2012
Joystiq - An RPG fan's guide to the Steam Sale
Anyone who likes Steam should be watching the Summer Sale at the moment for some bargains and Joystiq's Rowan Kaiser has rounded up suggestions for RPG fans. Of course, the best deals are daily and flash sales, which are unpredictable, but there are also sale-long deals.
Sunday - July 08, 2012
Joystiq - Voice acting - more trouble than it's worth
Joystiq's Rowan Kaiser returns with his regular column, this time looking at voice-acting in RPGs. The piece references developers like Brenda Brathwaite and Chris Avellone on the pitfalls of voice-acting:
"Great ideas were left sitting on the bench because the time to record them (or render graphics) wasn't available," she said in her reply.
Was this a normal issue facing RPG developers? I started a quick conversation with Chris Avellone of Obsidian Entertainment – designer of famous RPGs like Planescape: Torment, Fallout 2, Alpha Protocol and Fallout: New Vegas expansions – about player choice in cinematic RPGs, and he volunteered, unprompted, some of his issues with recorded speech. "I don't enjoy doing cinematic conversations for a variety of reasons, but I have done them as part of my job."
Avellone described three main issues: first, that it disrupts his design process; second, his personal preference in terms of role-playing; and third, that their hard work that may not bear fruit.
Tuesday - May 01, 2012
Joystiq - Why skills are in, attributes are out
Joystiq's Rowan Kaiser looks at the shift in modern RPGs that have embraced Skills to the exclusion of Attributes:
The importance of attributes comes directly from the computer RPG's origin as a representation of tabletop RPG combat systems. Wizardry, the game which really kicked off the genre, was mostly Dungeons & Dragons with the serial numbers filed off. By the late 1980s, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games officially translated the tabletop rulesets to the screen. Creating a character was known as "rolling" because you threw the dice to discover his or her inherent Strength, Agility, Charisma, etc. In D&D, those statistics were largely permanent, defining the character through the entire game or campaign. Some video games, like Ultima, took advantage of the malleability of the medium to allow attribute increases. But apart from spells, attributes tended to be the bulk of character customization in terms of mechanics.
But computers and consoles can process information faster than a dungeon master with a set of dice, so more complicated statistics were introduced. Wizardry VI and Wizardry VII introduced a complex system, balancing permanent character race with dynamic class and attributes, using dozens of different skills as the primary mechanism for character progression. Other games in the early 1990s followed suit: Betrayal At Krondor made skills far more prominent than attributes (which only included Speed and Strength anyway). The Elder Scrolls: Arena, first in that series, used both skills and attributes.
Monday - February 27, 2012
Joystiq - Thematic Consistency in RPGs
Joystiq has an editorial about rpgs and thematic consistency. Rowan Kaiser compares the settings in the old rpgs with those of modern rpgs - from Wizardry to Dragon Age. A quote on how it used to be:
Wizardry's setting was not exceptional in those days. For example, the Might & Magic series was a pastiche of different fantasy and science fiction tropes, all jammed together without rhyme or reason. It's still around, in the Heroes Of Might & Magic strategy spinoffs, where fairies, bears, and dwarves all live together in the same towns. Even Ultima, in the early stages of the genre, included totally random Star Wars-like space combat sections, mandatory for completing the first two games. Across the Pacific, Japanese games like Final Fantasy included airships and aliens alongside its fantasy tropes. I miss this wildness sometimes. Modern RPGs are built around thematic consistency. They're set in worlds that attempt to make sense. To take Dragon Age: Origins as an example: it has a recognizable, historical political system. The characters generally understand the state of the world, and are motivated to deal with that. These are not bad things. As a critic who deals with narrative, creating worlds without inconsistencies appeals to me. My problem is that this has become the default mode for role-playing games. I like the thematically consistent, intense stories of a Dragon Age, yes, but I also miss the goofy weirdness of a Wizardry.
Tuesday - February 14, 2012
Joystiq - How Moral Choice in Games Fail
Joystig has an editorial named Dark Side:Cause It Looks Cool: The failings of Moral Choice in Games. The article investigates how moral choices in games play out. The author mentions both the Mass Effect series, Dragon Age - and Ultima IV. An snip from the article about DA: Origins:
Dragon Age: Origins: Although it still largely follows the Fallout/BioWare model, two shifts make it more interesting. First, it doesn't treat ethics primarily as good versus evil, but instead more as ends versus means. Second, that tends to manifest itself primarily in whether your companions agree with you or not, instead of an overall score. This keeps the game's narrative focused on a smaller scale of keeping your partners happy, which is great since the companions are Dragon Age's greatest strength.
Furthermore, the author mentions a choice in the MMO from Bioware: Star Wars: The Old Republic. While we don't normally deal with MMOs, the example given certainly is a good way of illustrating how not to make moral choices in games - example is a spoiler, though:
Perhaps the worst example I encountered in my time playing The Old Republic occurred on Tatooine, as an Imperial player. I was sent to uncover proof that the Jawas had a shaman who could use the Force. After a few quests, I uncovered proof, and confronted a Jawa leader. A game that allowed a truly moral choice would have given me the opportunity to leave the Jawas in peace, or even to join them and fight for their freedom. Instead, all of my "choices" forced me to fight the Jawa, and then capture or kill it and give that information to one Imperial or another.
Friday - January 20, 2012
Joystiq - Diversity of Roguelikes
Joystiq has penned an article about the roguelikes that has been coming out during the last year. Overall, they think this illustrate's the subgenre's potential. Here's how they feel about Dungeons of Dredmor:
There's just too much going on in Dungeons Of Dredmor. The chief offender may be the half a dozen different crafting skills, in a game where it's difficult to survive long enough to get the items to craft. The statistics are broken into six different main categories, each with their own subcategory. The game is a little too clever with its stats, renaming each something different from the norm: instead of Strength, Burliness; instead of Charisma, it uses Savvy. Burliness is then divided into Melee Power, Armor Absorption, and Trap Sight Radius. Any item you pick up has the chance to improve either the stats or the sub-stats. It's complicated enough that the game even recommends simply picking items based on how well they make the numbers go up. It can get overwhelming.
Friday - January 13, 2012
Joystiq - The State of Western RPGs
Joystiq looks over the state of western RPGs in an article that makes some general (and sometimes questionable) observations about the genre:
Though the consistent historical importance of the RPG seems to be clear enough, there are some major trends that I expect I'll spend a great deal of time discussing. There was indeed a dramatic shift in the mid-1990s, but it was not the collapse of the PC RPG as often heralded – games like Fallout, Diablo, Daggerfall, and Baldur's Gate are rightly considered all-time classics. It was instead a shift from party-based systems to single character-based systems. In each of those games, which include early entries from BioWare, Bethesda, and Blizzard, you create a single character to be your avatar in the world.
This has had wide-reaching consequences in the world of RPGs. In narrative terms, a party of player characters cannot have a single ethical system, but ever since Fallout, those lone characters do have their ethics – and party members who agree or disagree with those ethical choices. Romance existed in at least one of those old party-based RPGs – Treasures Of The Savage Frontier (1992) – but it's been refined consistently since then.
But it's not just storyline. RPGs have become more action-oriented than the turn-based games of the past, and that wouldn't be possible without the focus on a single character instead of a whole party. Instead, games from Baldur's Gate to Fallout III offer indirect control over party members in various forms, but generally complete control over the player, with Mass Effect 2 perhaps the pinnacle of the form.
Wednesday - August 04, 2010
Joystiq - The Game That Wasn't There
The Game That Wasn't There is an op-ed piece at Joystiq that laments the disappearance "Western RPG as they used to be, before Bioware and Bethesda took up the reins of Western RPGdom". Small party sizes, not enough character creation options and an emphasis on action combat are all addressed:
Compare that to the present, when the magical number for party size appears to be four or less, if there is any party at all. BioWare certainly seems to see things this way, with Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect using the trio as the party size of choice, and Dragon Age going for the quartet. Of course, these games aren't limited to three playable characters; they just let you collect party members and keep them sitting around back at camp/on a spaceship doing nothing while you select the two you wish to gallivant around with. In an assimilation of the JRPG method of party management, the rest just sit around, waiting for their chance to shine/be seduced.
Source: No Mutants Allowed
Sunday - September 09, 2007
Joystiq - Study: One in Four White Collar Workers Games at Work
Joystiq presents a short article on what everyone is really doing at work when no one is watching-- but don't worry, the boss is doing it, too:
The study, conducted by Information Solutions Group, found that 24 percent of white collar workers played games while on the job. More surprising (or perhaps less, depending on how cynical you are) a full 35 percent of the senior executives surveyed said they gamed at work. Of those who played at work, 53 percent said they did so at least once a day and 14 percent admitted they played during business meetings or conference calls. The overwhelming majority of work gamers said they did it to "feel more relaxed and less stressed out."
Thursday - March 08, 2007
Joystiq - Spector on Game Stories
Yes, another Spector news item. Joystiq is reporting a GDC presentation on game stories...the article is brief but here's a snip on Spector's presentation:
While game stories have made progress on issues like structure and character graphics, Spector said stiff character interaction and animation remained the biggest obstacle to creating engaging stories in games. He also chastised the industry for not offering enough ways to interact with a game story without killing things. "I want the opportunity to play a game and not play the part of Vin Diesel," he said. Spector also encouraged developers to build fully explorable worlds, not simple, flimsy movie sets that are "just an excuse to shoot stuff."
Wednesday - February 28, 2007
Brenda Braithwaite Interview at Joystiq about Sex in Games
This is only of tangenital interest to most RPG players I'm sure, but Brenda Braithwaite, one of the key people behind Wizardry 8 has an interview over at Joystiq on the topic of Sex in Games. Here's a very brief snip from the introduction:
"We're doing two roundtables this year at the request of previous attendees: designing erotic games and, second, the business end of erotic games. This will give attendees a chance to really get into each issue deeply. When it comes to designing erotic games, I expect we will probably cover such things as appealing to a diverse sexual audience, incorporating fetish play, MMO design, and pitching games to existing adult stars and publishing powerhouses. There's also interest from many people in solving that M-rated issue: how can we maturely incorporate mature themes into the narrative of the play – the same stuff you'd see in an R-rated movie – without being locked out of retail? Games have certainly done it, and as our ability to tell stories in games increases, figuring out how to do it well is becoming more an more an issue. The average gamer is a guy in his 30's, you know. Shows from Lost to Grey's Anatomy feature mature storylines that we, in games, feel at risk to take."
If you're interested in reading more, then you'll find the entire interview right here .