Monday, October 01, 2007
What Makes A Great RPG - Playing A Role
The idea of "role-playing" in a single-player computer RPG always struck me as silly. For me, role-playing has always been a social activity. Lacking the social, what's really the point? It's not like I'm going to be playing Oblivion and saying things like "Forsooth, methinks I shall not attempt this quest because I am a mage of culture, not some uncultured barbarian!" I pretty much let myself get led around by the nose in a CRPG and do whatever the game allows me to do which makes sense. I might choose a character type a little different from my usual preferences just to try things out, but for the most part my "character" is just an avatar of me.
The discussion over the last several days has changed my mind a little bit on this subject. Not that I'm going to try to "role-play" in a computer RPG like I might in a pen-and-paper RPG. But I've got a different perspective now, and I no longer dismiss opinions about how a good RPG must include role-playing opportunities. It's a different kind of role-playing.
The goal of RPGs is to immerse ourselves in the fiction of being another person in another world. The "other person" isn't necessarily some kind of method-acting live improvisational performance. It may be someone very much like ourselves - but perhaps someone stronger, faster, better with a sword, able to cast spells, and maybe even smarter than our real-world identity. Its someone who belongs in this world. And, as I discussed in "What Makes a Great RPG - The Answer?", it is someone else who's actions (or lack of actions) have no real-life repercussions upon ourselves.
We can be cavalier about the death of other characters in the game, because they "aren't real" and are "only NPCs" (non-player characters). We can face dragons without fear, and take wildly inappropriate actions just for the fun of it. The artificial persona gives us the freedom to try choices that we ourselves would not choose even if dropped magically into a similar situation.
So from this vantage point, a great RPG is one that provides us with a wealth of opportunities to explore these types of choices. While the interactivity of the environment is something I cited in "What Makes a Great RPG - The World," part of is not so much about making the world come alive, but helping us identify with and have our character perform the actions we feel they should be perform.
Sometimes limitations on what your character can do are just as interesting as what is not permitted. Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines offered some very different paths through the game depending upon what clan you choose at the beginning of the game, and what sort of skills you choose along the way. If you play as a Malkavian, you are crazy. Conversations become very tricky, because your dialog options are always... weird. As a Nosferatu, you are so hideously deformed that even being seen in public can constitute a "Masquerade Violation" (vampires have to keep their nature a secret, you know). There is one chapter where the greatest XP bonuses come only to those characters with the highest social skills, because many of the "sub-quests" are only solvable by being a smooth-talking silver-tongued devil. Unfortunately, you'd best put all those extra experience points into the combat skills you neglected, because several sequences (especially boss encounters) were straight-up combat encounters with little or no opportunity to use stealth or social skills to affect the outcome. Still, I played the entire game through twice, and enjoyed some substantial differences in the game each time. While far from perfect, the game did offer a nice breadth of character opportunities - and restrictions.
Obviously, character choice isn't absolutely required for a great RPG. Few could argue with the success of the Final Fantasy series, or its impression on the minds and hearts of its fans. While later games provided more options for character customization, the games let you depart the plot-railroad only long enough to smell the flowers, beat up some monsters, play some mini-games, and voyage on some optional sub-quests. All very good stuff, of course. And the lack of many character options allowed the developers to focus on a ridiculously convoluted but detailed plot with a handful of memorable characters, and that made all the difference.
Baldur's Gate II offered scripted story options for your character to almost a ludicrous level (I had one friend even complain about being unable to keep up with the deluge of optional quests and choices in this game). Its cousin Planescape: Torment, according to many, took this a few steps further. The highly scripted nature of these interactions made them pretty costly to develop, I'm sure --- but also very satisfying to players, who enjoyed the human-developed plot resolutions based upon their (limited) choices, rather than generic calculated responses of a more organic system.
Speaking of which - there's the Elder Scrolls series. I once ran a third-party program on my saved game in Daggerfall to see what my faction standings were at a very late stage in the game. I was floored to see the hundreds of entries, many of which I had never heard of. The game was extremely open-ended, offering a plethora of player options. Unfortunately, the generic, unscripted, computer-resolved nature of these choices wasn't very satisfying much of the time. Still, it occasionally led to some great drama. Later games in the series tightened this up quite a bit, but complaints about the meaninglessness of many game decisions remain.
And then there's Ultima IV. You started the game by making moral / ethical choices for your character in a series of questions given by a gypsy with a tarot-like deck of cards. I wish more designers would go back and play these games. Too many games today offer "moral" choices that come down to choosing between the good-guy response, the apathetic response, and the complete jackass response. That's a choice? Ultima IV (and the other two games in the U4- U6 "trilogy") offers classic decisions for which there is no right or wrong (or good or evil) answers. Instead, the player must choose between responses of different value only in the mind of the player (or how he wants to play his character). Do you keep your promise to your boss, or do you show compassion to a beggar? Rescue a friend, or sacrifice yourself to save the lives of dozens of strangers?
Your choices in the pre-game dictated your class, where in the world your game began, and what party members you could take with you. And you had to keep making these kinds of decisions throughout the game. Constantly. Granted, your choices were usually made to optimize your progress in the eight virtues, and there was no dramatic change in the game depending upon whether you favored one virtue over the other. Eventually, you had to master them all to proceed to the end-game. But still, that simple, abstract system on primitive technology was superior in most ways to far more "advanced" games out today that advertise such moral choices.
Advice From Players
"One of the few things that I really demand in an RPG is that I get to create my character. Or at least have some say in who my character is and what she can do... I also want replayability based on the character and the role I choose to play. What happens if I play as evil? If I play as male? If I choose a different class? If I choose a different race? NPCs should react differently to a male Dwarven barbarian than to a female Elven ranger." - Kristin, at Twenty-Sided.
"Roguelike developers often point out that games should offer players ways to escape difficult situations. Most roguelikes do not allow to safe and reload, and death is final there. But most of them give the player a lot of escape routes if one knows how to use them. I think that is the better design. Make players think, but not about when to safe, but how to solve a situation they face. And give them the chances to do it. " - Hajo, Rampant Games forums.
"If I’m expected to kill everything, by bashing it over the head, with no option to sneak or trick nor choice of tactics and weapons, it’s a minus for an RPG. If I’m not presented with a variety of obstacles (what’s with this campaign, why are we always fighting orcs?!), that’s a problem. If I don’t have access to sneakers, negotiators, toe to toe fighters and people who use exotic secrets to cause exotic damage, it spells trouble." - Zakhadka, at Twenty-Sided.
"Control over your character’s evolution. Morally and/or mechanically, I prefer these separately cause it sucks when Evil get all the useful toys." - Alexis, at Twenty-Sided.
I want to feel immersed. Like my decisions matter, not only in the tactical sense (this dungeon, this fight), but also at the operational sense (this quest) and the strategic sense (this character in this world). " - Clouviere, Rampant Games forums.
"(What makes a great RPG?) Being like Fallout. The more like Fallout you are, the better an RPG you become. Oblivion fails because the dialogue, character interaction and character growth is nothing like Fallout. Planescape: Torment pretty much succeeds. VtM: Bloodlines is close - closer to Torment than Oblivion." - Krellan, at Twenty Sided.
"There should be many choices, and they should be interesting. And by 'interesting' I don’t mean you earn 'good' or 'evil' points... 'Character customization' does not mean deciding what hat I want to wear. I want to start by choosing age & gender, and end with deciding how I want to shape the bridge of my avatar’s nose." - Shamus Young at Twenty-Sided.
* What Makes a Great RPG?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Answer?
* What Makes a Great RPG - The World
* What Makes a Great RPG - The Story
* What Makes a Great RPG - Mechanics
* What Makes a Great RPG - Everything Else
* What Makes a Great RPG (Twenty-Sided)
* What Makes a Great RPG, Part II (Twenty-Sided)
* What Makes a Great RPG, Part III (Twenty-Sided)
Got More To Say On This? Speak Out On the Forum!
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Isn't being yourself more fun?
Why do you want to be someone else ?
You only live once...and only briefly.
Why do you want to be someone else ?
You only live once...and only briefly.
Sure. But taking time to enjoy the creativity and craftsmanship of others? That's the spice of life!Post a Comment
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