Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 3, 2012
There are a lot of important features to an RPG that make the experience really stand out for me. But these days, with my “grown up” schedule, the two most important features for any video game (not just RPG, but I’m focusing on RPGs here) are the following:
1. Make it easy for me to play a short session (~20 minutes. Or less).
2. Make it easy for me to get back to the game after taking a (possibly extended) break.
In other words, make it painless to quit and encouraging to come back to later.
I’m not saying I’ll only play an RPG for 20 minutes at a time – but I have problems starting a game these days that I think I’ll have to commit more time than that in order to get anything out of the play session. Once I get going, sure, I may end up playing for a whole hour or two, but that’s inertia. And taking a hiatus from a game is nothing new to me. I tend to play a lot of games, and even as a kid, I’d often take a break from some of my favorite RPGs to play with something new and shiny, only to come back after a few days / weeks / months and finish the game.
And that’s what it’s really about. I keep hearing game company CEOs talking about how players rarely finish the games, and they really only play for something like 8-15 hours, so why not make 8-15 hour games? The truth is that a lot of gamers – especially RPG fans – love the big ol’ marathon games, too, but we can’t play them like a marathon (anymore) to the exclusion of all other games. But I, for one, am happy to play a larger game in shorter segments over the course of weeks or months, maybe coming back to it after a long break or two. I want games that fit my life, not the other way around, but I do not think that should relegate me to some casual-gaming ghetto.
I don’t think I’m completely alone in this. Assuming people with similar adult-life schedules represent enough of an audience to worry about, here are some features of RPGs that meet the above demands well enough that I’m likely to play a game to completion:
* Save anywhere. Or save automatically on exit. This is historically why I haven’t been much of a console gamer… when I have to quit, they won’t let me quit without penalizing me.
* Short quests, or quests that have short stages that can be completed in a few minutes.
* I love deep, tactical, turn-based combat, but either allow me to save in mid-combat (best), or keep the fights relatively quick (<5 minutes).
* Keep a nice log of quests and story information so I can remember where I was and what I was doing when I come back to the game after a hiatus of a few days (or a few weeks).
* Being able to review past interactions / dialogs / story expositions can be extremely handy! While the latter isn’t too uncommon in many games, the ability to find information easily through good indexing or navigation is a little more rare.
* A quick summary of the story up to that point would really help – maybe showing a summary of the currently “active” quest when you first load the game.
* This one is going to take some explanation: Don’t unduly penalize me for forgetting how the controls work. I play a *lot* of games: I treat my gaming library as a giant arcade sometimes, where I just kinda “graze” a bunch of games. One of my problems with action-RPGs – except the very simple ones (Diablo-style) is that they demand control skills that may have gotten rusty during a hiatus, or confused with control schemes of other games I’ve played in the interim. It’s very frustrating to jump back into a game after a three-week hiatus and find myself hitting a wall because I’ve lost my button-combo-mashing edge. And yes, this is one of my primary issues with the “consolization” of modern RPGs. And while I am not unhappy with the trend towards purely auto-saving, the old school approach of restoring from multiple saved games does help you “take a mulligan” after your first combat or two after a hiatus, when you are remembering how to play and likely to make some serious mistakes.
* Allow grinding. I’m not a big fan of games that require a lot of grinding (all filler, no meat). But if a 15-minute excursion into a moderately challenging zone can serve to get me a level or two and some new equipment, then I always have “something to do” for a quick fix.
* Display the time stamp information on the load game screen so I can see which save game was really the latest.
* Don’t depend exclusively on cut-scenes (especially non-repeatable ones) for exposition and goals.
* Automaps: Automaps that only show areas where you have already been are not only more “realistic”, but they provide an intermittent player with useful information about where they still need to explore.
* Likewise, leaving visual game-state cues about what has transpired (opened chests and doors, and yes… dead bodies and blood splats) not only helps the player remember exactly what had transpired in his last game session, but makes the game world feel more interactive.
* Provide hints and reminders to get a player ‘on track,’ especially if they happen to be short of quests at the moment and may not remember where they should go to regain the thread of the adventure.
Granted, this is mainly a laundry list of features that aren’t uncommon these days. There are probably a lot of great ideas I haven’t thought of yet. I’d urge CRPG designers to think of their games more like a TV series and less like a long movie; as something that must always beckon the player to keep “coming back to it” rather than staying in their seat. Chances are that more players may actually enjoy the experience all the way to the end that way.
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