Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

RPG Design: The More You Know, the More You Know to Zip It

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 16, 2015

I was a lot more opinionated about RPG design a few years ago. I talked a lot more about experimental design ideas, pushed a lot more concepts that really went far outside the bounds (well, I thought they did, anyway) of conventional design. I’ve come to realize I don’t do that so much these days. I’ve become a little bit more conservative with my ideas.

Why is this? I mean, shouldn’t we always be pushing the boundaries of the genre, doing newer and cooler and more interesting things? Absolutely! But I think these are the reasons I’ve toned down some of my bolder statements of how things ought to be:

#1 – Experience
Now that I’ve gone through the experience of building a commercial computer role-playing game, I’m a bit older and wiser. I realize that you have to pick your battles. People crave familiarity as much as they crave novelty. You have to find a good mix. Pick what to change, what to try, and what fundamentals to stick with. But a lot of it is just having a broader understanding of why designers have made the choices they did… because I’ve had to make the same choices.

#2 – I’ve tried them
I’ve tried some of these weird ideas, and in some cases I’ve learned… they suck. Or at least, the way I tried them didn’t show promise. This makes sense. “Experimental” and “innovation” are words that imply a high likelihood of failure. I’m glad I experimented. I might try another approach to do the same thing. Or not. There’s nothing like actually trying and seeing how stupid your idea was.

#3 – The genre has already expanded
Seriously…  CRPGs are in a much, much better state now than when I was ranting about them almost a decade ago. People are doing some cool, innovative things. The competition is fostering a lot of different approaches to role-playing games, from turn-based tactical dungeon crawlers to roguelikes to action shooters with heavy RPG elements to weird strategy hybrids to old-school throwbacks. I’m no longer nearly as frustrated seeing the genre stuck in the mainstream rut it was in during the mid 00’s.

#4 – Experimental is everywhere
Not only in RPGs, there is a ton of experimental gameplay happening out there right now.  With the indie revolution, experimental is almost the only way to get noticed these days. And yeah – a lot of it doesn’t really pan out. But from the perspective of desiring a healthy hobby, rampant exploration and experimentation full of bad ideas is preferable to stagnation.

#5 – I’ve been humbled
This just comes with the experience, but it’s a little more than that. It’s easy to be a legend in your own mind and see what everyone else is doing wrong when you haven’t had to put your money where your mouth is. Facing an uncaring reality with your product and having to develop a thick skin to criticisms can change that. Even when what you’ve done has won awards and tons of praise, one word of criticism tends to counter hundreds of words of praise, and dealing with an overall market apathy towards your work – people not knowing or caring – is almost as hard. But it does help ground you in reality, and help you recognize that there’s nothing magical about your opinion.

#6 – Seeing Lots of Perspectives
You can look at any poll, and something like 5% of the respondents will go with the most ludicrous response available. But even if there’s a clear-cut preference, there’s going to be significant number of people who think poorly of it. Getting outside of your own bubble and dealing with lots of people with different preferences helps you realize that there are a whole lot of different yet perfectly valid views. Not all mesh with your own, but that makes them no less worthy. That makes it a lot harder to think in absolutes. I can rant all day about how to make better non-combat challenges, but then there are a lot of people who really just want more exciting fights.

#7 – Ideas aren’t unique
I wasn’t the only one feeling the same frustration several years ago, and now a whole lot of indies (and mainstream devs) are doing something about it. Now that there are lots of RPGs out there, with more coming out every month, it’s clear that a lot of people are pondering the same kinds of ideas. It’s not like one person is getting blessed with all the revelation on how to push the genre forward. A lot of ’em are better than mine.

#8 – Deeds not words
And finally… now that I’m making role-playing games and being able to live out the indie dream, I find that I’m happier actually implementing these ideas rather than talking about them. If I remember, I might talk about them later.

So yeah, I still want to do bold, creative, and possibly dangerous things. I’ve got a lot of ideas. More than I’ll have time to turn into games in my lifetime. I’ll still throw ideas out there. But I’m much happier doing stuff about it instead of just complaining.

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Mr Horse said,

    Admit that you posted on The Void just so that this entry doesn’t look ridiculous 😉

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I pretty much assume all of my entries are going to look ridiculous.

  • rjshae said,

    You’re thoughts on this make a lot of sense and should be valuable for new game developers. Thanks for posting it.