Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Game That Wasn’t There

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 5, 2010

Joel Haddock has a “hankering lately to play a game that doesn’t exist … (s)pecifically, a Western RPG as they used to be.”

Strange, for an indie game developer, that he doesn’t look amongst the indie RPG releases to discover that what he wants really does exist, after all. But we’ll forgive him that mistake this once, as his sentiments are in the right place. The Kotaku reprint of the article has been making its rounds over the last 24 hours, but I thought I’d link to the original:

The Game That Wasn’t There

How could I resist commenting on this?

I’ll start with a big, “AMEN Brother!”

Okay – a few thoughts:

Ultimately, he’s calling for a return – with modern trappings – to turn-based combat, party-based adventuring, and direct player control over the characters from creation onwards. These are simple requests, but they are hard to make “sexy” for modern mainstream game developers.

Now, one of the reasons RPGs were very prematurely declared dead is that there was, for a time, a glut of games of the kind he is describing here – a glut of pretty mediocre, unimaginative games, I should add. I didn’t play a lot of them. I foolishly assumed that the days of plenty would last forever, and that there’d always be another significant PC RPG appearing on the shelf of my local PC Game Store in the mall the following month.  The glut killed sales because a lot of gamers thought as I did, and soon the river dried up to a trickle – until games like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate “reinvented” the genre.

But the fact that there was such a glut fifteen years ago that bored players doesn’t mean more can’t be done with the concept today. I generally believe that ground left fallow long enough can once again bear fruit.

And – in the indie arena, it is. I still got my socks blown off by Knights of the Chalice, Eschalon: Book 1 and its sequel,  and I enjoyed some delightful hours playing Underworld or the more-or-less annual Spiderweb releases. While they may not be exactly what Haddock is calling for, they are all in the same ballpark and – at least for me – scratching the same itch.

But there’s still plenty of room for creative use of these once-staple western RPG traditions – both in indie and mainstream games. I hope more designers take note of this article. There’s still an audience hungry for good games like this. At least a couple of us… 🙂

Filed Under: Retro - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Koen Witters said,

    Let’s hope my RPG Editor becomes the right tool for those designers who want to create such games :).

  • Celso Riva said,

    Koen: I’m sure it will 😉 I for one am looking forward to it!

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yeah, be sure and let us know when it’s out.

  • Greg Tedder said,

    Funny, I’ve been playing Wizardry 7 on my mac and Undercroft on my iPod all week. This genre still rocks!!!

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    I think part of the problem is that the old school games were really, REALLY hard. That level of difficulty tends to turn modern gameplayers off.

    Note that I’m not just talking about how hard the game system is, but even just playing the game. Giving the player a high degree of control over things like building characters and party structure means that it’s potentially easier for them to come up with a “gimp” setup. It’s the old trade-off between ease-of-use and giving the user greater control. Giving the player the ability to start a party of all Ninjas means giving a newbie the ability to do the same and have a potentially unhappy experience. (I’ve noticed this a lot playing Dungeons & Dragons Online where it’s a lot of fun to play with different character builds, but really easy to get yourself “stuck” at a later time with something that just can’t keep up.)

    Anyway, I think this is the perfect niche for indie games. Something where there’s an fair intelligent group of people who want something that isn’t quite mainstream. Time for Mr. Haddock to investigate some of those, as you said.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    There was an article somewhere (that I may have seen on GameBanshee) about the rising costs of AAA game creation.

    The big studios have created a situation where a game needs to sell millions of units to make a decent profit, and so the only things they green-light are generally cut from the same cloth as other big sellers.

    One of the advantages of indie development is that, with lower overheads, you can make a good profit from far fewer sales.

    If the larger publishers could fund the types of small teams that produced so many of the old classic games (from which I and many others would call the “golden age” of PC cRPGs), perhaps we would see many more of the sort of games like Grim Dawn, Din’s Curse, Xenonauts or Age of Decadence.

    Another issue is of course that these more in-depth games often would not work in a console setting, and with a few exceptions, the main publishers are looking for multi-platform sales.

  • Corwin said,

    Grimoire is on the way, so that should meet the need!! 🙂

  • sascha said,

    But the 3-4 active party member thing isn’t anything new. I’ve been playing some RPGs back in the Golden Age where you could only control 3 or 4 active characters at the same time, for example Sentinel Worlds and Hard Nova.