Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Reinventing the RPG Genre?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 27, 2010

When I read some smarmy designer-turned-marketing guy brag in the press about how they are making an RPG that is “reinventing the genre” (or effectively making such a statement, using only slightly more humble terminology), I generally read this as code for, “We’re making it more like God of War or some other action-game.”

And, sadly, I’m almost always right. The experiment-averse mainstream video game industry unfortunately keeps chasing last year’s hits, “evolving” towards one lowest-common-denominator monogame that is sure to be enjoyable to everybody (but truly loved by very few).  Yeah. I’ve gotten cynical.

And then I see hints of something that very well may pull off what these blowhards claim. I’m inevitably disappointed by the final result striking short of the mark, but it’s enough of a success for me to quiet my inner cynic and experience the joy that I felt when I first discovered video games.

But that kind of experience isn’t coming from the usual sources these days.  Nowadays, more often than not, it comes from the indies. Sure, many of them play it safe as well, but there’s a big enough pool of risk-takers to yield interesting and successful results now. So rare that you get both at the same time…

I had something like that happen a few years ago when Soldak released Depths of Peril. I was expecting Yet Another Diablo Clone. But while it was far from perfect, and some of its more experimental elements probably interfered with the “fun” factor for many players, it was an experiment that pushed the boundaries of what an RPG could be. It was an amazingly fresh experience for me. While it of course didn’t represent the New Direction All RPGs Must Travel, it certainly blazed a trail into some new territory.

That’s what I expect from a game “reinventing” a genre. (And yeah, Cute Knight Deluxe did it for me, too. ) I keep talking about evolution not being a single a linear path to a single ultimate destination, but rather a variety of specialist offshoots that take the genre in new and different directions, some of which don’t work and die off, but others that find a way to survive in a particular ecological niche. I want to see more of this. For me, “reinventing the genre” isn’t necessarily blazing a trail for ALL to follow, but some to follow and then improve on.

I have hopes of seeing this again. Soon. But apparently not in 2010. But there’s a particular indie RPG I’ve now got my eye on.

I’ve mentioned “Zombie RPG” here a few times. It is now officially titled, Dead State.

The design updates have continually caught my interest. With the publishing of an interview at RPS with Brian Mitsoda, I have officially gone from being merely intrigued to out-and-out enthusiastic.

If these guys pull it off – and as veteran mainstream devs I give them far better odds than most first-time indies – then I think this game really could “reinvent the genre.” They are forging off into uncharted territory with a hell of a lot of cool ideas, and most of them have nothing to do with zombies.

I became a fan of RPGs because of the potential for just these kinds of new experiences. Sure, I can enjoy some plain-ol’ (but well-designed) traditional RPG experience with a fun storyline and some interesting mechanics. I mean, I’m making a game like that. But really, I became a fan because I saw the potential to experience not just epic battles and cool locations but also the kind of tough, meaninful choices and human drama found in gripping novels and movies. And we get that, sometimes, in dice-and-paper RPGs. Just not so much in the cRPG analog.

Doublebear seems to have an idea of one way to explore these neglected aspects of the genre. While its success may be limited to only the veteran players of the genre, I think it could do a lot more to “reinvent” things than anything Molyneux or Bioware has pulled off recently.

So – to the Mitsodas and everyone else working with Doublebear on Dead State – please don’t screw this up. 🙂

Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Iron Tower studios forums have been quite the hive of activity, and it’s good to see Dead State getting to the point where they can give us some real details on the way the game will play.

    I love the ideas behind it, like living in an early John Romero film.

    There are a few other RPGs over there of course, but not sure how well they’ll do in comparison. Age of Decadence of course has been in development for so long it feels like Blizzard are producing it, and that should tickle the fancy of old-school gamers in a more traditional way.

    The one that I’m hoping they can pull of is Cyclopean (http://www.criticalgamer.co.uk/2010/02/08/cyclopean-iron-tower-studio-interview/) as I’m a fan of Lovecraft and similar.

    The next few years could be really good for cRPG fans!

  • Calibrator said,

    While I do think that their game looks interesting and promising I somehow fail to recognize how the RPG genre is being reinvented by it.
    What I *do* recognize is that they use an atmospheric and fashionable scenario (though not as worn out as your average Tolkienesk world) and accentuate the survival simulation part of it (= not combat). Hopefully, they will attract enough people to continue using such rather uncommon scenarios.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    The major theme of the game (as I see it, anyway) seems to be relationships with people – with different factions, with the NPCs under your “command.” The open-endedness of it, of who the “good guys” and “bad guys” might be, of the freedom you (may) have to respond to a crisis… that’s what I see as having the potential of breaking some relatively new ground.