Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Room Escape Games and Micro-RPGs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 10, 2010

Classic graphic adventure gaming has had a bit of a casual resurgence lately with the appearance of “Room Escape” games. If you haven’t played any yet (and I’ve only played a couple), they are basically tiny adventure games, usually written in Flash, that have gained quite a bit of popularity.

They take place in a single location – a room that you are somehow trapped inside – though the multiple views of the rooms could be argued as being separate locations. The stories are rarely any deeper than the stories of vintage early 80’s arcade games. But they have most of the trappings of a good ol’ fashioned graphic adventure game, including inventory.  At least in those I’ve tried.

So basically, they are “micro” graphic adventure games. I won’t complain. I like the idea of these kinds of games that don’t require a huge commitment.

This made me wonder if the same kind of idea could be applied to computer Role-Playing Games.

RPGs are traditionally pretty huge beasts. And kind of intimidating to new and veteran players, especially for grown-up gamers who probably can’t finish the tutorial of your average RPG in the time they have available for a game session.  So I’d not be so interested in it appealing to “casual” players so much allowing it to be played “casually.” Could a “micro-RPG” be possible …  sort of an analog to the room escape games for the RPG genre?

The trick, I guess, is that RPGs traditionally include so many different mechanics and moving parts above and beyond what you’d see in an adventure game. What can you cut out and have it still remain an RPG?  What would a “Micro-RPG” look like?

I think Desktop Dungeons is one approach that comes pretty close, but it’s more of a puzzle game than true RPG fare.  Sort of a love-child between Minesweeper and a graphical roguelike. Still, it’s one idea. Pawleyscape’s .NET-based Fastcrawl is another idea. It is less puzzle-based and more like a ‘real’ RPG, at least. But it’s still both more and less of what I’d look for in that kind of game.

I’d like to see games based on a pretty simple, straightforward game system that is easily understood (and imitated, but not necessarily identical). I’d say the ability to level up – and to make a choices on character progression (maybe a single attribute increase per level) – would be necessary. I’d like to see hand-crafted dungeons and challenges, not a randomized roguelike. Maybe something like my original plan for Hackenslash, sort of a streamlined and modernized Temple of Apshai inspired game, before I had to pare it down so far to fit my 40-hour development limit.

But what aspects of RPGs to keep, and which to toss?

If I were to tackle it, it might look like this: The inventory system could be restricted to just a few items of equipment (weapon, armor, and a ring?), and “quest items” which are more-or-less adventure game style items or reward items. I’d borrow my Hackenslash mechanic of converting any piece of equipment that you don’t immediately equip into its gold “trade-in value” (based on your character’s charisma?).  Some monsters might be willing to be bribed (a use for that gold) or even trade, rather than fight. A couple of adventure-game style puzzles. The game would end when you defeat the level boss, and you get a final score based on your total experience points, gold, and trade-in gold value of your equipment. That would give the game some replay value to try and improve your score through subsequent play-throughs using different strategies.

That would still be considerably more complex than a room escape game, though.  So I may be barking up the wrong tree and complicating things a lot more than I should. I know from hard experience that I tend to do that.

But I really do like the idea of “lite” RPGs, Micro-RPGs, that could be fully playable inside of twenty minutes, fun and accessible for new players, yet still amusing to veteran RPG fans. What would your vision of this kind of game be? What other games are already out there that might fill the bill?

Filed Under: Adventure Games, Casual Games, Design - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • Greg Tedder said,


    This game has been desperately addictive and can be played casually, yet comes with a full on story line. The mechanics are easy to learn, and you can feel like you accomplished something in about 5 minutes, as each fight is typically a very deadly encounter. You get one skill (or one bonus dice) at each level, and did I mention it’s just plain fun. I hope they decide to do a mac and PC port, more people need to play this game!!

  • McTeddy said,

    I’d probably do something along the lines of an old-school JRPG but reduce the random battle system to more of a health drain such as “You wipe the floor with the goblins, but suffer 13 damage in the process.”

    This would allow the player to focus on the exploring aspects while retaining the main idea that the random grunts exist only to drain your health before the boss.

    I’d probably keep a large number of weapons and armor you can equip that influence stats and have bonuses vs. simple enemies (Both will reduce the damage taken from battles). This will allow the player to customize his hero and add a layer of strategy to the simple formula.

    I would aim for the quests taking five minutes so that it can be played casually and quickly. Between quests the player can change equipment, upgrade stats, and go to the tavern to find new quests.

    Great… now I’m thinking of making this game.

  • Ichiro Lambe said,

    Desktop Dungeons had me for a long, long time. I think it’s beautiful.

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    I’ll nominate Lost Labyrinth here. It’s a roguelike all right, random levels and everything. And it offers plenty of customization for the serious RPG fan. But one can also jump in directly and play for 15-30 minutes and relax during a coffee break. Plenty of funny animations and sounds, and just the right amount of thinking versus plodding through enemies. The only criticism I have is that it’s way too difficult for my taste, but that’s relative.

    Nowadays I mostly play POWDER, though. 😛

  • Mattias Gustavsson said,

    I would probably consider going down the line of “choose your own adventure” books.

    Before I got into tabletop RPG’s, I was playing a lot of the Lone Wolf books

    They had concepts of equipment and skills, and rules for combat. I found that the rules are actually available online, here (and a few pages onwards)

    It is an interesting concept though – making an rpg which can be played casually, but which is not aimed at casual players…

  • McTeddy said,

    Just a note on Lone wolf, it’s not just the rules available at Project Aon. Joe Dever has allowed them to publish nearly all of the books completely free.

    Despite having the entire series on my book shelf I tend to enjoy the computer assisted game books.

    As for the main topic, I’ve actually played 2 decent PSP games for light RPG’s. The first is “Adventures to go” which basically involves you creating a dungeon and then exploring it.

    The second is “Half Minute Hero” which is basically an Arcade game meets RPG. You have 30 seconds to save the world from a world destruction spell. In this time you need to level and equip your hero, gather allies, and defeat the Boss of the level. While it’s faster than most RPG’s I’ve played it kept the same feel without the wasted time.

  • devon said,

    Half-Minute Hero looks awesome.

    I always liked Shiren the Wanderer. Roguelikes already boil rpg’s down to their core (and then heap on crazy simulationist complexity) but Shiren really seemed to cut out all the fat and create an almost arcade-like rpg experience. I’d play for a few days on the bus, and die, but I’d be back to halfway through the game in a few bus rides again. The item types were minimalist and all had an actual strategy and use in game. New monsters didn;t exist unless they had a completely different attack type and weakness. Also I really enjoyed how the story would progress with each play through with characters recognizing you had already been there and a multiple play-through subplot with your dim-witted brother.

  • Brian 'Psychochild' Green said,

    One problem with focusing on smaller RPGs is that you’ll inevitably eliminate something that someone else enjoys, perhaps to the point that it’s no longer an RPG to them. I thought of a game that would essentially be a series of battles. When discussing this with a friend, he lamented that the design eliminated two of his favorite parts of RPGs: the story and exploration.

    I think the solution is to look at some of the older, simpler RPGs and look at what they did to streamline the games. Even though we have fewer tech restrictions, we can see what elements are really vital for a game.

  • Xenovore said,

    Quote: “…look at some of the older, simpler RPGs…”

    This was the exact thought I had when I saw this post. We can certainly take some features from early CRPGs like Alternate Reality, Wizardry, Ultima I-IV, Dungeon Master, etc. and apply them to “micro RPGs”:
    * Small/simple dungeons.
    * Limited attributes (in the Ultimas, just 3).
    * Limited inventory (often just a weapon slot and an armor slot; maybe a handful of slots for potions).
    * Limited party size (in Alternate Reality there is just one character; Ultima III and Dungeon Master limit the party to 4).
    * Limited skills/actions.
    * Limited NPC/world interactions.
    * Simplified/abstracted visuals.

    Quote: “…you’ll inevitably eliminate something…”

    For this casual “micro” style of RPG, something’s got to give — you can’t give everyone everything and have it qualify as “casual”. The design absolutely should be narrow in focus, e.g. it should focus on “a series of battles”. Or it should focus on exploration (in which case combat takes a back seat, or is eliminated altogether). Or focus on a specific event, reducing/eliminating combat and exploration.

    The design certainly requires careful balance. Too much focus or simplification, and the game may cease to be a RPG at all. Not enough focus, and it probably won’t qualify as “casual” or “micro”.

    A final thought: The interface is perhaps the most relevant feature for a “micro” RPG.

    A stream-lined, intuitive interface can make a complex game simple to play. Likewise, an obtuse, unintuitive interface can make a simple game complex to play.

    My point here is: Maybe your RPG is supposed to only be 15-20 minutes long, but because the interface sucks, the game actually takes hours to complete. (And that’s if the player even has the patience to continue beating his head against your interface…)