What makes a RPG a RPG?

Of the Tabletop, and other, lesser varieties.

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Gelsamel
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Re: What makes an RPG and RPG (Threadsplit from Online vs Si

Postby Gelsamel » Wed Mar 14, 2012 8:11 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:Re: JRPG vs WRPG

Part 1, Part 2 (Defining what Western RPGs and JRPGs are - like how Fallout 3 is an RPG despite the FPS elements and Call of Duty isn't despite the leveling system - how JRPGs and WRPGS are different and how they should really be two different genres) and Part 3 discussing why JRPGs are having a hard time as of late, relative to the Western RPG.


First two parts were awesome. Totally agree, it's weird how we define games by mechanics rather than by why we play them... given how we name every other genre for other things. It may be worth totally scrapping all the video game genre terms for something along the lines of romance/comedy/etc. that we have for other genres. Or perhaps combining them ex; "Self-Insert RPG" and "Set-character RPG".

I have huge problems with the third part though. In the following spoilered wall of text... 'JRPG' and 'WRPG' are demarcated in the way those videos demarcate them. This puts Dark/Demon's Souls, Monster Hunter and the modern Phantasy Stars into the WRPG genre, despite being made in Japan and having Japanese aesthetics. In this context we're only really calling them 'JRPG' and 'WRPG' because we can't think of anything better.

Spoiler:
First, I don't really believe than JRPGs are getting stomped by WRPGs anymore than they always have been in the west. I mean there were a few massive hits like FF7 and Chrono Trigger... but ultimately ever since their introduction to the US/West JRPGs have never really been as popular as WRPGs. Remember the original and insanely popular Diablo came out a month before FF7. So it's not like JRPGs, even during what is considered by the west to be the height of JRPGs, were ever particularly more popular than WRPGs. Not only that, but I don't even think that WRPGs have been getting more popular more quickly that JRPGs have... if anything I think JRPGs are actually gaining ground with many many more franchises being localised and introduced to the US/West than ever before.

So the first problem I have with the third part is I really need to see a proper citation to show that sales of "JRPGs" are seriously down compared to "WRPGs", because I don't think that is the case.

The second problem I have with the third part is how completely and absolutely wrong they are about JRPGs not experimenting with combat systems... given that ever since Final Fantasy Adventures (Aka Mystic Quest, aka the original Seiken Densetsu) on the gameboy (1991) was playing with non-menu action based combat. Of course, not forgetting the rest of the Seiken Densetsu series. The Tales of- Series (1995- Present) NEVER had turn based or menu based combat, although you could use a menu, and they're insanely popular and their storylines are all really amazing.

.hack// was always real time too and Disgaea has perhaps the most unique combat system EVER, wait I take that back-- Knights in the Nightmare is. Even recently SquareEnix has realised they need to move away from the traditional turn/menu based gameplay in Final Fantasy with Dissidia and Type-0 (although Type-0 might fall into the WRPG or ORPG/MMORPG genre, not sure cause I don't have much details on it). Don't forget other recent releases like Ressonance of Fate. Hell, they even show a picture of the main character of Vagrant Story in their video but somehow miss how much this was an experiment with combat systems? The games I've named so far are only the ones I remember off the top of my head... there are many many more.

Actually I'd have to think about it more... but if we made an exhaustive list I wouldn't even be surprised if JRPGs have exprimented MORE with combat systems than WRPGs. Though I suspect they're about the same.

The third problem I have is the idea that JRPG developers are moving away from the "core reason" and focusing on things like graphics and not making good stories. This may be true of Final Fantasy but it isn't of other franchises like the Tales of- franchise. But... guess which is more popular in the US/West? It's Final Fantasy. The fact is that US/Western consumers clearly prefer the graphics pushing terrible narratives of Final Fantasy to beautiful narratives of Tales of (which, contrastingly, are insanely popular in Japan).

So this criticism of doesn't really seem valid since FF seems to be giving the fans the 'core reasons' that they want since they keep buying them. But, in the case that they specifically meant they should stay true to those 'reasons of narrative' (instead of 'reasons of graphics') then the criticism still doesn't work because thats what virtually every other major JRPG franchise has done other than Final Fantasy.

The fourth problem I have... The statement that there might be an argument for labeling Persona as an WRPG because 'You get to play yourself'... This is blatantly FALSE. You do not get to play yourself in Persona, you play a set character. You get to give yourself a name and you get to make a few dialogue choices and choose where you go in the town... but many other JRPGs do at least that (Chrono Trigger, All the Tales of Games to name a few). Persona is a great game series but the game is exactly a visual novel + turn based RPG. It isn't anything like a WRPG under their system of defining JRPG/WRPG. The only extra choice in Persona you get that isn't often in other JRPGs is that in the PSP remake of Persona 3 you can choose your gender.


So, basically, those were great videos and I agree with everything they said... except when they said anything specific about individual JRPGs or JRPG developers or the market or history of JRPGs vs WRPGs.


Edit: I can't believe I forgot to list Star Ocean in the combat development section... (Though SO4 had a terrible story :-( )

Edit2: The earliest JRPG I can find that breaks out of the turn/menu based mold is Dragon Slayer.

Wikipedia says this about it: "While Western computer developers continued to explore the possibilities of real-time RPG gameplay to a limited extent,[12] Japanese developers, with their recently aroused interest in the RPG genre, created a new brand of action/RPG, combining the RPG genre with arcade and action-adventure elements.[13] The company initially at the forefront of this new genre was Nihon Falcom,[1] whose Dragon Slayer series is regarded as the progenitor of the action RPG genre,[14] abandoning the command-based battles of previous RPGs in favour of real-time hack and slash combat that requires direct input from the player, alongside puzzle-solving elements.[1] The original Dragon Slayer, released for the NEC PC-88 computer in 1984,[15] is considered to be the first action-RPG"

Edit3: Also does anyone have to mention how unbelievably popular Pokemon is? Even amoung adults... despite using turn/menu based game mechanics and having a narrative aimed at little kids.
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Re: What makes an RPG and RPG (Threadsplit from Online vs Si

Postby Dark567 » Wed Mar 14, 2012 8:54 pm UTC

Gelsamel wrote:First two parts were awesome. Totally agree, it's weird how we define games by mechanics rather than by why we play them... given how we name every other genre for other things. It may be worth totally scrapping all the video game genre terms for something along the lines of romance/comedy/etc. that we have for other genres. Or perhaps combining them ex; "Self-Insert RPG" and "Set-character RPG".
So the weird thing I find about video games genres is that they aren't genres in the traditional sense at all. Movies can be dramas/comedy/etc. but so can video games, but we don't call them that. I mean sometimes I might want narrative based comedy game and sometimes I would want a narrative based drama. Or I might want to play dramatic platformer etc. Movie genres are mostly based on the emotions they are meant to evoke. Music is divided by the stylistic elements, so no matter the emotions a rock song meant to evoke, its style is rock so its classified as rock, no matter if its sad or happy or funny. Similar to if you judged a movie genre by their cinematographic style, to make the analogy to the videos. Games on the other hand we mostly judge genre by mechanic and neither the emotion meant to evoke or the stylistic elements. I'm not sure there is anything wrong with this. Sure this can be hard at times, but it's not exactly easy to separate every movie in drama, comedy etc. Lots have elements of both, as do video games have multiple mechanics.


Gelsamel wrote:The fourth problem I have... The statement that there might be an argument for labeling Persona as an WRPG because 'You get to play yourself'... This is blatantly FALSE.
Yeah, when he said this I kinda just was like "Uhhh, wrong."
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Re: What makes an RPG and RPG (Threadsplit from Online vs Si

Postby Gelsamel » Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:07 pm UTC

Right, I don't think we necessarily need to do it like we do movies. But as with see with music we're not restricted to refering only to emotional content or stylistic features. That being said if we did define it by stylistic features it would make video game genres a lot more useful in communication. If you say you like RPGs like Mass Effect or Fallout there isn't much of a reason to suspect you'd like RPGs like Tales of Xillia. But if we could find a way of defining the games stylistically it'd be a lot easier to generalise and find games you'd like.

But yeah, Persona is basically the Most Triumphant Example of their demarcation of JRPGs given that it is almost literally just a visual novel + a seperate section where you do very traditional turn based RPG combat and dungeon crawling. They're great games though.
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Re: What makes an RPG and RPG (Threadsplit from Online vs Si

Postby Derek » Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:17 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:So the weird thing I find about video games genres is that they aren't genres in the traditional sense at all. Movies can be dramas/comedy/etc. but so can video games, but we don't call them that. I mean sometimes I might want narrative based comedy game and sometimes I would want a narrative based drama. Or I might want to play dramatic platformer etc. Movie genres are mostly based on the emotions they are meant to evoke. Music is divided by the stylistic elements, so no matter the emotions a rock song meant to evoke, its style is rock so its classified as rock, no matter if its sad or happy or funny. Similar to if you judged a movie genre by their cinematographic style, to make the analogy to the videos. Games on the other hand we mostly judge genre by mechanic and neither the emotion meant to evoke or the stylistic elements. I'm not sure there is anything wrong with this. Sure this can be hard at times, but it's not exactly easy to separate every movie in drama, comedy etc. Lots have elements of both, as do video games have multiple mechanics.

I think it makes sense to base video game genres primarily on the gameplay mechanics, these mechanics are what make games games, and not movies or books or something else. That's not to say that a game can't also be a comedy or a drama or a romance, but that's a much less important classification than what the gameplay is like.

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Re: What makes an RPG and RPG (Threadsplit from Online vs Si

Postby SecondTalon » Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:24 pm UTC

Gelsamel wrote:I have huge problems with the third part though.

For the record, thanks for being why I posted the links - to get an alternative viewpoint to the situation, as I'm mostly a PC gamer and don't have much experience with the Eastern RPG past the NES era, and.. they just don't port the Eastern games to the PC. Not really, at least.
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Re: What makes an RPG and RPG (Threadsplit from Online vs Si

Postby Dark567 » Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:35 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:
Gelsamel wrote:I have huge problems with the third part though.

For the record, thanks for being why I posted the links - to get an alternative viewpoint to the situation, as I'm mostly a PC gamer and don't have much experience with the Eastern RPG past the NES era, and.. they just don't port the Eastern games to the PC. Not really, at least.
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Re: What makes an RPG and RPG (Threadsplit from Online vs Si

Postby Gelsamel » Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:35 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:
Gelsamel wrote:I have huge problems with the third part though.

For the record, thanks for being why I posted the links - to get an alternative viewpoint to the situation, as I'm mostly a PC gamer and don't have much experience with the Eastern RPG past the NES era, and.. they just don't port the Eastern games to the PC. Not really, at least.


Wow thanks, I guess. And yeah, it's really disappointing how few Japanese games make it to PC, I wish there were more but they just don't happen. I think that is mostly because the console culture, especially for portable consoles, is very prominent in Japan.


Edit: Let me speculate... I think that people have this perception of WRPGs beating out JRPGs because of how the term 'JRPG' is often used. It's often used as a perjorative to label a game as 'bad' or 'childish' or 'uninspiring turn based combat' or any other number of things. If this is the usage you're exposed to the natural progression of this idea is that no one likes JRPGs. I think this is because often if people refer to JRPGs positively they just drop the J. Most people don't have a proper and sensible demarcation for J/non-J RPGs so adding the 'J' is just a way to seperate the genre from 'normal RPGs', similar to the process of 'othering' people you don't like.
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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby eviloatmeal » Tue Sep 16, 2014 9:50 am UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Like an MMO, with the highly interactive nature of it, and FPS like controls...but a very small world. Huge worlds seem to end up bringing up huge challenges...fetch quests, empty zones, etc.

Here are some opinions for you on the subject:

The majority of the appeal of MMOs to me is exploration, adventure, wonder.

I got started in early WoW, and the fun was all in how incredibly huge the world seemed, and being able to walk for tens of minutes in any direction, and the low population density in most areas really helped to reinforce this - only occasionally would I cross paths with another player, and we might work together on part of a quest, or travel side-by-side on the same road for five minutes, and then our paths diverged and I was again alone in the big, open space. In the time I played WoW, I did things like walk from Theramore to the Southern Barrens (when I say walk, I mean at "walk" speed - really slowly), swim from Ratchet to Tanaris, climb to the top of the mountain above Ironforge, etc..

In EVE, this was also the case. I spent a year living out of a covops in the middle of ***-knows-where, nullsec. I visited every k-system just to visit them all. I lived in w-space the first week of w-space, just to see what it was like - I couldn't even kill the rats with my dinky frigate.

Now I'm playing ArcheAge, and it's great fun to climb those tall peaks and zoom around on your glider - I haven't even built a ship yet!

Ergo, scale and openness is a large contributing factor to what makes MMOs for me.

Some "MMOs" lack this aspect, and I found that they didn't particularly attract me. For instance Dragon Nest, which has a very small, completely instance-based (i.e when you're in a city, you're in an instance of a city with about 30-50 other players, and everyone else is also divided into groups of 50 in their own instances of the city), not open-world game world, and - while it is an interesting game in its own way - it doesn't feel it even belongs in the genre.

The other big factor - the other M, if you like - is the players. The lasting appeal (to me) of an MMO is what the players make of it. This is the "sandbox vs. theme park" issue. WoW is a theme park - there's really not a lot of infrastructure built with even the possibility of "emergent" gameplay, let alone being allowed to try. Market PVP, inventive use of the trade window, plotting, scheming, backstabbing, all that sort of human nature, is actively suppressed. The flip side of this is of course EVE, in which there's barely any "theme park" infrastructure at all, and a massive amount of devices and mechanisms all built around being open and responsive to inventive gameplay and emergent narrative. What keeps me coming back to EVE is the fact that it is (not feels like - it IS) a living, breathing world, with real people playing out real, natural narratives.

If you remove the players, you end up with the Acrobatics World ghost town of video games; Kingdoms of Amalur - in which there's a giant, open MMO world, but no players to play with you.

On a side note, I could rant for ages about the "RPG" aspect of MMOs, but I think that's a different subject.
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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby Quercus » Tue Sep 16, 2014 11:30 am UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:
The majority of the appeal of MMOs to me is exploration, adventure, wonder.



Are you familiar with Elite:Dangerous, the new Elite game that David Braben is making at Frontier Developments? It's in beta (well, depending on how you define beta is might better be called alpha, because it's not feature complete).

They are simulating the entire galaxy using procedural generation (like they did with the original Elite Frontier, but with modern graphics). That's 400 billion visitable star systems. It's also a P2P MMO game, with an evolving persistant universe (economics simulation, politics, factions, wars etc.). There's less emphasis on players controlling and managing the universe than in EvE (the way I have heard it described is that you're playing Han Solo rather than Lando Calrissian), but there is a heavy emphasis on exploration, so I think you would enjoy it.
Last edited by Quercus on Tue Sep 16, 2014 1:36 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby eviloatmeal » Tue Sep 16, 2014 1:08 pm UTC

I've heard of it, I hadn't heard much about it, though. I've heard similar (grandiose, that is) claims from the Chris Roberts camp regarding Star Citizen. So as far as the space adventuring goes, we'll see who delivers.
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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby Quercus » Tue Sep 16, 2014 1:35 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:I've heard of it, I hadn't heard much about it, though. I've heard similar (grandiose, that is) claims from the Chris Roberts camp regarding Star Citizen. So as far as the space adventuring goes, we'll see who delivers.


I agree totally - I've got Elite:Dangerous pre-ordered, but I justify that by saying that i'd be willing to buy it even if all it provides is 10 hours of fun space dogfighting, which it has already demonstrated it can do. I'll admit to being a bit of an Elite fanboy, but that's mainly because I'm so bloody impressed with what Braben and Bell managed to pull off in the 80's and 90's with Elite and Frontier.

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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Tue Sep 16, 2014 2:42 pm UTC

@eviloatmeal: Have you played Skyrim? Great walking around/ exploring game. In addition to being expansive, it's mountainous so you need to actually learn the land to travel places. I played over 100 hours and I still have holes on my map. I haven't played the elder scrolls MMO yet, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't exploritastic.

Quercus wrote:They are simulating the entire galaxy using procedural generation (like they did with the original Elite Frontier, but with modern graphics). That's 400 billion visitable star systems.
I like procedural generation, but 400 billion is a useless number. The log of the permutation space that systems are created in, or the number of players altering the environment would be more useful.
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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Sep 16, 2014 5:10 pm UTC

One of the upcoming features for Elite: Dangerous is payment for scan data - you go to a new system, or an unvisited body in a known system, scan it, and, when you return to civilisation, sell the data - assuming, of course, that no "entrepreneurs" relieve you of the necessity of delivery.

Even without that, there have been people exploring primarily for the sake of doing it...

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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Tue Sep 16, 2014 6:12 pm UTC

Then it that case that "400 hundred billion" number, is the amount of a finite resource; the scan data effectively being coordinates of bodies with non trivial resources.. Eventually after exploring enough planets they'll start to look like statistical variations, what's relevant is how long that takes.

FTL has a few dozen encounters, with some extra variation in what items/crew you gain or enemies you must fight. Spore has ten philosophies for it's species, six flavors of resource, a few dozen plants, a few hundred animal and architectural parts. Dwarf Fortress has a few dozen variates of rock, a dozen-ish biomes with a 3 by 3 morality, and variable water tables.

To say Spore has 100,000 systems, FTL 100, or DF 65,000 potential worlds really misses all the details of what variety there is to see.
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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby Quercus » Wed Sep 17, 2014 10:50 pm UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:
Quercus wrote:They are simulating the entire galaxy using procedural generation (like they did with the original Elite Frontier, but with modern graphics). That's 400 billion visitable star systems.
I like procedural generation, but 400 billion is a useless number. The log of the permutation space that systems are created in, or the number of players altering the environment would be more useful.


You're right of course - I will admit to getting a bit starry eyed (literally) over big numbers like this, even though they are actually meaningless. What I do think is interesting about this number however is that it is approximately the number of actual star systems in the galaxy (well, at least around the right order of magnitude), and those stars we know about are in their proper locations, with their proper names, sizes and colours. I think the known exoplanets are in there too. This lends a pleasing congruence between the real world and the game world - you will be able to look out of your window, pick a star, then decide to fly there in-game, which is kind of fun. So, my view is that the intent is spot on (as accurate as possible modelling of our actual, real-life, galaxy), it remains to see how well they deliver on it.

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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby eviloatmeal » Thu Sep 18, 2014 9:33 am UTC

Edit*

Quizatzhaderac wrote:@eviloatmeal: Have you played Skyrim? Great walking around/ exploring game. In addition to being expansive, it's mountainous so you need to actually learn the land to travel places. I played over 100 hours and I still have holes on my map. I haven't played the elder scrolls MMO yet, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't exploritastic.

I've tried a couple of TES titles, and they all suffered severly from what I described as "Acrobatics World syndrome" - that is, they felt like MMOs without the players in them. Also, I wasn't impressed with the mechanical side either. Combat seemed pretty bland and dice-based / mechanically a bit stale as a whole.*

Perhaps I just haven't given any one enough of a chance. But it's really difficult to summon up the will to invest more than a few hours into a big, empty, quest-based RPG when I could play a similarly big, similarly quest-based, RPG filled with fun, frantic, living characters controlled by other players. A game where you put down a house, and hundreds of other players are, at the very least, necessitated to walk around it, if not go inside and look at your furniture. A game where you can find someone's hidden logging camp and steal the lumber, and so on.

I'm not against singleplayer games, not at all, it's just that if you're making a large, open game world in this way, and you have no players generating a natural narrative, then your narrative needs to be incredibly strong to keep my attention. If you have no players causing interesting gameplay interaction, then your game needs to be mechanically very solid to keep me playing.

Often, the "solution" chosen is to reduce the scale in order to focus on mechanics and polish. Dark Souls is an example of an RPG-esque game which threw out the whole concept of a sprawling world and expansive lore in favor of tight, technical gameplay and hand-crafted level design, to great success.

On the flip side you have games like Grand Theft Auto - level design is frugal and generic, but a vast play area full to the brim with objects and characters, combined with a goofy physics engine, provides plenty of incentive to screw around and go exploring.

That kind of brings me back around to the whole issue of the "quests and leveling" model of RPGs, but I think that's a whole other can of worms that I won't bore you with right now.
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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby Adam H » Thu Sep 18, 2014 1:20 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:Perhaps I just haven't given any one enough of a chance. But it's really difficult to summon up the will to invest more than a few hours into a big, empty, quest-based RPG when I could play a similarly big, similarly quest-based, RPG filled with fun, frantic, living characters controlled by other players. A game where you put down a house, and hundreds of other players are, at the very least, necessitated to walk around it, if not go inside and look at your furniture. A game where you can find someone's hidden logging camp and steal the lumber, and so on.
To each his own! I've never wished for Skyrim/Morrowind/Oblivion to be chock full of trolls, but that's just me. :lol:

That is an interesting design problem with MMOs - how to entice players to not act completely insane.
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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Sep 18, 2014 3:30 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:Like an MMO, with the highly interactive nature of it, and FPS like controls...but a very small world. Huge worlds seem to end up bringing up huge challenges...fetch quests, empty zones, etc.

Here are some opinions for you on the subject:

The majority of the appeal of MMOs to me is exploration, adventure, wonder.

I got started in early WoW, and the fun was all in how incredibly huge the world seemed, and being able to walk for tens of minutes in any direction, and the low population density in most areas really helped to reinforce this - only occasionally would I cross paths with another player, and we might work together on part of a quest, or travel side-by-side on the same road for five minutes, and then our paths diverged and I was again alone in the big, open space. In the time I played WoW, I did things like walk from Theramore to the Southern Barrens (when I say walk, I mean at "walk" speed - really slowly), swim from Ratchet to Tanaris, climb to the top of the mountain above Ironforge, etc..

In EVE, this was also the case. I spent a year living out of a covops in the middle of ***-knows-where, nullsec. I visited every k-system just to visit them all. I lived in w-space the first week of w-space, just to see what it was like - I couldn't even kill the rats with my dinky frigate.

Now I'm playing ArcheAge, and it's great fun to climb those tall peaks and zoom around on your glider - I haven't even built a ship yet!

Ergo, scale and openness is a large contributing factor to what makes MMOs for me.

Some "MMOs" lack this aspect, and I found that they didn't particularly attract me. For instance Dragon Nest, which has a very small, completely instance-based (i.e when you're in a city, you're in an instance of a city with about 30-50 other players, and everyone else is also divided into groups of 50 in their own instances of the city), not open-world game world, and - while it is an interesting game in its own way - it doesn't feel it even belongs in the genre.


Exploration-centric players would probably be less interested in an explicitly small world format, yeah. But...there is such a thing as too big. SWG, for instance, had immense spaces that were just empty. Now, it had many other redeeming mechanics that mitigated this at least partially, but size without content is fairly meaningless, and ends up being an exercise in tedium. I recognize that you still need the same degree of effort in large part, but it can be denser. For instance, a lot of MMO cities expand the apparent "size" of a city by adding buildings that are nothing more than shells. This gets you a strange dichotomy between function and appearance...you can have a small village that is constantly bustling, because it's got the essential things players need in a good location, and yet large cities that are ghostly. It gives a strange feel.

The other big factor - the other M, if you like - is the players. The lasting appeal (to me) of an MMO is what the players make of it. This is the "sandbox vs. theme park" issue. WoW is a theme park - there's really not a lot of infrastructure built with even the possibility of "emergent" gameplay, let alone being allowed to try. Market PVP, inventive use of the trade window, plotting, scheming, backstabbing, all that sort of human nature, is actively suppressed. The flip side of this is of course EVE, in which there's barely any "theme park" infrastructure at all, and a massive amount of devices and mechanisms all built around being open and responsive to inventive gameplay and emergent narrative. What keeps me coming back to EVE is the fact that it is (not feels like - it IS) a living, breathing world, with real people playing out real, natural narratives.


I prefer at least elements of sandbox, but I can definitely see the attraction of having at least SOME built in content, and procedurally generated stuff usually ends up falling a bit flat. Hellgate: London, for instance, promised a ludicrous amount of missions due to procedurally generated content, but all the amazing stuff was in the bits that weren't. A hallway crooking to the left instead of the right does not a novel experience make.

There are exceptions, of course. Minecraft is particularly well done procedural generation, but even there, exploration ends up being distinctly secondary to building.

And yeah, the empty world feeling bothers me. Big, cool things to experience are great, but if it all feels like a single player experience, what's the point of logging on instead of playing locally? Single player games skip that giant back end infrastructure, so if you're making an MMO, you basically want it to be significantly interactive.

As for encouraging players to not act insane, well, penalties help. Players tend to exploit the exact mechanic of rules without a single thought given to the spirit of them...guards break aggro after chasing for 20 feet? Well, someone will figure out how to piss them off and run 21 before being caught. General reputational effects need to be attached to particularly problematic actions. Maybe spamming chat a lot in a city will make you less popular with that faction.

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Re: Your video game ideas

Postby omgryebread » Thu Sep 18, 2014 5:52 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:That kind of brings me back around to the whole issue of the "quests and leveling" model of RPGs, but I think that's a whole other can of worms that I won't bore you with right now.
If you don't feel like typing it out, that's fine, but I'm actually interested in your thoughts here.

I come at MMOs from a slightly different angle than you. I'm probably somewhere in the middle. 100% theme park, instanced content is very boring to me, I like being able to interact with people the world in a more meaningful way (usually involving killing them, or teaming up with them to kill other people.) On the flip side, an open sandbox bores me even faster. I like structured things like raids or structured PvP events. Open world PvP is fine, but if it's just there for the sake of being there, I'm bored. DayZ-style wandering around killing and surviving or Eve-style free play isn't that attractive to me.

I have the same sort of preferences in single player games. I loved Skyrim, it's the right mix of freedom and structure. I can't focus my attention on Minecraft for long enough to actually do anything interesting.

I think that's a major struggle with MMO development. Which group do you want to try to appeal to, how big is that group, what do they really want, etc?
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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Sep 19, 2014 1:50 am UTC

It seems Final Fantasy XIII is coming to PC - it's popped up in Steam with a release date early next month - it's an example of a game designed with a focus on the player experience - for the majority of the plot, you're almost on rails - like Final Fantasy X's great pilgrimage, only even more so, you spend the game mostly running along corridors - beautifully decorated corridors, but still, corridors nonetheless. Backtracking to a limited extent is possible, but there are a lot of one-way gates. The same philosophy applies to character progression - most of the way through the game, you have a fairly strict level-cap, that advances as the plot progresses, and, while you have some choices in character progression, in terms of whether to press on with the primary route or pick up the short side-branches, a minimum of grinding will see you to the current level cap having developed both anyway. Essentially, the designers appear to have tackled the problem of pitching enemies so they're an achievable challenge for both the player who takes his time and explores all the side-quests and the player who charges ahead with the main plot by eliminating side-quests and making sure that everyone will be at pretty much the same level when they get to any given waypoint.

All that changes for Chapter 11 (of 13) where you suddenly get a vast open area to explore (reminiscent of FFX's Calm Lands) before being plunged into corridors again for the final pair of chapters. If you're familiar with Final Fantasy X, imagine the game ending with the boss fight in Zanarkand, and with no blitzball or side quests leading up to that. Okay, there is one major side-quest in FFXIII - you can take a break from killing the monsters that stand between you and the exit to go and kill specific monsters scattered around the open fields instead - but only during Chapter 11, or after defeating the final boss (which also unlocks the final level cap).

There's no Gold Saucer, no Triple Triad or Blitzball, no bystander or quest-giver NPCs (even the shops are computer terminals) - it's a studio tour or a fairground ride rather than a world to explore and, while there are minigames, they're one-off events that you play in order to unlock the next bit of plot and stretch of corridor, rather than something to come back to and replay.

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Re: fsdgdhg

Postby eviloatmeal » Fri Sep 19, 2014 9:05 am UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:On a side note, I could rant for ages about the "RPG" aspect of MMOs, but I think that's a different subject.

eviloatmeal wrote:That kind of brings me back around to the whole issue of the "quests and leveling" model of RPGs, but I think that's a whole other can of worms that I won't bore you with right now.

omgryebread wrote:I'm actually interested in your thoughts here.

Seems like this has transformed into a thread about RPGs, and this is suddenly right on topic, so I'll start babbling:

First, some more story time:

*
My introduction to MMOs (we're getting to the "RPG" part sooner or later) was late May 2005, when some acquaintances convinced me to try out this "WoW" thing that everyone was raving about at the time. I had a computer that would be put to shame by even the most basic of smart telephones, and it barely ran the software. The game would slow to a crawl if I got too close to Goldshire, not to mention Stormwind. But that's perhaps beside the point. What I enjoyed immensely about this game was that beyond the hand-holding of the starting zone, the game world didn't really try to tell you what to do. Sure, there was a certain order to things, a progression you could follow if you wanted, but you could also ignore that and simply run somewhere else. In fact, other than the incredibly sensitive aggro radii on some of the monsters, there was practically nothing stopping you from going anywhere. That seemed reasonable at the time, but I later found out that even "big monsters will see you from three kilometers distance while facing the other direction and come rushing to pound on you" wasn't a necessary compromise, and some games today do aggro much better.
*

The other thing I learned was that quests felt like quests:

Sure, even early vanilla WoW suffered to a large degree from "fetch me ten boar butts"-syndrome, as most of the quests involved some laborious chore. But despite that, the way the game presented this to you made it feel like you were part of the world. At the time, there was no such thing as a "quest tracker". You had to actually read through the quest text to figure out what you were supposed to do, which for better or worse forced you to associate some sort of narrative with the chores you were doing. Secondly, there were no quest markers or blinking arrows; farmer said the wolves were up the hill near a bend in the creek? You'd better have a look around for a hill and a creek, because the map you haven't un-fog-of-warred yet sure isn't going to show a big flashy neon "wolves here!" sign.

This is at the core of how I think about quests in RPGs today - the way they are presented has an incredible impact on how they are perceived, and even what you're supposed to do. In contemporary games, you're provided not only with a fully filled-out map, but a shopping list of goals to accomplish and GPS coordinates to show you the way. It takes all the "quest" out of doing quests, and leaves you with just a list of points on the ground to occupy and things to click on.

More than a few times back then did I have to thoroughly read the instructions in a quest, and correlate the geographical descriptions and instructions with landmarks and physical features I could see in front of me. More than a few times today do I simply accept a quest without so much as reading the title, and just follow the literal arrow on the ground to its destination, knowing that the task will become obvious to me once I get there, by way of a neatly arranged pack of monsters to kill, or a question mark above some NPC's head.

So the conclusion from this is that interface design has gone in a direction that ruins immersion, and changes the gameplay experience away from the important factors. If you're just going to make a game about clicking things that run toward you and stand in front of you, or walking to designated circles on a map, then you're making the equivalent of visuals and level design composed of primitive shapes and monochromatic textures.

*
Now, there's nothing wrong, necessarily, with having simplistic design or basic features, but as a lawyer once said "I'd happily play a fighting game which had only rectangular hitboxes as graphics, as long as the mechanics were good". You have make your game fun and appealing in some aspect, and unfortunately, for most "RPG" style games, the mechanical side (the way your physical user input meshes with what happens on the screen) isn't the appeal. Diablo is fun, but not because of mechanical depth - you're just endlessly clicking on zombies and whatever flies out of them when they explode. WoW is fun, but not because you're pressing 2, waiting three seconds, then pressing 4, then waiting three seconds, then pressing 2 again.

Unfortunately for WoW, "hotkey combat" happened to be a necessity to make the game run properly at the time, so they had to find appeal in some other aspect. Fortunately for WoW, they found it in two distinct areas: World building (lore, environment, etc..) and the famous "Blizzard polish" (solid visuals, good dynamics, fantastic sound design, stable software and hardware, and so on). So they successfully overcame the limitations of 2000s home computing to make an enticing MMO, the players turned made the world come alive, and the rest is history.
*

Back to the issue with quests: They are chores when they should be adventures. My solution to this is to get rid of the extraneous interface. Map markers, quest trackers, and so on. When you're given a quest, you're given a piece of narrative (not necessarily a riddle, but something you have to parse and comprehend), and that narrative explains what you're supposed to do. That way, you feel like you are actually interacting with a character in the game world, rather than interacting with a big flashing circle on your mini-map.

Hell, I'd go even a step further - don't even give the player a discrete "quest", just have NPCs talk about their problems, and reward the player for solving those problems. "I need X amount of rabbit dragon meat for my dragon stew. Think you can help?" doesn't need to be framed by an "accept quest" button, it could simply be something the NPC says if you talk to him, or even a line that is triggered by your proximity. I believe there's a term for this in film theory - diegetic - which means an element like a sound, a voice, or music, is part of the narrative world; a radio playing music or a character speaking a line. This as opposed to, for instance, a narrator talking over footage, or a musical score on top of a scene which only the audience hears, and isn't heard by the characters on the screen.

I think this direction in interface design would have a dramatic effect on immersion and even what it feels like to play. When you know your task is to go to a specific spot and kill a specific type of boar, your goal becomes to find the shortest path to that spot, and find the optimal order in which to kill the right number of boars. On the other hand, if your task isn't as narrowly defined - or isn't presented as a task bestowed upon you at all; if the information you are given is that the NPC really wishes he had some boar meat, then your goal might be to run out into the forest and look for some boars. Or maybe you passed some boars in your travels, and you already know where to find them, and then suddenly the traveling you were doing earlier has gained another significance by helping you locate the boars. Perhaps you don't have a clue where to find boars, and you need to go to the tavern and eavesdrop on the local hunter's bragging about hunting boars to figure out where they are. If this was part of a "quest" that was "given" to you, then I bet you would have to "report" to the hunter to advance the "quest line" - and skipping this step would mean you had missed a trigger that enabled a boar counter, and killing the boars would not count toward completion of the quest.

Another classic example is something like this:

Quest giver telling you "I saw some Suspicious Activity near Place the other day. Adventurer, would you <investigate Place for suspicious activity> and report back to me?" could become simply one NPC saying to another "gee, did you see those Persons at Place the other day? I bet they were up to some Suspicious Activity. I wonder what that's all about." Then, instead of having a big "Investigate Place for Suspicious Activity (Complete)" flash on screen when you went there, you would simply go there and the flag would be set internally, and the NPC would react accordingly once you returned and spoke to him.

So those are some thoughts about questing. Let's see if I have any characters left to ramble about leveling.

Edit: "board meat".
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Re: fsdgdhg

Postby karhell » Fri Sep 19, 2014 10:45 am UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:<snip>
Seems like this has transformed into a thread about RPGs, and this is suddenly right on topic, so I'll start babbling:
<resnip>

Interesting post. I pretty much agree with your point. Questing nowadays has become rather boring and feels more like going shopping rather than an epic adventure.

On the quest tracker side, maybe a compromise would be acceptable ? I'm thinking something like Morrowind's journal where events and conversations are summarised. That makes it easier to remember what the chuffing bugger-cripes you were up to last week and why you were in the middle of that forest.
Or, if you want it the hardcore way, give a blank journal for the player to fill in ^^
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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby eviloatmeal » Fri Sep 19, 2014 11:36 am UTC

So we've established some kind of problematization, in the form "contemporary ((MMO)RPG) interface design is too much artificial, and not enough diegetic". Above were some thoughts about how that applies to quests, and how I think it can be solved.

Perhaps there's a similar "problem" with leveling: Levels and stats are a way to represent relative power and progress between characters. Some would say that having a progression gated by level is fundamental and necessary, and I agree that it might be in some cases (you have to keep your MMO customers playing somehow, and arranging content in a slightly linear fashion may help to do that). I also acknowledge that one aspect of appeal of RPGs/MMORPGs is the infamous Skinner Box effect - it feels good to get a small reward for doing a simple chore.

But then there are games like EVE, which doesn't have a level progression at all. Sure, some skills have a dependency hierarchy, and some core skills make you stronger over-all, but for the most part you're training for a specific type of ship or playstyle, and it won't character "better" in anything but the specific ship or system you are training. Less of a level progression means less power creep - a two-day old character in a dinky frigate can strap on a warp disruptor and fulfill the role of scouting and tackling opponents and be useful to a fleet of veterans in battlecruisers. A beginner can join the same mining fleet and mine the same asteroids as an experienced miner, albeit contributing a little slower.

I think that ideally, leveling shouldn't cause orders of magnitude of power creep. WoW is a serious offender in this matter - a "red" or "skull" enemy - one that is about 10-12 (depending on your level) levels above your own, is so strong as to be immune to, or rather have more than a 100% chance of deflecting, all your attacks. I remember when someone figured out that Hogger (a level 11-ish elite monster) was just barely below this threshold for level 1 characters, and a group of about 30-50 people made fresh characters and took him on as if he were a raid boss, with priests using their rank 1 lesser heals and warriors struggling to hold aggro without any taunt abilities.

I'd like the scale of leveling to be... let's say, prohibitive, but not in any way artificially preventing you from trying. A high level monster should kill a low level player, no question, but it should not be immune to attack. In singleplayer games, where you don't have the excuses "we have to keep the player subscribing" and "but we made all this content, it seems only fair that you should experience it all... in this order", I'd argue that you could for the most part do away with the curve entire

A game that comes to mind is Dark Souls - you progress by upgrading your equipment, but not by replacing it. You don't really find "better" equipment so much as different equipment. You have a roll with i-frames which can go through most attacks, if you know their timing, and the game world is only minimally locked in sequence (although it certainly suggests which way to do things, if you don't poke around too much - The Catacombs and New Londo aren't near as inviting as the Undead Burg at first glance, for example). There is a progression, but it's not insisting that you get to a particular level or upgrade your equipment a certain amount at any point. Leveling up is more like lowering the difficulty rather than progressing.

karhell wrote:I'm thinking something like Morrowind's journal where events and conversations are summarised.
Or, if you want it the hardcore way, give a blank journal for the player to fill in ^^

I think that is precisely the right compromise - for an MMO game, track quests as quest text in a journal. Original WoW was exactly there - you had your quest log, it had the quest text in it, and that was it.*

For singleplayer games, fill the damned thing in yourself. You're already playing a roleplaying game against a computer, it's not like you have any qualms about spending time with yourself. I'd go as far as to say "just get some pen and paper", but I think it would be perfect to have an in-game journal in which you could elect to record characters' names, locations, and conversations. But treat it as a tool, not as a single-purpose game mechanism; you can log any character's name or location or whatever, whether they are pertinent to any quest or not. A proper "journal" as opposed to only a "quest" log. Then you'll have to think a bit about what to record, or end up with hundreds of pages of names and dates (well, who says you don't want to roleplay as a census collector. That's my idea of an RPG - the freedom to use stuff as stuff, put the small round peg in the large square hole, or on your head).

*Fakedit: Actually, if I recall correctly, it had rudimentary tracking of completion status as well - it would say (Completed) on quests you needed to turn in. But I'm sure that everything else, even down to color-coding by level, came at a later time.
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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Sep 19, 2014 3:23 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:I think that ideally, leveling shouldn't cause orders of magnitude of power creep. WoW is a serious offender in this matter - a "red" or "skull" enemy - one that is about 10-12 (depending on your level) levels above your own, is so strong as to be immune to, or rather have more than a 100% chance of deflecting, all your attacks. I remember when someone figured out that Hogger (a level 11-ish elite monster) was just barely below this threshold for level 1 characters, and a group of about 30-50 people made fresh characters and took him on as if he were a raid boss, with priests using their rank 1 lesser heals and warriors struggling to hold aggro without any taunt abilities.

I'd like the scale of leveling to be... let's say, prohibitive, but not in any way artificially preventing you from trying. A high level monster should kill a low level player, no question, but it should not be immune to attack. In singleplayer games, where you don't have the excuses "we have to keep the player subscribing" and "but we made all this content, it seems only fair that you should experience it all... in this order", I'd argue that you could for the most part do away with the curve entirely.


Yeah, I hate this mechanic. I understand why you might want to have it in an MMO. I remember playing Asheron's Call back in the early 2000s, and in that game it was possible to powerlevel a character very, very quickly because it was possible for a level 1 character to kill a level 100+ monster by basically hiding in a tree and shooting spells/arrows at for 20 minutes it while it ran around stupidly. So having some way to prevent that sort of thing is good, though most games have fixed terrain exploits anyway. OTOH, having it that monsters who are a small handful of levels above you be completely invulnerable is kind of lame because it feels too much like a game mechanic rather than something organic. I'd rather see something more like D&D, where a level 10 character with level 10 gear will definitely clobber a level 1 character (and a big party of level 1s could conceivably bring down a level 10), but it's due entirely to the difference in their abilities, not due to a hidden level scaling mechanic.

I don't see any reason at all for this to be in single player, and have found it annoying in all of the single player games I've seen it in (eg. Xenoblade Chronicles).

I think that is precisely the right compromise - for an MMO game, track quests as quest text in a journal. Original WoW was exactly there - you had your quest log, it had the quest text in it, and that was it.*

For singleplayer games, fill the damned thing in yourself. You're already playing a roleplaying game against a computer, it's not like you have any qualms about spending time with yourself. I'd go as far as to say "just get some pen and paper", but I think it would be perfect to have an in-game journal in which you could elect to record characters' names, locations, and conversations. But treat it as a tool, not as a single-purpose game mechanism; you can log any character's name or location or whatever, whether they are pertinent to any quest or not. A proper "journal" as opposed to only a "quest" log. Then you'll have to think a bit about what to record, or end up with hundreds of pages of names and dates (well, who says you don't want to roleplay as a census collector. That's my idea of an RPG - the freedom to use stuff as stuff, put the small round peg in the large square hole, or on your head).


I think having some level of organization is fine. If you have a game like one of the Elder Scrolls games where you could conceivably have 20+ active quests scattered over the world, plus hundreds of other completed quests that you no longer care about, having everything ordered sequentially, however realistic it may be, is a huge nuisance.

Dating myself here, but the old game Star Trail (and probably the other games in the Realms of Arkania series) had essentially this. There was an icon you could click during dialogue that would record whatever it was the person said. I think only key things--essential plot points related to the main quest--were recorded automatically. If memory serves, when you went into dialogue with someone, you could ask them about different topics and record what they said. Then you could sort your journal by what had been said about those topics. So if you needed a herb recipe, you could type in "herbs" into your journal search, and it would pull up every instance where you'd asked about herbs and chosen to record the text. If you wanted to know about the orc quest, you'd look up orcs.

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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby SecondTalon » Fri Sep 19, 2014 3:49 pm UTC

I'd like to see auto-filled journals (I told Johan of Tembler Village that I would get Six Pearls from Glendar Cove - Pearl Count 0/6) with a link or button that would also allow you to add your own text.

Ideally, at first you might just use this to insert insulting remarks about Johan, but maybe record that Johan told you the Cove was to the north, about a half-day's walk. Later on, you would need to record dozens of bits of info - who to talk to for extra information on the Ancient Tomb, ways of getting around traps, theorized weaknesses of the legendary creature within the tomb, whatever.

It would need to be easy and quick to access, have an obvious benefit... yet the game still be completely possible without taking those notes - the tomb location is marked, you have a way of finding and disarming traps on your own, and simply pounding the legendary creature in the face long enough will kill it.

Just that taking notes (and talking to people) will greatly help. Maybe allow you to mark one active quest, have the objectives marked as per the usual style, then your own notes below it?
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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:20 pm UTC

The journal to jog memory seems entirely reasonable. The break with reality comes in having the giant glowing beacon, floating question mark, or whatever else. Those are mechanics that have no correlation to the "reality" of the world inhabited. Now, there's a certain degree of interface abstraction that needs to be used, because VR isn't a thing, but...the further you go down the path, the more the game becomes abstracted from the fluff.

I'm ok with interface framing/panels as appropriate, but I generally want everything rendered in the main viewscreen to correlate to in-game reality. Mods can worsen this problem, as if you're staring at aggro circles, red zones, etc...you're getting further into an area where mechanics diverge from the presented "reality". However, mechanics for displacing these things are not trivial. You can surely have different aggro methods, etc, but if there's ANY hidden information being sent to the client, there's a motivation to mod accordingly.

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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby rmsgrey » Fri Sep 19, 2014 9:34 pm UTC

Quests, as we know them, are the result of several problems that game design needs to address:

1) Most NPC dialogue is filler - if an NPC mentions his kidnapped grand-daughter, is it a quest hook, and you're supposed to go and save her? Is it background for a future development whereby you encounter a young woman and can choose to return her to her loved ones? Or is it an extraneous detail, intended to convey the perils of the setting and, if you're very lucky, the grand-daughter might get mentioned again in a later dialogue as having turned up as a result of the player extending the reach of order and light rather than a direct result of his actions. By flagging some things as quests, you're effectively labeling everything else as "not a quest".

2) Players have lives - for the guy who gets Terminal Dream 57 on Friday, takes a week's holiday, and puts in 80-100 hours to complete the game before returning to work the following Monday, sure, keeping up with the character's knowledge of the game world and who wanted what done where is just about plausible. For the guy who plays a couple of hours a day at weekends and does other things with the rest of his time, just remembering the main plot from session to session is about all you can reasonably ask. You need some way to compensate for the fact that a couple of days in the character's life can be 6 months in the player's life or you need to abandon the idea that players can save the game and come back to it after any significant lapse.

3) Players are lazy - give them a game without any sort of waypointing system, and they'll complain - in fairness, there's a point about player vs character knowledge in there - unless the character is a stranger/has amnesia, they'll know all sorts of things about the area and the world that the player doesn't - if someone asked you to go to Washington DC and photograph the Washington Monument, you'd have a pretty good idea of where you were headed. If someone asked you to go to Shayol Ghul and confront Shai'tan, would you even know where to start? So, yeah, waypoints satisfy players who complain about not knowing where to go when all they're given is in-universe instructions.

4) Progress bars are shiny. Showing the player that they've completed 3/4 of a quest, or that they have 56/100 wolf pelts, or whatever, allows them to immediately see that they're progressing toward a goal, and have some idea of how they're doing. If you kill a wolf and get told "you've killed a wolf" that's all well and good, but if you kill a wolf and are told "You have advanced your mastery of Wolf Slaying by 1%" then you've done something more awesome and you're more motivated to find another wolf sprite and click on it...

There are probably others - I got distracted while writing this post, but I think I had half a dozen or so points when I started - and the last couple may be best addressed by adopting the rolled-up-newspaper approach - whap the player on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper until he stops blindly chasing shiny things - rather than by indulging the player. The first two are still real issues.

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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby eviloatmeal » Sat Sep 20, 2014 6:42 am UTC

rmsgrey wrote:1)

That's basically my point exactly - by labeling some things as quests, you exclude all the wonder and discovery from both quests (which are now explicitly labeled "do this") and also from non-quests (which are now implicitly labeled "this leads nowhere as far as the game world is concerned"). You lose all nuance. It's difficult to fit minor and flavor things in there, if you have to either expressly not declare them as quests, or reveal them as really small, insignificant non-contributions to the narrative.

Of course, some games ignore this issue entirely and simply do it anyway - you'll be a great, level 50 warrior with many basilisk kills under his belt, riding into a new village, and there'll still be a giant, floating exclamation mark above Little Lily's head because finding a doll in a bush must surely be a fitting task for the hero who is here to free the village from its evil masters.

rmsgrey wrote:2)

Absolutely. I don't expect that every player is willing to put all that time into the game, that's why I think, in most cases, a journal, which can be filled in a contextual way (choosing which conversations and locations and such you want to keep in there) is a perfect balance.

rmsgrey wrote:3)

I don't agree about the meta-knowledge thing. If someone told you to go somewhere and take a picture of something, then it's either been previously established between you and them that you know where that is, or that you are capable of figuring out where it is, or they're going to give you directions. Alternatively, they know you don't know, and they don't want to tell you. In all but one of these cases, the character doesn't know more than the player, and in the case of the character knowing but not the player, you could easily fill in that information in a diegetic (there's that word that sums up my thoughts so well) way, such as adding the character's thoughts as a part of the quest log. "The farmer told me to talk to the village elder. Last I was here, he lived in the third hut from the stream."

I honestly feel like automatic quest markers are almost completely unnecessary, and in my opinion they are the biggest contributing factor to making quests feel like chores.

rmsgrey wrote:4)

Yes, unfortunately, monkey brain pull lever, monkey brain receive banana. Like I mentioned, some sort of breadcrumb gratification seems to be necessary, mostly in MMOs where the goal is to keep selling the game every month, rather than selling the box once and then making a new product. In some cases, it might be appropriate to have some minimal progress indication: Track "completed" status, maybe have a 0/10 type thing for quest items or kills. But I think that the more of this you can integrate into other parts of the interface, and into the game world itself, the better. You'll have some sort of inventory, it will show how many wolf pelts you have, so many that can be enough. Or maybe, like is possible in some games, you can choose an item to track, regardless of quest, and then you just do that manually if you want.
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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby Quercus » Sat Sep 20, 2014 9:17 am UTC

Re. Journals, I really liked the way the Myst series of games handled this (at least Myst V did this, I can't really remember whether the earlier ones did) - there your journal was a bit like a scrapbook. I don't remember this too well, so I may be getting some specifics wrong, but as I recall you got photos of puzzles, recordings of conversations etc. automatically pasted in there, with space between them to type up your own notes. In my book it's a major plus point to a game that it is complex enough for me to break out a pen and paper (and possibly calculator) at some point. Myst did it, Fez did it (solving the ciphers), Antichamber did it and Minecraft did it (lists of coordinates, to-do lists etc.) but I can't recall any RPG ever doing it, which means in my mind that they are too hand-holdy in general.

Edit: Actually, when I think about it Minecraft is a pretty good example of an alternative way to do an RPG - there are no formal quests, but if I look through my to-do list it actually reads like a quest list from any other RPG, but one that I've generated for myself. The things that are on there are either there because they are pre-requisites to progression in the game (grow a pumpkin patch because I want some utility golems), because they make things easier (building steps into the buttress into which my house is built, connecting my mines with an underground railway), or because they are fun (exploring a river I found, making a huge compass rose design on top of my buttress).

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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby SirBryghtside » Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:47 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:I'd like to see auto-filled journals (I told Johan of Tembler Village that I would get Six Pearls from Glendar Cove - Pearl Count 0/6) with a link or button that would also allow you to add your own text.

Ideally, at first you might just use this to insert insulting remarks about Johan, but maybe record that Johan told you the Cove was to the north, about a half-day's walk. Later on, you would need to record dozens of bits of info - who to talk to for extra information on the Ancient Tomb, ways of getting around traps, theorized weaknesses of the legendary creature within the tomb, whatever.

It would need to be easy and quick to access, have an obvious benefit... yet the game still be completely possible without taking those notes - the tomb location is marked, you have a way of finding and disarming traps on your own, and simply pounding the legendary creature in the face long enough will kill it.

Just that taking notes (and talking to people) will greatly help. Maybe allow you to mark one active quest, have the objectives marked as per the usual style, then your own notes below it?

I'm pretty sure Deus Ex let you do that, with an ordinary auto-filled mission log that you can edit as you please. I don't think I actually used that feature much, though, as the automatic logs usually contained all the information you needed.
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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby rmsgrey » Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:55 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:1)

The trouble with not labeling things "not available in this game" is that either you end up with a player who spends hours trying to get a kitten down from a tree and rage-quits when he discovers that it's impossible, or you get a player who, after running into a couple of fake hooks there for flavour assumes that all the actual quest hooks are actually just flavour and complains about not having any sidequests... True, nowadays we probably do have the resources to actually make every off-hand comment in dialogue lead to something in the game world, allowing you to make quests diegetic rather than having them "ding!" when you uncover them. It's still a significantly harder design problem to make sure that every time the player manages to make an NPC's life better, the NPC reacts in some way...

There's also an issue if you have game-mechanical rewards for completing things your dev team designated as quests (whether the player is told they are or not) - if you get +250XP for killing 15 hyenas and talking to the local shepherd, but not for bringing the 15 hyena pelts to the tanner, then the player should have some way of distinguishing "activity that I might expect to give a reward and does" from "activity that I might expect to give a reward and doesn't"...

eviloatmeal wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:2)

A good journal (with decent organisation so you can find things later) would solve a lot of memory problems. In sufficiently linear games, a story recap when loading also helps. Just keeping a TODO list with the game also helps a lot. Letting the player make arbitrary notes also lets them decide what should or shouldn't be a quest rather than feeding them your definition, which feeds into 1).

eviloatmeal wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:3)

If I'm asked to go do something, or want to travel from A to B in real life, while I don't see a glowing trail, or a big arrow hovering over/pointing toward my destination, those feel like they're not unreasonable attempts to represent something non-visual in a visual way.

As for whether someone would tell you how to get there, that sort of thing leads to either starting the player character with amnesia, or to a lot of "as you know, your father, the king..." type speeches - and conversations that start to sound like something out of Metal Gear Solid... You can take a lot of the mindless chore out by allowing the player to be the one to set a waypoint - and possibly paint the route there - rather than doing it automatically - so the player still needs to decipher the text to figure out where to go, but having done so once, they don't need to keep pausing to check the map every few screens to make sure they're still headed in the right direction...

eviloatmeal wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:4)

Having the ability to set a small number of things to be tracked by the interface would be a big help - there comes a point in Kingdom Hearts where I'm just chasing Synthesis ingredients and having the ability to tell the game "I want 7 blazing stones" and have the game then track my progress toward that in some way rather than having to jot it down on a scrap of paper and then keep revisiting the item screen periodically as I farm for them...

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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby SecondTalon » Sat Sep 20, 2014 10:39 pm UTC

Seems like some of the problems would be resolved by not trying to create a huge, expansive world, but by trying to create a town and it's surroundings. Maybe a small village, 30-50 people on a 9 square mile island.

Or, if we want to give it analogs, take Skyrim, half the map size and make Whiterun the only town.

You can put a lot of time in to programming 50 townsfolk when those are the only 50 in the game.
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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby eviloatmeal » Mon Sep 22, 2014 7:55 am UTC

rmsgrey wrote:The trouble with not labeling things "not available in this game" is that either you end up with a player who spends hours trying to get a kitten down from a tree and rage-quits when he discovers that it's impossible, or you get a player who, after running into a couple of fake hooks there for flavour assumes that all the actual quest hooks are actually just flavour and complains about not having any sidequests...
Frankly, sounds like a personal problem - having one's patience and sense of discovery ruined by television (or something) and expecting the game to spoonfeed you information.

Yes, there is an issue there, in which you make content that may or may not contribute to the player's playtime, so you have to put some things in sequence and paint them neon colors, IF you want to gain something from having the player play the game one month and also the next. But if you're just selling a singleplayer title, you can sell it for $30 (or $60 if it's in a box) whether the player finds all the hidden quirks or not.

rmsgrey wrote:True, nowadays we probably do have the resources to actually make every off-hand comment in dialogue lead to something in the game world, allowing you to make quests diegetic rather than having them "ding!" when you uncover them. It's still a significantly harder design problem to make sure that every time the player manages to make an NPC's life better, the NPC reacts in some way...

It's not an issue of making everything into a quest. Quite the opposite - if you can make quests sufficiently diegetic, then you everything else seems less insignificant.

You don't need to hide quests behind obscure dialogue and uncooperative NPCs, all I'm talking about is getting rid of the obnoxious floating question marks. If the farmer needs ten boar butts, you can still make that clear to the player without having to turn your medieval village into Akihabara.

Yes, having to make your game good rather than generic is a significantly harder design process. Big surprise.

rmsgrey wrote:There's also an issue if you have game-mechanical rewards for completing things your dev team designated as quests (whether the player is told they are or not) - if you get +250XP for killing 15 hyenas and talking to the local shepherd, but not for bringing the 15 hyena pelts to the tanner, then the player should have some way of distinguishing "activity that I might expect to give a reward and does" from "activity that I might expect to give a reward and doesn't"...

Well, yes, but if you give the player a "hyena pelt item", you're telling the player "you should expect this to be used for something". But that reward might be simply that the tanner will buy them from you, it doesn't need to take the form of a quest, does it?

Either way, my point is that currently players' expectations are reduced to ignoring everything that isn't explicitly within the "discrete chores for predefined rewards" framework, and maybe if the lines were blurred a little, it would encourage a bit more immersion or exploration.

rmsgrey wrote:If I'm asked to go do something, or want to travel from A to B in real life, while I don't see a glowing trail, or a big arrow hovering over/pointing toward my destination, those feel like they're not unreasonable attempts to represent something non-visual in a visual way.

As for whether someone would tell you how to get there, that sort of thing leads to either starting the player character with amnesia, or to a lot of "as you know, your father, the king..." type speeches - and conversations that start to sound like something out of Metal Gear Solid... You can take a lot of the mindless chore out by allowing the player to be the one to set a waypoint - and possibly paint the route there - rather than doing it automatically - so the player still needs to decipher the text to figure out where to go, but having done so once, they don't need to keep pausing to check the map every few screens to make sure they're still headed in the right direction...

Exactly!

I don't want to make the game difficult, I just want it to involve the player.

eviloatmeal wrote:Having the ability to set a small number of things to be tracked by the interface would be a big help - there comes a point in Kingdom Hearts where I'm just chasing Synthesis ingredients and having the ability to tell the game "I want 7 blazing stones" and have the game then track my progress toward that in some way rather than having to jot it down on a scrap of paper and then keep revisiting the item screen periodically as I farm for them...

Which is entirely reasonable.
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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby Quercus » Mon Sep 22, 2014 12:36 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:The trouble with not labeling things "not available in this game" is that either you end up with a player who spends hours trying to get a kitten down from a tree and rage-quits when he discovers that it's impossible, or you get a player who, after running into a couple of fake hooks there for flavour assumes that all the actual quest hooks are actually just flavour and complains about not having any sidequests...
Frankly, sounds like a personal problem - having one's patience and sense of discovery ruined by television (or something) and expecting the game to spoonfeed you information.

Yes, there is an issue there, in which you make content that may or may not contribute to the player's playtime, so you have to put some things in sequence and paint them neon colors, IF you want to gain something from having the player play the game one month and also the next. But if you're just selling a singleplayer title, you can sell it for $30 (or $60 if it's in a box) whether the player finds all the hidden quirks or not.


In one sense I agree with you, but this is also a problem from the other direction, namely that if solutions are not explicitly labelled it becomes very frustrating when something which should be a solution within the rules of the game-world is not possible because the game designer hasn't thought of it. Anyone who has played text adventures much will be familiar with this :-

  • Why do I need a hammer to make a raft when a rock will work just as well for pounding nails into softwood?
  • Why am I searching for string when I am wearing boots with shoelaces?
  • Why do I need a tinderbox to start a fire when I have a magnifying glass and it's sunny?


I think the "explicit quest" design paradigm is partially a response to this problem - it's very difficult to design all workable solutions into a game, so the game steers you strongly towards particular solutions. The only other way I've seen this done well is to make the world simpler so that the scope for alternative solutions is reduced (Portal, Antichamber etc.). This is mostly an issue for games with puzzle elements, but I think it would be an issue for a more "open" sort of RPG as well.

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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby eviloatmeal » Mon Sep 22, 2014 12:49 pm UTC

Again, I'm not saying the game should accommodate every conceivable solution, or go the interactive fiction route and not explain the intended solution. I just want quests to be doled out and handed in in a more diegetic fashion. That doesn't mean you're not allowed to explain to the player, through dialogue or something else, what he is supposed to do, simply that I'm not a fan of explaining it by putting big red arrows above the hammer when it would suffice to give it a small glint.
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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby rmsgrey » Mon Sep 22, 2014 2:41 pm UTC

eviloatmeal wrote:Again, I'm not saying the game should accommodate every conceivable solution, or go the interactive fiction route and not explain the intended solution. I just want quests to be doled out and handed in in a more diegetic fashion. That doesn't mean you're not allowed to explain to the player, through dialogue or something else, what he is supposed to do, simply that I'm not a fan of explaining it by putting big red arrows above the hammer when it would suffice to give it a small glint.


So you're saying that you're happy with the game telling you "this is a quest: Go and dig at the crossroads on the far side of town" but you want the player to have to then identify the crossroads and figure out their own route there rather than the game giving them an automatic navigation icon to guide them to the right location and a big glowy thingy where they're supposed to dig?

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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby SecondTalon » Mon Sep 22, 2014 2:46 pm UTC

Sounds to me that this is eviloatmeal's desired behavior from a game -

NPC tells you to go to the intersection of Willow and 4th and dig in front of the westernmost roadsign. If you are a stranger to the town, the NPC gives you some directions (Take the Kings Road six blocks, turn right on 4th and go another five blocks.. that's the intersection)

No glowing arrows on the screen.

If you open your map, the crossroad in question is circled.

Once onsite, in front of the westernmost roadsign, the ground has a couple of pixels that flash every now and again.
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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Sep 22, 2014 5:04 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:Seems like some of the problems would be resolved by not trying to create a huge, expansive world, but by trying to create a town and it's surroundings. Maybe a small village, 30-50 people on a 9 square mile island.

Or, if we want to give it analogs, take Skyrim, half the map size and make Whiterun the only town.

You can put a lot of time in to programming 50 townsfolk when those are the only 50 in the game.


Precisely. More detail, smaller area. That's how you handle elements like "I have no idea where that is". If the player grows to know the world, then the discrepancy between player knowledge and char knowledge isn't an issue.

It also somewhat reduces graphical content generation, which is a very good thing. That's a *huge* limiting factor on many existing games. MMOs in particular, as they usually require vast teams of people cranking out endlessly varied content, and still need to rely on frequent model reuse.

Obviously, as for familiarity, quests will be available in such an order as to match your knowledge. Quest 1 is probably "hey, you're new to town, go meet these people at the tavern" or something. Careful design of quest ordering is always necessary, because of power considerations, plot considerations, etc, this is really little different.

Maybe one of the dudes in the tavern wants you to run a package out to a farmer outside of town, and he warns you to stay on the road, because that's hyena turf. So, when you finally get your hyena pelt quest, you know where they're at. Sure, you could not read quests and stumble onto them randomly, or look through your log, or whatever, but if you've structured it so that players learn the area on the way, it shouldn't feel like work.

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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby PolakoVoador » Mon Sep 22, 2014 5:26 pm UTC

SecondTalon wrote:Sounds to me that this is eviloatmeal's desired behavior from a game -

NPC tells you to go to the intersection of Willow and 4th and dig in front of the westernmost roadsign. If you are a stranger to the town, the NPC gives you some directions (Take the Kings Road six blocks, turn right on 4th and go another five blocks.. that's the intersection)

No glowing arrows on the screen.

If you open your map, the crossroad in question is circled.

Once onsite, in front of the westernmost roadsign, the ground has a couple of pixels that flash every now and again.


I'll bring Borderlands up. When you're given a quest, its location is cricled/marked on your map, and no directions are given. Usually, once you find the object, it is also highlighted but only when you're close enough to not make much of a difference.

Some small quests even rely on the "no directions given", in the sense that the difficult part is finding a way around the scenario to get to the damn objective.

Of course, Borderlands/Borderlands 2 maps are fairly small, and occasionally looking at your map is more than enough to understand wath path will lead to the objective.

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Re: What makes a RPG a RPG?

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Mon Sep 22, 2014 7:07 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:Precisely. More detail, smaller area.
I think this is really the crux of it. A more minimalist game works with less way pointing.

In Majora's Mask, I forget how it logged things, but most NPCs had something going on; if they didn't, they didn't say anything remotely like a quest hook.

In The World ends with you NPCs that weren't plot relevant were styled differently, because it took place in a real place where it would be immersion breaking not to have thirty NPCs walking by at all times.

For quest tracking in general: the ideal solution is to take all the chore out of note taking, without taking out the challenge, or introducing stupid challenges.

For directions, the first step is good directions, by which I mean it's been user tested that when people get to the field the recognize which tree they need to turn left at. So many people are bad at directions, and the people who made the map are potentially the worst. Actual markers don't need to be exact: If you've been to wooded forest before, the marker can be there. If you want to temporarily abandon your quest, the marker can be left at your point of most progress.

I'd say if you have the goal of getting ten bear asses, you should be updated on the count, that just automates opening my inventory to count my bear asses.
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