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Role-playing games, where to from here?

It’s Wednesday and time for the final part of the Role-Playing Game (RPG) series. Let’s have a quick recap on what we’ve covered so far.

  • In part 1: “RPG’s, an entirely personal matter”, we looked at how this genre has the ability to allow the player to extend him or herself along emotional, visual and intellectual pathways that are mostly absent in other genres.
  • In part 2: “RPG’s and escapism”, we explored the specific game mechanics in RPG’s that promote self-expression and immersion, unlike in any other genre.

Yolanda “Lolita” Green and Chris “Turkish” Smithard have both been playing RPG's for many years. The depth of their understanding for this genre has most definitely added to my appreciation and broadened my understanding for RPG’s. Let’s join them one last time for a discussion about aspects in RPG’s that they would like developers to improve upon or explore.

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“We house the narrative as much as we can, and immerse the player in the narrative.” Colin Campbell on creating the world of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning  

What are the elements that developers improved upon over the years?

YG: “Perhaps the greatest improvement in all fields of role-playing games has definitely been game graphics. Developers have also greatly improved gameplay and combat by innovating and looking for new and exciting ways to play the genre.”  

CS: “Well the most obvious answer would be the audio-visual elements – the graphics, animations, music, sound effects, and so on. But this is to be expected. I think that every genre brings this sort of improvement to the table. I have to be honest, as I’m sitting here typing this I’m trying to think of some sort of unique aspects that RPGs have managed to improve on over the years, but nothing really comes to mind with the exception of the audio-visual elements. Let’s draw a relatively crude comparison. If we were to strip Mass Effect of all its fancy graphics and animations and compare it to a game like Planescape: Torment I think developers haven’t really progressed that much. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

What are the elements that you think developers still need to improve on?

YG: “It’s always amazing to see new things being brought to the genre. There haven’t been apparent things in single players that I’ve hoped would improve but I have noticed some in new Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG’s) hitting the scene. World of Warcraft has in my opinion the most well rounded all inclusive list of features in the game. My only wish is that new MMORPG’s will start releasing as more “complete” games. By this I mean that they will include from release simple things such as group finders, end game content and functioning battlegrounds.”

CS: “I would like to see more depth of choice and more consequences. When I say more choice I mean I want the ability to influence the outcomes of quests in multiple ways. I want more than the good, bad, or in between choice. These choices must have unseen consequences. They must have a lasting effect on the game world. The game must surprise you further down the line. It must make you think, “Oh shit, I should never have done that”. It must have the ability to cause deep regret. It must make you question yourself.”

What would you still like to see feature in RPG's that you've not yet seen?  

YG: “Now here’s something that I’d just leave at “Surprise me” :D I’ve experienced so many things and worlds in RPG’s that I am not left looking for something that I haven’t seen but excited to be shown things I could never imagine.”  

CS: “This is an interesting question. At the core of any RPG is the notion of choice as well as character development. I would like this added to other genres. I want a blurring of genres. Imagine a game with the intense roller-coaster type action of the Call of Duty series blended with the RPG elements of a game like The Witcher. Imagine if a game like Command and Conquer gave you the option to destroy a civilian town to stop the influx of conscripts to your enemy. That’s a choice with consequences. I want those types of choices in my games. I want to do things in the game that are off the rail, but that don’t diminish the experience that a roller-coaster can offer. Developers need to have a careful look at the best features of each genre and try to bring them all together (within reason of course).”  

In some RPG’s you play the whole game as a lone ranger on a mission. In others, you have a crew that develop with you. What is your opinion on these two different styles of RPG's?  

witcher.jpg

"Scenic Route" from The Witcher 2 on Dead End Thrills

YG: “The Lone Ranger: Being the lone ranger is never really being the lone ranger unless you’ve played Red Dead Redemption. Even though you go on missions with others, the game has executed the role perfectly. It’s an awesome role to play and perfectly fits “being a hero stories” yet if the role is not presented right by the developer it can become lonely and sometimes rather boring.  

Crew Captain: Playing with a crew creates a whole different experience. In Mass Effect for example it actually creates a platform for creating a bond with the crew and simulating relationships.   I wouldn’t say that the one kind (lone ranger) is better than the other (crew captain). Both are exceptional and incredible when a game succeeds in immersing the player to the fullest of its capacity.  

CS: “Each has its place if done correctly. Mass Effect is a good example of an excellent party based RPG. Each NPC was unique and memorable. They had different abilities and play styles, but more importantly they all had distinctive personalities and back stories. This adds a lot to the game. It makes it more immersive. Diablo 3, on the other hand, is an example of how not to go about including NPC party members. Each NPC character was really unremarkable. I can honestly say that they have zero effect on the game. They might as well not be there. Having NPC characters in your party is a great opportunity for the game to create emotional bonds. Once again this really adds to the experience and general immersion. I prefer party based games for this very reason.”  

Closing thoughts

“The biggest thing that games have to say about us, is that we love journeys and that we love growing. Games speak to the fact that we constantly want new challenges and new places to conquer.” Leigh Alexander 

My conclusion after spending hours of discussion on the different aspects of RPG’s, with Green and Smithard, is a simple one. Gamers are hungry for games that provide deep characterization, worlds where they can attach their imagination to, and the freedom to shape that world around their decision making. What would you say are the heart of the RPG?    

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