Tuesday, November 13, 2007

RPG doesn't mean slow

Rampant Coyote raises the question of how much action is too much in an RPG?

My Bartle-type is EKAS... equally obsessed with Exploration and Killing, not so big on Achievement or Socialization. Take out either the exploration or the combat, and I'm not a happy gamer. Many of my favorite games (Battle for Middle Earth: 2, Stars Wars: Battlefront, Diablo 2, Deus Ex, etc) have involved a combination of visceral action with character development/selection and an imaginative setting.

Turn-based combat usually means a slow and uneven pace. Combat in Neverwinter Nights is the closest thing to a middle ground between turn-based and real-time; it kept the pace up enough for me to enjoy it, but I was still frustrated by the artificial pauses in between actions. I enjoy combat for the thrill of the moment. I'm a greater fan of tactics than of strategy. Pauses in combat, interruptions of my character control, break up the experience. I understand that other gamers prefer a more easily manageable pace and want every action to be carefully thought out, but I'm as much a fan of FPS games as RPGs. And, yes, I'd like to see the genres combined to an even greater degree than has already been seen.

More focus on action does not require less focus on roleplay elements. One's development doesn't have to be at the expense of the other.

There are two elements that I think are essential to RPGs: setting and character customization. Some might argue that only setting is necessary. A game might let you roleplay Batman by forcing you down the exact path Batman takes in the movie with the exact same skills and dialogue. But that's only a semblance of roleplay. True roleplay involves making choices, because choices are the driving force of personalities. Without being able to make decisions for the character I'm roleplaying, I will not become very attached to that character. And it's just not fun. If you tell a toddler that he must play with his He-Man toy in a very particular way, he's likely to stick He-Man's sword in your eye.

That's how Dark Messiah of Might & Magic fails, in my opinion. There is some skill customization, but defining the character should involve more than skills. That game forces the player down a very linear path, and all the environmental manipulation (like knocking the legs out from under a platform, so it falls on the guard walking beneath) is plainly handed to the player. Too many constraints. Too much hand-feeding. Oblivion does a better job of adding personal style to combat, but what makes it infinitely more worthwhile than Dark Messiah is the inclusion of choice in so many other aspects of the game.

I feel like I'm just rambling, so how about an idea of how to connect action and roleplay?

Include story-relevant dialogue during the action. We see it all the time in films and literature. Not only are there countless examples of fun, minor revelations in the midst of combat ("I am not left-handed" --Dread Pirate Roberts), but serious story-progression during combat is also common ("I'll never join you." "Luke, I am your father."). If gamers can be expected to listen to spoken objectives during such intense combat as in Medal of Honor: Airborne or the Call of Duty games, then I think we can reasonably expect gamers to catch story-related dialogue during combat. Though, it would probably be a good idea to include a text record of dialogues (similar to the Objectives window in many games), so the player has reminders.

Likewise, I think there's a lot of room for growth in making actions more meaningful to plotlines.

1 comment:

  1. While that's not my preference, I do agree with you. With a caveat...

    Roleplaying a character IMO means that the game shouldn't be directly testing your own skills, but rather test them through your management of your character.

    In a turn-based "thinky" RPG, the indirect test may be on your own tactics, risk assessment, and resource management. In an action-RPG, it's testing ... well, not really eye-hand coordination, but definitely your action-gaming skills. Hotkey combos, timing, target recognition, and high-speed threat analysis. Wow, that all sounds pretty cool.

    So I can see where you are coming from. I prefer the RTS genre over turn-based strategy games (USUALLY... there are some profound exceptions, like Civilizations or old-school Empire...). But in the case of RPGs, once you get too action-oriented, it ceases to feel like an RPG to me. It becomes Gauntlet... which I enjoyed, don't get me wrong... but it doesn't scratch the same itch.


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