Wednesday, November 04, 2009

rounded RPGs

While chatting with Scott about Dragon Age: Origins, we talked a bit about the different types of RPGs. Inevitably, I started describing what I've enjoyed in past games and what I hope for in any RPG.

I've always preferred Action RPGs, but the label can be misleading. Action RPGs tend to be light on story. I do love action, like Diablo 2 and Borderlands, but I also like richly developed worlds, ala Star Wars: Galaxies and Oblivion. I don't believe solid systems design negates the need for good graphics and audio. I like established stories, but I don't like a lot of cutscenes and tedious conversations which separate me from the world and interaction (play). I like archetypes and roles, but not having my path mapped out for me. I like loot, but not loot that's all about numbers and a strict hierarchy.

In other words, many RPG features I enjoy reappear from time to time in new games, but they seldom appear together. I love the RPG genre, but I ignore most of the games because they're so lopsided or jumbled.

Some have great settings but have gameplay that's mind-numbingly slow, complex and tedious. Some have great combat and loot but shallow settings and stick-figure characters. Some offer great dialog gameplay but require you to give up many freedoms to support it. Some are deep and free, but with ugly or rudimentary presentation.

I'm a realist. No game's perfect. Odds are, you'll have to make compromises and settle for limited resources when developing any game. And some features are difficult to fit together. But I'm also a Platonist. When I experience anything, I'm thinking not only of what it is but also of the ideals and potentials behind it. The RPG genre is full of untapped potential.

The main problem with the genre is the elitism of the various camps. Intellectuals scorn simple and fast action, demanding complex and turn-based games of strategy. They want to be told twisting stories and solve puzzles. Action gamers scorn slow and tedious systems, wanting to experience the fun immediately and always without having to jump through hoops. They want tactics and brutal warfare. World gamers want to explore, discover and be continually surprised. They hate character restrictions and being push along linear paths.

The solution is American football... metaphorically speaking.

American football is a game for both action junkies and intellectuals. It combines a plethora of deep and evolving strategies with on-the-ground tactics, finesse and brute force. There are hundreds of statistics for the number-crunchers. There are great histories and traditions for the lore-minded. There are many dynamic intangibles, like the effects of crowd support and the personalities of individual players. And football is a great social setting.

The point isn't just that football offers something for everyone. It's that all those elements are put together into one solid experience, so every fan inevitably experiences all of it at once.

RPGs can do the same. They don't have to sacrifice story for action, freedom for story, depth for graphics, etc. All of that can be in one game. All those elements can depend naturally on each other, rather than being separate things which the player experiences in sequence. I long for well-rounded RPGs.

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