A Conversation with Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games

Matt Barton's picture

A Chat with Chris TaylorA Chat with Chris TaylorAs you've probably noticed by now, I've been doing a heck of a lot of interviewing lately trying to get some good material for "Dungeons and Desktops," my book on the history of the computer role-playing game. Anyway, it took some doing, but I finally managed to get a few questions through to Chris Taylor, the game designer responsible for Dungeon Siege and Total Annihilation. I had a great time with Dungeon Siege, and am looking forward to the chance to play the sequel. At any rate, I think you'll enjoy reading Mr. Taylor's thoughts on CRPGs.

In the book, I'm trying to draw a distinction between CRPGs, strategy, and adventure games, although we know there is considerable crossovers. What do you think differentiates (or should differentiate) a CRPG from other types of games?

Well, if you had asked me that 10 years ago, I might have said something simple like, a CRPG would simply do the monotonous job of keeping track of the game, like a computerized Dungeon Master, but today, the answer changes quite a bit. Today, the difference is that the game design itself has to be much different, way less hardcore, way less riddled with complex rule systems, and far more forgiving to the player and just an all-around easier game to play.

You've acknowledged on several occasions that you find Diablo to be a truly innovative and groundbreaking game. Can you put that in context, identifying the ways Diablo stands out from other CRPGs?

Well, I must have made that comment a few years ago now, and things are changing very quickly in the interactive entertainment business. But one thing certainly stands out about Diablo after all these years… the ease in which players can pick up and start playing the game. This single idea, the ease of use, has fast become one of the single most important requirements of games going forward. We are all too busy, and have way too many things going on in our lives to sit and study a game manual, or be subject to long in-game tutorials… and believe me, this is definitely the rest of the world catching up with the smart designers at Blizzard (makers of Diablo).

How do you think a CRPG should balance the "role-playing" (i.e., story, plot, characters) with the "roll-playing" elements (i.e., dice rolling, stats, leveling, tactical combat)?

No question they should place way more emphasis on the story and characters, and way less on the stats. Having said that, you do have to make sure you expose enough of the guts of the game to make it compelling for those old-school gamers who like to see some numbers.

You've mentioned Wizardry several times, one of the truly "hardcore" of the classic CRPGs. Do you think modern CRPGs have "dumbed down" the formula and are trying to cater to a less sophisticated or dedicated audience?

I think we have continued to try and make games that simply appeal to more players, and as each iteration heads off to market, we learn more and more about what players are “really” interested in. Were they ever really that thrilled with some of the complexities of early RPGs?

[In past interviews], you've described a rather bleak view of the gaming industry, suggesting that original ideas just aren't appreciated. What, if anything, can be done to improve this situation?

I think we have to work harder today to come up with our game concepts, just like TV had to fight back to get its audience from the internet. The TV writers worked harder, created more compelling stories with more interesting characters. We need to do the same thing in games.

Do you think the current market emphasis on MMORPGs is destroying the CRPG genre?

It’s definitely taking a bite out of the pie, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say destroying. I think it will re-stabilize in the future and we’ll see more balance than what we are seeing right now. It’s all about entertainment value… if we don’t create more value on the traditional side, well, perhaps we deserve to be destroyed.

Special thanks to Mr. Taylor and to Paul Levy for setting up this interview!