Musing on "Meaningfulness" in CRPG's - Part 3:

Shawn Delahunty's picture

Ok, here we go. Part 3 of 3, at loooong last--sorry about the delay. I must tell you that I've been anticipating posting this blog entry for days and it has been a blast to think about and to put together. Before I completely say goodbye to Part #1 and Part #2 of this blog post though, I want to provide a summary of where I stand on the CRPG vs. MMORPG debate that began my "Musing":

  1. I must grudgingly accept that the conclusions which Matt Barton made in Dungeons and Desktops are correct; namely his prediction that single-player CRPGs will be supplanted, at least in their current form, by the MMORPG. It's been happening since 2002 or thereabouts, and has accelerated. Whether this is 'inevitable' or 'permanent' is highly debatable, but I've gone on enough tangents in that regard.
  2. One point I didn't make clear in my original posts: I OVERWHELMINGLY agree with the good Doctor that to stand out in the marketplace near-term, CRPGs will indeed have to focus on thick, engaging story lines, and interesting development of characters. This is the EASIEST route for CRPG developers to follow, as it plays to the strengths of the medium. As he pointed out in Dungeons and Desktops, the fundamental structure of the MMORPG, comprised of thousands of simultaneous players, virtually prohibits this possibility of an engaging and deep story.
  3. - I do not completely agree that MMORPGs, "..can do a better job.." of providing:
    • - A rewarding "hack 'N slash" experience, with complex tactics, strategies, interactions, and so on.
    • - A huge and interactive gameworld to explore.

To be clear, I DO think that MMORPGs are currently doing a significantly better job of providing these experiences. Though what constitutes a genuinely 'interactive gameworld' is still up for grabs, in my opinion. (I will detail more of this in my next blog-posting, when I give my take on WoW.) The MMORPG is currently outclassing the CRPG because of a combination of factors--all them driven by money. To be clear, I mean truly insane amounts of money being slurped in by the behavior-modification/alien-mind-control experts at Blizzard.
But as I yammered about earlier, I don't like this situation, nor do I think it must be the case. I also think that the CRPG form can exceed the MMORPG in this regard--if some changes and improvements are made; BIG ONES. This is the hardest route for CRPG developers to follow, as it's going to require some truly staggering amounts of work and technical innovation.

Now though, on to the conclusion of this blog topic! Time to explore what features and options and capabilities I believe would comprise my own, personal, "Ulitmate CRPG". So what am I after? Here's a list of things, in no real order.

  1. The chance to either go "stat-heavy", or to basically ignore the stat-management aspect of the game. This might seem contradictory, but is easy enough to implement in the programming. When a character gains a level of experience, depending on which mode is selected, the game will just use an auto-allocate formula (based on character class, secondary profession choices, alignment/morality/ethic choices made during the game, etc.) or I can micro-manage the thing to my heart's content.
  2. Detailed control over game-engine behavior, apart from the Easy/Medium/Hard/Insane difficulty options:
    • - worry about food/water, or ignore it
    • - worry about sleep/rest, or ignore it
    • - worry about item durability/wear, or ignore it
    • - worry about weather effects on game-play, or ignore it
    • - worry about magical item "recharge", or overcharge/explosion, or ignore it
    • - strict carry-weight/encumberance limitations, or the ability to ignore them (controlling item stacking)

    There could be some consequences of these choices too. As an example; if the user decides to ignore "item durability", then perhaps certain special/magical weapons would be excluded from the "loot drop" generation. There are other possibilities for 'rewarding' the more hardcore players, but doing so should not unduly restrict the more 'casual' player.

  3. Capability for extremely fine-grained control over the real-time vs. turn-based spectrum of behavior. The Bioware games Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II offered this in a wonderful form, as well as the Black Isle game Planescape: Torment.

    EDIT: Thanks to 'Jaeson' for posting to point out my silly typo, lumping Planescape: Torment in with the Baldur's series.


    You can trigger an "auto pause" feature after certain conditions hit in-game:

    • - an attack on one of the players
    • - a hit by one of the players
    • - a hit by an enemy NPC
    • - etc.
  4. Skill-trees that are tied to "actual in-game behavior." As an example: More time spent wielding a short-sword, regardless of character level, means the character gets 'better' with that weapon. I'm not talking about class-restrictions on weapons (clerics wield maces but no blades, rogues can't use pole-weapons, etc.) nor am I talking about class-bonuses for weapons either. What I mean is; if a player decided to "grind" for a while, even on really low-level stuff, they can improve their skill with their weapon--to a point. Some games offer 'trainer' NPCs who offer improvements with given weapons, and this is fine, but it's usually capped behavior. Naturally there should be a diminishing returns limit to this kind of thing, but to encourage the player "special moves" can be unlocked in this fashion.
  5. The dynamic generation of quests. In addition to the pre-made, canned stuff, the game engine should generate various quests based on what the NPC and AI logic encounter in the game. Here's an example of what I mean:

    A group of AI thugs, instead of just 'lurking ominously' around the same drab patch of forest, ought to get bigger and tougher if they aren't put in check by the player or NPC AI. Soon, instead of robbing stray travelers, robbing the local village might seem like a grand idea. At the point a NPC family's heirloom is stolen, they would naturally be anxious to get it back--hence the game generates a quest, which the player can accept or ignore when they wander through.

    One game that does this kind of "dynamic quest with accept/ignore consequences" is Din's Curse by Soldak Entertainment. While I don't love the game, the fact that there are real, tangible, visible consequences for actions, that there are dynamically changing quests, is a wonderful addition to the CRPG genre.

  6. Secondary or "profession" skills which _matter_, which affect game-play, which affect how players are "perceived" by the NPC/AI of the game. Gathering herbs for a long time ought to get you a good discount from the village alchemist on potions and the like. There should be "dynamically generated quests" which play into the secondary-skill/profession choices made by the player.
  7. Secondary or "profession" skills, done in a way that makes sense. Too many games treat the player like a moron--offering in-game skills like 'fishing' which the player is NOT EVEN ALLOWED TO TRY?!?? How hard do the designers think it actually IS to fish? Sure, I might suck at it initially, and perhaps can only advance past a certain point by finding a "fishing trainer", but the whole notion of not even being able to "try" the skill without paying for it is ludicrous. I buy a pole, I cast a line, I have some chance of catching a stupid fish. Simple.
  8. The ability to actually try things with some hope of success. I have a good example: In the Eschalon: Book I & II games (from Basilisk Games), there is the typical fantasy-CRPG 'Alchemy' skill. You collect various items to combine to make potions; 'reagents' vs. 'reactants' are the phrases used in-game. You are allowed to TRY mixing various things, though often enough you end up blowing up the flask, destroying the ingredients, and incurring damage on your character in the process.

    This is a fantastic thing! Eschalon does one thing wrong in this regard though. While your current "Alchemy" stat affects the percentage chance-of-success, you cannot raise that stat without gaining levels in the typical fashion. If I continue to successfully mix things, not blowing myself up, after X number of successes my "Alchemy" stat SHOULD INCREASE.

  9. The ability to try things in order to "identify" them. I get sick of traipsing halfway across a game-world, down through 8 layers of dungeon, only to find something that I then have to take to someone to ID for me. Yes, aiming an unknown wand at a monster might be fraught with danger. Yes, slapping on unknown magic armor can be problematic when it semi-permanently attaches to my skull and lowers my IQ to 3. Yes, drinking an "Exploding Incendiary Oil-Potion of Reeking Troll Innards" probably won't sit well on my stomach. But when I put on an unknown helmet, and notice that I disappear from view, that's a "Wicked Cool Thing"(TM)(R)(c)(mouse).

    I should still be allowed to TRY it. The original text/ASCII dungeon crawl CRPGs like Moria, Rogue, Angband, et al, allowed you to do this. More often that not, it was like playing Russian-roulette with with a bazooka. By by God, it was FUN!! Even in a perma-death game, it was a blast.

  10. Items that I "identify" through; guessing, trial-and-error, temporarily boosted IQ or Wisdom, random lunar alignment, all SHOULD STAY IDENTIFIED.
  11. A "fatigue" stat, for tactical combat. I need to be able to RUN AWAY from a battle. Too many games do not allow for a temporary boost of panic-induced speed. No, I shouldn't be able to keep it up forever. Gothic 3 does this well, with a "fatigue bar" that drains when running/fighting/fast-attacking/etc. The bar recharges slowly when walking, faster when standing still.
  12. A good mix of procedurally/algorithmically-generated content (i.e. randomized dungeons like Rogue, Diablo, et al) and "designer planned" stuff. And I'm referring to more than simply an (A) or (B) scenario here--cities are "planned", dungeons are "random". I would like to play games where "chunks" of the world can be planned out, but those are then blended by the game engine with the randomized bits. In this way a designer could build some of the "lego blocks" of a world, but the engine could put them together in a sensible fashion.
  13. The world should be "physics based", at least insofar as it makes sense within the game universe being created. If I have a massive fight with fire-breathing dragons, in the middle of the hayfield, the hayfield ought to catch fire and burn a bit. If I get into a lightning-bolt battle with another wizard, we ought to be able to blow chunks out of the game-world as well as each other--and those chunks ought to stay gone. The game-world itself should be "malleable" in that sense--Dwarf Fortress does some truly amazing stuff along these lines.
  14. The game should support "user-modding", absolutely. Perhaps not immediately, but at a certain point after release, providing this ability can extend the life of a game in unbelievable ways. Several very successful game companies have done this, id Software, Valve, and until recently, Blizzard. There's a great article on this for two upcoming games:
    BitMob article on Torchlight 2 and Grim Dawn
    Valve deserves particular recognition in this area. To this very day, they continue to sell copies of the "Orange Box" pack of games, including the original Half-Life, and all the follow-on games which started as user-mods.
  15. A deep, interactive, SINGLE-player world. Something that feels pristine when I enter it. Something that remains pristine when I leave to eat dinner, or go to the bathroom. Or drop the game for 2 months because of work. Multi-player functionality is fine, but I am FED UP with companies that "toss in" a single-player mode that barely qualifies as a tech-demo for the engine.
  16. Here's a biggie: The option for what I would describe as "localized" or "limited" multi-player mode. Diablo 1 offered a head-to-head gameplay which made the game much more re-playable, by introducing new battle-tactics. I liked this a lot, probably because:
    • - it recaptured some of the feel of the D&D sessions I loved so much.
    • - I could control WHO played the game with me.
    • - The other player was 'local', meaning we could converse in real-time, keeping up the role-playing aspect at least in part. We could also rag on each other mercilessly--smack talk being a delightful, guilty pleasure at times.

    I have coined a new term for this hybrid, the "MODMOO-RPG", or the "Moderately Multi-player Online/Offline RPG". With this gaming model, you would:

    • - Be able to set up private hosting servers. This could be a bunch of friends having a LAN-party in someone's house over the weekend, or a group of geographically separated folks who are yakking it up over VoIP while playing. The one who hosts the server, acts as a DM, and has the option to "freeze" the game-world to resolve disputes, for chat-breaks, for bathroom breaks, etc. Also, critically, the DM or super-player/server-host would have the option to boot out obnoxious players. This might be done for multiple reasons; whether for behavior, refusal to role-play in voice-chat, or whatever.
    • - This type of implementation maintains PRIVACY: There would be zero requirement that ANY company or marketing entity be able to study/know anything about the players' "Online gaming habits". (If you added this as a defaulted-OFF option, which the DM could choose to enable, fine. Some people, even me sometimes, want to give feedback to developers we like.)
    • - Offer a centralized "pub" or "chat" available via the company website/server which assists in the discovery of other, non-local players. This keeps the "socializing" element which Matt describes in his book in a separate venue, yet makes it easier/more reasonable to "enforce" proper "role-playing" when actually in a privately-hosted network gaming session
    • - This inherently LIMITS the number of players in a session, which is a good thing from my point of view. (Feels less like there have been 28,000 newbs traipsing through the dungeon/forest ahead of me, leaving only the detritus of McDonald's WoW-meals blowing around in the crushed weeds...) In WoW terms, think of it like this; the entire game, not just one section, would be treated as an "instance".

The MODMOO-RPG would have several other benefits, from my point of view, which could make the gameplay MEANINGFUL for me:

  • - It forces the developers to focus on AI and the content-generation methods to support it, as the "Moderately-Multiplayer" mimics/overlaps the "Single-Player" mode enough to require the AI to actually, you know, _WORK_. (Yes, as a programmer, I do realize just how damn difficult a problem this presents. i still think it can be done.)
  • - It encourages folks to get more involved in "user generated" content for Mods, campaigns and the like.
  • - This could actually provide a possible additional revenue stream to appease the "Mighty, Mighty Beancounters". User groups would be willing to purchase the "Officially Sanctioned" gaming "modules" like table-top D&D, with all of the attendant artwork/music/sound/voices/characters/scripting/and-so-on.

---

Next up, a couple more items on my wish-list:

  1. The game must both challenge and entertain me. For myself, while that does include a healthy dose of great storytelling and characterization, it ALSO must include the things that Matt thinks MMORPGs can do better. Namely, it must provide things like "stat building", "phat lewt", and some heaping gobs of good old "hack 'N slash" action. (NOTE: I'm not talking about "grinding" here. Epic battles are only EPIC, when they have meaning. Yes, this links back to Matt's point about CRPGs needing to, "...focus on story..." but I feel it's more than that.)
  2. The game-world should also be huge; truly immense. Yes, the truckloads of money being dropped off at Blizzard make it much more enticing for the developer to develop huge, sprawling game worlds. But games like Gothic from Piranha Bytes, show that you can create huge single-player game worlds. Also, my earlier comment about supporting and endorsing fan-based mods for the game comes into play directly here. It's quite possible to get enormous amounts of content generated by the players, which extend a game's life by years.

---

And now, my list of wishes and pet-peeves which are centered around the topic of "Breaking Immersion", "Destroying the player's Suspension of Disbelief", etc. It's like some games go out of their way to set the player up, get them rolling, then do every conceivable thing possible to ruin the experience.

  1. - Tossing inventory items on the ground should NOT "destroy it". I've done this by accident in some games, with some very useful and valuable items. Further, I've done it in games with unique/quest-items which then cause a "state lockup" in the game engine. In short, because that item no longer exists, there is no way to proceed into certain portions of the game content.
    • - Sure, it should be possible for the things I drop on the ground to be "looted" by other players, by NPC's, etc., if I head off to raid the next town for a couple of days. But if I drop junk on the ground in front of me, to sort out the pile of crap overloading my backpack, the stuff ought to still laying there in front of me two minutes later.
    • - As an alternative to destruction/theft, have stray items picked up and returned "into the economy" by a scavenging AI process when player(s) located far enough away. This should definitely be the case if we're talking about "quest critical" items.
    • - An even better solution would be to have a NEW QUEST generated at some point. If I drop some unknown item early in the game, but it actually is important, the game later creates the, "Search for the Long-Lost, Missing Kazoo of Sexiness". Program the game-engine to handle this kind of quest-generation based on certain parameters (see my other thoughts on dynamic and varying quest generation within the game universe.)
  2. Eliminate the "game on rails". Premade levels should avoid the "only 1 true path through" syndrome. Procedurally generated stuff should have "clean up code" which adds in multiple pathways as well. Only with "Epic Battle" kinds of thing does a single choke-point make sense. If you are building it in as a plot-point, or tactical play point, fine--but choose such things carefully.
  3. No "pointless" grinding, just to get XP to overcome some boss monster. Grinding was novel in the CRPG form when Wizardry: The Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord introduced it. That was in 1981. It grew a tad tiresome when The Bard's Tale used the same method. We are now 30 years on, and it's frankly ridiculous that we keep hitting this. Eliminating "mandatory grinding" has other repercussions too:
    • - No "trash" mobs as a requirement. Perhaps provide them, as an option for players who want to try out some truly massive, "area of effect" spells. But organize any pre-made levels to have alternate routes to avoid that sort of thing.
    • - The designers will have to focus on other, much more creative methods to ensure that the player can get to an appropriate skill-/power-level to venture into the tougher parts of the game.
  4. No "respawns" or "corpse fade-outs" while the player is looking. YUCK. Playwrights, screenwriters, and novelists know how fragile the, "suspension of disbelief" can be. And they also recognize that without it, a great tale falls flat. Why don't game-designers get this? It's especially annoying when all that happens, is the repeated creation of "trash mobs" so the game can pretend to, "dynamically scale difficulty against player ability." A review written by Brad Gallaway, openly mocked this sort of pathetic game-design in Dragon_Age_II. He reported that,

    "...new reinforcement troops literally dropped out of the sky onto my party. I could hardly believe my eyes. From any perspective, this out-of-nowhere ambush method is a pile of steaming garbage."

  5. Actual, sensible "PERSISTENCE" in the world. If I blow a crater in the ground fighting a troll, the thing shouldn't be filled in for a while. An exact replacement tree shouldn't be growing there when I wander back through next week. (Unless the ground is "enchanted". Which should be a clue to some other in-game content, and not merely an excuse to have the engine "refresh" or "reset" the world when no-one is looking..) If a tribe of aquatic, semi-sentient frogs keeps getting wiped out at a particular part of a big lake because a human village expands nearby--they would sensibly move somewhere else. They won't go away completely, they won't keep attacking the human village; they would move.
  6. MAPS.
    • - Some should be flawed--they're hand-sketched things within the context the game universe, after all. Farmer Bob's map to the "Magical Growing Shovel" probably won't be 100% accurate or to scale.
    • - There should be more than 1 map available for game regions/zones, unless the POINT is that the area is "unknown to all but a few."
    • - I prefer auto-mapping. To be clear, even I think graph paper is a pain in the ass. However, to retain some of the "feel" of real exploration, there should be a game difficulty-setting. On "Hard", the auto-map should NOT just automatically note every single important detail as you wander the world. However, this opens up a gameplay opportunity too; the player should be able to "pin/mark" important locations and write notes on the thing.
    • - The Eschalon: Book I & II games has an interesting take on mapping, whereby a "mapping skill" improves the quality of the auto-maps detail when exploring the "unknown/fogged areas". (However Eschalon also screwed this feature up in a serious way too. If you boost your mapping-skill magically, explore a new area, then remove the spell/enchantment, your previously auto-mapped areas 'degrade' back to your current level. Dumb.)
  7. Better intelligence in the ubiquitous "Random encounters" of the CRPG.
    • - If a level 50+ player returns to a "newbie" area for some reason, the game engine needs to not throw "level 1-2" encounters at them. A random-spawn might make sense, but the AI should be intelligent enough to know that it's going to be ground into FINE GREY POWDER--and a "realistic" action would be to run away.
    • - Don't just have random encounters "everywhere". It must be intelligently placed, by zone or area. This is true both if the level is designed by hand, or if it is procedurally-generated. Just having the things scattered everywhere, using the rationale that "hey, it's a dungeon/dark-forest/evil-swamp", doesn't fly anymore. This isn't 1985. (An exception could be made here for things like _Sword_of_Fargoal_ type games--the whole game itself is designed around quickie, retro-styled play.)
    • - If the player has been through an area recently, and 'cleared it', the engine should be coded intelligently so that it doesn't keep re-spawning randoms. Where would they be coming from? If there isn't some conceivable path for them to keep wandering in there, they shouldn't BE there.

*pant* *pant* *pant*

Er, I think that's it--I'm done. I've got probably 6 or 7 thousand more ideas for what would make a CRPG "Meaningful", but my fingers hurt, and that's plenty of points to consider. (Some folks likely are thinking, "That's way more than 'plenty' already bub.") I hope I've given a better picture of what I look for in a game, and what kinds of innovations I think are possible. It remains to be seen where the world of RPGs goes, but I for one am rooting mightily for the classic CRPG.

Until next time then! May the RNG be kind, and may your "Staff of Delightful Backscratching +4" never fail you.

Comments

Rowdy Rob
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Very good article, many great ideas.

I was afraid that your idea of the "Ultimate CRPG" was going to be "Super Dwarf Fortress" or something similarly impenetrable to non-uber-nerds, but it turns out that your ideas are quite logical, with options for both casual and hardcore players. In the scope of the complex programming being done in today's games, nothing that you've proposed seems to be unrealistic (or even very hard) to accomplish with professional-league programmers.

On a minor note, I kind of take issue with your positive view of the Bioware-style battle system. The Bioware-style real-time/turn-based hybrid battle system has proven controversial with some of us here on AA. Particularly, if you don't "pause" the battle in time, your AI-driven ranged fighters (archers or mages) will run right up to the opponents' faces, who then take delight in hacking your ranged fighter to bits at close range! An "auto-pause" system between turns is sorely needed in these games, and would make the combat engine much less aggravating! Personally, I hated having to pause the battle just to keep my NPC's from being idiots!!!! An "auto-pause" option would make the battle system leagues better, and how hard could it possibly be to program an "auto-pause?!?!?"

Personally, I like "rails" in my games, because I want to get to the end of the game and feel like I beat it without a lot of "wasted" time. I realize that my viewpoint clashes with most CRPG'ers on that one, who love the exploration, immersion, and experimentation. It appears that your "Ultimate CRPG" concepts do not preclude my way of gaming, but do not preclude yours either!

Well, there's lots of "meat" in your article, but rather than go point-by-point on it, I can't say I disagree with anything in particular. Like I said, it all makes logical sense, it doesn't sound impossible to program, and it sounds like a maximum amount of fun can be gained by both casual and hardcore players! As you've pointed out, a lot of these ideas have already been done to some degree in various games, but never (apparently) in one cohesive whole.

Shawn Delahunty
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Thanks much Rob

Thanks for taking the time to read through it. (These blog posts are ending up a heck of a lot longer than I originally expected.) I figured that the Bioware mention might raise some eyebrows. I can remember some heated debates between friends and co-workers when Baldur's Gate came out, about how some liked it, some hated it, and so on. My initial reaction to Baldur's Gate was a HUGE thumbs-down! I was on a big Diablo kick at the time, and couldn't get my head out of that clicky-clicky-clicky madness for a while... I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I actually gave away my copy because I didn't like the game. (I had to buy another copy some time later. :-P)

What I liked about it most, and why I brought it up in the post, was the configurability and fine-grained control their system offered for "pause points" or "pause levels". I would truthfully like to have even more control than that, down to the point where by "moving a slider" you could go from Diablo/WoW/almost-FPS-realtime-insanity, to pure, old-school turn-based action.

About your suggestion for the "auto-pause" just before battle? Not that difficult, if the code architecture/system has been structured properly. Jeff Vogel of SpiderwebSoftware has this in his last 3-4 games. The game is "real time", until an encounter happens--then everything drops to turn-based selection. I have to agree with you about it---and I can't understand why more games don't offer it.

Kind regards!

n/a
Rowdy Rob
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Baldur's Gate, and an addition(?) to your "Ultimate" list.
bitsweep wrote:

My initial reaction to Baldur's Gate was a HUGE thumbs-down! I was on a big Diablo kick at the time, and couldn't get my head out of that clicky-clicky-clicky madness for a while... I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I actually gave away my copy because I didn't like the game. (I had to buy another copy some time later. :-P)

Believe it or not, my initial reaction to Baldur's Gate was much the same as yours. Heck, the game nearly killed my interest in gaming altogether! I fought like never before to force myself to play that game, only because Matt recommended it so highly. But after I got over the hump, I found it an amazing experience!

I even blogged about my "Baldur's Gate" experience here on AA back in the day. You can read about it here at this link:

"Baldur's Gate: Slogging, Life, and finding the HOLY GRAIL of Videogaming!"
http://armchairarcade.com/neo/node/2161

bitsweep wrote:

What I liked about it most, and why I brought it up in the post, was the configurability and fine-grained control their system offered for "pause points" or "pause levels".

In Baldur's Gate and Star Wars:KotR, I recall that you had to manually pause the action to input orders to your party members. If you were too late, your stupid party would kamikaze themselves into the nearest pack of enemies.

bitsweep wrote:

I would truthfully like to have even more control than that, down to the point where by "moving a slider" you could go from Diablo/WoW/almost-FPS-realtime-insanity, to pure, old-school turn-based action.

This system would be ideal, and would have saved me from uttering many a curse word in the afore-mentioned games!

One idea that wasn't mentioned in your "ultimate CRPG" list: auto-travel! What I mean by "auto-travel" is the ability to just click on a location that you've visited previously, and the game takes your party there instantly, without spending all that time manually walking your character(s) there. Many games have this feature, and it's a great time-saver.

My recent gaming sessions with "The Witcher" were severely hampered by the lack of this feature. I hated having to spend several minutes walking across town to the tavern. Those minutes add up, and I figured that half my playing time was spent pointlessly walking! It may be realistic, but I think that's taking "role-playing" to an absurd level. I actually gave up on "The Witcher," an otherwise excellent game, because of all this non-stop walking back and forth!

Many CRPG's have the "auto-travel" feature between towns or important locations, and it makes the gaming sessions much more involving (to me)! However, in some cases, just auto-traveling to a new town only helps somewhat, because once you're in town, you still have to walk walk walk around between taverns, shops, houses, and so forth. My interest in "Oblivion" was killed by this in-town walking, especially since I recall hunting around for a specific shop/NPC and couldn't find it! The town was huge!

If you're in an unfamiliar location, then walking around and exploring is part of the fun. In fact, I explored every inch of the "Baldur's Gate" map as I traveled it, leaving no pixel unturned! But to make you walk everywhere you've already been, particularly if there's no particular danger involved, seems like artificial time padding to me. If a CRPG advertises "100 hours of game play," I tend to wonder if 50 or more of those hours are spend pointlessly walking...

Gripe mode: off.

Shawn Delahunty
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Auto Travel/Teleport

Your absolutely right about that Rob, I did skip auto-travel/teleporting. (Of course, I actually skipped a whole bunch of other options too, but I was really tired of typing by the time I wound down on that blog post.) Plodding across a gameworld all the time, sucks rocks.

I haven't played the Witcher series yet. They really don't have a quick-travel option? Man that really stinks. What about Witcher2? (I've been avoiding looking at YouTube for either one, as I would like to play the games at some point in the future.)

Heck, Diablo had portals, Diablo2 had those rune-site quick travel things. Geez... Even most of the Indie CPRGs offer these kinds of short-cuts.

What I'd really like to have is the ability to set up semi-permanent teleport points within the game. So you can pop back and forth between locations that YOU choose. I used the portals in Diablo1 an awful lot as an emergency escape hatch. The only thing I didn't like was that if you played by yourself, the portal was a one-shot. (Playing with another person, head-to-head, was terrific--you just made a point of using each other's portal, and the things would never close.)

One option I've pondered is to have the portal last for a specific duration within my game--and offer a potential game-play tweak whereby certain monsters MIGHT FOLLOW YOU THROUGH THE PORTAL. Or, if facing a wizard, they might "distort" your portal-spell, and cause it to zap you somewhere else if you try to escape. All kinds of weird options like that would be fun to explore.

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clok1966
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I'm interested Bitsweep..

I'm interested Bitsweep.. What are your favorites.. and why?

I know Everquest might be my "holy grail" game.. right now its almost unplayble to me.. much like Ultima and older RPG that whre so awsome back when I first played them.. Everquest, I was extremly lucky to play with a group of about 4 friends who where all as addicted as me to it. it was for all intents AD&D online with graphics and no dice rolling/books.. you "just played". I know it was flawed in many ways, but at the time there was simply no better game (to me).. as far as single player.. all the Dungeon Master/ eob games.. tehy where my idea of a great RPG.

as far as new.. I do like the draknsguard games alot.. and most new one entertain... but I believe Im chasing youth more thant a perfect game nowdays... I will never enjoy a game like the first time I played Dungeon master... no matter how good it is.

Shawn Delahunty
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Ooh, tough question.

Hi Clok,

Favorite CRPGs is a flaky subject with me. As I mentioned above here, in a reply to Rob, I actually severely disliked Baldur's Gate when I first tried it. I was hopelessly addicted to the manic, real-time clicky-ness of Diablo. I was also heavily into Half-Life and some mods for it, and utterly convinced that "modern CRPGs needed to be real-time and streamlined." (I have never done drugs in my life, but when I look back at myself now, I wonder... Maybe I thumped my head on something, who knows?)

Anyway, my brain only came back to normal while sitting at a friend's apartment one evening, about a year after Baldur's 1 was released, and watching him play PlaneScape:Torment. I kept getting more and more drawn into that game, and fascinated by the mechanics of it. He noticed, and then fired up Baldur's Gate--at that point sanity returned I guess.

As far as "all time CRPG favorites", here they are in roughly chronological order.

Zork
Zork2
Pirate Adventure (Scott Adam's)
SuperQuest (obscure AppleII game, but HUGELY addictive for me)
Ultima 3, 4
Wizardry 1, 2
Bard's Tale 1 (Amiga)
Rogue, Moria, Hack, Angband (Unix & Amiga ASCII things)
The Faery Tale Adventure (Amiga only... HOPELESSLY addicted to this in college.)
Out of This World (oddball Amiga game)
Sword of Damocles (Amiga sci-fi game)
Myst (I know, not a CRPG in the technical sense.)
Eye of the Beholder
Pool of Radiance
Diablo1,2
Nox
Baldurs Gate1,2 / Planescape
Gothic 3,2
Divine Divinity
SpiderwebSoftware - Avernum 4,5
Basilisk Games - Eschalon Book1, Book2

- The text adventures I loved, because they allowed me to get lost in a mental/imaginative world. They seemed HUGE, and were a nice, slower pace compared to the quarter-sucking arcade games that ate all my lunch money. I could savor the world, and at the time I genuinely enjoyed the puzzle-solving.
-The "clicky" ones like Diablo were enjoyable because of the frenzy of combat in a fantasy setting. It was a nice change from the sedate, turn-based stuff that I had been playing for well over a decade.
- The Faery Tale was so addicting that I literally was DREAMING the game interface--to take any action in my dreams, I was using pull-down menus to do everything. It hooked me because of a staggeringly MASSIVE gameworld, which fit on one disk. The game pace was semi-realtime, but slow enough that you could plan for things. It also was very "stat-light", so you didn't have to micromanage things like with Wizardry.
- Sword of Damocles was another, technically astonishing game. It had an entire, 3D, explorable SOLAR SYSTEM... on one single floppy. While there were no stats or character management, the storyline was extremely involved, and I always felt very much a "part" of that gameworld. And boy, did my actions MATTER... if you do things right, you save your homeworld. If you don't, the incoming asteroid shatters it to bits.
- The ASCII "Roguelikes" hooked me for much the same reason that the Zork stuff did--it had immense gameplay, incredible complexity of exploration and interaction, but relied on a very "suggestive" interface--hence my imagination took over. It felt very much like playing the table-top D&D sessions that I had at that time.
- The GoldBox games + Bioware stuff, because it was very much a way for me to play D&D when there were no gamer groups around. (Traveled too much for military + civilian work for a while.)
- Myst - Same thing as Zork; an enormous, beautiful, mystery, loaded with puzzles. Uncovering the story as you went was fascinating.
- Gothic series - awesomely HUGE, vital, real-feeling worlds.
- Divine Divinity - I really love the isometric view in games, and this felt a lot like the good parts of Diablo mixed with the good parts of the Bioware games.
- Spiderweb Software + Basilisk Games - because I really started getting into the Indie scene, and these were well lauded. I found the Spiderweb games to have some of the deepest, most unusual stories of any game. Eschalon series was a lovely throwback to the earlier, turn-based aesthetic, in a really solid gameworld--also offered some serious stats/skills micromanaging.

I know that my answer is all over the map, but that's how it is with me.

And yeah, the "online D&D" concept of EverCrack is what pulled me in, really made me want to love the game. I just got so fed up with the crap implementation, that I couldn't stand it.

Kindly,

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Jaesun (not verified)
"The Bioware games Baldur's

"The Bioware games Baldur's Gate, Planescape:Torment, and Baldur's Gate II"

BioWare did NOT create Planescape:Torment. It does use the engine created by BioWare however.

Shawn Delahunty
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I sit corrected

Thanks Jaesun, you are absolutely correct. Black Isle produced Planescape: Torment, with Chris Avellone as the lead.

That's what I get for writing in a rush, late at night, and not taking enough time for thorough editing. *DERP*

Cheers,

n/a
Matt Barton
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Matt's Thoughts

I see this article is getting some play on Game Banshee and RPG Codex. Grats, Shawn!

Here are some of my thoughts on your thoughts.

Quote:

The chance to either go "stat-heavy", or to basically ignore the stat-management aspect of the game.

This seems logical enough and is employed in many existing CRPGs as you well know. I think it started with the "quick party" or pre-made characters on disk that you could load instead of rolling your own.

One caveat of this system is that it's easier for the designers to go with pre-made and stat-managed games, since they then have a better idea of the player's strengths at any given minute. The more you allow players to manage it, the more possible it is for them to either achieve some kind of "unfair" advantage or get the game into an unwinnable state. For instance, imagine you have a stat for "resistance," but don't realize that cranking it up far beyond what a "normal" player would do makes them immune to a whole species of beasties? Unless you've anticipated that and planned for it, it could screw up the balance.

Also, what if a player creates a party of nothing but wizards, nothing but fighters, etc., and not the standard warrior/cleric/mage/rogue/utility char? My answer is that the game should be flexible enough to accommodate it, though granted it could be a lot more difficult. IIRC Wizardry even let you go with one character instead of a party, who became a special class of "hero." Pretty interesting.

Quote:

Detailed control over game-engine behavior, apart from the Easy/Medium/Hard/Insane difficulty options:

Another interesting idea. A designer would have to be very careful again not to screw up the balance too much though. It's a lot to keep in mind. Each one of these is interesting, so let's talk about them individually:

Food/water. I love what WOW did with these and is a sign of their designers' brilliance. Instead of making them required, they just provide temporary bonuses and/or help you heal or mana up faster. They also tied this into a profession (cooking) with its own set of fun challenges.

The early games that don't require you to get food and water justify it by saying, well, some things your characters just do on their own, like go to the bathroom. You don't have to control everything! There is a point where you have to draw the line. Do you really need a SIMS button to have the urinate?

Then again, peeing and pooping could be interesting, too, since you could factor in things like mobs who can smell it and track you based on that. So then you'd have to implement a latrine system, or at least bury your poo. Or perhaps you could use it conversely--peeing on trees and such might create a barrier that certain mobs wouldn't cross.

Some of the Rogue games and Dungeon Master allow you to eat corpses, which can have varied effects. I always thought this was interesting, too, since I love being able to use stuff I kill. (I've heard Monster Hunter is the ultimate at this). WOW is great here, too, about letting you skin monsters and make stuff out of their hides, cook their flesh, etc.

In short, a requirement to eat and drink isn't a big deal as long as you keep the necessary supplies handy and make it a bonus as well.

On a special note, requiring characters to drink water goes against history. That would get you sick and dead pretty quick. In the times most of these games are set, people seldom if ever drank water, not even children. They drank watered down alcoholic beverages. There's a reason sailors are known for their "grog." A barrel of water gets stagnant pretty quickly! This is why I laugh when you drink one bottle of booze in these games and your characters get drunk. Really? Can you imagine the resistance they must have after a lifetime of drinking? Even milk was fermented!

In short, to be realistic about water, you'd have to have them either boiling the water they find (or use some type of magical sanitation), or adding some alcohol to it. In other words, being realistic about water requirements is too complex to worry about. If you just "assume" the characters are doing this on their own, why not assume they planned ahead and brought water on their own and drink when they get thirsty?

And also, how long does it take to starve to death? MONTHS! Not seconds after you miss your meal!

My ultimate game wouldn't require you to eat to survive, but would eventually lower your stats. If you hadn't eaten anything in a month, let's say, you would be very weak in combat and perhaps take extra damage, lower resistances, etc. However, this is a small stick. The carrot is that you learn recipes and cook food you get from corpses or hunts, and most of it provides cool bonuses. Plus, if you're out killing stuff anyway, might as well have it benefit you in multiple ways.

Sleep/rest. I think resting makes sense and usually isn't too big of a hindrance. Many games have a rest/camp option, where you run a risk of being attacked. Some go as far as to let you post sentries, or have areas designated as safe spots to rest. Again I favor a non-fatal tactic. After a day without rest, your stats drop. You don't die. On the other hand, if you're well rested, you get perks (added alertness especially).

Item durability. Another thorny one. A lot of games have items that wear out, but compensate with a "blacksmithing" or "armorer" type of skill that lets you repair the stuff. Other games don't have it, but have random events where a helmet or shield gets destroyed after a particular nasty blow.

Realistically, the type of armor you see in most games would have required a great deal of maintenance and a small team to help you put it on and take it off. For your convenience, there was a slot on the back you could pop open to take a dump. The heat could be as fatal as the attacks the armor is protecting you from. (So again we're in that "if you're going to do X because it's realistic, why stop there?")

Again I'd go to carrot approach. Your armor and weapons never disintegrate completely, but if you sharpen, polish, coat it with dragon poo, etc., they gain temporary bonuses.

Magical item recharge. I put this in the same category as magical potions and scrolls. I generally hate them because I always save them for "when I really need them." In the past I've reloaded saved games because I'd rather reload than quaff one of those precious potions. Of course by the end I had hundreds of them.

I don't like healing or mana pots, nor wands and scrolls for this reason. I'd rather just make them unnecessary. If you want a wand of magic missiles, have it be unlimited but just make it too weak to be a game changer.

weight limitations. This can be fun if you are creative with it. For instance, I loved the mules in Dungeon Siege, and the "bags of holding" in D&D. It also makes sense to me that a character with too low of a strength score couldn't wield an heavy sword or bow. That brings up the interesting question of exercise, though. If you're carrying 300 pounds of equipment with you, wouldn't you bulk up? And I think we can assume that you'd set down the 300 pound bag as soon as you were attacked...

Again, realistically, looting corpses was a HUGE thing, and the #1 reason most soldiers were involved to begin with. You aren't a professional soldier, so that's your pay. Indeed, sometimes battles were lost because the soldiers were so busy looting that the other side was allowed time to regroup and attack!

I know I keep coming back to it, but I'd just go with the carrot/stick here again. If you carry too much, you suffer some penalties, particularly with movement. If you aren't carrying anything, you gain bonuses. I think faster movement is a nice tradeoff for lugging that chest of gold coins.

I actually want to design a whole game around this concept: "Miles E. Dwarf & Sons Dungeon Excavators." The heroes have already cleared most of the monsters; it's your job to go in and get all the treasure out, avoiding traps, dealing with stragglers. This could go as far as having to build pulley and winch systems or having ropes attached to teams of goats.

Real-time vs. turn-based. I'm a big fan of turn-based, so not much to say here. If I want action, I'll play Doom. That's not why I'm drawn to CRPGs. I've never seen an AI in a CRPG that I could depend on, like Rob says--the archers and mages are running right up into the melee. Turn-based does it better.

A good mix of procedurally/algorithmically-generated content. I'm a bit torn on this one. I like to feel that whatever I'm doing in a game has been "Intelligently Designed" by someone. If I feel like it's just being procedurally generated, I start to feel like I'm just running in place.

Imagine if J.R.R. Tolkien had procedurally generated Middle-Earth. If you can, you'll love Bethesda. If you can't, you'd better stick with the OCD designers who can tell you the 50 different species of fruit fly on this island in their world.

Procedurally generated content is the refuge of the lazy and the necessary evil of tech limitations. Now that we have (FAPP) unlimited memory, the only excuse for it is laziness, cheapness, or some desire to "make a game longer."

I do not want to find a Frost Shortblade of the Fire Troll with Leather Armrests ever again. If you're too #$@ busy to sit down and create a cool sword for me to find, then I'm too busy to play your lame ass game.

Moderately Multi-player Online/Offline RPG. I think I may have mentioned some of the books I've been reading on this; get Reality is Broken if you haven't already. Some of what you are concerned about has been addressed in various ways, such as the "passive" multiplayer in Spore.

I think you'd really like the format of D&D Online, too, which does precisely what you're talking about. The "open world" part of it is actually pretty minor; the idea is that you'll take your small parties into the instances for short sessions. Unfortunately, it wasn't well designed (like all the AD&D stuff lately) and lacked the magic.

I was reading an article in Game Developer yesterday about "griefers" that was really good. They gave some great examples of people who went to extremes just to be irritating. I don't know what you can really do about people who just won't play nice. I don't think there's anything you could come up with that couldn't be abused.

My recent example is Mario Kart on the Wii. You can't chat or do anything, but some griefers actually find ways to use the obscure foreign characters to make their names into curse words. I mean, what kind of punk ass would do that? The sad part is, probably only 1% of the players. But that 1% is what gets noticed.

I think then the only solution is to make it easy to filter or ignore punks like that, or just make your system immune to it. The achievements on XLA are a good way to make things feel like multiplayer without having you actually play with other people, for instance.

Blizzard and the rest recognize that while a griefer pays a subscription, he causes five other subscribers to cancel.

You could easily write a whole book about the issue and the various ways designers have tried to deal with it. Ultima Online is especially interesting in this regard, as is Eve Online.

n/a
Shawn Delahunty
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Thanks for heads-up on re-posts elsewhere

Thanks for pointing out GameBanshee had picked up this article Matt. It's gratifying when people find a piece of writing interesting enough to spread it around.

The fact that it was re-posted from GameBanshee to RPG-Codex is curious. I'm not sure why the poster did so--as expected, 99% of the comments are useless dreck, nearly inarticulate attempts at personal attacks, and sanctimonious & self-aggrandizing comments deriding nearly every feature on the list. (Yet few of them could somehow muster the words to explain their stance, or point out a counter-example. How... unsurprising.)

Jeff Vogel of SpiderwebSoftware posted about the place some months back when he released the Windows version of his new game, Avadon:


RPG Codex is an interesting place. It is inhabited by people who like role-playing games, but love hating them. It's full of anger and enough raw bigotry that I would never advertise there. But, if you want to keep your self-esteem under control and read bad things about a game you wrote, go there. Just don't ever let those people get into your head.

Truthfully, I rarely visit the site. You have to dig through a mountain of stupid to find anything of interest or value. Small minds like that aren't worth my time. I'm grateful that here I can at least get polite and intelligent debate, refutation, counter-points, and counter-examples.

I'm vaguely curious how much your work has been attacked there, or if you ever bothered to look.

Thanks again,

n/a

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