Neverwinter Nights Platinum: Some Thoughts on CRPGs

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Matt Barton's picture

Although I greatly enjoy playing adventure games and the occasional strategy game (Civilization IV being one of my favorites), the genre I always find myself returning to is the computer role-playing game. My fixation with the genre began at the tender age of 12 (or maybe 13), when I started playing the Bard's Tale series on the Commodore 64. If you remember, the first Bard's Tale is extremely difficult starting out. Fortunately, the cracked copy we had still had a saved game from whoever copied it, so I was able to play with high-level characters and thus get a better feel for what the game had to offer. However, it wasn't really until I got Pool of Radiance (the original SSI "gold box" game) that I really fell in love with the genre.

I ended up buying not only the game, but also the hint guide, and even the novelization! I was obsessed. Pool of Radiance is a fairly involved game for a youngster, but I was determined to beat it. Even with the hint book, the game takes plenty of patience and strategy to complete. Never before had a game enthralled me to such a high degree. I would literally wake up in the morning, begin playing, take small breaks for meals, and continue playing until the sun was coming up (thank God, this was during summer!) When I finished PoR, I immediately begged and pleaded for Curse of the Azure Bonds, the next entry in the series--and the hint guide, and the novel.

My enthusiasm only began to wane with the third game, Secret of the Silver Blades. That game had some rather lengthy and boring segments that lulled me away for while. Eventually, though, I finished it and then moved on to the Krynn games and later the Savage Frontier. At some point during all this, I read the Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends, and soon took Raistlin Majere as my role model. (Yeah, I know, twisted!) All along the way, I became more interested in paper-based RPGs, and bought AD&D books like the Dungeon Master's handbook, Player's Guide, Monsters Compendium, and so on. One of my worst memories in college was coming home to the dorm one night and discovering all my AD&D books had been stolen. Alas. I never had the funds to replace them!

Might & Magic 6: Fantasy art at its best.Might & Magic 6: Fantasy art at its best.When I got my first IBM-compatible PC, the first RPGs I played were the Might and Magic games. I started with the sixth game, The Mandate of Heaven, mostly because the cover art was reminiscent of the gold box games (probably intentionally so!). At first I didn't care for the first-person interface, and did feel this was series was roughly polished at times, but I nevertheless managed to get immersed in the series, playing all the way through to the eighth game. At that point, the games were just feeling like shoddy, sloppy money-grabs rather than anything worth investing so much time and money in.

For the longest time, I was reluctant to play Baldur's Gate. Why? Well, I didn't like the idea of playing only a single character after so much CRPG experience building and playing parties. The idea of creating only a single character seemed stifling and limiting. Indeed, the one Gold Box game I never played was "Hillsfar," which was an early attempt at something like Baldur's Gate. So, I avoided Baldur's Gate and went for Icewind Dale. Unfortunately, that game isn't the best, really, and even though I played it through, I found the game rather dull and plodding at times. Icewind Dale II turned out to be much more fun, and at that point I was finally willing to try Bioware's second Baldur's Gate game.

I really loved Baldur's Gate II. It's a tremendous game with wheelbarrows full of personality and character. In a word, it's Fun, with a capital F. Even though I couldn't create my own party, I could at least control who was in the party, and that helped a bit. After I finished II, I went back to play the first game, and found it was also quite enjoyable (though I still prefer the second!)

What then? Well, I bought Neverwinter Nights when it came out and played through the original campaign. Unfortunately, that campaign isn't perhaps the most interesting, mostly because it feels so small. The difficulty level defaults to what I consider too easy, so I was able to rumble through the game without really thinking too much about it. After I finished it, I sold it through Amazon and got Dungeon Siege, which I considered a better game at the time.

Anyway, a few months ago I noticed that I could get two copies of Neverwinter Nights Diamond for only $20, so a thought occurred to me: Would this game be more fun to play on a LAN with my dearly beloved as a companion? I wasn't sure, and I also wasn't sure she'd like the game, but for $20 I was willing to take the chance. The Diamond version comes with the original game plus two expansions, Shadows of Undrentide (sucks) and Hordes of the Underdark (still playing), so it felt like a solid investment.

Well, the good news is that we did have fun sloughing through the first game. It became pretty obvious to me at an early stage, though, that Elizabeth wasn't nearly as "into" the game as I was, and didn't care to play with the kind of intensity and, er, "What the heck? It's 4 AM already!!??" state of oblivion I tended to find myself in during these games. She'd play just to make me happy, I guess, but I kept catching myself wishing I had a younger brother on hand! (One of my brothers is just as obsessed with this kind of thing as I am). I guess there's just a certain type of person who enjoys CRPGs, but I'm not sure what that factor (or factors) may be.

At any rate, playing the game on a LAN opened up a new dimension for the otherwise placid campaign. Although you can recruit henchmen of all different classes to accompany your character, their severely limited AI keeps them from being very useful (or enjoyable to have along). Usually, they merely become liabilities that you spend more time protecting and rescuing than anything else. A fellow human can be a major asset. Fortunately, for the first campaign, Elizabeth chose a paladin, which turned out to be a great beginner class because of the relative simplicity of combat, advancement, and abilities. In the NWN campaign, the fighter is actually a bit more complex, since good fighters will have to make very long-term plans about their character development--specializing in a weapon, choosing appropriate feats, etc. In other words, it's pretty easy to screw up a fighter pretty badly and end up with a virtually unplayable character.

Unfortunately, she picked a bard for the Shadows campaign, and that proved to be much more frustrating. The bard is probably one of the most complex characters to get right, and she discovered very quickly that her new character was extremely vulnerable in combat (and not very helpful otherwise). This undoubtedly led to great frustration, but, thankfully, the expansions offer a prestige class called "Red Dragon Disciple" that has helped make a difference in the Hordes campaign.
Pool of Radiance: Ah...What sweet memories of youth.Pool of Radiance: Ah...What sweet memories of youth.Anyway, the reason I wanted to post something about NWN and LAN was to offer some advice for other guys who might be thinking of bringing their "CRPG virgin" family or friends into the game. My primary advice would be to strongly discourage them from choosing to play one of the more complex characters, such as a mage, bard, cleric, or thief. It'd undoubtedly be easier for them to begin with a paladin or barbarian, or perhaps a ranger or sorcerer (though you'll end up explaining a lot). Rangers would be great for many women because of the emphasis on caring for animals (they get to summon an "animal companion"). Furthermore, the game seems to favor paladins, and there are no shortage of great items for the class. Plus, the powerful lay-on hands and turn undead features will prove a great asset. Probably the best aspect is that all you really need to do to play a paladin is click on the bad guys and keep an eye on your HP. This is infinitely more intuitive than the constant mode-switching you need to effectively play a fighter, to say nothing of magic strategy. Thieves and bards seem like difficult characters to play even for experienced gamers. They're pathetic in combat, and their special skills don't come as handy as you'd think. The few times I've tried playing a thief, I always multi-classed as a fighter, just to make the character more playable.

I suppose it'd be an impossible dream to find a whole party of folks (say, three?) who'd be willing to sit down on a regular basis at a LAN and play through these games as a group. I suppose at this point, the obvious solution is the internet, and perhaps a MMORPG like World of Warcraft. Perhaps. But I can't help but think that playing with a perfect stranger, who I'll more than likely never meet, would be as fun as playing with people I know (particularly family). I suppose I would be an ideal candidate for a game like WoW, since I love CRPGs and spent hundreds of hours in college sloughing through MUDs. However, I still cringe when I see the sort of "role playing" so many players on those systems engage in (i.e., straying far from character, cheating, and just being a punk). I also appreciate a good story in a CPRG, and the idea of doing random quests and playing a game with no ending doesn't seem to satisfy. Yes, I know there is a "social dimension" here that's supposedly more fulfilling than a good narrative, but I'm not sold on it yet.

However, I'd love to hear from folks who have a similar background to mine in CRPGs and who have made the transition into the MMORPG games (whether it be Everquest, WoW, or whatever). Was it a "Why didn't I do this sooner?" kind of thing? Be sure to let me know!

Comments

Mat Tschirgi (not verified)
I enjoyed Bard's Tale a good

I enjoyed Bard's Tale a good bit too, Matt, for its amazing difficulty level. As is typical of the classic CRPGs, you spend time customizing your characters and wander three steps outside the tavern only to be smashed to bits by a gang of trolls. ;)

But, in all seriousness, the great thing about the old CRPGs is how much a sense of accomplishment you felt when your characters gained a level. When it would take hours to gain one experience level and the stat increase was so notable that it made a notable difference, not unlike a Pen and Paper game.

The interactive movie criticism can be valid, Bill. I don't play through RPGs with walkthroughs if I can help it, but a lot of recent games are very cutscene heavy. Cutscenes make you care about the characters and, when they reach a certain length, do function as an interactive movie of sorts. Still, if its a good story worth telling, if the cutscenes are rewards for completing a quest, and if they move at a decent clip, I don't mind as much.

The only modern RPG that reminded me of the old Bard's Tale or Pool of Radiance games was Icewind Dale, which had a thin plot because it was pure old-school dungeon rompage. The series wasn't as popular as it should have been because the more plot focused Baldur's Gate stole its thunder, but either of the Icewind Dale games are well worth checking out.

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Bill Loguidice
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Cut Scenes do not an RPG Make

That's the point, I don't need cut scenes to make me care about the characters if I created them myself. I already care and have a vested interest in seeing these characters succeed. Again, two very different types of games in both play and style. To have me care about some androgynous barely teenage boy through a good cut scene is definitely an achievement, but you wouldn't have to bother if I already cared about the characters because they were my own, my own avatars, discovering the nuances of the world just as I am, rather than the world already knowing everything about me. See the difference?

And I'm certainly not saying a game like the recent Morrowind, which is a supreme technological achievment, is the height of story telling. If anything, it's a bit sterile to me, even with the beautiful living world aspect of it all. I'm saying that a classic CRPG like "Phantasie" or "Pool of Radiance" or "Curse of the Azure Bonds" or "Shard of Spring" or "Wizard's Crown" or whatever (or etc.), what to me is the pinnacle of the form, actually had a considerable amount of story and in fact made me care MORE because the characters were my own. It was me and my guys and gals against the game world. Not me playing a child with stereotypical characters by my side, "actors" if you were. The Japanese story tellers are good at quirk and melo-drama, but it creates a VERY different type of game. Very different. Classifiably so.

Also, I touched on the power of the cut scene in Issue 4 of Armchair Arcade in this article: http://armchairarcade.com/neo/node/430 in Essay 01 in reference to "Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage" from Eidos for the Sega Dreamcast. To me the cut scene is an almost artificial means of making one care about the story and the characters. Again, it's not wrong or bad, just very, very different in reality.

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Matt Barton
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Dramatic Actions, not Dramatic Cut Scenes!

Ah, the cut scene debate. It's true that sometimes they can function as great rewards, but some games do them infinitely better than others.

However, I much prefer dramatic action to cut scenes. What I mean is that it's much better when the actions you perform in a game lead up to some dramatic result, rather than just offering drama in the form of interludes. Most RPGs do give you the feeling that all that hacking, slashing, treasure collecting, and exploring is all leading up to something big. Even platform games have that building tension--you're getting closer to some big "baddie" and cinematic finale.

Imagine how silly it'd be to be playing Super Mario Bros. and everytime you get to a boss, rather than letting you beat the boss, the game just skips to a cut scene and shows you a lengthy cut-scene of Mario eliminating the baddie for you. Does that sound like fun? Hell, no. But that's exactly what so many games do to us when they deprive us of building up our own dramatic actions and resolutions (this ties in with what Bill was saying about the desire to create his own characters and get himself into his own troubles, thank you).

The game that really opened my mind to the possibilities was Elite, again a game I played very often on my Commodore 64. There may have been a mission system in Elite, but I never paid it any attention (if there was one). I played it like a role-playing game, building up my ship and saving up funds to buy better gear. Eventually I had the best ship, "Elite" ranking, and then I quit. I was a bit disappointed that the game didn't have an official "ending." Ideally, it should've given me a "spaceship walking off into the sunset" when I had achieved a certain level, but alas, it didn't.

I'm for open games, but against totally open-ended games. What I mean by that is I want some way (or perhaps many ways ) to actually win and complete the game. I need closure. I really like the way games like Civilization IV offer that. You have so many different ways to win, and you can engage in any number of tactics and strategies to get there. As weird as it sounds, games like Civilization IV actually feel (to me) more like a Pool of Radiance-style experience than modern CRPGs!!

A few role-playing games attempt openness without giving up on closure. I've never played any of them that I thought REALLY pulled it off, though. The usual tactic is to let you choose whether your characters are good or evil, and then you're supposed to end up on a much different path. Whatever. Although I haven't played the classic game in this regard (Fable), the ones I've played were highly prejudiced in favor of good characters. If you were "totally evil," you basically had to consistently shoot yourself in the foot to progress in the game. Somehow, destroying a farming village instead of saving it just doesn't seem very fulfilling. I mean, you'd have to be a totally sadistic, evil dude to enjoy that. Uh, wait a minute. :-)

I remember in Pool of Radiance when I finally managed to defeat Norris the Gray and take over his well hideout. Now, there wasn't any real, practical use for this "hideout." But, I have to tell you, it was so cool to have my own "hideout." Again, it comes back to using my imagination (I know it's almost unheard of with today's games) to concoct a whole little scenario. My characters enjoyed their hideout! It was their "home base," and I'd take them there pretty often after big battles to rest up. Likewise, I got in and out of Sokal Keep as fast as possible, because no one wants to hang around undead folks. Again, not "necessary" in terms of the game, but very necessary in terms of the little dramatic scenarios I'd built up in my head.

This is probably going to make me sound like a goof, but I'd actually talk for my characters. I still do occasionally, even though the "advancements" means that some idiot actor repeats the same few lines a million times as I'm adventuring. No, no. Playing Pool of Radiance, I improvised my own lines for my own characters, thank you. I was like a director. Tell me; what's more fun--hearing some digitized sample of an actor reading a line, or bellowing out your own? I promise you, if you've never tried the latter, give it a chance. Turn down the volume and start talking to the game. :-)

I guess it's hard for kids nowadays to care about their characters. They're either handed to them (pre-made) or exist purely abstractly. If one dies, so what? Just create another one. That's not the way I played it. If a character died, that was tragic. Even though I probably could have just created a new char and moved on, no way. I reloaded.

Likewise, some people wonder why it matters whether you can import your old characters into a new game. They say; "Heck, just create new ones." But again, that's not the way it works. You nurtured those characters from level 1, and you don't want to give them up without a fight. You get attached to them. In so many ways, they are extensions of yourself. They collect a certain residue and really matter to you. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then I'm really sorry for you. :-)

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Bill Loguidice
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Great post, Matt! It

Great post, Matt! It encapsulated quite a few of my own thoughts.

I'll enclose your stuff in blockquotes to make responding more easy to follow:

The game that really opened my mind to the possibilities was Elite, again a game I played very often on my Commodore 64. There may have been a mission system in Elite, but I never paid it any attention (if there was one). I played it like a role-playing game, building up my ship and saving up funds to buy better gear. Eventually I had the best ship, "Elite" ranking, and then I quit. I was a bit disappointed that the game didn't have an official "ending." Ideally, it should've given me a "spaceship walking off into the sunset" when I had achieved a certain level, but alas, it didn't.

I have yet to put much time into Elite, but I'm happy to say I procured a complete boxed copy for my C-64 when I do get the chance to play it properly. I think the goal of "Elite" and the appeal was that it was open ended with an unlimited Universe to explore. Of course this meant that a lot of stuff was randomly generated, but it at least gave the impression of unlimited possibilities, something even modern games have trouble with. I think you did achieve what you were supposed to in the game by achieving Elite status. It would almost bely it's nature to have an actual ending if you think about it. Is it really supposed to end? I remember several role-playing games doing this as well. Even if you did beat the big foozle at the end, you could keep on playing. There was little point as by then you were god-like and all the challenging baddies were vanquished, but you could pretty much keep on playing forever (or until your character(s) died of old age, depending on the game). There's something kind of refreshing about that. I suppose that's one of the things that Morrowind does get right, the fact that you can pretty much keep on playing and playing and playing with or without accomplishing anything and everything. That's the "sandbox" we've heard about since "Grand Theft Auto III", but obviously with games like "Elite" we've had the concept and implementation long before that.

I'm for open games, but against totally open-ended games. What I mean by that is I want some way (or perhaps many ways ) to actually win and complete the game. I need closure. I really like the way games like Civilization IV offer that. You have so many different ways to win, and you can engage in any number of tactics and strategies to get there. As weird as it sounds, games like Civilization IV actually feel (to me) more like a Pool of Radiance-style experience than modern CRPGs!!

I agree with all of that, except for the closure part. I'd like the OPTION to have an open ending. I'm often not skilled enough to vanquish all of my opponents or reach space by the year alloted all the time and would prefer to have a specific game condition determine when the game ends rather than an arbitrary in-game date. So what if I can't do it until the year 4000? That would certainly create additional challenges, but even if they had to arbitrarily close technical advancement (there has to be a limit at some point), there would still be enough to compel me to keep on going.

I remember in Pool of Radiance when I finally managed to defeat Norris the Gray and take over his well hideout. Now, there wasn't any real, practical use for this "hideout." But, I have to tell you, it was so cool to have my own "hideout." Again, it comes back to using my imagination (I know it's almost unheard of with today's games) to concoct a whole little scenario. My characters enjoyed their hideout! It was their "home base," and I'd take them there pretty often after big battles to rest up. Likewise, I got in and out of Sokal Keep as fast as possible, because no one wants to hang around undead folks. Again, not "necessary" in terms of the game, but very necessary in terms of the little dramatic scenarios I'd built up in my head.

See, right there is a tremendous point. You and I can play something like a Final Fantasy X or whatever and have the EXACT same story to tell. You and I can play something like "Pool of Radiance", and even though it's the same game and the same approximate paths (we would necessarily hit the same hideout and what-not), we'd each have our own unique stories to tell about it, by the simple fact that we played with different characters and went about our activities in different ways! Which game is ultimately the better experience, the better story? To an outsider, the Japanese RPG is the better story, but to ME - the personal ME - the classic computer RPG is the better story because I was able to morph it more dramatically to be my own.

This is probably going to make me sound like a goof, but I'd actually talk for my characters. I still do occasionally, even though the "advancements" means that some idiot actor repeats the same few lines a million times as I'm adventuring. No, no. Playing Pool of Radiance, I improvised my own lines for my own characters, thank you. I was like a director. Tell me; what's more fun--hearing some digitized sample of an actor reading a line, or bellowing out your own? I promise you, if you've never tried the latter, give it a chance. Turn down the volume and start talking to the game. :-)

I would carefully choose names and sexes of my characters even when it didn't matter. I would often use "Sarah Jane" because that was my favorite Doctor Who companion (that and "Romana") or "Anja" because that was my favorite female bodybuilder at the time, etc. I'd often make the fighter's male and the priest's female. Etc. None of that had a true bearing on the game, but it did to my connection with my characters and the game world at large. And yes, I still swear each of those six characters (or however many I was allowed to create) had their own personalities!

Even something as seemingly unrelated as "Mail Order Monsters" from Electronic Arts for the C-64 would be the same type of thing (a game by the way which predated the Tamagotchi and monster raising/battle games by many years). Sure, they could have given us a set group of monsters to "raise" and go into battle with and outfit, but they let us create our own combinations and our own names. You simply didn't want YOUR monster to lose! Would I have cared as much if I was fighting with Godzilla? I doubt it!

I guess it's hard for kids nowadays to care about their characters. They're either handed to them (pre-made) or exist purely abstractly. If one dies, so what? Just create another one. That's not the way I played it. If a character died, that was tragic. Even though I probably could have just created a new char and moved on, no way. I reloaded.

That's just it, as well. Let's say you keep on dying with the pre-made and pre-rendered "Josh". You have to keep playing "Josh" in that game even if you don't want to. You can't create a different protagonist to get through the game world. Half the fun of the classic computer RPG's was getting the right mix of races and professions! If it's already pre-determined what the party will consist of, what's the point?

Likewise, some people wonder why it matters whether you can import your old characters into a new game. They say; "Heck, just create new ones." But again, that's not the way it works. You nurtured those characters from level 1, and you don't want to give them up without a fight. You get attached to them. In so many ways, they are extensions of yourself. They collect a certain residue and really matter to you. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then I'm really sorry for you. :-)

Interestingly, I've found character export/import to be a mixed bag, never quite working right. The characters were often stripped of certain special abilities and all possessions anyway, so I found it more "convenient" to just create new avatars to believe in. Frankly too, by the time I completed a game, I often had characters who were already "worn out" in one ability or another, either from resurrection-related activities or age, so it was better regardless to start from scratch. Still, there's something VERY compelling about playing the "same" characters of your own creation who have won victories before in other games in a series (and obviously some games even allowed you to import characters from OTHER games!)...

By the way, how many articles are in this blog entry you started? Dozens? ;-)

=================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[ My collection ]
[ http://www.MythCore.com ]

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mrCustard (not verified)
Camps

Well, I guess I'm from the other camp then; the one that likes a well crafted story to be told, no matter if it makes the game more linear. In my personal experience, openended games are often tedious and repetitive affairs without real highs or lows. Of course this follows from the game structure, where you can have fixed beginnings or endings, but the middle part is nessecarily kept vague, to keep the options open. Now, there are some games that get the balance between story and freedom right. Oblivion being the most recent example. Fable incidentally didn't get it right. It's a pretty much linear game, down to the points where you have to practically pick your alignment progression (which a long way form the gradual development that was promised).

The thing about Japanese RPGS is that when you play the game from start to finish, you get to see the complete story, no parts missed. In Western RPGs it's often possible to miss out on big lumps of the story. This adds to the replayability, but can also be too daunting a propect for player.

However, while more linear, Japanese RPGs aren't really shallower than Western ones. Often, in Japanese style RPGs, elaborate battle systems provide the depth in the gameplay, rather than the endless customization of its parties, characters and branching storylines. They are really quite different genres.

Oh... when do I beat that final boss, I demand a denouement in the form a pretty cutscene.

Gamertag: Custardo

Mark Vergeer
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The final truth about RPG's and Strategy games according to.....

err.......NOT!!!!!! :)

When I was in high school, pen and paper RPG's with a good friend were the way to go. Sadly one of those friends is currently suffering from schizophrenia paranoid psychotic type and actually is experiencing some of the horrific adventures of the dungeon and dragen-past. Looking back I always thought this guy was always a bit too absorbed in the game but I know now that it probably was very hard for him to remain in our reality as this disease often has an early adult/teen onset. This friend is now categorized into a DSM-IV-R diagnosis but could also be described as an original spirit.

In this thread a lot of categorization and taxonomy is discussed, I of course dare to say something on the subject too but would also try to stray away from it a bit - see last paragraph. I think traditional adventure games or pen and paper role playing games do always involve some sort of story that is an important part of the experience. The American RPG became big in a time where computers weren’t good at displaying fancy graphics or aiding in telling a wonderful story. No, computer where good at showing numbers and calculating models. I would actually dare to state that the American Multi Character RPG’s Matt and Bill are talking about are more like strategy games because the story is of far less importance than the strategy and the tasks of the various characters in the game. Both the story-centered game and the strategy centered game have a unified source/origin – the adventure story / experience / pen and paper role playing. But like Bill says Japanese RPG’s are too diverse to say that they are Story-centric, I say actually quite a lot of them are very much like strategy games with a lot of statistics and repetitive action. But battle systems can also be very nice and intuitive adding possibility and tension to the game.

On my own experiences with RPG’s in my childhood….On the C64 I was unlucky enough to have only access to a c2n datasette and I was saving up for a true 1541 5.25” disk drive for quite a while. As a result my first gaming experiences on the C64 consisted of one load arcade games. Actually one of the first adventure game I was exposed to was Zork I on the C64. I was amazed by the way the computer sort of understood rudimentary English. I let my imagination run wild and just loved those interactive works of fiction. When I got my 1541 I started to enjoy games like Asylum, Leather Godoss of Phobos amongst others. Ultima and Bard’s Tale just were too damn expensive and they were a different cup of tea. When I was exposed to consoles I picked up Zelda on the Nes/Famicom and the later Snes and N64, GC. I distinctly remember playing Jade Cocoon and I struggled to quite a few Final Fantasies.

So what does it boils down to for me? A Dutch 36 year old videogamer… I just like an engaging gameplay – preferably with a good immersive story – the way the interface works makes a world of difference, also how the game is illustrated and the games atmosphere. Of course I am spoiled by the power of the newer systems 16 bit and up.
I like the idea of being a single character in an immersive story, but can stand controlling parties with different abilities as are often the case in Japanese RPG’s. I have a hard time appreciating games where the game avatars are reduced to a collection of statistical specs, graphs and numbers on screen – often accompanied by too steep a learning curve or boring game screens. To me turn-based real time stategy games are often a bore because of that – real time strategy games are a little better with games like Command and Conquer (the early games) which have great intuitieve gameplay.

For me the gameplay needn’t be linear but I do like a good storyline underneath. MMORPGS needn’t be linear so they did appear to be very interesting to me at first – why? Because one could be immersed into a new ‘virtual world’ and act out a role or just be an alter ego game avatar leading digital virtual life of wonder. The treadmill where MrCustard wrote about earlier is what puts me off, gaining points with repetitive actions is just not worth my time.

I don’t belong in a RPG camp, don’t want to… my taste varies. I do work with a DSM-IV-R statistical diagnostic manual every day and today I don’t really like to think in categories and define my taste with that when it comes to playing videogames ;)

I rebel! Mwoehahahaha.... tomorrow it could be a totally different story....

-= Mark Vergeer - Armchair Arcade editor =-

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Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
I still want to know where

I still want to know where this idea of a lack of "story" comes into play for classic Western CRPG's. I'd like to think that from the comments Matt and I have been making in the discussions we've pointed to that simply being a fallacy. There are countless games with dramatic storylines from the classic era. If we JUST focus on say, Wizardry, which is a pure dungeon crawl (as are most of its early sequels), then I would absolutely agree, but to say any of the Ultima's from II on or nearly all of the SSI RPG games or any of the other stuff (like Interplay, Origin, etc.) lacked "story", I think one needs to look again. Many did not have particularly original stories, but the same can be said of the latest Japanese RPG's as well.

I think rather than saying Japanese RPG's are story-driven unlike their older Western counterparts, I think we need to come up with a new distinction.

Why don't we say that Japanese RPG's are linear and event driven, with pre-determined characters and interactions? We can then say that Western RPG's are more open ended, with triggered plot advancement and user created playable characters?

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[ My collection ]
[ http://www.MythCore.com ]

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Mat Tschirgi (not verified)
Some very interesting points

Some very interesting points being made here.

Western RPGs have stories just like Japanese RPGs. However, the way in which the stories are told is different. And, technically, both games have triggered plot advancements. ;)

Take a look at the Fallout 2 for the PC as an example of the Western RPG. Your avatar starts out in the game going through a simple maze to pass initiation rites to be a warrior for the village (or something extremely similar; I haven't played the game in over 5 years!). After this, you are pretty much left to your own devices-- the parched, post-apocalyptic landscape is for you to explore.

This approach has its strengths and weaknesses. If I am playing a game where I have no direction in where to go, will I get bored after exploring around for 30 minutes, not finding the "correct" village/dungeon to go to in order to trigger the plot advancements, and just give up playing the game? While open ended gameplay is a good thing, being too open ended can result in boredom for the player. Similar to what Matt said earlier about Morrowind, I felt little reason to continue playing the game after completing a lot of seemingly random guild quests. While the scope of the game was impressive, the narrative element wasn't strong enough to pull me through to the end (or even much past the beginning!).

Now for an example of a Japanese RPG, let's look at Dragon Warrior IV for the NES. The initial Chapter of the game involves you controlling an avatar that is a Knight. He is given an order from the King to rescue missing children. While this is a linear goal, the way in which the goal is accomplished is not just a simple from Point A to Point B approach. Your avatar has to travel from the main town through a cave (i.e. has to level up to gain stats and buy enough weapons/armor to survive through the cave) to the town from where the children are missing.

In the town, nobody knows why the children are missing, but a lone convict in jail pleads your avatar to take a note to his Wife, who resides in the Castle. After trekking back to the Castle, talking to the Wife so your avatar can get the bail to free the convinct, the convict reveals that he heard children crying near a secret location in a nearby forest. You then head to the forest to discover a hidden dungeon in which...

OK, so you get the idea. The simple quest of Saving the Children is broken up into smaller subquests, making the plot more involved than one would think. And in the midst of this story (which isn't one of the greatest, but works as a concise example), one gets to fight monsters, purchase equipment, and explore, which are the same trappings in Western RPGs.

Sure, a PC with a back-story might not feel as "special" in some ways as one generated through random stat generation, but the actual gameplay itself between East and West is not as different as one might think.

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=- Mat Tschirgi =- Armchair Arcade Editor
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Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
At the risk of sounding clueless...

Dragon Quest...I've heard so much about it how it's the #1 RPG over in Japan. So, I tried playing one of them on my SNES emulator today, and must admit to having a rather Shane R. Monroe like experience with it. As the game opens, you are playing what I guess to be a young boy (maybe 7 or 8?) After a fairly lengthy (and cliched opening), you find yourself fighting little balls of slime with big smiley faces on them.

Let me repeat that. You're fighting blobs of happy slime. You can't make stuff like this up, folks.

Let's compare:

Ummm...Okay, I know which one I want to play! ;-)

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mrCustard (not verified)
Hmmmm..

I suppose you never fought a gelatinous cube in D&D :D That's a *cube* of slime. Anyway, the Dragon Quest slime is a pretty iconic game character. I have no problems with it whatsoever. Then again I have nothing against the busty babes from AD&D either. Unfortunately the few ladies I did play AD&D with didn't look like that at all.

Gamertag: Custardo

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