Again, It Seems RPGs Suck

Half way through day two of my protracted brainstorming session for Project Sentinel, I came across the fundamental reason that, no matter how I looked at the design, it wasn’t fun.  That is simply this:

Role playing games that adhere to the strict definition of role playing games truly suck from all but the storytelling and power accumulation perspectives.

I like roleplaying games.  At least, I thought I did.  They generate a certain feeling of worthwhile time invested when you’ve finally overcome the foozle or even gained a single experience point.  However, in attempting to design my own, I came under the realization that why a number RPGs failed to entertain was because they took the RPG aspects too seriously and did not realize that they really were little more than an external layer away from the gameplay that entertained.   The parts that set RPGs apart from most games is a part that can not entertain long on its own.

This is why Puzzle Quest was genius.  It was a role playing game in terms of power accumulation and storytelling, but what it leaned on for fun was actually a Gems-like game.  Gem-like games are the essence of pure brain-teasing fun – just finding the previous link ate about 5 minutes of time before I caught myself: had I not been wary, I’d sure hours would have been lost.

Puzzle Quest did not go far enough in that the Gems-like game was a bit overplayed.  There needed to be a more diversity than that.  They did add a little through the research, capture, and siege-related activities which slightly changed the rules of the standard Gems deviation they predominantly used, but the core game still could not keep its appeal over the protracted time the RPG exterior demanded of the player.

So this becomes my new goal in Project Sentinel: Use the RPG aspects to support an outer framework of plot-development and accumulation.  Use mini-games (not necessarily Gems so much as simple activities that engage the brain) to make up the bulk of the players’ activities.  these minigames may actually be the standard flow of RPG combat, but the important thing is that the activity is considered in terms of being a minigame, and the RPG aspect is entirely removed to a separate level of abstraction.

Why not do away with the RPG aspect entirely?  Because maintaining that seperate level of accumulation and storytelling does add something – it brings a feeling of significance to a game that it otherwise lacks.  However, this something cannot survive as being the central focus of the game.  A good RPG brings another game with it, whether it be a timing game, a strategy game, a puzzle game, or (in the case of true game development masters) a well executed fusion of several types of games.

Behind while BYOND?

The BYOND engine I’m attempting to use is problematic in that it has some additional overhead in being an online virtual world engine.  There’s always that additional layer of latency to deal with, even in a BYOND game that is single player, and this makes recreating even a late 1980s game like Sentinel Wars quite difficult despite the comparative technological advantage of a 2008 system.

However, BYOND drops a powerful tile-based engine, with animation and facing handling of sprites, and a powerful content distribution modle that makes bringing together several players onto the same gameplay world easy.   Thus, the cost of designing my way around BYOND overhead becomes somewhat worth, especially if I make sure my design makes good use of the multiplayer aspect which required that overhead to begin with.

2 Responses

  1. After playing about 2 hours of Fallout 3 myself and quickly disregarding it as a rehasht of previous games, I can’t help but wonder what is next after this “gaming” wave that we seem to be riding. What do I mean by this? Fallout 3 has an average review score of 92%. Every experienced gamer I’ve talked to say it plays / looks / feels like shit after the spectacle of a Fallout sequel wears off. Where are the quality games for people who play games?

    I wonder what will come next. Maybe this form of entertainment will stay stuck to the younger generation, allowing them to grow and experience (for the first time) games that are essentailly rehashes of what we played as kids.

    Makes me wonder what will replace gaming for those who are done with it all together?

  2. First, I have to go a little off track and say that Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was another game that pulled great reviews despite being a bit shallow after the spectacle and immersion wore off. I’d have to say that Fallout 3 (based on the same engine and bearing many similarities to Oblivion) received the stellar treatment from reviewers for the same reason – they’re mostly rating that initial immersion factor.

    Judging by Yahtzee’s reaction, not everybody’s going to agree with that methodology. As for me, I think Fallout 3’s pretty good if you’re expecting more Oblivion and avoid the main plot line for fear of completing it and being smacked in the face with that wet-mackerel of an ending.

    Back to what you’re talking about. When it comes to quality in gaming, it seems to me that it’s just a coincidence when I can find a good commercial product that scratches that old school gaming itch anymore. These days, most development companies are busy shelling out for a giant niche (e.g. “the younger generation”) and that tends to leave hard-to-please smaller niches (e.g. “old school gamers”) out in the cold.

    It’s part of the reason I spent the majority of this weekend dabbling in BYOND with what’s currently shaping up to be an online, 2D top down perspective, Dwarf Fortress/Crimsonland/Mechwarrior hybrid: I’ve become so disgusted with the commercial game situation that I’ve taken to “rolling my own.”

    What will replace gaming for those who are done with it altogether? Meh, a person can always find another hobby, I suppose. As for me, gaming has been my heart and soul so long that my bone marrow now synthesizes a chemical desire to keep trying to find satisfaction within it. I was playing games with most of my free time for some 15 years before we even met.

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