Friday, May 15, 2009

Nostalgia Game Design: RPGs

Today I'm going to type up my reflections on Role-Play Games (RPGs). There are many games that can sit under the umbrella term "Role Play Game", thus creating sub-genres of RPG.
Currently I'm part of a community called Rpg Rpg Revolution (RRR) which is dedicated to the creation of 16-bit style RPG games using the program RPG-Maker. What is considered a Pure-blood RPG is a topic of debate. So I'm going to go back and retrace what I know.

The Roots
RPGs evolved in a way from both text-based story games and table-top role play games such as Dungeons and Dragons. There are some basic elements associated with these games. These things are: Characters with statistics, items, and abilities.
A world map to explore.
A system of movement and battle.
Monsters to fight.

In most table top sessions, the goal of the session is to make it out of a dungeon alive. This requires a combat focused plot to validate player actions. The system of movement and battle are based on rolls of dice. Similarly, text-based computer systems used random numbers to reveal outcomes of actions. (Granted it's not Perfect Random numbers, it's weighted. Because perfect random numbers would make for an awful, unfair game.)

To this day, RPGs share all these traits with their fore-fathers. How they differ depends on the sub-genre. I'll briefly touch on some of the major sub-genres.

Classic RPG
This is literally a visual translation of the D&D system. The game has the same basic system as the D&D universe but the difference lies in the fact that the computer takes the role of the Dungeon Master (DM). It can not be argued with.

An example of a Classic RPG would be a game like Neverwinter Nights. While playing the game and fighting opponents, text comes up mentioning your "rolls" and therefor the success or failure of a given action.

Japanese RPG/J-RPG
To be honest this is one of my more favorite genre. Unlike the Classic example, the battle system is usually turn-based. Which means your character picks an attack and will take a turn then the enemy will take its turn. It is often very story based and chuck full of cut-scenes.

Examples of this are the Final Fantasy Series and the Pokemon series.

Tactical/Strategy RPG
This is something that is a blend of two genres: Real Time Strategy and Role Play Games. The battle system usually is played on a grid like board meaning that the player has to plan the movements and attacks of their characters. Again it is usually a turn based system.

A few examples of this would be Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics.

Action RPG
For this the battle system is not turn-based but real time. Victory depends on how you perform. You have to control your characters movement and attacks.

Games under this genre include the Tales Series (like Tales of Symphonia), Kingdom Hearts and more of the 3D action games.

Action/Adventure
This sub-genre is very loosely fitted under the RPG genre. The battle "system" is seamless with the normal movement in the game. For most RPG games, the game has explore mode and battle mode where battle mode takes you to a new screen. In Action Adventure there are no modes, it's all seamless. Because of this some don't consider them RPGs. However they still have dungeons, items and character stats.

Games in this sub-genre include Legend of Zelda and World of Warcraft.

Conclusion
There really isn't much to discuss. The current trend for RPGs seems to be heavily rooted in Action-based or Tactical based over the classic turn based model. Which only makes sense since for a 3D game it's more interesting to look at and utilizes the system more fully.

My personal gripes are the constant switching between modes, I prefer things to be more seamless. There's just a slight sense of frustration when you are exploring in an RPG and randomly you are forced to stop, enter battle mode, finish a battle before going back to what you are doing. It's just such a stop and go process even if you just run out of a battle you still have to wait to return to "map mode".

At the same time, I don't mind turn based battle systems. I don't like to feel pressured to rush in a game. Granted action games are more fun and interesting, but sometime I just don't feel like putting in the effort.

I really did not have too much to whine about this genre. It's one of my favorites. The genre always has some interesting games with fun stories.

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