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Role Playing (Games)

The Evolution of RPGs, Storytelling 64

Posted by Zonk
from the trying-new-things dept.
Sessions held yesterday and today touched on the future of games and story in this new generation of games. Yesterday Microsoft held a panel with RPG veterans Hironobu Sakaguchi (currently working on Blue Planet), Peter Molyneux(Fable 2), and Dr. Ray Muzkya(Mass Effect). Between the three of them, these well known designers offered a view of the next step in RPGs. Sakaguchi in particular was vocal about his love of online RPGs, and there was some talk of differing player experiences the content-heavy titles genre. Meanwhile, on the heels of Phil Harrison's keynote, Warren Spector took the stage in a conference room to discuss next-gen storytelling. His biggest complaint was the linear nature of games today, and the sameness of experiences. Different talks, with insightful and similar conclusions.
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The Evolution of RPGs, Storytelling

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  • With the fluid dialogue model in Mass Effect, finally we're approaching the "interactive movies" that have been promised ever since the days of wing commander III.
    • Re:finally (Score:5, Funny)

      by Joe Random (777564) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:54PM (#18269508)
      You mean no more of this?:

      Hero: "Hello, bartender."
      Bartender: "*sigh* I've been so depressed since my cat ran away".

      H: "Wow, that sucks. Can I get a beer?"
      B: "*sigh* I've been so depressed since my cat ran away".

      H: "Yeah, I know. But cats do that sometimes. Who knows, maybe it'll come back. Now, how about that beer?"
      B: "*sigh* I've been so depressed since my cat ran away".

      H: "We've gone over that already. Beer? Please?"
      B: "*sigh* I've been so depressed since my cat ran away".

      H: "What the Hell?! Just do your job and get me a damned beer!"
      B: "*sigh* I've been so depressed since my cat ran away".

      H: "I KNOW that you want me to find the damned cat already! Fine! I'll find your cat! Never mind that I'm busy hunting down an evil sorcerer who intends on enslaving the entire kingdom. Cats take priority, right? If it's a cat you want, it's a cat you'll get. Okay? Satisfied? Now how about one for the road . . . the road I'm taking to find your cat?"
      B: "*sigh* I've been so depressed since my cat ran away".

      H: "That DOES IT! I'm just going to kill you and TAKE the damned beer. How's THAT sound, huh?!"
      B: "*sigh* I've been so depressed since my cat ran away".

      H: "Gaaaaaaahhhhhhh" *hack* *slash* *chop*
      [Your reputation for evil has increased by 200. Townsfolk will no longer trade with you (yes, that includes beer)]

      H: "Oh Krom-dammit."
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Khanstant (1049112)
        *sigh* Times are tough. Ooold RPGWorld reference. http://rpgworldcomic.com/d/20001021.html [rpgworldcomic.com]
      • Along those same lines, another of my favorites is in "Resident Evil" style games:

        NPC: "I really need some Medicine to clear up this infection, I can't go with you while I'm injured. I think there is some in the infirmary down the hall."

        Player: [walks down hall, opens door to infirmary, then sees Locked Cabinet]
        Game: "You need the Blue Key to open this cabinet."

        Player: [Tries to chop cabinet open using fire axe]
        Game: "You need the Blue Key to open this cabinet."

        Player: [Fires shotgun at lock on
        • You can actually break open containers (lockers, chests, etc) in the fallout series, but you risk damaging the contents. Fun stuff. :)
  • well (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mastershake_phd (1050150) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:50PM (#18269434) Homepage
    His biggest complaint was the linear nature of games today, and the sameness of experiences.

    Its kinda hard to totally remove the linear nature of any game. Even MMORGP. If a game is good enough you wont even notice (Final Fantasy 3, 7)
    • by Seumas (6865)
      With enough content contributors and developers, you can certainly make a world filled with endless stories and plot-lines. What bores me about ALL current MMORPGs is that they're all just a bunch of cookie-cutter stories and missions dished out to people who largely ignore them on their quest to level quickly and then roll a new character.

      Same with most RPGs. They are just too bland and unoriginal. Can we have something besides a wizard, warrior and ranger dwarf, human, elf fighting orcs, dragons, demons t
      • by Chmcginn (201645)

        Can we have something besides a wizard, warrior and ranger dwarf, human, elf fighting orcs, dragons, demons to safe the princess, land, people from some evil magic?

        Planescape. I know, I know, it's how many years old now... but it still deserves playing now and again.

        Obviously, we need more Modrons.

  • by omnilynx (961400) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @08:04PM (#18269628)

    The problem with non-linearity is that then you're paying to produce content that any single player is probably not going to experience. Sure, he can play the story over again to explore the different branches, but who except hardcore fans wants to do that? The challenge, rather, is to create mainly linear story lines that seem non-linear, by giving the illusion of choice, such as giving several choices that funnel back into the main thread. Another possibility is to give the player control over chronology: he chooses which parts of the story he wishes to advance when he wants. Both of these have applicability limited by the dictates of the story, of course.

    The only place true non-linearity fits is when it's the primary selling point of the game. Sandbox games like the GTA series or world-based MMORPGs require non-linearity by their very nature (Of course, they also have storylines but those clearly aren't the main selling points). RPGs, though, are meant to be story-driven, and a story is primarily linear, since that's the way we humans experience time.

    • by cluke (30394)
      Well, the shift in thinking required here is that not every player will experience all the content. If you have 3 main paths through the story, then you figure on 1/3 of players experiencing each, all things being equal. The downside of this freedom is you have to produce 3 times the content for the divergent bits. But if you sell enough copies, that may become cost effective.

      This is pretty much what MMORPGs do already, after all. I doubt that all the players (or even the majority) are going to see the insi
    • by mcvos (645701)

      The only place true non-linearity fits is when it's the primary selling point of the game. Sandbox games like the GTA series or world-based MMORPGs require non-linearity by their very nature (Of course, they also have storylines but those clearly aren't the main selling points). RPGs, though, are meant to be story-driven, and a story is primarily linear, since that's the way we humans experience time.

      I have always learned that RPGs are not about blindly following a story, but about "what would you (or

    • by mdwh2 (535323)
      Sure, he can play the story over again to explore the different branches, but who except hardcore fans wants to do that?

      Maybe it's just me, but I would consider it perfectly reasonable to expect to play a game more than once, and I'm certainly no hardcore gamer.

      In fact, I would say the opposite, that a linear game increases the problem of paying for development that a single player doesn't experience - since with a linear game, I have less desire to play the game more than once, in which case I will miss o
  • by mobby_6kl (668092) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @08:34PM (#18270026)
    I think quite a lot changed in RPGs since the beginning. For example, now you have to kill 50 fully 3D goblins to collect their fully 3D noses, instead of boring 2D goblins or, worse yet, ASCII characters that look nothing like goblins.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Actually, while the goblins themselves have reached true 3D, I am still dissatisfied with the depth of goblin noses. I'm looking forward to the next generation of processors that can render the noses the way they really were meant to be. I think there is still a lot of room for growth in games with essential enhancements like this.
    • "The funny thing is, for me, the graphics have changed. The actual structure of RPGs hasn't really changed that much. I think there's some opportunities there."

      Exactly nothing has really changed. Give me an RPG with no leveling up, a storyline that is actually effected by my character, and a goal more creative than "kill the big evil thing"
      • by Sigma 7 (266129)

        Give me an RPG with no leveling up, a storyline that is actually effected by my character, and a goal more creative than "kill the big evil thing"

        An RPG with no levelling up is equivalant to Commander Keen - a fixed charater throughout the game. Not a problem by itself, but such games are stereotyped to be "mindless action" with no plot.

        A storyline affected by your character does appear from time to time - but there's ultimatly one main storyline which has slight variations. More often than not, "Alternat

    • You forget the fact that only 1 in 10 fully 3D goblins has a fully 3D nose, so you actually have to kill something like 300 fully 3D goblins to get 30 fully 3D goblin noses.
    • Yes, so just imagine six adventurers fight off four groups of 99 berzerkers in full 3D!!! In Bard's Tale, all you had to do was press 'F'. Wouldn't be fun to look at if you remade this in a modern engine.
  • Ignoring the past (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Reason58 (775044) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @08:39PM (#18270072)
    The reason why RPGs seem linear is because they are. The industry fails to learn from RPGs at the pinnacle of storytelling [wikipedia.org], instead churning out more and more Final Fantasy clones for easy sales with brand name recognition and marketting. As the consumer base and budgets grow bigger and bigger the video game industry resembles Hollywood more and more. Too much risk deviating from the tried and true rehash.
    • by nuzak (959558)
      > The reason why RPGs seem linear is because they are. The industry fails to learn from RPGs at the pinnacle of storytelling,

      Maybe it's just me, but pretty much all the stories I've ever read were linear. Well, except for those Choose Your Own Adventure books.
      • by Reason58 (775044)
        You can't compare the non-interactive storylines of a book or movie to a video game, which is by its very nature meant to involve the player.
        • by Jason Earl (1894)

          Sure you can. After all, unless you are playing Nethack eventually you will kill the monster and go home to live happily ever after. With any RPG I have ever played it was never a question of whether or not I would win, but how long it would take, and how many twists and turns would I encounter on the way. Seriously, how is that different from a book?

          Nethack is only different because you are essentially guaranteed to lose.

          • by mcvos (645701)

            Sure you can. After all, unless you are playing Nethack eventually you will kill the monster and go home to live happily ever after. With any RPG I have ever played it was never a question of whether or not I would win, but how long it would take, and how many twists and turns would I encounter on the way. Seriously, how is that different from a book?

            If I want to read a book, I'd really much rather read a book than play a video game. Books are better written, tend to have more complex and interesting

            • by Jason Earl (1894)

              I agree with you that RPGs should be less like a book, but that's hardly the case. When you talk to your friends about whatever RPG you happen to be playing they invariably will ask things like, "ave you made it past foo, yet?" or "have you killed bar?" Why is that? The answer is patently simple just like a book every RPG is ridiculously linear. At best in some RPGs you can skip over subplots, but you can do that in a book too.

              • by mcvos (645701)
                They are linear, but they shouldn't be. When we talk about real RPGs, we don't say "we've made it past foo", we say "we're still looking for the library of Cara Fahd, to get rid of that curse. We think we know where it is, but it's flooded and we can't get in, but a couple of sessions ago we found this magical pump, which we hope can be used to get the water out. Unfortunately we got a bit derailed by a siege, and now we have to travel to the other side of Barsaive to escort an invisible army of Orcs. Oh we
    • by syrion (744778)
      I've actually never enjoyed the Infinity Engine games. PST seemed to have a good plot, but it was so damn ponderous to play. It felt like a chore. This was more of a function of the engine and game mechanics than the writing, however.
  • That's Not His Name (Score:3, Informative)

    by TychoCelchuuu (835690) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @08:45PM (#18270150) Journal
    It's "Ray Muzyka," not "Ray Muzkya."
  • That's all I ask. Forget about any other game ... I just want a Fallout 3 that is worthy of the title.

    Arcanum 2 would be nice too ... but that's never going to happen :(
  • by Astarica (986098) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @10:18PM (#18271170)
    The reason why most plots are linear is because nonlinearity simply does not make much sense in the context of most games. Take your typical Square infinite loop choices, i.e. an example from Chrono Trigger:

    Marle: Crono, let's save the world! Yes/No?
    While answer = no, repeat question until answer = yes

    Now really, what kind of additional experience do you get by being able to say no? Do you see Lavos blow up the world and then the game telling you sorry, that was the wrong choice? Does that even add anything? In Breath of Fire 3, you can choose to either fight the Goddess or get locked up in a box for the rest of your life. Here you're allowed to make that choice and the game basically tells you 'whoa that was dumb, you lose!' and then you get to go through the same 30 minutes unskippable sequence again if you want to answer differently. If the choice is so dumb that no one would possibly ever want to go on the other path, then it might as well be a single choice.

    Now if in Chrono Trigger when you choose to not save the world, the story shifts to Magus, who continues his plan to summon Lavos to 600 AD and now his plan won't be messed up by the heroes because they quit. Then it might make sense to have the choice to give up. If you give people the choice to branch, there has to be meaningful content on either side of the branch.

    And even if there is content, it's hard to balance it so that they're at least both attractive. Let's say you're on your generic journey to stop the world from being destroyed, and some random town asks you fix their bridge and put your world saving quest on hold. So you want to make this nonlinear and actually a choice. So what's the drawback for not saving the town? Maybe another town gets nuked while you're doing this? Maybe some guy on your party decide you're a fool and leave the party forever? Maybe the boss actually becomes more powerful since you're slacking and the final fight is now twice as hard?

    But then what do you get back for giving that up? More insight on a character's past? A piece of inexplicably powerful item? No matter how careful you are, you'll usually end up with one choice that is still better than the other, so that choice will get picked as the 'right' one anyway.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JFMulder (59706)
      you'll usually end up with one choice that is still better than the other, so that choice will get picked as the 'right' one anyway.

      That's because you play RPGs to win. Personally, I play them to experience a story. In that case, any path you choose is valid.
      • That's because you play RPGs to win. Personally, I play them to experience a story. In that case, any path you choose is valid.

        Exactly! I'd mod you up if I could.

        To expand on the grandparent's example, suppose you're on your way to save the world and a village asks you for help with some unrelated problem. The choice here isn't about what gets you the biggest advantage later in the game, it's about what kind of character you're playing. Are you playing someone who only cares about the final goal, or

      • by nazsco (695026)
        every eletronic rpg is linear.

        and the story is dull.

        in fact, a non-rpg with linear history i played some time ago was what most ressembled "experiencing a history" to me. Wing Commander II.
        You could get emotive responses from you wing man, no matter that it was linear, it realisticly affected the game play in a cool way.
        • by JFMulder (59706)
          every eletronic rpg is linear.
          and the story is dull.


          Dealing in absolutes will get you nowhere and only shows your ignorance of the medium.

          It's true that a lot of RPGs are pretty straighforward and extra quests are only meant to make your character a lot stronger toward the end of the game.

          But take a game like KOTOR for example. There were a lot of optional side quests that helped define your character better (by leaning him or her more toward light or dark side) and by furthering the side-story of many peop
      • by Astarica (986098)
        There's nothing to experience when the choices are so stupid that it doesn't add anything. I don't know of a single person who thought choosing the 'get lock up in a box forever' choice in Breath of Fire 3 was a good idea.

        Let's say you have a choice of losing character A or character B. This means both characters have be at least comparablely important, and the loss of either is felt throughout the rest of the game in non gameplay terms. Offhand, I can't even remember a RPG where the loss of any characte
    • by grumbel (592662)
      While I agree that the "Yes, No" questions, where only one is a real answer and the other a dead-end are pretty stupid, I don't think that a branch need to have meaningful content, I think a lot of interactivity and immersion actually comes from not having meaningful choices. By that I don't mean the "Yes, No" type answers, but answers that both fit the situation equally without really having much impact on the overall story.

      Fahrenheit/Indigo Prohpecy was great in that aspect, while the overall story was a
    • Chrono Trigger is one of the greatest console RPGs, in my book at least. It has story, great characters and time travel. Final Fantasy 6 was great too, but I only got half of the game. And before anyone tells me, yes I know this games are from decades ago.
    • The game has a system where all the party members in your group have a stat based on how they like you. There are tons of question spots where you get to choose what to say/do that add/subtract to this stat. At the end of the game these values decide who sticks around in the party at the end, who dies, who betrays you. So even though your choices don't really have any immediate direct effect on how the game is played in the end it does change the outcome for your characters.
  • Sessions held yesterday and today touched on the future of games and story in this new generation of games

    Where were these sessions?

    Zonk, can you at least get the journalism questions answered in the summaries, if you're not going to bother with typos and mispellings? The critical one here is "where?" (I think we got the "who?" and "what?" ok.)
    • Presumably at the Game Developers Conference that every game site and their mom has been talking about.
  • The most recent generation of games has been fantastic. The last few years has seen a revolution in RPG design, and has opened up a whole new line of story oriented games. We have games that are designed to be truely player driven now, not just slightly influenced by the players, or even only given the illusion of influence in the story.

    RPGs have massively broken out of the old mold in the last few years. No longer do we have something that's just a step above a computer game on paper in terms of narrative
  • I remember a game called Psychic Detective [wikipedia.org]. The premise is that you were investigating a crime, but could jump into other people's minds and watch things unfold from their point of view. As you played through the game, you would only see a certain part of plot unfold the entire way, because the game progressed linearly and following one storyline prevented you from following another that happened concurrently. Moreover, the choices you made would influence the ending. If you replayed the game, you could vie
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @08:01AM (#18274614) Journal

    The problem is that computers are still computers, dumb as shit, and that coding is still coding, an amazingly labor intensive task requiring a high degree of skill and a proffesion were throwing more people at it don't help.

    Coding is expensive, if you want a dozen armour models/textures you can put a dozen artists on it. A dozen coders working on the same code just does not work.

    Computers are dumb. Well they are. Comic/manga readers might be familiar with CBZ/CBR archives, nothing more then zip/rar files renamed. Yet most downloads still come with the zip or rar extensions meaning YOU have to tell the computer to open it with a comic reader rather then your regular archive reader. It don't matter wich OS or file explorer you use. NONE of them can tell a image archive from a regular archive. Humans on the other hand can do it in an instant just by the name alone.

    Amazing!

    This matters in games. There is NO magic that allows NPC's to adress you as female/male. Someone somewhere has spend a lot of time writing a lot of if(x) then Y else Z statements to deal with the fact that you were given a choice of sex. What sex to play, geez. Don't get your hopes up, you are still a CRPG player.

    The more choices the more IF statements and it goes up in the way one of those curves go up that go up faster then the other value increases. Logo something (and people say playing computer games improves your brain)

    NWN2 suffers from this in a bad way. You have so many choices that even the main story can't cope and you end up with the ultimate weapon being a sword. Nice, my monk sure could use that. Your wizard didn't like it much either?

    It is even worse, in all the talks about the dwarf becoming a monk never once was the fact mentioned that I was one. Or did the thiefling mention I was a thiefling.

    For that matter as you gained more potential party members the interaction between them in the game became less and less. Not because it wasn't designed, simply because at location X where A and B were to have a discussion you had A and C in your party so it never triggered.

    Free, non-linear play doesn't make it any easier, playing a monk I offcourse build the monestary. I kept checking back to see if that dude was finally going to offer me some training. No deal, told to come back later.

    Yeah great, was there something there after I got fed up? More linear play would have prevented a dozen checks and lots of frustration.

    I wonder what could then be done in NWN2 had axed half the choices and instead fleshed out the remaining content more. Say that you had only first party members. Would they then have been able to get a lot more interaction. Might you have been able to influence anyone else then the dwarf to change proffesions.

    A gameboy game solved that nicely, despite a HUGE party from wich you had to select a cast for battle ALL characters were present during cut scenes even if they had been critically wounded in a previous fight (not killed just not available for future combat missions). The game still had the problem that certain paths could only be opened in combat with the right character but that was usually hinted at in the briefing.

    NWN2 totally did that in the wrong way. It FORCED you to take certain characters while at the same time punishing you (by not showing interactions) for not choosing the magic combo. I am not talking about the female that became a fixed member of your group, that worked, but those quests you had to take for instance bishop with you.

    What about freedom to roam then? Well that was what Oblivion had. But in order to prevent you to be killed to easily OR find nothing a challenge things had to scale. So in the beginning even remote areas were a cakewalk and later on you would face thugs on imperial roads in million dollar outfits demanding loose chance.

    Now compare this to the far more linear, less freedom, Planescape Torment. Areas were locked off, stopping you from going to far too fast, you couldn't p

    • by KingEomer (795285)
      To be fair, the final weapon was "universal." That is, anybody could wield it as though they were proficient. Also, you could use it to cast those spells... Not sure how well that worked (I just used Sand, Elanee and the Gith to blow stuff up). They may have been able to attack what you needed to attack from a range if you couldn't take hits. Still, it is a legendary artifact; I expected it to be the most powerful weapon in the game. However, you can craft items better than it.

      One solution I can see to h
    • I guess this is the same dilemma that faces those weird (and awful) "choose your own adventure" books that seemed popular around the time of the Goosebumps phenomenon when I was a kid. They didn't tell much of a story at all, because it was so fragmented, and I was only interested in seeing the brutal death scenes half the time anyways. It was like reading a poorly written story grafted onto rails... Whenever I came to a fork in the adventure where I died, I'd just hold my finger in the previous "hub" se
  • Stands for 'Role Playing Game', right? Not 'Rocket Propelled Game'? Not 'Really Pompous Game'? Meaning, you play a role somehow. Processing tactial decisions is not really role playing, I contend, and such games should not be called RPGs (but what can I do? They are).

    *Warning: I don't have any specific message in mind, and I'm just trying to include whatever responses occur to me. My thoughts may be a bit disjointed.*

    IMHO, the neccessary quality would be that the presence of you, the player, creates a uniqu

  • It's great to hear that game makers are taking story more seriously than in the past. Personally, I've never been satisfied by a 'branching' storyline; too often, it's just the illusion of choice. I remember reading in Nintendo Power a year or so before Final Fantasy 6 (then dubbed 3) came out that there were "3 separate storylines to explore!" with a screenshot of a black backdrop with 3 characters to choose from (I think it was Terra, Locke and Edgar? I'm not positive about that though). When I got to
  • Wait - the article says Sakaguchi is working on Blue Dragon, the xbox 360 game. Blue Planet the game is http://store.fantasyflightgames.com/index.asp?Page Action=VIEWPROD&ProdID=45 [fantasyflightgames.com]

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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