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Role Playing (Games) Entertainment Games

The Essentials of RPG Design 241

Posted by Soulskill
from the main-characters-with-a-mysterious-past dept.
simoniker writes "As the latest in his Game Design Essentials series for Gamasutra, writer John Harris examines 10 games from the Western computer RPG (CRPG) tradition and 10 from the Japanese console RPG (JRPG) tradition, to figure out what exactly makes them tick. From the entry on Nethack: 'Gaining experience is supposed to carry the risk of harm and failure. Without that risk, gaining power becomes a foregone conclusion. It has reached the point where the mere act of spending time playing [most RPGs] appears to give players the right to have their characters become more powerful. The obstacles that provide experience become simply an arbitrary wall to scale before more power is granted; this, in a nutshell, is the type of play that has brought us grind, where the journey is simple and boring and the destination is something to be raced to. Nethack and many other roguelikes do feature experience gain, but it doesn't feel like grind. It doesn't because much of the time the player is gaining experience, he is in danger of sudden, catastrophic failure. When you're frequently a heartbeat away from death, it's difficult to become bored.' Harris' Game Design series has previously spanned subjects from mysterious games to open world games, unusual control schemes and difficult games."
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The Essentials of RPG Design

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  • Role Playing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:23PM (#28561437)

    Real men role play with pencil and paper, or nothing at all.

    • Re:Role Playing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kingmundi (54911) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:32PM (#28561613)

      I got into a discussion last week with an old friend about how World of Warcraft replaced Dungeons and Dragons for him. I, being a curmudgeon, pointed out that MMO's seem wholly lacking in placing the player as the sole hero of the world. And the mechanics of the game, just lead to number crunching, and acquiring loot. Even in those instances where World of Warcraft tries to thrust you into a story mode of defeating some world destroying foe, it is diminished by the fact you can do it over and over again. And millions of other people can do the same heroic world saving. Computers still have a long way to go in making up a story. Bree Yark!

      • Re:Role Playing (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rpillala (583965) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:58PM (#28562043)

        This is interesting in that your friend apparently views the game differently from you. That is, WOW is a social venue with a game attached that gives you something to do with your friends. The friends are more important than the game. Blizz has taken pains to ensure accessibility for a large number of people. The system requirements are low, the interface is responsive, and the game itself is extremely easy. All this improves the network effect of the game.

        • Re:Role Playing (Score:5, Insightful)

          by david_thornley (598059) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @03:33PM (#28562781)

          There are different approaches to playing pencil-and-paper RPGs. Some people play socially, to be doing something with their friends. Some play to win, and will abuse the rules. Some like impromptu acting. Some like poking around in somebody else's imagination. None of these are inherently good or bad, but there's been plenty of conflict when people didn't realize that their colleagues were playing in a different style, or wanted something different out of the game.

          Any MMORG will do for social players, really. Actors probably will avoid computer RPGs. The tourists will be happier with a rich and detailed world. The rules lawyers will like a game with complicated rules and, preferably, a real goal (although they're perfectly happy setting their own).

          • by rpillala (583965)
            You're right of course. I intended in my post to describe WOW from the friend's point of view. A more complete discussion can be found in this piece [mud.co.uk] by Richard Bartle. Bartle describes four basic types of motivation that exist in multiplayer games, using MUDs as his example.
      • by Duradin (1261418)

        It's really a shame that after our party completed that really fun adventure module that all copies of it in existence spontaneously combusted and all electronic copies deleted themselves so that no one else could ever be the ones to save that village.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by vux984 (928602)

          It's really a shame that after our party completed that really fun adventure module that all copies of it in existence spontaneously combusted and all electronic copies deleted themselves so that no one else could ever be the ones to save that village.

          Not quite, but the adventure is over within the framework of the world you are playing.

          You aren't going to wander back to the village after rescueing the girl fom the infamous goblin captain grog -- whom you personally slew, separate from your companions, only

      • by mqduck (232646)

        Until we come up with sentient, human-like AIs, computer "role playing games" and pen-and-paper "role playing games" will be completely different genres.

        To me, the defining characteristic of pen-and-paper RPGs has always been the "anything's possibly because it's a game of human imagination", given structure by agreed-upon rules where necessary, part. And since that's precisely what computer "RPGs" don't have... I don't know. To me, equating the two has always seemed like one of the most ludicrous commonly-

    • by Em Emalb (452530) <ememalb@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:34PM (#28561647) Homepage Journal

      Yeah...they do.

      DM: You stand before the gates of Yoren.

      Gorack the Half-troll: I'm gonna roll to see if I can get hammered drunk at the tavern.

      DM: What? fine. Roll to see if you get drunk.

      Trantor the Barbarian: I'm gonna attack the gate guards!

      DM: Oh for fu....ok, fine. Roll to see your damage.

      Gorack: Yes! I'm hammered. I'm gonna feel up the tavern wench! Can I roll to see if I squeeze boob or butt?!?

      Spatula the Mage: I'm with Gorack!

      DM: *snaps* ROLL IT, THEN MORANS!

    • Real men role play with pencil and paper, or nothing at all.

      With a name like "sexconker" you should know that real men role play after a trip to the "adult" store. RAWR Catwoman, I am Batman! I'm going to grab you while you're on the litterbox... crap, I mean, nevermind.

      Anyway, role playing is about spicing up the ol' bedroom, not pretending you are grabbing your robe and wizard hat.

      • by Gilmoure (18428)

        I must be boring as I still think plain sex with a naked chick is fun. Never got the whole dressing up thing.

    • by Nathrael (1251426)
      No. *Real* men role play in bed.

      Joking aside, /signed. That does not mean CRPGs aren't enjoyable though - especially considering that your P&P group might not be available all the time ;) .
    • True enough!

      I wonder if there are any articles out there describing key aspects of different dice systems and why some are popular and others are not. For example, despite the statistical shittiness of d20, it's extremely popular. The epic-feel roll-and-keep of 7th Sea (and L5R) are less so.

      What are key things to keep in mind when designing a homebrew pen and paper system?

      Inquiring minds want to know...

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:23PM (#28561455)
    As a long time player of RPG's like the Gold Box series, I really miss the ability to to import characters from earlier games into later installments (mentioned several times in this article). I know there was some talk about Mass Effect 2 or some other RPG's maybe bringing this back. I wish they would. I hate having to recreate a new character in every sequel, when I really just want to play as my original character. Knights of the Old Republic 2 is a great example of a RPG that would have been so much better if you could have simply continued playing as the original Revan instead of some faceless new douchebag.
    • by 0racle (667029)
      I thought this was how Xenosaga should have worked. Episode 2 starts the second where Ep 1 ends, but suddenly you're all the way back to being completely weak and KOS-MOS can not learn the abilities she had in the first one.
    • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:46PM (#28561859) Journal

      In every RPG I've ever played you start out pretty weak and helpless, and work your way up to being an unstoppable demigod. Starting the next game out with god like powers is going to ruin a lot of the game.

      The only RPG I've really found character importation to be nice on was the Quest for Glory series. It helped that that series was mostly a point in click adventure game though, and being all powerful doesn't get you through the game alone.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DMUTPeregrine (612791)
        Neverwinter did things rather well though. You start at level 1, and in one of the expansions (Hordes of the Underdark) the level cap is raised from 20 to 40. You HAD godlike powers. But there are suddenly bigger, better gods around.

        Of course, that's power creep, and can be bad in multiplayer games: old players are forever greater than new players, and the newbies can't contribute.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by StickansT (1585125)
        You ever try playing WoW? i was what they call a Pre-BC raider, or I started playing the First WoW game before the 2 expansions came out. When i hit 60 and got my "God like powers" it was fun. then the first expansion came out. I was lvl 60 and had to hit 70. My "God like powers" only helped me out so much. I still felt pretty helpless with it came to fighting new monsters that were my level or above. So all in all Blizzard did a nice job of making me feel like i needed to hit 70 inorder to gain my "God lik
      • by sorak (246725)

        In every RPG I've ever played you start out pretty weak and helpless, and work your way up to being an unstoppable demigod. Starting the next game out with god like powers is going to ruin a lot of the game.

        The only RPG I've really found character importation to be nice on was the Quest for Glory series. It helped that that series was mostly a point in click adventure game though, and being all powerful doesn't get you through the game alone.

        It seemed to work pretty well in the original dot hack series, but that was because in each game, a new server would open up, with more powerful enemies.

      • by retchdog (1319261)

        Except then they just added (N-1)*100 to the requisite for each skill task. By QFG4, you couldn't climb a ragged stone wall without 350+ Climbing, and apparently gravity was multiplied by 3.

        And the mechanics of each game varied enough to completely change the effective of spells vs. long-range vs. melee. For example in QFG3 (only) you could throw almost a hundred rocks at a creature before it crossed a skareen-length, and spells were basically worthless. Then in QFG4, the "charged up" versions of spells in

      • In every RPG I've ever played you start out pretty weak and helpless, and work your way up to being an unstoppable demigod.

        But the power is relative. For example, if you start at level 1 in a D&D style game, sure, your one magic missile or leather armour sucks compared to what you get by the end of the game. But then just because you've got area effect spells and magically enhanced weapons by the end, that doesn't mean the sequel can't have bigger, badder bad guys who are tougher and/or in some way resistant to those attacks, such that you have to develop still more powerful tricks to beat them.

        The Baldur's Gate series made

    • by wjousts (1529427)

      The problem is that, as others have pointed out, at the end of most CRPG's your character has God-like abilities. So there are several options to make importing your character into the sequel work, none of which are particularly good:

      1. Make the sequel insanely hard so that either your God-like character from the first game has a hard time. This obviously ruins the game for people who didn't play the prequel
      2. Gimp you imported character (take away all their money, items and at least some stats) so they are abou
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ahem (174666)

        Seems like there's a middle ground where the designer could provide for a dual path experience. Create levels and challenges that can't be solved using the god-like tools developed in the previous installment. Newbies to the 2nd installment could play through and gain the tools they need along the way. Imports could play through and still be entertained by the challenges and gain new tools.

        I think it's limiting to assume that any uber-powerful skill can be applied to solve any kind of problem.

      • by Nathrael (1251426)
        Baldur's Gate 2 did it fairly well. You either imported your high-level char from BG1, or you started out with a lot of EXP when creating a new char.
      • by elrous0 (869638) *

        Actually, IIRC, many of the old games that used to allow it did it like this:

        4. Allow you to keep your level 30, super badass character and scale up the games with new (much tougher) enemies, new spells/skills to acquire, etc. This is similar to #1, but to allow newbie to come in, it allows a new player to create a new character who is the equivalent of a level 30 badass from the first game.

        That way, whether you're a veteran who wants to keep his old character or a newbie to the franchise, you can both g

        • by wjousts (1529427)

          Yes, this is true, Baldur's Gate II did this as somebody else already pointed out, but I still think the newbie misses out on part of the experience because of this. When they start the game and have to assign 30 levels worth of points right off the bat, it leaves them a bit lost. Part of the fun is starting at the very beginning and learning what various stats, skills and spells mean, slowly, as you grow.

          I also remember the old later entries in the Bard's tale series had "starter" dungeons for newbies, but

      • One way around this is with proper design, If your "powers" are dependent on something besides time to recharge then you can limit the availability of that substance in the sequel. For instance if it takes 300 jubu rocks to cast the "death to everyone within 5.5 miles" spell then simply limit the number of jubu rocks. The new powers, that you must learn because jubu rocks are suddenly so scarce, are based on turdo rocks which are far more common.

        You can do the same thing with weapons by limiting the ammunit

      • Here's an idea - not sure if anyone's tried it out (it's sort of a hybrid approach). . .

        1) Have your imported character gimped a little bit (say drop from level X to level X/2 or something - still pretty powerful though). You could explain this as a result of any number of things - from simple inactivity (not been any crises for a few years, so the character got out of shape), or an illness, accident, or some other trauma, or perhaps a result of a magical curse from an enemy or angry god.

        Coupled with:

        2) All

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by xouumalperxe (815707)

        Or, perhaps, do what the oh-so-clever people at SSI did, don't give players god-like powers, and pick up where the game left off. Unthinkable, huh?

        Dungeons and Dragons, played "by the book", doesn't really give you enough XP to get to level 20 in the course of the typical CRPG. Given the extension of Neverwinter Nights, you'd probably be like level 10 at the end, tops. So what they did with the Gold Box games is that the first game in the series is the low level adventure that leaves you at like level 5-6,

  • Not just RPGs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nakor BlueRider (1504491) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:26PM (#28561507)

    This is pretty true of gaming in general these days. Many old games had the threat of failure (take a look at the list of challenging NES games), and you'd have to start over. Some old greats simply got harder until they beat youâ"like Tetris for example. Now of course it's a foregone conclusion that the end user will eventually win simply by persisting long enough.

    It's not nearly on the same scale as Nethack versus modern RPGs of course, but the drop in difficulty is certainly not limited to the RPG genre.

    I have to wonder if the shift toward online multiplayer (such as in the FPS genre) is at least in some small part due to people wanting to find the difficulty and challenge that no longer exists in most single-player games.

    • Re:Not just RPGs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:36PM (#28561679)
      Well, its an issue of balancing "i want a challenge" with "fuck this, i quit". Back when I was 8 years old I had more patience for games like Final Fantasy, where I could enter a dungeon, spend 2 hours getting to the end, killing the boss, then get killed on my way out. I probably spent 15 hours on the marsh cave when I was a kid. But I'lll be damned if I'm going to go through that at age 26. If I can't have a save point in the dungeon, I'm not going to waste my time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vux984 (928602)

      I have to wonder if the shift toward online multiplayer (such as in the FPS genre) is at least in some small part due to people wanting to find the difficulty and challenge that no longer exists in most single-player games.

      Maybe. But they aren't finding it. FPS Multiplayer games aren't hard. They are short, simple, incredibly repetitive, and there are no real consequences.

      MMORPG competitive multiplayer for the most part isn't any better. The consequences are minimal with a few notable exceptions.

      And even on

  • Disagree strongly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:26PM (#28561509) Homepage Journal
    I disagree about nethack not having grind because it has permadeath. Permadeath in Nethack is the primary reason the game is almost entirely grind. If you ever find yourself in a situation where death is close, you are playing wrong, in order to succeed in Nethack (or any roguelike for that matter), you have to play conservatively, beating up on things that pose no threat to you while escaping anything that might pose a challenge. Even if you can beat a challenging monster 95% of the time, eventually that 5% will catch up to you and all of your progress will be erased by a small handful of bad rolls. This is why only obsessives play Nethack, nobody else has the patience to grind their way up to the godlike levels required to survive the games final challenges.

    From the writeup, it sounds like the author is one of the players who never makes it past the mid teens, because he constantly takes risks with his character and will inevitably lose.
    • by batquux (323697) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:45PM (#28561835)

      From the writeup, it sounds like the author is one of the players who never makes it past the mid teens, because he constantly takes risks with his character and will inevitably lose.

      But apparently has fun doing it that way. If the way you play takes the fun out of it, maybe you're the one doing it wrong. Now, a good game isn't so impossibly difficult that the only way to succeed is grinding but isn't so watered down that everything feels like a grind.

      • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday July 02, 2009 @03:44PM (#28562999) Homepage Journal
        It may be fun (for awhile), but he's only playing the first 10% of the game over and over again. The rest of the game may as well not exist if you design it that way.

        IMHO, probably the best compromise between the two is the often hated "checkpoint" system, where you can only save a set intervals. Sure this means that if you work at it long enough, you can beat the game even with "bad" playing, but it also means you can reasonably take risks and actually have fun instead of tediously grinding your way to godhood.

        For a Roguelike, this could be implemented as an autosave every time you go down a level, with death resulting in a restart at the beginning of the level. Sure it will take the "challenge" out of picking up random potions of Blindness or Weakness and having to drink them because there's no good way to identify them otherwise (scrolls of identify being considerably more rare than the random potions you will pick up), but that is not exactly a loss that I would mourn.

        I know people will argue that "but if you beat the game you won't feel the need to play it anymore!", but to be honest after a few bullcrap deaths in most Roguelikes, I don't feel like playing them anymore anyway. I'd wager that 90+% of the people who have ever played Nethack have never seen more than the first dozen levels or so, and have not played it nearly as long as a traditional RPG.
        • by batquux (323697)

          It may be fun (for awhile), but he's only playing the first 10% of the game over and over again.

          This is a good point. It seems a lot of it is up to the player. The best thing a game creator can do then, is make the game flexible for different playing styles without forcing the player down too narrow a path. It still comes down to a balancing act to make it a challenge but not tedious. A game should let you get away with a little 'bad' playing without actually rewarding it as long as you don't do anything totally stupid. I think that helps with the immersion factor by letting you choose what you would

        • Amen. Whatever features and complexity Nethack promised were completely lost on me as I spent:

          - One hour trying to understand the controls.
          - Two hours floundering around the first few levels, trying to find an exit
          - Ten minutes actually fighting enemies and doing stuff
          - Five minutes unsuccessfully trying to find a way not to die of thirst.

          Then the game wipes your save file and throws you back to the beginning. Fuck that. I'm off to play a game that doesn't deliberately try to waste my time. I'm not 14 years

    • If you ever find yourself in a situation where death is close, you are playing wrong

      Perhaps it's you who is playing wrong. Sure I die a lot in rogue-like games, but at least I'm having fun while doing it.

    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:53PM (#28561965) Journal
      Play ADOM.

      Grinding too long will kill you via corruption. It's advance in the game or have no chance at success. There are also level limits on some of the quests that, while not mandatory, are pretty much necessary for the special endings (and for certain classes, very much necessary for a regular ascension).

      There is also the fact that the more time you spend on a level, the more likely it is for an out-of-depth monster to come and kick your ass.

      In short... try ADOM. It's definitely a roguelike, but is different enough from a lot of other roguelikes that the gameplay is, IMO, much better.
      • by smaddox (928261)

        You should check out Dungeon Crawl. It is open source and actively developed. There are a couple of servers for online play, too. It is far more fun than Nethack. I haven't tried ADOM, but I've heard there are some really bad bugs in the last version (it is closed source).

        • I've played dungeon crawl... and in my opinion it wasn't as fun as nethack. But then again, I haven't played nethack in years, so I'm not sure how I'd rate the fun-ness now.
    • Re:Disagree strongly (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Hatta (162192) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:55PM (#28561995) Journal

      I disagree with your disagreement. The key characteristic of grind is tedium. Even when you're playing conservatively, there are lots of options no how to proceed. It takes thought, you're not just doing the same thing over and over the way you would in Phantasy Star. The only time I ever felt like I was grinding in Nethack was when I just needed one or two pieces to complete my ascension kit, and had to find the right monster to drop the right items.

    • Nethack is a winner (Score:4, Interesting)

      by us7892 (655683) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @03:06PM (#28562191) Homepage
      You must be under 25. Nethack requires an imagination. Check out this description of Nethack, and a story of one persons ascention with the Amulet, http://garote.bdmonkeys.net/nethack/index.html [bdmonkeys.net]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by pthisis (27352)

      If you ever find yourself in a situation where death is close, you are playing wrong, in order to succeed in Nethack (or any roguelike for that matter), you have to play conservatively, beating up on things that pose no threat to you while escaping anything that might pose a challenge. Even if you can beat a challenging monster 95% of the time, eventually that 5% will catch up to you and all of your progress will be erased by a small handful of bad rolls. This is why only obsessives play Nethack, nobody els

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by StellarFury (1058280)

        Sure, you're not having traditional "grinding" behavior in the game, but you are grinding the game.

        Six ascensions in a row? Yikes. For all outward appearances, you're grinding NetHack in real life for bragging rights. I mean, I guess for you that might be fun, but I guarantee your experience is not the norm. NetHack, to 95% of the people who play it, is a cruel, exacting master. Most people don't want hyper-realism in a game, they want what they can't get in life: realism plus some degree of player control

        • by pthisis (27352)

          Six ascensions in a row? Yikes. For all outward appearances, you're grinding NetHack in real life for bragging rights

          That was in tournament play--it didn't even make the top 3 list for the tournament. It puts me in sort of medium-beginner level for tournament players, a long way away from bragging rights--the top players have streaks in the 20-30 games range, with multiple conducts, extremely low scores, and other really tough facets.

          Nethack is an odd game, learning-curve wise. After you put in 10 years o

  • Not exactly revolutionary but this is a great description of the game mechanics involved in playing to the casual audience. Like it or not any game that wants widespread adoption will not be targeting the hardcore players more willing to reroll when they fail. It's too bad really since those games were far more entertaining than end-game World of Warcraft is today.

    Another good reason for games to reward players for their time is that it requires far less testing. if your Cow kills my level 99 Amazon beca

  • how about... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by greymond (539980) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:36PM (#28561691) Homepage Journal

    we just give up on mmo's and micro transaction based flash games and go back to some good old Tabletop Gaming with friends that uses our brains and some funny looking dice - if you really need a computer, there are excel characters sheets and virtual dice that will run on any platform?

    http://www.rpgnow.com/ [rpgnow.com]

    http://www.yourgamesnow.com/ [yourgamesnow.com]

    http://www.paizo.com/ [paizo.com]

    http://e23.sjgames.com/ [sjgames.com]

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:39PM (#28561733)

    Of the rpg's I've played in recent years, the ones that were the most tedious were the ones lacking in good stories. It makes the entire play experience feel like a chore.

    If bad storytelling is the first sin, then the second has to be needless complication. Oblivion is the prettiest rpg I have ever seen but the leveling mechanics were atrocious.

    The whole bit about having numerical stats and assigning points is a holdover from pencil and paper gaming. I think they should just ditch the idea of leveling. If you just make it equipment-based, you start out with crappy loot and get better loot the further you go. Better loot means you can take on bigger tasks. If you insist on having personal stats that advance independently of the equipment, then just make it be a linear progression based on the amount of time spent doing stuff. You use melee weapons a lot, your melee skill grows. You use the bow, that grows. But if you don't use staff weapons, then that stat never progresses.

    What absolutely must be avoided at all cost is making the player feel like he has to consult a guidebook on how to play the game. When you have to think about how to play rather than simply play, all immersion is ruined.

    • If you insist on having personal stats that advance independently of the equipment, then just make it be a linear progression based on the amount of time spent doing stuff. You use melee weapons a lot, your melee skill grows. You use the bow, that grows. But if you don't use staff weapons, then that stat never progresses.

      Never played Dungeon Siege, eh?
    • by Knave75 (894961)

      What absolutely must be avoided at all cost is making the player feel like he has to consult a guidebook on how to play the game. When you have to think about how to play rather than simply play, all immersion is ruined.

      That is certainly your preference when it comes to games. However, as a counterexample, I love the fiddly numbers in most games. In Starcraft, I had memorized the cooldown times, range, damage, etc. of every single unit. I could have run simulation battles on pen and paper... and I sometimes did. In Kingdom of Loathing (an MMORPG) I was part of a group that spent time working out the exact stats of every monster and the hit/miss percentages.

      To me, numbers are fun, to you they are not. Yeah, you can

    • by _xeno_ (155264) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @04:05PM (#28563383) Homepage Journal

      If you insist on having personal stats that advance independently of the equipment, then just make it be a linear progression based on the amount of time spent doing stuff. You use melee weapons a lot, your melee skill grows. You use the bow, that grows. But if you don't use staff weapons, then that stat never progresses.

      They tried that in Final Fantasy II. (I don't need to add the "J" any more, do I? Everyone knows FFII as the NES game by now, not the US release of FFIV, right?) It sucked.

      The problem is that it takes mindless grinding from "grinding to raise every stat" to "grinding to raise a single stat." So in that game you'd find yourself wandering around getting attacked, ignoring the enemies, and then fighting amongst yourself to boost HP and weapon skills to the point where the enemies in the next area wouldn't kill you. It also meant that you could easily gain useless equipment. (Great, I've got the Staff of Pwning, and everyone is Level 1 Staves.)

      The whole bit about having numerical stats and assigning points is a holdover from pencil and paper gaming.

      (There's no rule about responding in order, is there? Er, anyway...) I disagree. The numerical stats and assigning points are done in computer RPGs because the run on computers. A computer is good at handling numbers. When you get right down to it, every computer game has these numerical stats. For example, in an FPS, each weapon has a different damage stat and enemies have different health and armor stats. The player might not see the stats, but ultimately, every computer simulation basically handles things using numerical stats.

      What I would agree with is having "large jumps" in power levels is a hold over from pen and pencil days. There's a reason that the level cap in WoW is 80 and the level cap in D&D is 20. (I think?) In WoW, the computer can easily handle the larger range in values, where a human with pencil and paper would easily get bogged down if they had to keep track of everything.

      I think they should just ditch the idea of leveling. If you just make it equipment-based, you start out with crappy loot and get better loot the further you go. Better loot means you can take on bigger tasks.

      The problem with that comes when combined with:

      What absolutely must be avoided at all cost is making the player feel like he has to consult a guidebook on how to play the game.

      Leveling allows a player to adjust difficulty within the game. If you absolutely suck at the game, you can grind until you get higher stats and reduce the challenges to the point where you can handle them.

      If you tie advancement to equipment, if the player sucks at the game, they're either SOL because they can never gain more power until they overcome the current challenge, or they have to look into a guidebook to discover which pixel the Staff of Pwning is hidden under.

      Otherwise, I agree - you shouldn't need a guidebook to be able to generally play the game. The game mechanics should be easy enough that you don't need to worry about permanently screwing up your character. Good PC applications have an "Undo" button for a reason - the user/player should not be punished for experimenting. ("Save repeatedly" isn't acceptable for a PC application, it shouldn't be for a game, either.)

      But computer games are always going to have stats, and allowing grinding to advance turns out to make the games more accessible to a wider range of skill levels. The best players can blaze through at low levels, while the worst can slowly slog along.

  • by wandazulu (265281) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @02:40PM (#28561753)

    NetHack still has more game awesomeness than any other game I've ever played. Not only are you potentially one cockatrice away from death, but the levels are randomly built and stocked (never the same game twice) and there are a lot of them. The game has many levels that are fixed (castle, town, etc.) but even there what you will encounter is a total crap shoot; the game even takes into consideration the phases of the moon and adjusts your "luck" accordingly (sacrifices don't give you anything, etc.). It has something of a story arc; you are definitely not the same character by the time you've "ascended" and the puzzles and challenges fit accordingly to where you are in the story. Throw in an amazingly deep set of game rules, more items than you know what to do with (though you'll want to cache them on some levels 'cause you're gonna need them coming back up), more characters and monsters than in the D&D MM, and the ability to play it on every computer/operating system in existence.

    In short, if you don't mind that it doesn't have multiplayer or graphics that require OpenGL or DirectX, it's the perfect RPG. But as a college freshman who discovered it on a VT100 in the library, I can easily say it's the game I've played the most over the years, bar none. And I've never played the same game twice. And, to my eternal frustration, I've never ascended (got as far as the plain of water, though!).

    • by Boronx (228853)

      Try Linley's Crawl, or the latest, Crawl Stone Soup, the first roguelike I've found that's more fun than Nethack.

  • If you're only looking at EQ/WoW/LoR/etc. then this is all true.
    They are made to have very limited pvp and limited chance of death or failure.

    But there is an entire genre of MMORPGs devoted to PvP and getting that adrenaline rush from the risk of "sudden catastrophic failure".

    For examples, check out www.darkfallonline.com, www.moralonline.com, and www.pker.org for more info.

  • The Plot

    1) A young naive protagonist who is resourceful and scrappy but not particularly strong.
    2) gets caught up in a fight against an evil (organization, company, religion, empire, conspiracy)
    3) requiring him to leave his small village
    4) and gradually explore parts of the world on a linear path
    5) until he eventually gets free roaming of the entire world
    6) and eventually goes to visit outer space or time shift
    7) on the way to fight the proto enemy, who turns out not be the real enemy
    8) and eventually reach

    • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @03:21PM (#28562485) Journal

      1) A young naive protagonist who is resourceful and scrappy but not particularly strong.
      2) gets caught up in a fight against an evil (organization, company, religion, empire, conspiracy)
      3) requiring him to leave his small village
      4) and gradually explore parts of the world on a linear path
      5) until he eventually gets free roaming of the entire world
      6) and eventually goes to visit outer space or time shift
      7) on the way to fight the proto enemy, who turns out not be the real enemy
      8) and eventually reaches the real, final enemy

      What you just described there is referred to by mythologists as the Hero's Journey [wikipedia.org] and can be found in everything from Gilgamesh to Star Wars.

      • the young naive protagnoist is usually not naive or weak. In fact, the protagonist is often portrayed as strong, cocky, and sometimes needs the wisdom of a counterpart (usually a woman) to temper his ego to help him complete his goal.

        see - Indiana Jones, Top Gun, (most any Tom Cruise movie), Conan, Star Trek, Tarzan, etc.

  • To paraphrase a certain master swordsman, "You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means."

    Even in Nethack all you risk is time. Eventually you'll progress. Might take starting over entirely but that's just another version of starting over from the last save. In any case, the reward for risking your time is progression of the game/story.

    • The risk of having to start over entirely is a much greater risk than the risk of having to re-load. Greater risk translates into greater feelings of excitement. This is why I never play Diablo 2 without a hardcore character (one life only).
  • by jt418-93 (450715) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @03:02PM (#28562115)

    this is also why there are no more janes type sims. no one is willing to spend a week learning how to work the controls just so they can take off and not blow up.... (mig alley im looking at you).
    i LOVED janes games. longbow, f15, f/a18. excellent gameplay, good replay, tough to learn in sim mode.

    the only hardcore game like that left i know of is ww2online [wwiionline.com]

  • Just wait till Homeland Security finds out about this Rocket Propelled Grenade manual.

    You can expect a knock on the door, and Slash dot is going to to FISA court.

  • by joocemann (1273720) on Thursday July 02, 2009 @03:56PM (#28563217)

    I think the difference being mentioned between nethack and 'grinding' is probably that (and nethack excluded) most games are simply too damn easy nowadays.

    I know by being a gamer since 88' or so I must have a lot more developed skills and such --- but -- really... I put games on the hardest levels and almost never die or 'restart' or whatever the form of LOSS is that happens in games.

    Games are just too damn easy. Mario for NES was hard and took work. Anyone remember Abadox? Or Battletoads? Most games were much harder.

    But at present, games have all these things to tell you exactly where to go, a million places to save (if not at any damn point), and a hundred other incentives to basically always keep you going. And then, without the challenge, people are just not as excited by games and in this case, the work of the game in many RPGs has simply been reduced to a 'grind'.

    On the new Prince of Persia, you can't make the mistake of falling off a cliff... some magic chick comes and pulls you up EVERY SINGLE TIME. YOU CAN"T LOSE! To me, that's boring.

    I'm guessing somewhere in the business/marketing/sales department, richer gaming companies have figured out that permitting noobs to continually succeed generates more sales... Who knows... That has basically been my assumption as I've seen game sales climb while the net difficulty dropping significantly...

    I guess my point is that easiness/laziness seems to sell more games, and even if it gets boring, it probably outsells equivalent games that carry challenge and accomplishment. Hell, much of the reason of the MMORPG is to fulfill the lack of accomplishment in our mediocre reality by becoming doctors and architects with only a week's worth of effort... We grind through university, quickly forgetting why we took ethics and US History --- and all the important material we were required to learn. .................

    Anyway.. Games are too damn easy now. I just read some article where nintendo is setting up to actually put the game on auto-pilot and have it play FOR you. .... :/ (no comment). It would be nice to be challenged/pushed. Many of us are begging for it, but multiplayer competition is pretty much the only place where we can find it. Game Dev's themselves are pandering to the weak for quick cash -- no wonder the real work is being generated in competition communities.

    • by Jestrzcap (46989)

      Two things:

      1) People have fun in different ways. From your post it seems like you have fun by over coming the challenge of having to have sharp split second response times (mario, prince of persia). Some people don't enjoy that, and despise having to play the same 2 minutes of a level over and over until they can do it in their sleep. Some people just like being an active participant in the story and action. Some people like to have to come up with a winning strategy. Some people like to find-the-pixel

    • Maybe you need to take on something more challenging than gaming, like creating a game that will be a challenge to experts and still sell enough copies to justify the effort. Or is that to much challenge?

      20 years ago the "challenge" that most games offered was basically rote learning. BS tricks like insta-kills that you could never possibly anticipate the first time you saw them. Oh and forcing you to start from square one over and over again.

      I'm glad that game designers have mostly abandoned that crap.

      • there is nothing stopping you from hitting the reset button when you fall off a cliff

        Nothing besides classical pavlovian conditioning. He wants to win the game and he just can't help pulling that "win the game" lever if it is there. Or, in this case, he can't help not pulling the "lose the game" lever that is there.

    • If you can beat either of those 2 games on the hardest difficulty on the first play through without dying repeatedly, I'll suck your dick.
      • OMG those were hard.

        Now... the ultimate.....

        Fester's Adventure!

        1 hit.. 1 life... you die.. game starts over.. That was actually the whole selling point of the game on commercials, I remember. LMFAO. WTF!

        You won't be blowing me anytime soon.

    • Finish Devil May Cry 4, or better yet 3, then come back to me.

    • by Talgrath (1061686)

      Maybe not everyone wants to spend two hours getting past one level, or having to restart the entire game if you die once; or dying, not because you made some sort of tactical mistake or miscalculation, but because the game randomly threw an impossible task at you. It's also worth mentioning at the same time that game controls have gotten more responsive and agile comapred to the old days; so maybe part of it (at least with reflex-based games) is that we are working with better equipment. I know that I pla

  • by Toonol (1057698)
    ...this, in a nutshell, is the type of play that has brought us grind, where the journey is simple and boring and the destination is something to be raced to. Nethack and many other roguelikes do feature experience gain, but it doesn't feel like grind.

    Sounds like an attempt to prove "the game I like is OBJECTIVELY BETTER than the game you like." The other RPGs must be doing SOMETHING right, since they are far more popular with a much wider audience. Nethack is great, but it is not the sole pinnacle of
  • I recently completed Chrono Trigger on the Nintendo DS, which I haven't done since it's SNES days. I didn't read the article, so I don't know how this game was classified. I realized on my second play through how perfect this game is. At no point do you really need to grind to succeed, equipment went a long way but was never really critical, and the story still knocked my socks off the second time through. After completing it, I realized I had just experienced pure fun. IMHO, if an RPG doesn't have all the
  • This seems like a good an opportunity as any to ask this question (prepares a curse on those who would mod me 'Offtopic')...

    So, I've never played Nethack (I know, I know, negative a million geek points). So let's say I want to give it a try, to at least experience it. And let's say I don't care about nostalgia and am entirely open to pretty graphics and ease-of-use. What manifestation of Nethack would you recommend (for a computer running GNU/Linux)?

    • Dungeon Crawl is a rougelike game similar to Nethack, and includes a version with pretty graphics and easy-to-use features (the "tiled" version). Be warned, however, you WILL die within 5 minutes of starting your first game. http://crawl-ref.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]
  • This article seems to have quite a bias towards "western" computer role-playing games (even the naming, CRPG vs JRPG, makes this obvious).
    The quality of the comments for JPRGs is much poorer, and it really feels like the WRPGs are more noble in the eyes of the author, even though these days it's a real struggle finding a decent WRPG while there are very good JRPGs everywhere (which are actually challenging and well-balanced, unlike most western ones, and contain much more content), which have also much more

    • by Talgrath (1061686)

      I do agree that the author seems entirely too focused on Western RPGs; I love both genres but he simply seems entirely biased against JRPGs, he also seems to have a bias against modern WRPGs. Don't get me wrong, the older WRPGs are great and worth mentioning, but he fails to mention anything more modern from WRPGs than Baldur's Gate aside from WoW. What about Neverwinter Nights which revolutionized how we look at the modern WRPG? Diablo? Mass Effect? The Witcher? All of these could easily be mentioned

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