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RPG Codex - Articles On Video Game Design 309

chadeo writes "Ok all you arm chair game developers, listen up. Over at RPG Codex there are currently 4 articles, written by professionals in the industry, on RPG design. There is A Christmas lesson in CRPG design by Timothy Cain, Thoughts on RPG development by Leon Boyarsky, Hand of Gosh Darn Good Design by Chris Taylor, and Treatise on Combat to Pink Floyd by Gareth Davies. All of them are a great read, and you can join in the discussion with the authors and see how your ideas stack up. What do you think is the key to a great RPG?"
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RPG Codex - Articles On Video Game Design

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  • Common sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by anarchima ( 585853 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:23PM (#4865091) Homepage
    Most of the things these authors wrote about is common sense. Anyone who has played a few RPGs over the years will know this stuff. Not worth the read. Sorry to sound like such a pessimist/cynic/whatever...
  • by Mendax Veritas ( 100454 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:23PM (#4865095) Homepage
    Lots of blood, babes with big tits wearing skimpy leather outfits, and lot of stuff stolen from Tolkien. Just the thing for the adolescent male with no imagination and even less knowledge of world literature.
  • solid engine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mao che minh ( 611166 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:27PM (#4865139) Journal
    I don't think that visual offerings mean much in a RPG. You also don't have to rely on truly open ended gameplay if the story line is strong and the basic gameplay offers a variety of styles and characters. Just look at Black Isle's "Baldur's Gate" game engine. Ice Wind Dale 2, which uses this engine, is about as linear as they come and looks like it came from 1997, yet, you are able to play an extremely wide variety of characters in numerous combinations successfully. You don't have to rely on the classic "fighter, cleric, thief, wizard" team.

    And of course, multiplayer options immediately add a needed dimension in today's broadband world.

  • The KEY! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by russianspy ( 523929 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:28PM (#4865154)
    How about a detailed world that is actually interesting? A story that allows you to explore that world. And massive amounts of background info for people who enjoy that stuff.
  • by wondafucka ( 621502 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:31PM (#4865186) Homepage Journal
    RPG's need something that has very rarely been done: Role Playing. Less focus should be spent on combat, aquiring weapons and armor, and hit point management. Recent developments in user moded rpgs should start to let the plot, dialog, and interactivity of games shine over the same old same old. Big game houses are currently focu$ed on making a product ship with success. Small, part-time mod creators just want to make someone happy. [] A little corner of the net I call home.
  • Ah, I guess I am.

    Yes, Fallout was a neat game, but it's bordering on sacrilege to compare it to classics that Square has produced. Is anyone going to notice Fallout's impact on the gaming scene five years from now? Are they even noticing it now?

  • by Hamlet D'Arcy ( 316713 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:33PM (#4865209) Homepage
    WHat make's an RPG for me is a large variety of cool weapons and a good leveling and advancement system.

    A variety of weapons doesn't mean 12 different types of swords (a la Neverwinter), but different weapons with different ranges and specialities (more like Fallout).

    As for leveling... after I hit level 20 in Neverwinter I quit playing. It wasn't the story that drove me to play, but the possibility of becoming more powerful and getting new spells.

    Anyway, both NWN and Fallout were great games in their own respects.

  • Plot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:34PM (#4865211) Homepage Journal
    An RPG is just like a movie, only there is player interaction. A lot of people play RPGs to level up, get the best items, big spells, etc. I just play to advance the plot.

    Basically RPGs don't have to do much to be good, they just have to have an interesting involving story that keeps me interested. However, there are a lot of things an RPG has to NOT do in order to not suck.

    First it has to not every make it incredibly difficult and stupidly annoying to advance the plot. Imagine watching a movie and halfway through you have to jump through hoops to see the rest. That's torture, not fun. Not to say that the whole game has to be a piece of cake. But if it is difficult to the point of frustration something is wrong.

    Second, it can't be incredibly short. I mean longer doesn't necessarily equal better. But on average RPGs that you can beat in a couple days often suck and RPGs that take a while are often much better.

    Probably the most important thing to an RPG is direction. I want to be told where the next plot is. Sure making decisions is good, and multiple endings a la chrono trigger is even better. But I don't ever want to be in a situation where I don't know where to go or what to do in order to advance the plot.

    The most important thing for an RPG to have (this is a pet peeve of mine) is short sweet and rare combat. I can't stand those games where you walk two steps and then are forced to fight horrible monsters in a 10 minute battle. And then repeat the process 100 times before getting to the next town. Combat should be rare and quick. It doesn't have to be easy, but I want to either win or lose in about 30-45 seconds tops.

    Candidates for best RPG ever?

    Chrono Trigger
    Golden Sun
    Dragon Quest (Warrior)
    Secret of Mana
    Any Zelda Game
    Ack! Too many to name!
  • Re:Common sense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kin_korn_karn ( 466864 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:42PM (#4865292) Homepage
    Coders don't write games. They just implement the rules in a PC format. (that may be the only implementation - whatever) The true writers of games are the guys that wrote the articles. Being a coder ain't shit.
  • A good escape... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kakos ( 610660 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:42PM (#4865301)
    The key to a good RPG is that it is a good escape. I play RPGs to escape the boring monotony of real life and get a glimpse into some other world. This is one reason why MMORPGs are so addictive. From a story point of view, they suck. You sit around and kill things all day. What is so attractive about them is that you have real people to talk with. It makes it a sort of world outside of this world. And that is what a lot of people are ultimately looking for. They are looking for a world to escape to when the real world seems too burdensome.
  • A great story (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Palshife ( 60519 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:46PM (#4865333) Homepage
    I think I enjoyed Final Fantasy VII mostly because the story was the most emphasized part. A good story offers emotional connection to the characters and the situations. In the end, it makes you more prone to play your character with actual zeal, not just go through the motions to trigger the cutscenes.

    A great RPG should have me saying "I'm gonna kill that bastard," after he offs one of the main characters. My mood should be affected by the plot.
  • One word: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Wraithlyn ( 133796 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @04:57PM (#4865442)
  • Re:Plot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AT ( 21754 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:00PM (#4865474)
    Advancing the plot is nice, as long as the game doesn't force you into a linear, predermined path. Open-endedness makes games so much more immersive.

    You forgot to include Ultima 7, clearly a candidate for the best ever. Or any of the Ultimas, except maybe 8 & 9.
  • by zapfie ( 560589 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:03PM (#4865504)
    Who says you have to walk the genre line? Trying to create a game (RPG, in this instance) by just re-hashing everything typical about the genre is sure to get you a boring game. Some of the best games take things from all genres. Deus Ex, for example. Personally, I like to see people design games without trying to fit them into a certain predefined genre... why artificially hold your creativity back?
  • Atmosphere (Score:2, Insightful)

    by name_already_in_use ( 604991 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:04PM (#4865509) Homepage
    Of all the RPGs I have played there is one outstanding feature that sticks in my mind and which all good RPGs MUST have, IMHO, to be enjoyable: atmosphere.

    Obviously factors such as story, reasonable graphics, etc are all important but that is the case for any of type of game. What matters is how these elements interact with each other to product the overall atmosphere of teh game. ake the Bladerunner rpg for example and Nintendo's Zelda series - both are really immersive games due to the continuity and great sense of escapism produced by the games' ambience.
  • by YahoKa ( 577942 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:05PM (#4865516)
    is a cult following.
  • My wish list (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cu ( 75342 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:12PM (#4865574) Homepage

    The aspect which I most crave is obscured player stats. If you hide the numbers, most people would stop obsessing over them.

    Get rid of explicit classes. Classes should be implied by action. If you don't act your class, you become something else.

    The story needs to be flexible. Certain possibilities in the game should disappear after a set period, and no one should feel bad about it. There shouldn't be a static world. Instead, you should have a room full of people working on a constantly evolving world that takes into account the actions of players.

    Allow regions to be depopulated of monsters.

    Design for characters to interact. Remember MUDs.

  • by Zenithal ( 115213 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:16PM (#4865609) Homepage
    A few people here are posting lists of good RPG's. I thought I'd add my 'me too' to the topic. The best RPG in years HAS to be Fallout and Fallout II.

    Both games were huge, both games had good scripting and voice acting. Both games had acceptable graphics. In neither was the player left confused and directionless. The worlds had more than enough items/armor/weapons to keep the collector and rule-lawer busy. Player types could be widely diverse thanks to perks and primary skills. Virtually all problems could be solved in many different ways, usually a violent and non-violent way to take care of the slayer AND the scientist players. Karma had an actual affect and completely changed the way you had to interact with NPC's. Evil players were treated as evil characters, something missing from virtually all RPG's.

    Even the subquests weren't always all available to all player types. Higher perception characters would realize when someone was upset vs. higher intelligence characters finding obscure information in computer archives.

    I've played each literally 6 or 7 times to completion and I STILL find new subquests. And I'm anal about looking for them.

    I honestly think the best RPG you're going to find with current technology / rule systems would be a mix of the psudo-realtime combat system and art from BOS and the storyline and game style of the original Fallouts.
  • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:17PM (#4865625) Journal

    'nuff said.
  • by sindarin7 ( 633369 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:34PM (#4865808)
    RPGs always have been and always will rely upon the storytelling as the most important element in the game. RPGs, unlike many other genres, have the storylines that give you the gut wrenching hatred when one of your comrades is killed, and an overwhelming feeling of success after you have conquered an RPG after 50 hours of gameplay. Don't get me wrong, I love other genres, but the RPG represents the creative genius in the world of game developement.
  • Uhm, no. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Inoshiro ( 71693 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:39PM (#4865873) Homepage
    Your beef is not with random battles; rather, you seem to not enjoy poorly done random battles. I'm sure everyone can agree that poorly done random battles do indeed suck. You may enjoy FF Mystic-Quest style fights, where you walk up to each monster, but the drawbacks in terms of character development are rather severe.

    Random battles, when done properly, happen to allow you to go around from point A to point B without being very predictable in terms of fights, while allowing fun character leveling! If done well, you won't meet monsters too often or not often enough, and the groups of monsters will be varied.

    How do random battles give flexibitily? Since each monster need not to placed on a map, you have less forshadowing (except for boss creatures) -- this allows more time spent on map design. You also don't you have the rigid growth structure of pre-planned battles; look at the Enix RPG Illusion of Gaia -- unless you miss secrets, you will always play through the game in exactly the same way because of the battle system. Every upgrade you get has a defined ceiling, which requires you play in the same way to get them all. Boring.

  • Re:Common sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kin_korn_karn ( 466864 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:55PM (#4866033) Homepage
    well, ok, to be fair, game designers usually start out as coders, and there's a certain correlation between the strict logic of programming and the rules of a game. But in today's world, you have hotshot designers (Chris Taylor, Warren Spector, Sid Meier) that design or conceptualize a game, and they document it and give it to a producer to implement. Strictly idea men. Most of them earned their way to that level. But they're not coding anymore.
  • Re:Common sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kreyg ( 103130 ) <> on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @05:56PM (#4866045) Homepage
    Actually, teams make games, each person contributing something of value to the best of their ability. A few people make high-level decisions and then get glamorized in the press as being "the" person who created the game.

    Did you have a bad experience in game development or something?
  • Re:MMORPG (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ashultz ( 141393 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @06:06PM (#4866133)

    Having tried a couple of MMORPGs, I can't see where this comes from. They're like normal RPGs but with the story mostly removed and replaced with an endless stream of asking people how to complete your quests to go to the next level and get more skill points.

    They're more like Diablo than like Arcanum.
  • by Violet Null ( 452694 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @06:12PM (#4866191)
    And when I see people on the street I should be seeing them because they are on their way somewhere, not because they are handing out the same mission over and over again.

    So, that would be almost entirely unlike Grand Theft Auto, then?

    "Well, hrmm. Let's see. Assassinated the Triad's leaders. Blew up their factory. Killed...well, golly, about two thousand of them now. Yet there are still an infinite number of them waiting to chase me."

    Or, better yet, Grand Theft Auto's missions. Nothing says realism like taking on a mission, dying (or being busted), and then being given the same mission again. "Exchange", for example. Waste a couple dozen Colombians, blow up the OL Barracks, but get wasted by the helicopter...yet, Catalina's still waiting at the mission to take your money (again) and you're still foolish enough to not go in with guns blazes (again). Repeatedly.

    Don't get me wrong. I like GTA. But to hold it up as an example of realism is laughable.
  • Re:Plot (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Chris Carollo ( 251937 ) on Wednesday December 11, 2002 @06:24PM (#4866334)
    An RPG is just like a movie, only there is player interaction.

    Wow, maybe I'm just biased because I'm a developer working on a CRPG (Deus Ex 2), but I'll respectfully disagree.

    RPGs (and games in general) are the interaction. I know I don't speak for everyone in the industry, but all this striving to be like films strikes me as missing the point. We're one of the very few media at the moment that can have meaninful interaction with the player -- allow the player to develop plans, to analyse the situation and come with solutions the problem at hand, to give the player a sense of intentionality. RPGs are probably the most literate and intelligent area of gaming, and are the best suited to really delve into the power of interaction.

    If I want to be told a good plot, I'll rent a DVD or go to the theater -- they can do that better than we can. Games should be striving to challenge and involve. No sense playing to another media's strength when you've got your own.
  • Re:The KEY! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JimPooley ( 150814 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @07:36AM (#4869386) Homepage
    Check out Elder Scrolls: Morrowind if you haven't already. You can easily get lost in that game for days at a time without touching the main story.

    And that's the problem. Lots of aimless wandering around with nothing but the odd crab or flying thing in sight. It gets tedious very quickly.

    The thing that really gets me is the complete lack of life in any of the towns. You can guarantee that the person who told you to go get the thingummy is going to be in the exact same location the next day. Don't those shopkeepers get tired of standing at the counter all the day and all the night. Don't the people at the guilds ever sleep?

    How come the shops aren't shut at night? How come on completing a task for someone you don't end up having to wake them up because it's the middle of the night? How cool would it if if you returned only to be told that so and so was on a trip to the next village and you could try and meet them there?

    A game like Morrowind would be a lot better if it at least tried to give the impression that everyone else was going about their business and not just there as plot tokens who never leave their houses or shops and never sleep.

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it. -- John Keats