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Role Playing (Games)

The Evolution of RPGs, Storytelling 64

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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  • 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 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.

  • 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 [], 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 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.
  • 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.


    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 dj_tla ( 1048764 ) <> on Thursday March 08, 2007 @11:10AM (#18276322) Homepage Journal
    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 that point in the game, I was so excited to choose something in a game and have my choice matter. I was excited by the prospect of getting to play the game three times and have three different stories. When I discovered you only got to choose the order in which you played those sections of the game, I was quite disappointed. It's still one of my favourite games of all time, and perhaps in retrospect, as an adult, I might not want to play the game three times through to feel as if I've 'beaten' it. Still, that was the one criticism I had on the game as a kid.

    There will always be a market for the linear game model, but I believe that the future of RPG's (and other genre of game) includes dynamically generated storylines. Research into interactive storytelling [] has been going on for a long time. A research project at the University of Alberta [] that I will be working on this summer deals with player-specific storylines in an RPG domain. I believe these games have great potential to be incredibly immersive and fun, and fun is what it's all about!

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor