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Daily Dosage 22/08

Whoops, sorry all, I missed the Friday update, as I was desperately looking for jobs and had an interview! Here’s a combined update, and today I talk about “RPG Elements” in the glossary!

Releases TodayFriday

PC: Anomaly: Warzone Earth, Pro Farm 1, Crane Simulator, Digger Simulator

Wii: Xenoblade ChroniclesCountry Dance

DS: Timmy Time

And Arcana Heart 3 on both PS3 and 360.

Releases today..

A big fat nothing! But it’s ok, there’s some good stuff out this week…

Deals:

We’ll skip this today…

News from around the Web:

TF2 gets Deus Ex items. : I’ll talk some more about this tomorrow, but I’m going to skip the news today to get to…

Topic: Glossary

RPG Elements

My last post was on Role Playing Games, and their mechanics using experience points and Levelling… And today is where it gets a little bit tricky…

The first thing you need to understand is that trying to define video games is pretty hard. Anything digital, especially something as creative as Game design has an element of imagination involved. No two books are exactly the same, and it’s the same with games, so all that a genre or type really does is draw a rough and smudged line around a group of games and say “these are this… kinda”.

I can think of a handful of games that completely fly in the face of standard genre conventions, and maybe can’t be named as any one genre. LSD is one example, and you could argue the entire “Puzzle Genre” is in itself the loosest and most blurred of all the games genres. Bejeweled is nothing like Osmos, and yet they’re both called puzzle games.

As such, you’ll often see many core aspects of certain genres being included in other games, and no-where is this more true than with RPG’s.

Progression

As previously discussed, RPG’s tend to involve characters that develop over time, becoming stronger and gaining more abilities. In short, you unlock stuff over time. This makes perfect sense. You wouldn’t have the climax of the movie at the start, even if Christopher Nolan is directing it, so equally you don’t want to give the player all the toys right at the beginning.

Of course, this isn’t completely restricted to RPG’s. Even Sonic and Mario had power-ups that didn’t appear until later stages. Slowly incorporating content over time achieves 2 things.

1) it acts as a hook, compelling the player to continue playing by reinforcing their progress with new an interesting abilities/items etc.

2) it gives players an opportunity to ease into the game. New stuff tends to be balanced with more challenges, so this allows for a smoother and more gradual learning curve. Everything at once might be a bit overwhelming for a new player, especially if they’ve also got to deal with all the challenges at once!

But having the above doesn’t automatically define a game as having RPG elements, and it certainly doesn’t define it as being an RPG. So what is an RPG?

Back in the early 90’s an RPG was easily defined, it tended to be the only game with a story! There’s not really much story to Sonic or Mario, other than what’s printed on the box. But an early final fantasy or baldurs gate? They’re dripping with story, doing quests and talking to characters. However, now-a-days every game has a story, no matter how ham-fisted.

Another aspect that used to be unique to RPG’s was the use of an inventory system. Whether it was healing potions, plot-items or swords, RPG’s tended to involve an inventory screen for the various bits of junk you find throughout the game. While this is no longer a unique factor for RPG’s, I can’t immediately think of any RPG’s or games that heavily borrow from the RPG framework that don’t involve an inventory system.

The unique thing that RPG’s bring to the above “1, 2 hook and ease” formula  is the ability to choose aspects of your characters. Whether it’s to take a different character in your party, what equipment to give them, what skills to invest into or even what spells to learn. RPG’s add this:

3)When a player makes a choice about the character they’re playing it immediately makes them invested in the success of that choice, and adds a sense of ownership over that character.

You aren’t simply playing a character that unlocks new toys through the progress of the game. You’re being given a veritable buffet of new toys that the game miser-ishly only allows you to take a small mouthful of, so you want to mix the best flavours for the maximum effect. If I choose a healing spell as my starting ability, and have great success with that spell then I’ll get that nice little “fuck yeah!” feeling that comes from having made an intelligent choice and seeing it pay off. Conversely if the game mocks a certain choice of sword I have equipped then I’ll be sure to try and get something a tad more meaty at the next opportunity.

RP FTW

Going back to the “Role Playing” aspect of rpg’s. When they were still pen and paper you were quite literally role-playing, pretending to be that character in that world. This still kind of translates to video games, but obviously with restrictions, normally “what the developer could be bothered to include”.

Often you’ll find an unvoiced protagonist (Dragon Age) and blank slate onto whom you project a personality into that world, whether your own or one you’re pretending to be.

But conversely sometimes the protagonist is a fully functioning member of that world (Dragon Age II) and you’re more a watcher of a story than a direct participator. Of course you can affect the world through their choices but the choices are more limited to the confines of this particular characters personality.

These are both still RPG’s, because they both still involve an element of “role-playing” as well as the mechanics that define them as such. The only problem is that “playing as a character role” no longer makes a game an RPG.

Here’s what I’m trying to get at…

If the game has…

-Levelling up and experience – it has RPG elements and might be an RPG.

-Character statistics – it might have RPG elements and might be an RPG.

-a silent/blank slate protagonist so that the player essentially enters their skin – it might be either

-deep involving storyline that’s affected by player choices – it might be either…

-other mechanics not related to RPGs – it still might be either or neither!

The last point is a particular sticker. Not only do we now have games with RPG elements, we also have RPG’s with other games elements…

Machina

My favourite example of an RPG-something else and a something else-RPG is with Deus Ex and Deus Ex 2, quite topical as the sequel comes out this week.

Deus ex featured 2 parallel development mechanics. One was augments, cybernetic implants to give the character things like increased speed, super strength and even cloaking fields and the ability to see through walls. Augments were found around the world and rewarded from certain missions.

The other was a skill-system, upgraded by spending experience points. Here you had skills like swimming, fire-arms, first aid, hacking and lockpicking. Stuff your character could naturally learn, practice, develop and get better at. You earned experience in the classic RPG way, completing missions; with bonuses for certain paths/tactics taken.

Deus Ex 2: (invisible war) was much more simplified. There was only the one system of biomods, with many of the skills being turned into findable upgrades. So rather than having a hacking skill, there was instead a “neural-interface” biomod that allowed you to hack things with varying levels of success based on the “level” of that biomod.

DX is an RPG played in the first person, while DX2 was a first person shooter with RPG elements. Why? Because in DX your ability to proceed was often dependant upon what skills you had. Technically you could complete the game without investing a single skill-point, but you’d be earning them anyway and they greatly eased the process, to the point of not investing being nigh-but impossible.

In DX2 however augments were found. They were quite literally optional, and if you didn’t do some exploring you could finish the game with only a handful. But it didn’t really matter as you could get through the game without needing the extra abilities. Again it eased the process but basic combat, healing, even lockpicking were all unaffected.

East vs West

Now, this isn’t to say that RPG’s need stats to effect every aspect of a character. JRPG’s (Japanese RPG) tend to only use the RPG aspect for combat. Look at Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and to a lesser extent things like Pokemon, you have stats and character levelling but they don’t affect anything outside of combat (for the most part).

Hell, combat even tends to happen in its own little bubble-universe, a splash-screen pops up and whisks you away to the battle-screen.

Conversely western RPG’s like Fallout and Dragon Age tend to have skills and abilities that affect every aspect of the chracter. Whether it’s the stealing skill in DA or the speech in Fallout, these are non-combat abilities that enrich the character and offer alternate means of success.

We’ve also got online games that are starting to incorporate the usage of XP and skill points to unlock content. Battle Field: Bad Company 2 and Brink feature levelling systems to unlock weapons and abilities as the game progresses, but these are First person shooters with RPG elements, where the RPG aspect is being used as a means of rationing out the content of the game to players willing to invest for longer periods. Ideally this additional content should be balanced, so a low level character and a high level one should be evenly matched, simply with the high level character having a greater selection of weaponry, but no one weapon is more powerful than the other.

The problem is that this tends to not be the case, where the progression system actually does increase your power. A poor move in what is meant to be a balanced online game.

Stay on target!

And this is really what I’m trying to get at here. The difference between an RPG and a game with RPG elements, where both might involve levelling the character. It’s where the focus lies.

Infamous could be defined as an RPG. There’s many player choices that define the plot and your abilities are upgraded with xp. But you spend most of your time jumping around like an electric lunatic and hitting people over the head with cars, and you’d probably be still fairly effective at that if you didn’t level up any of your abilities. Plus said abilities are unlocked through the plot, meaning that you’re always given the important ones. But I’d like to see anyone Raiding in World of Warcraft below level 10…

In short: If the focus of the game is on levelling up characters, their skills, abilities, weapons, or anything else about them and this system isn’t purely used as a means of supporting the main mechanic of the game, then you’re probably playing an RPG.

DA? Fallout? RPG’s.

Infamous? Rpg elements.

Legend of Zelda? Kinda RPG elements.

Deus Ex 3: Human Revolution? Difficult to say. It’ll either be a first-person shooter with heavy RPG elements, or it’ll be an RPG that just happens to be a First Person shooter (think Fallout 3).

I hope that’s cleared that up!

I promise things will go back to some semblance of sanity tomorrow!

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