Previously, I mentioned the idea of mixing and matching genre characteristics to make your own genre. Well, to do that you have to know what the genre's characteristics are. In this developer journal I will be focusing on how to design a single player RPG, so let's look at that genre first.
RPG, as you probably already knew, stands for role-playing game. That, however, doesn't have much to do with what the genre actually is. Some RPGs have real role-playing and some don't, while some excellent examples of role-playing are found in adventure or FPS games. So what makes an RPG an RPG?
Typical characteristics of a single-player RPG
- One player. (duh)
- Controlled with a gamepad.
- The Player controls an 'adventuring party' of characters.
- Combat is turn or meter-based and generally does not require much speed or accuracy. Similarly, navigating withing the game usually does not require jumping, avoiding holes, or other feats of manual dexterity.
- RPGs are loooong, some taking more than 70 hours of gameplay to complete on the first play-through.
- There are NPCs you can talk to.
- There is generally an inventory containing 3 types of items:
- - - equippable status-effecting items
- - - single use status-effecting items
- - - plot items
- Generally the players earn experience points for winning battles, which raise the characters' levels, which increase the characters' base stats.
- Generally the players earn money for winning battles, which they must spend to buy new, better equipment.
- RPGs often contain optional mini-games and side quests.
- The story and gameplay portions of the story alternate, with an approximate proportion of 5 minutes of exposition, followed by 25 minutes of dungeon, followed by a 2 minute boss fight, rinse and repeat.
- Puzzles are usually restricted to strategies of equippage and within combat, giving plot items to npcs, navigating mazes, flipping switches in the right order, and sometimes dialogue puzzles.
- The story usually is epic and often culminates in destroying a villain and/or saving the world.
That, at least in my mind, is what constitutes a single-player RPG. Now me, I play this kind of game, but I also play adventure games and side-scroller/platformers. So, since I'm an impractical idealist more interested in making art than making money, I decided that my game design is going to combine the best aspects of these three genres. ;D
When trying to figure out exactly what I want to do, I often find it helpful to make lists. In this case, I can make a list of the characteristics of my favorite RPG, my favorite adventure game, and my favorite platformer. Then I can tweak each list by substituting elements that were better in some other game of that genre. Then I can compare my three lists, note the differences between them and which option I prefer in each case, and then draft a new combined list of what I want my game to be and do. This is called a 'features wishlist', and is the first step toward making a design document. Even if you don't want to combine genres you should still go through the process of making a features list for your genre and tweaking it to match your personal preferences and take into account particularly cool elements you have encountered in various games of that genre.
Naturally everyone' features wishlist will be different, but here is the features wishlist I came up with for the romance game I want to make:
Romance Game Design/Features Wishlist
copyright Mare Kuntz 2004
Genre: This game is an RPG of the Japanese epic type, modified in the following ways:
- In addition to a standard bildungsroman plot, the plot focuses on romance between the player's avatar and one or more NPCs. This is developed through ren'ai (dating sim) style dialogue puzzles, and also by NPCs reacting emotionally to the avatar's achievement of plot goals and the path by which each was achieved.
- The game has a lower percentage of combat than a typical RPG.
- The game has more physical puzzles than a typical RPG, and these are of the more elaborate adventure game variety.
- The game has assorted subgames of different genres, e.g.: boardgames, a racing game, a goldfish breeding sim, and others to be determined later.
- The POV is 3rd person side-on.
- The art will be 3-D shoujo anime style, including scripted cut-scenes. (Dialogue subtitles will be displayed separately so that the same cut-scene can be shown with variant dialogue for different plot branches.) Any still art or animations the player earns by progressing through the game will become available in a gallery accessible from the start menu.
- The game is controlled with a gamepad.
- Combat is realtime sidescrolling with button and timing combos.
- The game can be paused or saved at any time.
- There is only one playable character; this character is a customizable avatar.
- The game has a game+ feature, where a player who completes the game is given the option to replay the game retaining some of the items and bonuses they have earned throughout the game. In the game+ some new areas and plot options will also be unlocked.
- The game will have a linear plot containing modular branchings and reunitings, and finished with multiple endings; the idea is to encourage the player to play the game+ and earn a better or different ending. What is a modular plot branch? This means at the end of the scene the plot reunites, thus creating variant stories in the player's mind but not creating an unduly complex plot tree.
- The game will have an item inventory, allowing the player to carry around items, papers, and tools.
- Target number of gameplay hours will be approximately 40 including combat and all game+ material.
- The overall design goal is to create a romance story allowing the player to deeply identify with their avatar through the avatar's customizability. The player will interact, via his avatar, with 4(?) deeply characterized NPCs. The story will focus on the romance, psychodrama and psychological manipulation, scientific exploration, and social humor. All of this will take place within a deeply envisioned alien world, and the player will have to learn about the world's culture and sociology in order to act effectively within it. Keyword here? 'Deep' - we want to make a game as deep as a good science fiction or fantasy novel.
- To put the player initially in synch with their avatar, we will utilize the dynamic of the human from a culture similar to our own dropped suddenly into an alien world. As the player masters various aspects of this alien world, options to equip/customize the avatar to be more like the aliens, a more powerful fighter, or a more attractive and therefore persuasive person, will become available. By the end of the game the avatars of different players should look completely dissimilar.
- The avatar's body functions as a modular/stackable weapon(?); customizing the avatar will therefore naturally customize the avatar's fighting style and options.
- Haven't decided whether it would be worth the effort to implement customizable clothing for a single-player game.
While the customization of the avatar's personality is not visible, it is an essential part of encouraging the player to identify strongly with the avatar. Dialogue choices will allow the player to shape the avatar's personality, and this personality and the player's specific choices will in turn determine which branchings the plot takes.
- The avatar will also be awarded ranks, titles, and descriptive phrases in reward for the accomplishment of various in-game objectives.
- Combat, is realtime sidescrolling. The character can jump, duck, and perform a variety of attacks using button combos, and can chain attacks using timing combos.
- It is essential to the combat system that the player's current equipage be graphically represented by their avatar.
- Puzzles must be a logical and at least semi-realistic extension of the game world.
- Most puzzles will be of the repairing/building/manipulating a physical system type. For example: gears, plumbing, puzzle boxes, sliding and balancing objects, winding springs and turning keys, and performing steps in the right order would all be suitable subjects for puzzles. The game Jewels of the Oracle is an excellent example of these types of puzzles, as are the Myst games and Lighthouse.
- Some puzzles will involve symbol manipulation and translation, perhaps involving an alien glyph language or number system.
- Some puzzles will involve applying an object to the environment, an NPC, or the player's avatar. The games Sanitarium and Woodruff and the Schnibble contain good examples of this type of puzzle. These will generally involve lateral thinking.
- Some puzzles will simply be the successful completion of a subgame.
- One tall, broad-shouldered, muscular, handsome male.
- One slender, angular-featured, long-haired, pretty male.
- One curvaceous mature-looking female.
- One cute young-looking female.
- More characters? Maybe a punk?
So does anyone particularly want to hear about the characteristics of other genres next, or shall I move on to the gimmick and the design doc?