Sign in to follow this  
QuantifyFun

What IS an RPG?

Recommended Posts

Hey All, This is my first post on the forums at GameDev.net. Hello! Thought I'd introduce myself by asking a simple question... Fundamentally, what is an RPG? Is it about character building? Telling a story? Epic adventures? All of these? What matters to you in an RPG? Are you in love with dollhouse features like customizing your character's appearance? Or are you more entertained by making meaningful choices that affect the story or characters? Something else? In -FIVE- sentences or less, tell me what an RPG means to you. From D&D in the 70s, all the way up to Mass Effect, it's seen a lot of bending, nuance, fringe tweaks, and evolution - but what fundamentally defines an RPG and what makes an RPG great? What are the building blocks that everybody starts with, sticks to, and that you expect, that make a game an RPG. My answer? To me, an RPG is about character building, story telling, and adventuring in the way of working to overcome a clear obstacle, with lots of great rewards along the way. What I really enjoy about RPGs is the ability to play an active role in a story and determine the course, as well as that great experience that comes from really connecting to the characters in the game. I also love the sense of empowerment that comes from building my character - especially that thrill you get when you've grown powerful enough that you can go back to things that were once dangerous and difficult and just blow them away. Your thoughts will be interesting!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Personally, I think the genre is losing its meaning. Nearly all games now employ the aspects that I consider important for RPGs.

It's like calling it a "smart" game. It's smart. Yeah, but what kind of game is it? It's smart. Okay, thanks for nothing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If you were to draw the concept to it's extreme, any kind of simulation would be a role playin game. Flight simulator - taking the role of flight captain. Racing game - role playing a speed freak. FPS - Playing out a hardened mercenary character etc.

However, most simulations don't give you meaningful choices, meaning that you will get the same experience from the game regardless if you play out your character as closely to your assumed role as you could or were to just sit back and push the buttons. In contrast, games recocgnized as role playing games usually involve consequences that change the perceived play experience based on the choices you make, making whatever role you decided to play meaningful in that there would be a difference between playing a role of sin incarnated and a goody-two-shoes. That being an example of course; usually it is possible to express many other archetypes in your character.

Features such as character building and story telling are something thats been inherited from pen&paper role playing game that with time have become very closely associated with the term RPG, but are in my opinion not a a defining characteristic of the genre.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Character progression as a key element of gameplay would be the only defining trait that connects all CRPGs. Possibly all RPGs too.

King's Quest vs. Quest For Glory provides an interesting example. It's not the storytelling or adventuring that makes an RPG. The adventure genre has tons of it. Even modern shooters like Half-Life 2 and BioShock do it well.

After that, we can argue about the fuzzy definition of "key element". GTA3 has character progression, though I don't think anyone considers it an RPG.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Luctus
However, most simulations don't give you meaningful choices, meaning that you will get the same experience from the game regardless if you play out your character as closely to your assumed role as you could or were to just sit back and push the buttons. In contrast, games recocgnized as role playing games usually involve consequences that change the perceived play experience based on the choices you make, making whatever role you decided to play meaningful


What about linear RPGs, especially most JRPGs? It's been a while, but I don't recall any significant choices in Dragon Warrior for NES.

On the other hand, there are non-RPGs with such options: BioShock again, or Wing Commander: Privateer for something completely different.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by drakostar
Quote:
Original post by Luctus
However, most simulations don't give you meaningful choices, meaning that you will get the same experience from the game regardless if you play out your character as closely to your assumed role as you could or were to just sit back and push the buttons. In contrast, games recocgnized as role playing games usually involve consequences that change the perceived play experience based on the choices you make, making whatever role you decided to play meaningful


What about linear RPGs, especially most JRPGs? It's been a while, but I don't recall any significant choices in Dragon Warrior for NES.

On the other hand, there are non-RPGs with such options: BioShock again, or Wing Commander: Privateer for something completely different.


An RPG is simply a story-driven game where you play the role of possibly the main character and develop him/her through the progression of the story. Yes, I believe the key elements in an RPG are story and character development.

The use of the term "linear RPG" is arguable because most games with a story has linear elements to it. Sure you can go on side quests or do other things, but in the end, the main story has to progress in a linear fashion for it to make sense. It can branch all it want, but it is still a linear story.

Also, I think the whole JRPG category that everyone has so created is more of a generalization of the actual categorization of RPGs. The term is Role-Playing Game. The difference is whether you "choose" what type of role you play in the game or you are just dropped into someone else's shoes and are forced to play a very specific story bound role. One gives you full freedom, while the other gives you as much freedom as the story allows you. Which brings about the spectrum of strongly vs weakly story driven games. The question there is how strongly the story pushes you to the next story event. It's sort of like the difference between a rail shooter, like Panzer Dragoon or Time Crisis, as opposed to a first person shooter, like quake. I think that analogy is fairly fitting. And there will always be games that fall between the two ends of the spectrum.

We should never forget, that for most of us, the first RPG we've ever played in life may be Cops and Robbers on the play grounds as a kid. Simply as a kid and imagining yourself in the role of someone else is the most basic RPG. We make up our own stories to progress in and we develop our own characters in our own way. Never forget the basics, no matter how complicated the genre has become.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by QuantifyFun
Quote:
Original post by Kest
Nearly all games now employ the aspects that I consider important for RPGs.


Which are?

You mentioned all of them in the original post. There's no one specific ingredient that spells RPG for me. Character advancement (stat/skill/ability development) might be the most important, but I accept the Zelda series as a light RPG, and it has none.

Unfortunately, when "RPG" pops up, my first instinct is to question the worthiness of the game's interactive mechanics. Oblivion makes a great example - cheap, simple combat, with no depth. Fable is another. How fun would the combat of these games be without any character advancement? Boring within a few minutes. Character advancement does nothing to fix that. The grinding just keeps bringing players back to it.

My biggest advice to RPG developers is to stop trying to design an RPG, and start designing a game. Don't hold the gameplay's quality up with character advancement and story telling. Make sure it can stand on its own.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Lots of interesting discussion here about what an RPG might be, or what an RPG is not, or what you dislike about RPGs, but many of these posts seem to dance around the question, which is meant to crystalize what an RPG -IS-.

So, for you, what defines an RPG? What characteristics best distill the category?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Kest
My biggest advice to RPG developers is to stop trying to design an RPG, and start designing a game. Don't hold the gameplay's quality up with character advancement and story telling. Make sure it can stand on its own.


I'm pretty sure that's exactly what most of them do. Whether or not you like the gameplay is a different issue. There are a lot of people that would disagree with you about Fable and especially Oblivion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by WeirdoFu
We should never forget, that for most of us, the first RPG we've ever played in life may be Cops and Robbers on the play grounds as a kid. Simply as a kid and imagining yourself in the role of someone else is the most basic RPG. We make up our own stories to progress in and we develop our own characters in our own way. Never forget the basics, no matter how complicated the genre has become.


A similar idea was made in another post. I'd argue that (while the term "role playing" might apply literally) in the context of video games your illustration is better compared to Adventure games. Not necessarily the point-and-click variety, but general Adventure games which can include games like Zelda (an Action-Adventure game).

If your game of cops and robbers were even the most basic type of RPG, you'd have earned XP every time you caught your robber, and eventually you would have improved your own abilities :-) Nit-picking, but true.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by QuantifyFun
If your game of cops and robbers were even the most basic type of RPG, you'd have earned XP every time you caught your robber, and eventually you would have improved your own abilities :-) Nit-picking, but true.


Let's see, as alternative as this may sound, you do gain XP and you do improve your skills. The more robbers you catch, the better you get at catching them, though that's not to say the better they get at evading (adaptive gameplay). The XP you gain is more in the form of reputation, which levels you up among the perception of other players, which also means the robbers will avoid you even more. Of course, this is conceptually based on the assumption that the game goes on or continues over a long period of time. :p

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Welcome to the forums!

My Essentials
1) Continuous progression of visible, gameplay-affecting stats
2) Between one and ten directly controllable avatars
3) Ability to make choices consistent with identifying with at least one well defined role
4) Series of obstacles culminating in a final end of game challenge
5) Choice driven narrative interaction with the world


I'll explain:
1) Most games have stats, be they the speed of your car or jump height for a hoop shot. But often the player doesn't see these. In some games, like Midnight Club which allows you to upgrade vehicles, you can intuit the progression of stats, but it's never a continuous progression.

2) Avatars can be anything from people to starships, but if the number you're expected to control becomes too high, it's called a strategy game, be it tactical, RTS or empire. Direct control is an essential feature that ties into #3

3) Many games give you a well defined identity. In Splinter Cell, for example, you're covert operative Sam Fisher, who has a past and defined character. However, you can't make meaningful choices, say to explore the character further or deepen him in some dimension or another.

4) Many games have missions / quests, but this seems to be a signature of RPGs. MMOs might be changing this, though. Note that these missions / quests don't have to be linear (I prefer open ended RPGs).

5) This is the crowning attribute for me. In an RPG, the world comes alive and the player can interact with it in a meaningful way. Places have lore, characters have names and history and even opponents have narrative dimension. Even in a so-called action RPGs like Diablo, which in comparison to something like Planescape:Torment is light on story, we get tales of deeds that imbue the world with emotional significance.

Other games may offer this content, but the RPG often stands out for amount and level of interactivity.

Dialog seems to be one of the most widely used and powerful tools the player has in accessing this narrative dimension. It's often through this feature that you see the player choices rationalized-- for example, in RPGs where you can kill NPCs willy-nilly or run around naked, dialog is the mechanism used to reflect the game world's reactions, which is essential for giving them context.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by QuantifyFun
There are a lot of people that would disagree with you about Fable and especially Oblivion.

You find Oblivion's combat engine something other than generic and simple? There's no mixing up strategy to defeat the AI - one tactic kills just about everyone. The melee attacks are extremely limited, and there's no complexity in increasing your effectiveness with them. Block, whack, whack, block, whack, whack, next. A macro could do it.

Mount&Blade is an example of similar combat that's done right. Its combat would be fun, even without its character advancement. The character advancement just makes it all better.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
For me the two biggest items are a strong narrative and game mechanics that rely on more on the characters skill in the world and less on by ability to aim or push buttons to interact with the game.

Lot's of FPS's these days are introducing strong stories, but the gameplay is still skill/twitch based. However, when they add in character attributes that offset these skills (like system shock) they are introducing RPG elements and end up with a hybrid.

For example, imagine a standard FPS where the player directly controls the game character, aiming, shooting, etc. Now imaging the same scenario where the player no longer directly controls the game character but instead gives them commands like shoot and the accuracy, etc. is based on the characters skill level, not the players.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Kest
You find Oblivion's combat engine something other than generic and simple?


That's a loaded question. Regardless of whether or not its simple or even generic isn't the issue. The issue is whether or not people find it fun and entertaining, and given the success that both games have had, I'd say that's a big yes.

It's also worth noting that generic and simple can sometimes be the best design choice in the world. It can help make a game accessible and easier to get into and play, and in turn it can reach a wider audience. Also, sticking with things that people know and are familiar with, is a great way to give them an advantage in playing your game. Similar to the same way that most FPSs have control schemes that mimic Halo - use what people know and a larger number of people will understand your game more easily, which is important.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by QuantifyFun
Quote:
Original post by Kest
You find Oblivion's combat engine something other than generic and simple?
That's a loaded question. Regardless of whether or not its simple or even generic isn't the issue. The issue is whether or not people find it fun and entertaining, and given the success that both games have had, I'd say that's a big yes.
I enjoyed Fable immensely, but the combat was boring and repetitive. Once you had the slash, block, dodge-cancel routine worked out, it reached the point that the final boss fell without dealing any damage.

If the combat was the totality of the game, I never would have played more than a couple of quests, before putting it down forever. However, the character development and the story were interesting enough to keep me playing through to the end.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by swiftcoder
Quote:
Original post by QuantifyFun
Quote:
Original post by Kest
You find Oblivion's combat engine something other than generic and simple?
That's a loaded question. Regardless of whether or not its simple or even generic isn't the issue. The issue is whether or not people find it fun and entertaining, and given the success that both games have had, I'd say that's a big yes.
I enjoyed Fable immensely, but the combat was boring and repetitive. Once you had the slash, block, dodge-cancel routine worked out, it reached the point that the final boss fell without dealing any damage.

If the combat was the totality of the game, I never would have played more than a couple of quests, before putting it down forever. However, the character development and the story were interesting enough to keep me playing through to the end.

That's exactly what I was referring to. Imagine if Fable's combat was on par with a quality game that had no character development or story telling. Many RPGs seem to use their genre defining elements to excuse the quality of their gameplay. It works to make something entertaining, but it's definitely something that can improve.

Here are some personal examples of quality gameplay in RPGs:

Deus Ex: FPS ranged Combat
Morrowind: Exploration
Fallout: Exploration, Tactical battle
Mount&Blade: Melee combat
Star Control II: Exploration, ship to ship dog fights

Coming up with examples was even harder than I thought. I'm sure there are more.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Kest
That's exactly what I was referring to. Imagine if Fable's combat was on par with a quality game that had no character development or story telling.


This detracts from my original question, so I'll just add this last thought and then drop it :-)

I understand the point you're trying to make. My response is still the same, though. A whole lot of people would disagree with you.

Even if you take away the RPG aspects from Fable or Oblivion, they're still really well executed games and by no means bad or sub-par. There are definitely bad games or games with bad gameplay mechanics, but neither of these games guilty of that.

I think that something like this comes down to individual preference. Most all games are repetitive in one way or another, and you might be surprised (when you think of it) that some of your favorite games are actually very repetitive and "shallow" in their combat depth. The difference is just that you have more fun with one and not so much with the other. So, you're not really wrong, I'd just call it your opinion instead of fact.

Example: Assassin's Creed and Gears of War. Both were fairly repetitive, especially Assassin's Creed. However, I really enjoyed Assassin's Creed, and got bored to tears with Gears of War. One was very entertaining to me personally, and the other was not. But I wouldn't bother to argue their merits. I think that Gears is a fantastic game and a lot of other people really liked it. Just not me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by QuantifyFun
Quote:
Original post by Kest
That's exactly what I was referring to. Imagine if Fable's combat was on par with a quality game that had no character development or story telling.


This detracts from my original question, so I'll just add this last thought and then drop it :-)

If your original question is asking what RPG represents, I think it's pretty relevant that most RPGs have repetitive, grind-type gameplay.

Quote:
I understand the point you're trying to make. My response is still the same, though. A whole lot of people would disagree with you.

Your opinion is worthy without the need to represent a whole lot of people. Without literally removing the story and character development from a game like Fable to see how much everyone still enjoys it, it won't be easy to determine what a whole lot of people think.

Quote:
Even if you take away the RPG aspects from Fable or Oblivion, they're still really well executed games and by no means bad or sub-par. There are definitely bad games or games with bad gameplay mechanics, but neither of these games guilty of that.

This is all based on opinion, but I don't usually enjoy generic gameplay mechanics, even when they're integrated with sophisticated stats and skill systems. However, the stat and skill building cause the generic interactions to be become productive. Given that the rest of the game is enjoyable, I can tolerate it pretty well. Therefore, I enjoy most RPGs. But take away the stats and skills, and it becomes far worse. Suddenly, fighting through twenty random nobodies while traveling between two locations in Fable becomes nearly pointless. I would rather run past them. It's like working for no pay. Something I don't feel while playing decent games that have no character development.

Quote:
I think that something like this comes down to individual preference. Most all games are repetitive in one way or another, and you might be surprised (when you think of it) that some of your favorite games are actually very repetitive and "shallow" in their combat depth. The difference is just that you have more fun with one and not so much with the other. So, you're not really wrong, I'd just call it your opinion instead of fact.

Does this explain why I would enjoy Mount&Blade's melee combat, but not Oblivion's? The gameplay concept of both is the same. Oblivion just added too much mechanical restriction. There's very little room for the player to get strategic or creative with their actions to improve their effectiveness.

All of this is based on opinion, of course.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
An RPG is a role playing game. You get into the mind of the character and "become" that character. The genre is very different from this very broad definition, however (for instance, 007 is a roleplaying game as you are James Bond, but it's certainly not in the RPG genre!). So any time you become the character you're playing, you're in an RPG. You are Link, but you aren't a chess piece.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by Kest
If your original question is asking what RPG represents, I think it's pretty relevant that most RPGs have repetitive, grind-type gameplay.


No, it's not relevant at all. You're trying to answer an objective question with a subjective observation. A question which you still haven't really answered, other than to say that I'd already answered it myself.

Otherwise, you've spent several posts insisting that games like Fable and Oblivion are poor gameplay experiences masked with RPG elements, which is just obtuse and also not an answer to the question. Saying what an RPG -should- have (good gameplay) does not explain what defines the RPG genre.

Case in point...

Quote:
Original post by Kest
Unfortunately, when "RPG" pops up, my first instinct is to question the worthiness of the game's interactive mechanics.


...which has nothing to do with the question at hand, unless you really want to answer the question by suggesting that "repetitive gameplay" is a fundamental characteristic of any RPG, which might be a funny answer (it even makes me chuckle a little), but a pointless answer nonetheless.

So, please, enough with the abstract arguments about games that you don't think measure up. This is not a discussion about how RPGs can be improved, and its off-topic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
Original post by QuantifyFun
Quote:
Original post by Kest
If your original question is asking what RPG represents, I think it's pretty relevant that most RPGs have repetitive, grind-type gameplay.


No, it's not relevant at all. You're trying to answer an objective question with a subjective observation.

You'll soon find that any answer to your question is subjective. I've been through this exact discussion here on GameDev about three times.

Quote:
Otherwise, you've spent several posts insisting that games like Fable and Oblivion are poor gameplay experiences masked with RPG elements, which is just obtuse and also not an answer to the question. Saying what an RPG -should- have (good gameplay) does not explain what defines the RPG genre.

I've been focused on this question:

Quote:
Original post by QuantifyFun
What matters to you in an RPG?

My answer is gameplay. I went into detail about it. My apologies.

Quote:
So, please, enough with the abstract arguments about games that you don't think measure up. This is not a discussion about how RPGs can be improved, and its off-topic.

I'll leave you to it, then.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote:
From D&D in the 70s, all the way up to Mass Effect, it's seen a lot of bending, nuance, fringe tweaks, and evolution - but what fundamentally defines an RPG and what makes an RPG great? What are the building blocks that everybody starts with, sticks to, and that you expect, that make a game an RPG.

As you have included non computer based RPGs I assume that you are not only interested in computer RPGs.

First of all, I'd like to establish what I mean in my definition when I say: "the main focus".

Virtually all games share aspects between each other, but what separates one game genera from another is that one game will focus the players activities on one set of tasks and another will focus them on some other set of tasks. The games might have all those tasks in common, but the difference lies in the focus that each game give to different tasks.

For example:

In a First Person Shooter, the game focuses on the player reflexes, and hand eye coordination. However, the player will also need to think strategically. What weapon is good against that enemy, should I try to draw one enemy out or use area effect weapons to take them all out simultaneously, etc.

So an FPS has strategic aspects, but because the game focuses mainly on hand eye coordination, then it is not a real time strategy game.

An RTS, on the other hand, also may requires hand eye coordination and player reflexes, but the main focus of the gameplay is that of strategic choices.

It has aspects found in FPS (and other action games), but it is not an FPS (or action game), but a Real Time Strategy game.

So the activities that the game focuses the player on defines the genera.

So although a Flight Simulator might allow the player to Role Play a pilot, because the gameplay is not focused on this aspect (but on simulating the flight characteristic of a plane), then the game is a Flight Simulator rather than a Role Playing Game.

This is important as if you ignore the "main focus" qualifier I out in (which nearly everyone seems to do when ever I present this definition), then you will be able to break that definition. But that is not breaking my definition, but instead it is called a Strawman argument.

Ok, now that that disclaimer is out of the way (every time a thread like this is started, I have to post that disclaimer as my second post. Yes, every time), I'll get down to my definition:

A Role Playing Game is a game where the main focus is about the player projecting a Persona into a Role. A Persona is a made up personality.

Now, many people like to mention: Plot, Adventure, Character building, and so forth, but there are plenty of counter examples where a game is considered an RPG and yet is missing one or more of these elements.

If a game can be considered an RPG and not have those elements, then those elements can not be when defines an RPG (elementary my dear Watson - sorry couldn't resist :D ).

I don't think that what defines an RPG is tied to any particular rules. Instead, it is more about how the player uses those rules to interact with the game world.

IF the player mainly uses the rules to shoot enemies with their reflexes, then the game is a shooter. If the player mainly uses the rules to fly a plane, then it is a flight simulator. If the player mainly uses the rules to Project a Persona into a Role, then it is a role playing game.

Quote:
Unfortunately, when "RPG" pops up, my first instinct is to question the worthiness of the game's interactive mechanics. Oblivion makes a great example - cheap, simple combat, with no depth. Fable is another. How fun would the combat of these games be without any character advancement? Boring within a few minutes. Character advancement does nothing to fix that. The grinding just keeps bringing players back to it.

This is to my point. The focus on these games is not on the combat mechanics, but is supposed to be on "Playing a Role". So, should a game be condemned as a bad Role playing game if the Role Playing aspect is good, but the combat mechanics are boring? Sure it might make it a bad game, but a bad Role Playing Game.

Further more, does a RPG need a combat mechanic at all? Can it still be an RPG without one?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

Sign in to follow this