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QuantifyFun

What IS an RPG?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Original post by drakostar
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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.

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Original post by QuantifyFun
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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.

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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?

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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.

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