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[Weekly Discussion] on RPG Genre's flaws - Week 5 : "Accessibility"

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Hi,

As a reference:
Week 4
Week 3
Week 2
Week 1
---
I've always been a big fan of the snes-era jRPGs and thought about creating a series of discussions based around the flaws of the genre and how they could be assessed.

Feel free to discuss either:
- The Problem (helping identify the root cause of why this isn't fun)
- The Solutions (either games you know who have found a workaround, or ideas of your own)

Whatever you feel like discussing here, please make sure that you add sufficient explanation/arguments to your logic as I take this intellectual exercise seriously and believe others will too.
---

This week's topic: Accessibility.
A lot of the themes we've had were jRPG-lover centric, so let's open up to the community in general this time around.

Players are used to action-based games (say, the castlevania series) where one input comes with a direct reaction. Playing menu-based feels inorganic to them and they can't quite make the parallel between the input and the game's behavior.

Fans of the genre are used to the controls, and thus, can easily get past this and enjoy the game for what it is, even appreciating the pace. To a neophyte, they are left with the after-taste that it is either
- too slow: nothing seems to happen and you have to 'wait' to see cool stuff
- too fast: they have to make much longer input sequences to issue an order (I think this touches on our previous 'fight command' discussion)

Add to this that the game works around conventions that are not necessarily common in other games. RPG fans can easily go past these conventions, but gamers from other environments won't. HPs, MPs, Levelup, Rock-Paper-Scissor Elemental dmgs, battle tactics (max dps, healing, etc). More often than not, the game punishes the player for not knowing these conventions, and when an RPG assumes the player doesn't know anything (Chrono Trigger) it generally goes below the difficulty curve as a result.

Note that the idea behind this discussion is not to make the jrpg genre more appealing to the casual crowd, but rather, to the crowd of other genres that could have a blast while playing a jrpg, but are somewhat gated away by this oversized obstacle.

I'd like to begin with an example of a game that I believe fixes some of these issues:

Monster's Den (Kongregate) came with an interesting twist that both simplified game mechanics in a way that action lovers could understand it while keeping the strategical depth that is necessary to a good battle system. They've simply made a short array of each command characters could use. By limiting choice, they made the UI and input sequence that much easier to overcome and it appears to be this is one efficient step to reduce the initial contact obstacle.


Agree/Disagree?
Have other examples?
Go ahead, this is your show folks!

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I disagree with this week's topic.

Pacing and Accessibility are 2 things that are not directly linked. Vs is for things like fast vs slow, good vs evil, male vs female. Also i think this 2 topics are both good topics that can be separately discussed. Reading through your post, i think the crux of your post is how to make jrpg more accessible to rpg newcomers. Is that so?

Monster's Den (Kongregate) does not so much as make menu-based faster or more accessible; it just adapt a menu-based meant for console and adapted it for web browsers. Another similar example is The-West, a browser game from innogames. In The-West, you have only 1 character which you can pre-set your command( where you want to hit for each round). Then you just click attack on other player and the game will resolve the conflict.

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A lot of what you are talking about is creating games that appeal to more than just fans of the genre. I personally don't think this is important at all, but then I'm a hobbyist. I will never make money on my games. I want to create a game for fans of the type I'm creating. If people want more action, then don't play my game. Too many RPGs are dumbing themselves down to appeal to the ADD/ADHD crowd. Dragon Age was one of my favorite games. Dragon Age 2 was a terrible, terrible betrayal. Mass Effect 1 was a decent RPG. Mass Effect 2 and 3 are not even RPGs. They are slow moving, cinematic action games. (I know those aren't JRPGs but I think the example applies.)

I understand that large software companies want to make as much money as possible and you do this by appealing to a larger market but I feel this makes games WORSE.

If you are more interested in the animation your character performs than the damage amount displayed, you shouldn't be playing an RPG.

That's just my 2 cents.

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If you are more interested in the animation your character performs than the damage amount displayed, you shouldn't be playing an RPG.


well, actually, that makes a RPG. a ROLE PLAYING GAME. lets put this straight. if you are more interested in the amount of damage displayed, then you should be playing a beat'em up. RPG is about story.

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Pacing and Accessibility are 2 things that are not directly linked. Vs is for things like fast vs slow, good vs evil, male vs female. Also i think this 2 topics are both good topics that can be separately discussed. Reading through your post, i think the crux of your post is how to make jrpg more accessible to rpg newcomers. Is that so?


While I agree with you for the most part, I ended up where I started. While they are two distinct topics, they get tangled into one another, and I feel it will be hard to discuss pacing without ever mentionning accessibility and vice-versa. I agree this makes for a confusing debate, but we only trick ourselves when we try to keep the debate too straightforwards.
Week 1 was very straightforward, and we've experienced this problem.

However, I agree that the main topic should be clearer, and given the current tengent, I've adjusted the title of the thread accordingly.


Monster's Den (Kongregate) does not so much as make menu-based faster or more accessible; it just adapt a menu-based meant for console and adapted it for web browsers.


It is all in the details though. To me, this is a radical UI advantage.
I think there are ways to improve games and make them more accessible without going too far (aka introduce a tutorial, change the theme, explain everything and whatnot). A lot of that goes through simplicity and feedback or input. Monster's Den menu is easy to use, but its still an rpg menu, so it caters to both crowd.


In The-West, you have only 1 character which you can pre-set your command( where you want to hit for each round). Then you just click attack on other player and the game will resolve the conflict.


Would you say that's fun?


A lot of what you are talking about is creating games that appeal to more than just fans of the genre.


Technically, its just making sure they aren't barred from entry. Let's be honest, there may be people out there that would love the gameplay of a jRPG, but have just been turned off by bad execution in the past in that regard. I don't think any less of Chrono Trigger as an RPG because of the treatment they gave it to make it the most accessible jrpg that I know of. It's important to make decisions where it does not affect your well established crowd. There's nothing wrong with opening up.


I want to create a game for fans of the type I'm creating


There used to be a time when there weren't genres, and while I like the idea of genres, sticking too closely to what's already there may be a problem in the long run. At some point, you have to try out slight twists and new stuff. More importantly, a good game is not in the idea, but in the execution, and a lot of what makes a jRPG more accessible in this very execution too.


many RPGs are dumbing themselves down to appeal to the ADD/ADHD crowd. Dragon Age was one of my favorite games. Dragon Age 2 was a terrible, terrible betrayal. Mass Effect 1 was a decent RPG. Mass Effect 2 and 3 are not even RPGs. They are slow moving, cinematic action games. (I know those aren't JRPGs but I think the example applies.)


Yet, most of what makes them bad isn't the fact they're more accessible, its that they betray the genre you hold so dire. A cinematics-based game may underline narrative, but I believe that a jrpg's core narrative element is to let the player experience that story. While its generally linear, there's usually gameplay along the way and the player is rewarded with narrative content only so often as they break obstacles along their path.


I understand that large software companies want to make as much money as possible and you do this by appealing to a larger market but I feel this makes games WORSE.


I think this is more about making a game accessible to more people so that they can decide whether its good for them or not. Take for example the Star Trek series, which is often cited as a very nerdy franchise. While generally close to theorically possible scientific discoveries and beyond the verge of the believable, it has attracted a large audience, much larger than actual trekkies because it was merely accessible. I don't think they've dumbed it in order to cater to this extra crowd; rather, they've made a quality product that simply appealing to people that liked quality product. Many players can recognized a polished product and may feel the need to play this, even if its out of their general interests. I'm sure there are a few games out-of-genre that you've really liked? Mine was Deus Ex: The Conspiracy. It was pretty weird when you stop to think of it, very System Shock II in a way, but overall it made a very unique game experience, and I won't complain that it wasn't a strict RPG because the twist they did to it was simply amazing. And let's be honest, aside from its out-dated visual, its a very accessible game.


If you are more interested in the animation your character performs than the damage amount displayed, you shouldn't be playing an RPG.


jRPGs appeal to different crowds for different reasons. It's not as simple as 'the jRPG-lovers". Some like the maths/logic/gameplay, others like the story/universe, there's probably a lot of other avenues into jRPGs. While you may get someone interested in your game from these different angles, its always best if you can excel at more than 1 of them.



well, actually, that makes a RPG. a ROLE PLAYING GAME. lets put this straight. if you are more interested in the amount of damage displayed, then you should be playing a beat'em up. RPG is about story.


Clearly a good example of what I'm saying. You guys are different players which seek different things in the jRPG, but if its accessible enough and polished, you'd probably agree that its a good game even though you may feel that the time spent on visuals/numbers was unecessary, just because it was sufficiently good in regard to what you guys like.

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Well, Mass Effect was cited on this thread already, so i'll use it as an example (is my favorite game)

Mass Effect I was very difficulty to play, for those that rarely played another RPG, but his story was engaging. Mass Effect 2 was more action based and simple, but the engaging story was there. in Mass Effect 3, the transition was done. the game lost much of his mechanics, and gained some new but, again, the engaging story was there.

I think it's possible to make the game accessible to players of other genres without sacrificing the style and fell of the genre.

i think that what really helps players coming from action games is real time. the paused text dialog's of JRPG may be frustrating to some...

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Well, the gamer inside me is kinda dead, so I can't be the best judge of a game from my own experiences... but Monsters Den seems to be a pure dungeon crawler. With no great NPC characters to help make up a story and no starting events, the mechanics feel unjustified. I am being bombarded right off the bat with a ton of tool-tips and stuff I don't know why I have to understand yet.

The thing that fans really love (speaking with me being the face of the nameless fandom... oh,dear) about console-RPG-style menu-based combat is how obvious and laid back it is. What it lacks in speed (speaking of CRPGs that often make use of much of the keyboard) it makes up for in simplicity of learning. There is no 'a' for ATTACK, 'i'TEMs, 'c'AST magic, etc. All that stuff is right where you are looking on screen, and the cursor never wanders from the relevant selectable options (unlike a mouse cursor; your fingers never leaving the same movement keys for all selections can also be nice if you are like me and want a frugal UI). Even with all that ease of learning, I don't think it adds up to much without a story to add intrigue and to introduce and give context to those actions. Looking back, FF3 (Famicom) and KOTOR have a pretty natural flow for getting the player into basic play.

At any rate, just about everyone would like to hear an interesting story, so always keep "I wonder what comes next" in the forefront of a potential JRPG-player's mind. Second, make easy stuff easy to learn (attacking and using some healing potions and antidotes) and make players get used to that (FF13 had too much of the getting used to the flow of attacking and healing, but I argue that having some time with those limited options is necessary to dispell any alienation "this feels wierd, I don't like it" feelings). Third, gradually ease the player into more complex stuff (FF6 Advance starts with attack, potions, a few spells, and the "steal" ability near the beginning. It then proceeds with a new ability a character, more items, equipment that begins to have variation in what it does for combat effectiveness, and more variation in enemy attacks. Espers are introduced in a small handfull before you are given a much bigger selection, after which you will only find a new Esper here and there. There is a ton of time to get used to and experiment with all the mechanics before new layers are added. All of these mechanics going hand in hand with the progression of the story make the transition from being unsure about the game to loving it all the easier).

Uh, I really hope I'm not being too dense again. Enjoy!

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Whether pacing has any effect on accessibility at all, completely depends on the specific type of pacing that you're doing. It ultimately boils down to the specific design. There's also the idea of designing a game around player-defined pacing, in which the player himself defines the pacing based on his own playing style. Games that allow for this are by far the most popular games out there, because the game becomes accessible and interesting to a greater number of players and thus more people buys the game. The Sims and most Nintendo games are great examples of this. As is most FPS games that don't feature (or have very few) timed missions or missions with a set pace.


On Player-Driven Progression:

I like to call it modular or dynamic progression. If you want to, you don't need to progress beyond any given point unless you're ready. But if you're really hell-bent on progressing to higher levels of challenge, you can do so quickly and the quicker you go, the greater the risk. In minecraft you can ignore making torches on the first night and instead stand your ground tower-defence style, or you can take the safest approach and make a shelter ASAP.


On Numbers vs Animations:

I think the big thing we need to learn as developers is what actually matters on an experiential level. When to think quality and when to think quantity and knowing how to prevent overthinking a feature. We need to learn that numbers don't matter "just because". They matter to the degree that they have some practical use and, to a minor extent, provide aesthetics to the game (when visualized). If I had to choose, I would make a solid set of animations that have a specific use in the game and then scrap the rest. Same with the numbercruching. Not just make a bunch of soulless filler, unless adding that filler enhances the stuff that isn't a filler (like what the various emotes in an MMO do). I personally can't stand most numbercrunching in games because it takes away from the roleplay. It's metagame and I hate that in a RPG. The only reason why there was so much math in earlier RPGs was because it was necessary - they were based on pen-and-paper systems that were hugely popular (but I'm pretty sure that it wasn't because of the numbers). That necessity is no longer true to the same extent, although an exception to this is when you play an MMO and it's nice to actually see the health of the guys you're fighting, for instance.

But anyways, why waste a bunch of time allowing a million different ugly faces in character creation when you can instead focus on 20 great-looking ones. Too bad Todd Howard acted on this in hindsight after consistent player feedback, rather than understanding this before Oblivion and Fallout 3 was even considered for development. And Todd is generally a great developer, not bad at all. There's something bad about the industry. Nothing crucial, but it points towards the idea that we're still in adolescence (which is understandable, considering how young this industry is, comparably).


Our Responsibilities:

We got all this technology and yet we're all still kids trying to figure things out. I think one of the most important thing that the most experienced of us can possibly do, is to listen intently when the next generation of game developers start opening their mouths. Because they have a kind of understanding of gameplay that is sorely needed in the industry. Maybe that's why there's so many indie developers out there doing a great job. Because looking at the various "top games" released nowadays, there's not much too yell Hoorah for.

Duke Nukem Forever is arguably the worst case scenario out there, whereas Minecraft, Terraria, Braid, Magicka and Trine, not to mention the Plants vs. Zombies craze, are just amazing examples of how the simple trumps the complex. It seems, however, that the companies big enough to pull off a blockbuster are so caught up in securing their investment that they're incapable of risking the full mile and presenting a complete package. Instead they go with the supercomplex and hope that it's more appealing than the supersimple, even though the actual gameplay is pretty much the same.

I don't know, but I'm just becoming more and more eager about making my own contributions to the industry, the more sloppiness I discover. Else I'd be a hypocrit, now wouldn't I? On a more personal note, interest-wise, I think that we're gonna see a LOT of great innovations once the theory of "swarm intelligence" reaches beyond the walls of biology and properly into game development (if it hasn't already). Edited by DrMadolite

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but Monsters Den seems to be a pure dungeon crawler. With no great NPC characters to help make up a story and no starting events, the mechanics feel unjustified.


Agreed. But I merely like their UI solution for in-combat actions (the small bar with all the icons).


At any rate, just about everyone would like to hear an interesting story, so always keep "I wonder what comes next" in the forefront of a potential JRPG-player's mind. Second, make easy stuff easy to learn (attacking and using some healing potions and antidotes) and make players get used to that (FF13 had too much of the getting used to the flow of attacking and healing, but I argue that having some time with those limited options is necessary to dispell any alienation "this feels wierd, I don't like it" feelings). Third, gradually ease the player into more complex stuff (FF6 Advance starts with attack, potions, a few spells, and the "steal" ability near the beginning. It then proceeds with a new ability a character, more items, equipment that begins to have variation in what it does for combat effectiveness, and more variation in enemy attacks. Espers are introduced in a small handfull before you are given a much bigger selection, after which you will only find a new Esper here and there. There is a ton of time to get used to and experiment with all the mechanics before new layers are added. All of these mechanics going hand in hand with the progression of the story make the transition from being unsure about the game to loving it all the easier).


I agree with you. Many games are currently falling down in the 'let's make a tutorial' issue. In my memory, the best games I've played kept on teaching you without actually telling you they were teaching you something. There's this meme about what if the Mario platformer game was made todays, and how it would suck because of its tutorial, etc. The nice thing about these games is how subtle they are about introducing you with new content at relevant intervals and keeping your interest up, so that you're never overwhelmed, but never quite face a situation that isn't challenging at all.


But anyways, why waste a bunch of time allowing a million different ugly faces in character creation when you can instead focus on 20 great-looking ones. Too bad Todd Howard acted on this in hindsight after consistent player feedback, rather than understanding this before Oblivion and Fallout 3 was even considered for development. And Todd is generally a great developer, not bad at all. There's something bad about the industry. Nothing crucial, but it points towards the idea that we're still in adolescence (which is understandable, considering how young this industry is, comparably).


I'm not sure what specific about Todd Howard's decisions you're mentionning?
Also, please remember he was a producer during Oblivion, and has only begun as a Game Director during Fallout 3's development (I'm not even sure he started the production as is in fact). And he's just the figurehead. Don't misread me, I love this guy, but he's only one guy, and this is a large team you're talking about.

As far as being in adolescence, I think this would be misleading. We're well deep into adulthood (which is a neverending iterative process) and the main reason why I am a tenant to this claim is the reaction most developers have had in front of social gaming in general. If you take a closer look at facebook games for example, you'll see that developers on these new platforms are starting back from basics. We're still months/years away from a AAA on facebook, and the stagnation on the 'known platforms' is unrelated to that.



Our Responsibilities:

We got all this technology and yet we're all still kids trying to figure things out. I think one of the most important thing that the most experienced of us can possibly do, is to listen intently when the next generation of game developers start opening their mouths. Because they have a kind of understanding of gameplay that is sorely needed in the industry. Maybe that's why there's so many indie developers out there doing a great job. Because looking at the various "top games" released nowadays, there's not much too yell Hoorah for.

Duke Nukem Forever is arguably the worst case scenario out there, whereas Minecraft, Terraria, Braid, Magicka and Trine, not to mention the Plants vs. Zombies craze, are just amazing examples of how the simple trumps the complex. It seems, however, that the companies big enough to pull off a blockbuster are so caught up in securing their investment that they're incapable of risking the full mile and presenting a complete package. Instead they go with the supercomplex and hope that it's more appealing than the supersimple, even though the actual gameplay is pretty much the same.

I don't know, but I'm just becoming more and more eager about making my own contributions to the industry, the more sloppiness I discover. Else I'd be a hypocrit, now wouldn't I? On a more personal note, interest-wise, I think that we're gonna see a LOT of great innovations once the theory of "swarm intelligence" reaches beyond the walls of biology and properly into game development (if it hasn't already).


That's definitely out of topic.
But to answer quickly:
If the new generation knows it all, how come our generation was able to produce amazing games? I don't buy what you seem to imply, that this is a generational problem and that those in place can't have a clue how to reinvent themselves. Its ok to listen to players, but you have to understand you'll get everything and its contrary if you do.
However, be aware that these successful indies are way above the radar for the larger companies, and designers are paying attention to these 'simple mechanics'.

That said, I've had much more fun with Skyrim than Minecraft, or The legend of Grimrock. The indies are successful, from an indie standpoint but there will be very few/no indie outselling AAAs this year. Its true that great games aren't raining like they used to (I share that perception myself, but this is perhaps subjective) but the big companies still have a fair understanding of what needs to be done.


It seems, however, that the companies big enough to pull off a blockbuster are so caught up in securing their investment that they're incapable of risking the full mile and presenting a complete package. Instead they go with the supercomplex and hope that it's more appealing than the supersimple, even though the actual gameplay is pretty much the same.


I'm gonna have to disagree fully with that statement. Skyrim, for example, has come up with extra features coming for free ever since release (mounted combat for example, something that was hoped for since Oblivion). Skyrim is a full package, and it goes in many ways. It is a massive game in terms of gameplay elements and content. I like how indies come up with refreshing 2 minutes stress relief, but they don't give the players an immersive experience as much as the AAAs.
While I'm very happy about what appears to be an unpheaval of successful indies, claiming that indies are surpassing larger companies is both unfair and inaccurate. You're talking about 'delivering the full package' when really, none of the indies have given sufficient suspension of disbelief to really hint at a full package yet.
I'd love nothing more than to live through a renaissance of videogaming, as I wasn't around during its birth, but we're not remotely there yet.

If you'd like to discuss the state of the industry, I'd recommend starting a thread in the appropriate forums. I don't think it belongs in this weekly design discussion.

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If you'd like to discuss the state of the industry, I'd recommend starting a thread in the appropriate forums. I don't think it belongs in this weekly design discussion.


I thought I was just elaborating on the topic and branching out, to discuss the bigger picture of why the jRPGs are having problems by exploring why games in general have a problem. But I guess I got sidetracked, sorry.

(But to just answer one of your comments quickly, I wasn't claiming that indies are surpassing AAA titles in any way. I was implying that game made with 20x the number of people and 1000x more resources shouldn't be just 2-3 times better - no matter the diminishing returns on manpower. But as you said, this is off topic so enough said.)

As for jRPGs, I just think that it's gonna be hard understanding why a specific genre of games is having problems if you don't understand the industry as a whole - or the individual jRPG and it's individual feature cells, for that matter. My immediate response would be that jRPGs tend to be clones of eachother on a much higher frequency than wRPGs. In that regard, I think that the accessibility factor is less relevant, though still always there.

I personally don't like jRPGs because I think they are complicated, have un-immersive combat, they show off a lot of overhyped superpower stuff that ends up being a parody of itself and they often have a ton of dialogue that I'm just waiting impatiently to shuffle through because I didn't pay $50 to watch a movie. One of the great exceptions to this was Final Fantasy 7, an almost perfect jRPG which still had some of the negatives, but made up for that with tons of positive content - a ridiculous number of mini-games, a vast story arc that was well-defined with compelling characters and unique personalities.

I haven't played too many jRPGs the last year though, so I'm probably not the right person to ask. Edited by DrMadolite

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