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Monday - January 01, 2018
TechRaptor - A Look Back at the RPGs of 2017
TechRaptor's Robert Grosso thinks RPGs and games with RPG elements are more dominant now than ever:
A Look Back at the RPGs of 2017
If 2017 can be remembered for one thing, it is the growing dominance of role-playing games within the video game market. It was a banner year for the genre; over 120 titles, ranging from AAA productions to indie-developed games, were released or re-released across every platform imaginable. Many of them have become perennial favorites for the year, others are incredibly small time or relatively obscure, but whatever their fate, RPGs of all stripes are beginning to be published heavily, and the embarrassment of riches available to fans is impressive, to say the least.
That is one of the great things about the genre, though: the diversity of games that qualify as such. Many bemoan the “RPG elements” being found in action-adventure titles such as Assassin’s Creed: Origins or shooters such as Destiny 2, but the hybrid-nature of games such as that highlight the growing influence the role-playing genre has in video games. RPGs have always taken the initiative when it comes to character progression, open-worlds, and the myriad of battle mechanics and story presentation we often see in games. As of late, the genre has grown tremendously, improving upon that initiative by adopting other genres into the fold and even revitalizing older techniques with modern elements attached.
Thursday - March 24, 2016
TechRaptor - Mass Effects Dialogue Wheel
TechRaptor has an interesting editorial on Mass Effects dialogue wheel and its effects on rpgs. This is contrasted to what games like Pillars of Eternity and Shadowrun Returns attempt to do.
The basic layout of the dialogue wheel in Mass Effect.
This is the dialogue wheel's greatest strength in the end: controlling tone. Many have cited the problem with the dialogue wheel was that tone would be inconsistent with the character, and while in some extreme cases, most notably in Dragon Age II, this can be argued as true, the tonal shifts also add another layer to characters by showcasing the gamut of emotions-or how realistic people would act in such situations. If someone is criticizing you, you could instead act aggressive towards them, then shift back to diplomatic when they get the hint. Tone also gives each conversation texture to it; it provides feedback to players how NPCs would react to your character, in effect giving you direct feedback of their response and possibly intention.
Thursday - December 10, 2015
TechRaptor - The Psychology of Player Agency
Robert Grosso (TechRaptor) continues his Playing Roles series. He tackles the issue of player agency, but this time from a different angle; and tries to dissect what really gets people interested and engaged when playing an RPG.
How important is player agency in a RPG?
For a lot of people, this seems like one of those no-brainer answers, decreeing “very important” to the rafters. Like everything, however, the amount of agency injected into your game experience has varying degrees of mileage. Recently, TechRaptor’s Robert N. Adams wrote a sound argument as to why video games need interactivity to them, in effect, to be video games.
One example used is the game Dear Esther. According to Adams:
One of the more classic examples is Dear Esther, a game that is sometimes derisively referred to as a “walking simulator.” It has one of the lowest forms of interactivity one could expect; you have to move through the world to advance the story, but that’s pretty much it. You don’t really have much in the way of change you can affect upon the game world or variety in playthrough. If you were to sit next to someone and watch them play Dear Esther (or a similar game) you would largely have the same experience.
Saturday - August 22, 2015
TechRaptor - Playing Roles: On Tactical RPGs @ TechRaptor
Another episode of Playing Roles by Robert Grosso - On Tactical RPGs:
Some genres of role-playing games tend to be very self-explanatory in what we call them. In the West, we are used to seeing Action-RPGs and Dungeon Crawls mingle with real-time role-playing games or open-world titles. One genre that is curiously absent from the conversation of role-playing games, and on the radar for most players, is the tactical role-playing game, or TRPG.
TRPGs can arguably have their origins traced to the game Chess, where you need to use tactics to overwhelm your opponents in a combat situation. TRPGs are less exploration-heavy, more combat oriented, complete with statistics and level ups, equipment and abilities that need to be taken into account to maximize your effectiveness in battle. Through this, TRPGs tend to satisfy a singular niche—games with storytelling and tactical combat being the emphasis over exploration. [...]
Friday - August 07, 2015
TechRaptor - Playing Roles: The Philosophy of Design
Another interesting role-playing article from Robert Grosso (TechRaptor):
Older games tended to be more clear-cut than today. The CRPG games of the 1980s and 1990s were heavily concrete in their mechanics, often simulating aspects such as weight, weapon proficiency, class and spells, traps, and agility. By design, many of these games followed very closely the Dungeons and Dragons rulesets of the day, which were very concrete in their own fashion. Many of these games were also dungeon crawlers and early MUDs, built from the ground up based on a ruleset that already existed.
As noted in previous articles, however, by the mid-1990s the CRPG market began to falter, primarily through bad game design, staleness of the overall genre, and poor coding by the game developers. Titles like Fallout and Bladur’s Gate rescued the CRPG market in the late 1990s, offering fresher takes on that concrete design than ever before and showing that even today, these type of games can still be quite popular. Fallout continues to use both the VATS and SPECIAL system in combat and character creation. Pillars of Eternity by inXile created their own ruleset, but use the ruleset in a way that offers more simulation and concrete statistic tracking as the primary feature of the game. So games focused on concrete mechanics are not going anywhere.
Abstract design has always been present, however, even in concrete games. The difference is the abstract design is taken for granted in older titles. CPRG games, because of their rule-heavy mechanics and general statistics, often handwaved some of the more abstract elements of their games as they were not the focus of the design. For console role-playing games, the abstract design took root in most instances, offering a “gameplay first” mentality in titles such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy.
Saturday - July 25, 2015
TechRaptor - Playing Roles: On Co-op and Multiplayer
Robert Grosso (TechRaptor) on co-op and multiplayer gaming in CRPGs:
This article is not about MMOs, however, as those online RPGs are a separate discussion in and of itself. What should be discussed is how games such as Borderlands, among others, have slowly been evolving our perceptions of role-playing games further, while simultaneously influencing other genres with their design. Co-op play is increasing in popularity in role-playing video games, and titles like Borderlands are at the forefront of either an emerging genre in RPGs or a pre-existing genre that has long been dormant.
To fully understand how, we need to look back at the history of multiplayer in RPGs. Most computer and console RPGs have been primarily a single player experience by definition, and it is mostly due to design. The book Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design, describes role-playing games as having a developed storyline structure and setting, with players having complete control of their party at all times. Many games, from the classic SSI Goldbox titles to Square and Enix games, tend to follow this paradigm to the letter; the player has complete control over their experience based on their choices, characters, equipment, and progression. As we have mentioned previously, the plotline is unaffected, but players also control the narrative tone of some of these games as well.
The full control of a role-playing game experience of course varies between a person’s preferences. Fans of dungeon crawlers like Wizardry, for example, look for specific design choices when choosing a game to play, and having full control of the player’s party, character classes, equipment, formation, and inventory is paramount of the genre. It has been argued previously how the etymology of role-playing games is difficult to pin down, so the best solution would be to divide games through genre by design, not by country of origin. For a game like Borderlands, such classification can be difficult at first glance.
Many don’t consider it a RPG in any form, instead a first-person shooter with RPG elements attached. While there is a growing number of games outside of the RPG genre incorporating such elements into their design, Borderlands follows a more standard design philosophy found in most RPG games, from open world design, to non-linear character progression. Players have complete control over the optimization and growth of their character, right down to the weapons and abilities they use in combat. Borderlands also borrows many elements often seen in modern role-playing games, namely aesthetic design of inventory—multi-colored, multi-tiered items based on rarity—uniqueness of character classes, quest-based mission structure, and character rewards and progression.
Sunday - July 12, 2015
TechRaptor - Final Fantasy Retrospective
Robert Grosso (TechRaptor) looks back at one of the biggest RPG franchises -
Playing Roles – A Final Fantasy Retrospective
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the North American release of Final Fantasy. Arguably the most important role-playing game ever made, Final Fantasy as a franchise has spawned fourteen main games, countless spinoffs, and over 110 million units sold since its initial release in Japan in 1987. Final Fantasy is one of the best-selling game franchises of all time, and rightfully so regarding the popularity of the series after all these years.
As with any game franchise, the journey to achieving success is a long one. Often cited as the eventual swan song of the video game company Square, Final Fantasy was, in fact, not the savior of the company. While it’s true Square was in financial difficulties at the time, their portfolio of games was fairly diversified, developing titles originally for the PC-8801 before switching to development for the Nintendo Famicon.
Square become both a developer and publisher at this time. As a publisher, Square had a hand in several major titles for the Famicon and the PC-8801, including Thexder, Kings Knight, and Dragon Slayer. Square also had several development projects that would later become top sellers for their day. Rad Racer is perhaps the most famous, but the company also created the 3-D World Runner series and the first ever dating sim game, Nakayama Miho no Tokimeki High School.
At the time, Square had employed a young developer as a full time employee in 1986, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Sakaguchi worked as the director of Planning and Development for the company but grew frustrated with the lack of a mainstream success during his tenure. Sakaguchi resolved to direct one game for himself, and if it failed to sell, he would quit the video game industry.
There are several stories to where the name Final Fantasy actually came from. The most common belief is the name stemmed from the game being the last hope for Square, which was facing major financial difficulties. Sakaguchi, however, has given two alternate accounts. The first regarded his feelings of disillusionment at the time, believing the title would be his last game before quitting the industry. [...]
Saturday - June 27, 2015
TechRaptor - On Choice and Consequence
Robert Grosso (TechRaptor) talks about choices and consequences:
Playing Roles: On Choice and Consequence
Note: The following editorial contains spoilers. You have been warned.
“Choices.” “Consequences.” “Engaging decisions.” These are the short and catchy buzzwords of a fast-growing gaming medium that have found a way into the very heart of modern game design. It is almost inescapable in the current market to find a game not touting how much “impact” your choices have, especially in the realm of role-playing games. For each choice we see though, within them is a growing illusion of what they truly represent. Having control and impact on the choices made in games is something of a misnomer, because in the end a fundamental question needs to be asked: how much control does the player actually have over their choices?
It really is a difficult question to answer, mainly because of the diversity of the video game market. On the one hand, the player should have a degree of control, mainly in terms of actual gameplay mechanics. On the other hand, the developers set the rules of the game through those same mechanics, essentially forcing players to operate within the world. For story-driven games, this also includes controlling the plot through the allotted and limited number of in-game choices. (...)
Friday - May 22, 2015
TechRaptor - The Etymology of RPGs, Part 2
More RPG history on TechRaptor - part 2. Robert Grosso explains the origins of WRPGs and JRPGs. A snippet:
During the early 1990s, there were some attempts to innovate the genre further. Quest for Glory incorporated role-playing mechanics into a point-and-click adventure game. Betrayal at Krondor, based on author Raymond Feist’s Midkemia setting, featured a turn-based, semi-tactical system coupled with pre-determined characters and a skill-based experience system. Legends of Valour was the first sandbox style role-playing game without a non-linear plot line and would later be named as one of the primary influences of the Elder Scroll’s series.
All of the above games were criticized as role-playing games in the West upon release. Notable problems included a poor user interface, unusual gameplay mechanics, bad graphics or lack of depth found in most other CRPGs at the time. Essentially, they deviated too much from the winning formula. Even Quest for Glory was considered more of an adventure-game than a true RPG and much like Times of Lore, was relegated to “novice-level” status rather quickly.
This stagnation led to the major decline of the CRPG market. As reviewer Mark Walker put it, “During the now-infamous mid-nineties CRPG lull, the toughest dungeons were the bottomless pits of failed designs, and the fiercest beasts the deadly-dull CRPG releases.” Many issues stemmed from ballooning budgets for software development, longer development times, and heavy competition not only from other PC games, such as more fast-paced first-person-shooters and strategy titles. Tastes were also shifting to Japanese role-playing games, leaving many western RPGs with a shrinking audience. By 1997, Western RPGs were at their all time low.
This would change with a trio of games that would change the landscape once again, this time borrowing from less traditional sources. The first would be Blizzard’s Diablo, an action RPG that was heavily influenced by the roguelike Telengard from 1982. Eschewing the slower pace of a dungeon crawl, Diablo was quick and accessible, heavy on combat and action, and had a vibrant online community when it was released in 1996.
A year later, Interplay, with a new developer called Black Isle Studios, would release a game called Fallout. Based on a previous Interplay title called Wasteland, Fallout was set in a post-apocalyptic future ravaged by nuclear war. The game would feature an open, non-linear world, heavy emphasis on character interaction, turn-based tactical combat system, and distinct aesthetic presentation. All of this allowed Fallout to stand out and further revitalize the CRPG market with a fresh approach to the genre, both in terms of mechanics and presentation.
Sunday - May 17, 2015
TechRaptor - The Etymology of RPGs, Part 1
Some RPG history on TechRaptor - part 1. Robert Grosso explains the origins of WRPGs and JRPGs. He starts by quoting himself:
To quote from my previous article on Rogue Galaxy:
“Even as early as 2005, fans in the “JRPG” and “WRPG” debate have pitched their wagons, arguing over tonal, mechanic, even artistic differences between the two labels, in the process categorizing hundreds of games between them based upon these arbitrary listings. Today we see forum debates constantly bringing up this debate all the time, yet due to this stigma behind both “categories,” many games tend to suffer from it, especially through the misconceptions, or assumptions, of their design.
If only there was a way to explain why? To maybe get some points across on all of these different subgenres, issues and discussions on role-playing games…”
The debate between these two supposed genres of games is a long one, and frankly not something people want to hear. Go to any forum or you tube video, and you will see hundreds of debates on the validity of these styles of games, circulating through a laundry list of pros and cons to support their personal conclusions.
Yet, what do the terms really tell us? The biggest problems with such terminology is how misleading it can be, the assumptions of a game being made in a certain country notwithstanding. Many tend to cite graphical aesthetics, story and presentation, even battle mechanics as the primary differences between a Japanese and Western role-playing game.