Table of Contents

Over the course of this web log, I’ve written a few articles with my thoughts on what makes an RPG good and how they could be better or different. What I’ve written so far is by no means comprehensive, but here are some essays on the topic in order from oldest to most recent:

Random Thoughts: The post that kicked it all of, and it came at the end as an aside. In the post I raise a simple question I’ve long struggled with: how do we take the coolness of a cutscene and turn it into player-determined gameplay?

Dexter, the video game: At this point, I still hadn’t formalized the idea of a series of posts. But after learning that there would be an upcoming video game based on the TV show Dexter I decided to put my love affair with Fahrenheit on full, unabashed display as a reference point to describe how I’d design the game.

Gaming Immersion: Here I discuss the importance of pulling your audience into the game experience. Immersion is a subjective term and can be achieved in different ways. Tetris can be immersive as much as any graphically-stunning first-person shooter. In the post, I make note of a couple examples of cool moments I’ve had while playing games that stand out in my memory.

Three-Part Series, Part One: Some of my better gaming moments have come when my party of adventurers wasn’t at full strength and I had to be creative to get them through a difficult encounter instead of relying on superiority. This article is, in part, about that very idea and different ways it could work in a game.

Three-Part Series, Part Two: Failure! How many games let the player advance the story after failing? Very, very few. I try to get at how a player could fail in a game and yet move the story forward in a satisfying way.

Three-Part Series, Part Three: A while back I came up with a specific game mechanic for an RPG. This article is focused on that mechanic, which I refer to as “time paths”. The idea behind them is to facilitate an evolving, unique experience each time you play the game.

Three-Part Series, Epilogue: I wrap my three-part design series with an observation about how slowly game systems evolve, and how we need better prototyping from ambitious designers and a healthier independent infrastructure to change it.

Choice & Consequence: C&C has become the latest-greatest buzz phrase in the marketing of RPGs. The gamers want it and the developers want to say they’re focusing on it. But are they really? We can only figure out if they’re giving it to us by declaring what “it” is. And I theorize that C&C is only supremely effective when the game is designed around a few focused-but-branching choices.

Death & Aging: An exploration on the incorporation of aging, including death, to limit the scope of a single adventure and, theoretically, to encourage re-play.

Setting/Society: Fantasy games are often that: fantasy; escape; simple good-and-evil roles. And I’m fine with that. But it would be interesting to see an occasional game developer take up the challenge of going with very dark elements and tougher choices that expect you to role-play a very different set of moral standards.

Bloodlines – Continued: Although this is part of another series (a rolling review of Vampire: Bloodlines — the Masquerade), it expands on the observation (from my first post, Random Thoughts) that cutscenes steal control away from the player during critical moments while also bringing up how some games wait around for you to do something before time advances.

Dilemmas: A comment from Richard Garriot in an interview inspires this post. I argue that throwing a moral dilemma into the game is great, but you have to give the player closure to any implemented solutions for it to be meaningful — something Garriot misses. Obviously, the puzzle and its solutions should use mechanics the player is familiar with in the game for it to be a rewarding experience.

Model Game: Creating a cinematic, story-focused RPG is difficult because of our expectations on combat and our desire to have lots of it. But using QTEs in an RPG can allow us to create that cinematic role-playing experience, trading quantity of opponents with duration of fights.

Casual RPG: I decided to take a stab at creating a simple RPG in the vein of the casual types of games you might see on Facebook, like Mafia Wars or Castle Age. But better, of course. Much better.

Magic Equipment and Mystery: By removing stats from characters and items and by also providing some randomized effects we create mystery in our games that would provide an interesting counter-balance to the proliferation of numbers-based meta gaming in RPGs. In the post, I explain in greater detail how this would work.

What do you think?

One thing that I liked about Mass Effect 2 (I didn’t play either) was that we listened to fan feedback and fixed exactly the problems they gave us.

And we were rewarded, even if not in COD numbers.

Games like Braid are so rare, where each level represents a tweak on an established method of controlling the game. Each level is new and interesting and never re-hashing.

A lot of people were telling me that Mass Effect 2 was so much better than Mass Effect 1 and I wasn’t completely sure I believed them, but now that I’m playing I’m starting to think they were right. I think the majority of Mass Effect 1 was a long tunnel littered with enemies and you moved along its length taking everything out along the way. Fun, yes. But it’d be like Braid re-using their first puzzle over 10 levels and then you’re done. Each place I’ve visited in Mass Effect 2 has been the same cover-and-shoot concept but in a new way. It’s definitely closer to Braid in that sense. I’d bet that’s also similar to your feelings on a game like Half-Life 2. Maybe?

As for the 2D RPG, yes — 100 times yes. One day!

Great summary. I haven’t spent much time thinking about game design lately.

I still pine for a day when some developer will come up with a beautiful (like Braid beautiful or more) 2d platformer RPG. A party based game with simple mechanics that allow for complex actions with interactions between the members.