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J.E. Sawyer

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Blog Entries posted by J.E. Sawyer

  1. J.E. Sawyer
    Oh. Hello there.
     
    I wanted to put some ideas into words to help express what it means to build a world at Obsidian. It takes a lot of time and effort from a boatload (dirigible-load) of people, but there are some guiding principles that keep us focused on building worlds we love that we hope players will love, too.
     
    No matter what the flavor of the setting may be -- fantasy, sci-fi, modern day espionage... a town in Colorado -- worlds are places we want to explore filled with characters we feel passionate about. Curiosity makes us want to explore. An interest in the unknown. Fascination and wonder at what we'll see if we go left instead of right. Visuals are part of it, but it's about the atmosphere and the feeling we get from stepping into a place we've never been part of before. When we see the way the world and the folks in it work, what drives it and them, no matter how mundane or fantastic, we believe in it.
     
    To feel for characters at all, we need to make a connection with them. To make a connection with them, we need to believe that if we were put in their shoes, maybe we'd follow the same path they're on. When we talk about mature themes, we're not describing arterial spray. We're talking about character motivations that we sympathize with in the setting. When we get to our nemeses after hunting them down for 50 hours and they say, "Man, do you see what I have to deal with?" we nod and say, "Yeah, I guess I do..." even as we're reluctantly beating their faces in with a morningstar.
     
    But it's not a one-way street. Those characters need to be with you. They need to pay attention to who you choose to be and how you choose to conduct yourself. It's why we love writing conversations as dialogues, exchanges with give and take. If we've built a world you believe in, your choices won't feel like random button clicks. They'll be decisions that make you think, maybe trouble you, possibly annoy you from time to time. And when your companions, friends, enemies, lovers, haters, et al. react with jeers, whooping, or the RPG equivalent of a sustained Citizen Kane clap, you won't feel the invisible hand of the market designer at work. You'll feel like you're at home in the world we, and your choices, have shaped.
     
    When you get down to it, we want to make places and lives you want to be a part of as much as we do. It seems a lot simpler than it is when it's written down like that, but through all of the complications and doubts, knowing what we're shooting for helps us move foward day after day and year after year. Hopefully you'll want to be part of where we're going next. It should be a hoot.
  2. J.E. Sawyer
    At work, we have a lot of rules for how to write. These range from punctuation (single-spacing after terminal punctuation) to spelling ("all right" vs. "alright") to structural (where a "goodbye" response should be relative to a "start combat" response and where that should be relative to a "friendly" response). Every project has a document (or documents) on the specific guidelines for that project. In spite of all the details, there are certain high-level principles that tend to be common. Okay, maybe it's just in my mind, but here are principles that I believe are important for writing player-driven dialogue in choice-heavy RPGs.
     
    * Dialogue should inform and entertain players -- inform them about the world and quests, entertain them with interesting characters and prose. If you aren't informing or entertaining, think hard about what you're trying to accomplish.
    * Write an outline. Really. Just do it. You should have an idea of where you are going before you set out. If you don't know where you're going when you write your conversation, chances are the player is going to get lost at some point.
    * Always give at least two options. At a bare minimum, you should always have an option that says, "Let's talk about something else," that leads back to a node where you can say, "Goodbye." You may think that your dialogue is riveting and no one could possibly want to stop reading/hearing it, but believe me -- someone out there does.
    * Never give false options. Do not create multiple options that lead to the same result. It insults players' intelligence and does not reward them for the choices they make.
    * Don't put words in the player's mouth. With the exception of conditional replies (gender, skills, stats, etc.), phrase things in a straightforward manner that does not mix a request for information with an emotionally loaded bias ("I'd like to know what's going on here, jackass.").
    * Keep skills, stats, gender, and previous story resolutions in mind and reward the player's choices. If it doesn't feel like a reward, it isn't; it's just a false option with a tag in front of it. Note: entertainment value can be a valid reward.
    * The writing style and structure are the project's; the character belongs to you and the world. As long as the dialogue follows project standards and feels like it is grounded in the world, it is your challenge and responsibility to make the character enjoyable and distinct.
     
    All of these principles exist to support this basic idea: your audience is playing a game and they want to be rewarded for spending time involving themselves with conversation. If it is a chore, is non-reactive, is confusing, or is downright boring, it is the author's failing, not the player's.
  3. J.E. Sawyer
    Even video games with good writing are usually banal and puerile in their content. The exploration of themes in games is typically shallow and any didactic purpose the writers attempt to achieve is usually aimed very low. When an eleven year-old already inherently comprehends and accepts the lesson you are trying to impart, you know you're not dropping the bucket too deep into the well. A converse problem is that the themes being explored are so far outside of a player's daily concerns that they simply do not care.
     
    A lot of game developers are really concerned about games not being taken "seriously". It's always been my opinion that if you have to ask for someone to take you seriously, you are not worthy of serious attention. If people find your content to be meritous, merit will be given. My concern about the lack of mature themes in games is personal. I think most games have uninteresting stories that explore irrelevant or trite subjects and they are really boring as a result. I don't care about pitting technology against nature; it's a trite theme. If it hadn't been explored in dozens of games already, it might be interesting. I don't care about focusing on high-level concepts like the "nature" of good and evil; it's far removed from anything I deal with on a daily basis and it is usually discussed in an explicit, heavily didactic manner.
     
    Why doesn't anyone make a game about poverty? Why doesn't anyone make a game about capitalism and the rights of laborers under it? Why doesn't anyone make a game about racism? It's frustrating, because these are issues that are of direct, daily importance to a huge number of people. These subjects are either never broached or are explored through proxies that defuse the seriousness of what is being discussed. E.g. elves and dwarves might express shallow "fantasy" racism against each other, but you're probably never going to see two humans with different skin colors express racism toward each other in a serious exchange.
     
    In rare cases, you might see the exploration of a subject like corporations vs. laborers or the religious vs. the non-religious, but the opposition is usually segregated into a "right" side and a "wrong" side. E.g. the religious turn out to be the bag guys, the laborers turn out to be the good guys. It's not an exploration of a theme as much as it is an exposition of the author's biases through various stand-'em-up-and-knock-'em-down characters. Exploration isn't really exploration when you're being led by the nose to a preselected destination.
     
    I understand why game developers don't try to delve any deeper, though. Games are still considered escapist entertainment. While many media manage to have a wide spectrum of titles with varying themes and treatments, games are still very focused on pumping the player up and giving him or her a sense of tension followed by relief, accomplishment, and satisfaction. Things work out, the bad people get killed, and though one or two decent people might have been thrown into the grinder, it was all for a good cause -- and you know what that cause is.
     
    People don't want to talk about things like poverty or racism or the pros and cons of a capitalist society -- because they suck. If these subjects had issues that were easy to solve, they wouldn't even be issues. They are problems that provoke dread, anxiety, confusion, anger, and a lot of other negative feelings. People don't want to escape to these things because then it's not an escape at all.
     
    But they are real issues, and they are relevant. That's why they are serious, why they are topics of merit. I don't know if there are a enough people who are interested in playing games about such things to justify creating products to fill such a need. I have a low opinion of my fellow citizens of the world, so probably not.
     
    But I really wish there were.
  4. J.E. Sawyer
    At work, I am often directly involved in an aspect of game design that not all designers really deal with: system and content tuning. This is the process by which system rules and content are adjusted to produce a specific effect for the player. E.g. you want the player to feel like he/she really gains a great advantage when he/she gets the raccoon tail in Super Mario Brothers 3, so you space out the frequency of raccoon tail powerups and you make sure that the raccoon tail's flight powers allow access to useful/valuable areas.
     
    RPGs are often difficult to tune for a few reasons:
     
    * There are a lot of statistics
    * Many of the statics are derived/connected to other statistics
    * There are subsystems that govern access to various abilities (e.g. class systems, racial abilities, etc.) that create a player desire for egalitarianism/balance between those subsystems
     
    This won't all be coherent, but I'd like to write down a few basic rules that I have developed over time.
     
    * Avoid allowing a base value to be modified by more than three inputs. That is, if you have a base damage value for something, you should ideally allow it to be affected by no more than three things. The fewer inputs you allow to modify a value, the more significant the effects of those inputs are. Additionally, the range is generally more constrained and predictable for a player. In turn, this makes tuning content easier.
     
    E.g. how long you can hold your breath underwater. It's affected by your Constitution score, your Swim skill, and your Breathing Bonuses (a catch-all of non-stacking bonuses specifically for holding breath). As long as you know the max Constitution score, max Swim skill, and the highest Breathing Bonus, you know exactly how long a character can hold his or her breath underwater at any given point in the game. Because you only have three inputs to worry about, it's easy to track everything that goes into this system. Player attempts to min-max the system are limited to those three categories, which means that non-min-maxers can still be "competitive".
     
    Now let's say you decide to expand this system. You allow all Breathing Bonuses to stack. A player can have a Breathing Bonus from up to three different perks and Breathing Bonuses on any/all equipment he or she can wear, up to eight "slots" worth. Even if the values used on these perks and pieces of equipment were relatively minor, the spectrum of minimum and maximum have increased dramatically. It becomes more difficult to predict where a character will be on this scale at any given point in the game, and the min-maxer has an extreme advantage over the casual player, making content tuning difficult.
     
    * From a single value, avoid deriving multiple values in different subsystems. When you do this, you have created a complex balancing problem for yourself. The classic example of this is the ability score system in pretty much all editions of (Advanced) Dungeons & Dragons. Ability scores affect skills, the use of class abilities (e.g. a paladin's lay on hands), and various class-neutral statistics (hit point bonus from Con, AC bonus from Dex). Every time you adjust one of these skills, abilities, or statistics, you affect the value of the stat that has an input into them. Logically, any time you adjust inputs into the value from which these other values are derived, you affect the expected range of the derived values. The fewer things a single value affects, the easier balance will be for you.
     
    * Do not create drawbacks that are "opt-out" for the player if it still gives some benefit to the player. I.e. do not allow the player to take what is ostensibly a "drawback" that gives them a bonus to a skill pool, or some other sort of gameplay bonus, unless that drawback is very difficult/impossible to avoid. When people want to specialize a character in something, they already know what they want to do. What they don't want to do is pretty much everything but that activity. "You gain +4 to damage with broadswords but -20 to damage with wooden dowels and light maces," contains an effectively worthless drawback. The only way the drawback would ever arise in gameplay would be through some asinine heavy-handedness on the part of the game designer -- for which the player will almost assuredly resent you. A more even-handed drawback would be, "You gain +4 to damage with broadswords but attack 20% more slowly when using them." The benefit and the drawback are both realized within the same activity. The player cannot reap the benefit without suffering the penalty.
     
    * When making trade-offs between items/skills/abilities, those trade offs must actually feel different in application or the player's choice isn't very important. For example, in the above case of +4 to damage with a 20% lower attack rate, there should be situations in which more damage per hit = better and situations in which faster attack rate = better. For example, if an armor system is threshold based (subtracts a flat damage value), doing more damage per shot always means that damage has a greater chance of getting through armor. In this case, the +4 bonus is better when used against opponents with armor. Against opponents with high health and no armor, raw DPS matters more than damage per shot. In such cases, having a 20% faster attack rate may be better if it outweighs the DPS value of the +4 in the overall equation.
     
    * Show the player what he or she is getting, even if they don't necessarily understand how the underlying math works out. When players invest in something, they have an expectation that what they are increasing is affecting something. Make sure that this is happening, and happening consistently. If you have some sort of weird logarithmic adjustments going on behind the scene without informing the player, the player does not know what he or she is getting. In a case where you have a system where all points on a scale cost a fixed value to buy, each point should advance the derived values by an equal amount (a linear increase) -- or the player should be informed about how things are actually being increased on your wacky scale.
     
    Okay that's enough for now.
  5. J.E. Sawyer
    I dream of a day when 1-bit alpha will go away. It looks terrible. There are excuses for why we have to do it right now, but MAN does it look bad. Tree leaves with 1-bit alpha? Horrible. Hair with 1-bit alpha? Awful.
     
    I have a dream. Share this dream with me. Together... we can make it real.
  6. J.E. Sawyer
    One of the most important attributes of a good designer is the ability to apply critical thinking to any aspect of a game. At a convention recently, a bunch of game developers kept repeating how important critical thinking was. An audience member asked, "Well, what is that really?"
     
    There's this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_Thinking but that doesn't necessarily give anyone a good idea of how that is applied to game development. One thing we often ask applicants at Obsidian is what their favorite or least favorite games are and why. The "and why" is the most important part of the answer. Anyone can spit out a list of titles to show a wide range of tastes, but that doesn't give us any idea of what he or she found of value in those games. Understanding why -- really why -- you enjoy or dislike games helps you understand what other people may find appealing or distasteful in games.
     
    Lately, I have been trying to take this further. I believe that it is a sign of truly elegant design when you are able to observe a game and determine the goals of the designer of any given system -- and all systems together. Often, you are able to recognize these elements because the game's design leads the player how to figure out when the use of any given tool is appropriate.
     
    I think Pikmin is a good example of a game with elegant design. Practically speaking, the player only has three tools to work with: red, blue, and yellow Pikmin. Reds resist fire and are strong fighters. Blues can swim (and save other Pikmin from drowning). Yellow Pikmin can be thrown higher than other Pikmin and (in the first game) can carry bombs. There are many cases in the game where the player is confronted with a field of hazards and it is up to him or her to determine how to best apply Pikmin to the situation. Often, there is only one "right" way to navigate to the goal, but the player does still have to figure it out. And because the solution can be deduced logically, players typically feel smart -- not dumb -- when they do so. Additionally, the game requires enough moment-to-moment skill in managing Pikmin that player talent is also very rewarding.
     
    Another (very harsh) example of elegant game design can be found in one of my favorite games: Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox. Though not every element of Ninja Gaiden is elegant, many aspects of the combat system are. Ninja Gaiden teaches you through experience that blocking is required in the game. On the first level of the game, the player essentially survives because of blocking. Excepting the boss, no enemy on the level will ever break Ryu out of block. Additionally, enemies attack with relatively low frequency. The player grows to understand that there is a pattern to enemy attacks, typically one, three, or four hits long. When the chain ends, the player can immediately respond (and respond easily, as block hit reactions turn Ryu to face the source of the attack) with his or her own attacks.
     
    This changes when encountering sorcerers on a subsequent level. The sorcerers' fireballs, which are telegraphed by a distinctive sound, will always knock Ryu out of his block if they hit him. The player learns to listen for the sound and instinctively roll at the right time to avoid the attack. Later, the player encounters groups of ninjas that attack with great speed and frequency but (at least in the core game) still do not grapple Ryu. Around the same time, Ryu finds a scroll that teaches the player about counter-attacking out of block hit reactions. The player eventually figures out that counter-attacking is by far the safest way to deal with such enemies. Similar "revelations" occur throughout the game with different weapons, types of attacks, etc.
     
    Think about the games you love and hate and try to figure out why -- then try to figure out what the designers were attempting to accomplish by making the game as they did. It can lead to some amazing discoveries.
  7. J.E. Sawyer
    'Sup G's?
     
    Sooooo... lately I have been talking with some of the other Obsidz folks about issues that affect the making, use, and distribution of custom content. Chief among these are:
     
    * The lack of an official hak editor.
    * The lack of an official UTF-8 string editor.
    * The lack of a place where "stand-alone" (unaffiliated with modules and campaigns) haks can live (override and data folders not really being a good home for such things).
    * The lack of documentation on the order in which things are loaded and from where (with order being very important, as it establishes what files have "last say").
    * Data files can be read in from about eight different places in myriad formats.
    * .haks must be explicitly called out from individual campaigns and modules.
    * There is no logging of .hak and override content being loaded to see gets read in last and from where.
    * There is no data screen where campaigns, .haks, and override files can be seen, much less managed.
     
    How are important are these things to you? I would like to see at least a few of these addressed. Most notably, I would like to see clear feedback on what data is recognized by the game (preferably at the launcher screen) and a log of when it is loaded.
     
    I would also like to make the loading of .haks implicit (automatic) based on where they are placed. I.e. all .haks in the haks folder always get loaded, all .haks in a campaign folder always gets loaded with the .cam (?) file in the folder, and all .haks in a module folder get loaded with the .mod in the same folder. Of course, this would demand a re-structuring of the load order and .mods would always have to be in their own folders. Nathaniel drew the pyramid of load order, which helps with this. I can't draw a pyramid on the train, but try to imagine it.
     
    OVERRIDE (.hak, .zip, all other data formats)
    Module (.hak)
    Campaign (.hak)
    Haks (.hak)
    Data (.zips and other stuff)
     
    This is in reverse load order, so core data is loaded first, followed by content in .haks from the haks folder, follower by .haks from the campaign's folder and .haks from the module's folder. Finally, the almighty override takes priority over everything, which really leaves it as a place for testing (which is what it is for) and for people who absolutely can't stand some aspect of a campaign or module they are playing.
     
    The suggested benefit of this is that you could have "generic" .haks like Josh's Fancy Spells or Annie's Super Cool Item Pak as .haks in the haks folder that take precedence in all modules and campaigns unless trumped by the specific content in a campaign or module (in which case the assumption is that you downloaded the campaign or module to actually enjoy what the builder had in mind). If you're the sort of person that hates the default sword models (for example) and you want Adonnay's swords in all campaigns, you can dump them in the override with the game warning you at launch that files really should only be in the override folder for testing purposes.
     
    There are a bunch of other things associated with this, but Rich "Ask the Community What They Think" Taylor wanted me to get feedback on the big issues before we seriously consider any of this (as it could be a lot of work to re-organize everything).
  8. J.E. Sawyer
    I played GRAW2 back-to-back with Rainbow Six: Vegas, and I found the former lacking in many areas. Though I would say elements like the GUI, level design, animations, and sound were reasonably solid, the core gameplay itself was often frustrating. The problems were a culmination of bad AI, a poor command interface, some other generally clumsy mechanics, and story/dialogue elements that could have been much better.
     
    Your teammates are not very effective. Not only do they fire their weapons at a rate of about one bullet every six seconds, but they have the firearm accuracy of Don Knotts in The Shakiest Gun in the West. Their responsiveness to commands is slow and often haphazard in execution.
     
    These problems are compounded by the d-pad command interface. It's very easy to accidentally move your team when you simply want them to fire at a target. And when they do move, they usually move to a place where you do not want them. The game doesn't show you their target positions until after the command is given. This is something that Full Spectrum Warrior executed much better several years ago. In FSW, it was always very clear where your folks were going to go. In GRAW2, such a mistake puts your squad out in the open unless you re-focus them or pull them back to you.
     
    I did not like the cover mechanics much. I enjoyed R6V's because it allowed me to always be explicit about when I went to and from cover. GRAW2's slippy-slidey method was often frustrating. It was also really annoying to lean out from cover and fire a rifle grenade into the cover I was using (typically killing myself).
     
    I had trouble with the health meters because I'm red-green color blind and don't really "read" heartbeat spikes. Usually the cases where I lived or died seemed haphazard because enemies weren't that accurate with their guns. The firing mechanics were pretty solid once you went into aim mode, though really without aim mode you might as well not even have a fire button, because you will miss with almost every shot you take.
     
    Piloting the UAV could be fun, but it got old very quickly. It just became a routine "I have to do this" step when the UAV was in the level. In the later levels, the UAV was absent but it didn't really matter because dudes were just pouring out at me.
     
    The story's premise was fine, but the inclusion of tons of foreign mercenaries seemed really weird. I think I heard an English accent, American, Dutch (?), and a voice that sounded like Satan himself. I also have started to notice that companies (especially Ubi) will do just about anything to prevent having an obviously Arab or Muslim antagonist in the game. It's like the United Colors of Terrorism.
     
    I won't be too hard on the story or dialogue here, but there were a few moments of notable inconsistency. I did think it was interesting to deal with the U.S./Mexican border as a setting, but the story kind of devolved into foreign mercenaries and terrorists bringing nuclear weapons through the border which didn't seem that fresh. There were some very fun moments in the game, particularly any of the Blackhawk rail sequences or the occasions where you had a Littlebird cruising around with you, but overall I thought the game could have been much better. It was obviously entertaining enough for me to finish it, but I had plenty of frustrating moments.
     
    I award this game 5.5 out of 8 UAVs.
  9. J.E. Sawyer
    Caveat lector: I have not played any of the other Rainbow Six games, so I did not come into this title with many expectations. Also, I'm just jotting down thoughts in no particular order.
     
    This was the first game I've played for more than a few hours on my Xbox 360. It felt easy to get into. Though the game had a lot of mechanics, they were introduced step-by-step, though I think I might have missed a few tips along the way. The controls seemed sensible for the most part, but switching weapons or attachments was a pain since both thumbs had to come off of the thumbsticks, usually with the left trigger held down.
     
    The first person perspective was usually a hindrance, and I took cover just as often to see my character and what was around him as to avoid enemy fire. Since I couldn't easily track my squadmates or their status, I was regularly checking up on them visually, which can be annoying in a precise console shooter. I have to admit that I am not a fan of audio-only feedback on my squadmates. Tons of people are yelling, bullets are flying everywhere, and I often can't sort out what the hell is going on. The reality of war, but I don't want it on my Xbox 360, thx.
     
    I liked that my squadmates would follow suit with me. When I crouched, they crouched. When I equipped my suppressor, they also equipped theirs. I'm not sure I understood how their stealth mechanics work, because I think I could set off a daisycutter in the room next to two guys and their response would be, "Did you hear something?" But it was nice to mark guys, open and clear, and hear the muffled bullets of my teammates as the dots disappeared.
     
    Grenades felt more powerful/dangerous than in most games I've played, though the smoke grenades seemed to work inconsistently. Maybe that is by design. I thought that the weapons were not differentiated well. Perhaps they were trying to be realistic (again), but I felt little reason to select any given assault rifle over another assault rifle. Usually I wanted a weapon of a given class, with a certain attachment, and with the highest ammunition capacity. I carried around so many magazines of ammunition and came across so many equipment containers that only once in the game did I have to pick up the weapon of a fallen enemy.
     
    The level design was very interesting, as I usually had several options for traversing any environment and engaging any given set of enemies. I was always looking to the left and right, up and down. Very good use of vertical space. And despite the fact that I was fighting humans with guns throughout the entire story, I never tired of it due to the different environments and challenges that they presented.
     
    "Hold this spot while Jung **** around on a computer out in the open" moments were among the most irritating in the game, a sentiment two of my co-workers agreed with. My annoyance grew when I realized that the computers were always placed facing in (toward a cubbyhole) to prevent you from taking up a tactically sound position when the inevitable clown car full of guys poured forth. Those sections seemed to be very "against" your game training. "Guys, sit in a box facing outward toward a field full of potential murder camps."
     
    My squadmates usually moved very well, and I was impressed by how smart they were -- both with and without orders. However, on a few occasions they would try to move to the inside of a door when I would command them to move to a doorway while looking through my snake cam, when in almost all cases the desired effect would be the opposite.
     
    Rappelling was a lot of fun, especially when I could set up my squad to breach just as I came in through a doorway. There were some really fantastic firefights following that sort of set-up. I also liked the use of thermal goggles and how they would often be foiled by flames, generators, etc.
     
    I thought the story was fine, but the terrorist characters were pretty absurd. Irena just seemed like a dumb, generic terrorist and I didn't really care about killing her. Her motivations were unclear, and I didn't have any real attachment to my early Rainbow team members, so I never got as pumped up about tracking her down as my character was.
     
    Despite its few gameplay flaws (and the fact that sometimes levels will load without textures), I thought this was a very fun game overall. I felt like my shooting skills and my command skills were equally important. My teammates were valuable, I was valuable, and it seemed as much about tactics as taking precise shots at the bad guys. I award this game 6.3 of 8 flashbangs.
  10. J.E. Sawyer
    I have written before about the strange position occupied by RPGs in modern computer gaming (PC or otherwise). In summary: tabletop RPGs and most of their CRPG kin were born out of mechanics necessitated by the realities of playing a game with dice, paper, and pencils. Everything was either uncontested expression on behalf of the player or a simulated contest governed by probability. Modern PCs and consoles can now, with a fair amount of accuracy, simulate movement, lighting, perception, and virtually any type of physical activity in the world or through mini-games. It leaves "probability simulation" RPGs, or perhaps all RPGs, in an odd place.
     
    When one plays Thief, Splinter Cell, or Oblivion, stealth is governed by the player's ability to move from shadow to shadow while avoiding the vision and proximity of bad guys in real time. There may be a numerical value (such as Chameleon in Oblivion) that modifies the ability of creatures to perceive the character, but the fundamental mechanic is still something that feels more player-driven than character-driven. Many people (myself included) feel that this is more engaging and generally rewarding than clicking a "stealth" button and letting probability take over as D&D games like the Infinity Engine and NWN titles do. The former rewards moment-to-moment player ability and quick decision making. The latter rewards character building choices, ones which often took place far from where the abilities are used.
     
    Many gamers may reasonably say, "But RPGs are about character building, not player skill." Though I think one can make a fair case that some form of player skill is always heavily involved in any RPG, it does leave traditional CRPGs in a strange place. The fact that they are often referred to as "traditional" makes them seem like antiquated throwbacks. And though I was somewhat annoyed by an early review of Neverwinter Nights 2 that focused heavily on comparing its thick D&D mechanics to Oblivion's relatively straightforward, "player + character" systems, I can't say I was all that surprised by the outcry. I return to the idea that games like D&D, like GURPS, like H
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