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Is DnD holding up back from better game design?


Mercer

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Personally, I'd say no, at least from the CRPG standpoint. It does create some limitations, but part of good game design is to work within the parameters given, whether it's the game system or the game world. You can still create a great story, great characters, great quests irrespective of whatever game system or campaign world you use.

 

I think DnD has heavily influenced CRPG design for a long time and as a result, has introduced some pretty common gameplay cliches and expectations, but I don't think it's held us back from better game design.

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I don't think that it's fair to say that D&D is holding back the CRPG genre. It's a tool to be used and, as with any tool, it works well in some instances and not so much in others. I think that a much fairer argument would be whether or not strict adherence to the preconceived notions that the D&D license brings with it is inhibitive to game design.

 

I won't comment (at least in this post) on the subject of whether or not storyline and that sort of thing is inhibited by D&D, but I feel that from a mechanics standpoint, strict adherence is indeed stifling to game design. Put simply, many of the mechanics that make p&p D&D work so well are obselete and overly arbitrary when utilized in the video game medium. After all, look at what video games are capable of nowadays. Representational hit detection, extremely convincing physics simulations, and realistic character perception just to name a couple. Unfortunately, adherence to D&D mechanics has meant that these possibilities are ignored and so we get gameplay that, compared to that of other genres, feels outdated and will feel inconsistent and needlessly confusing to players not familiar with D&D.

 

I think it's fair to say that D&D (or perhaps just p&p) is also responsible for the fact that "RPG" is so closely associated with strategy-style combat and gameplay. I find this unfortunate, not because I dislike strategy gameplay, but because I feel that it imposes, again, arbitrary constraints on the genre. Certainly the idea of an Action RPG is not unheard of, but the phrase carries with it something of a stigma -- that an Action RPG is somehow less than a Strategy RPG. Admittedly, the stigma is not entirely groundless considering that so many Action RPGs unnecessarily mute their RPG elements. I truly believe that there is nothing that says the depth of, say, Fallout could not be paired with the gameplay of one of the 3d Zelda games or Half-Life or, hell, whatever. If anything, I think that action-style gameplay is more conducive to a strong relation between the player and PC than the isometric squad-level real-time strategy gameplay of the Infinity engine.

 

By the way, I am aware of Vampire: Bloodlines and Jade Empire and Fable and I await them with anticipation. I hope that one of them will show the above to be true.

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After all, look at what video games are capable of nowadays. Representational hit detection, extremely convincing physics simulations, and realistic character perception just to name a couple. Unfortunately, adherence to D&D mechanics has meant that these possibilities are ignored and so we get gameplay that, compared to that of other genres, feels outdated and will feel inconsistent and needlessly confusing to players not familiar with D&D.

Unfortunately, convincing physics and representational hit detection still can't simulate a reality, which is what rpg rules try to do.

You could have every section of a model's body cordoned off to check where the sword struck, which organs where hit and how badly, check how the force of the blow would unbalance the model, check if an artery was hit, if it put this person into shock, so on and so forth. All of this built into the game mechanics.

Or you could use RPG rules. 1-6 damage, critical hits, stunning, knockback and such. These are well defined rules that are already pretty much balanced and just need to be put into place.

 

Don't get me wrong: I'd love to see the former, but I don't think it will happen anytime soon. It seems like a pretty mammoth project in itself. Maybe a good idea for a game-resource company, like Havoc.

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I can't see how a game system, loved by thousands, maybe millions, can be holding back what an RPG can be. Every system has limitations and I firmly believe that you run into limitations with computers and/or developers before the limitations of the game system come into play.

 

Like mentioned above by Schazzwozzer, it is a tool. New tools and faster tools will help, but they don't make a great game. The design has to be solid, the story has to entertain, and the gameplay has to be fun. All of these can be achieved with or without computers.

 

If anyone feels that DnD is holding back better design, its because they simply don't like DnD. It is very subjective.

 

This is not to say that I think DnD is the end all of an RPG. It is just common and has a fan base. Other systems can be made, but they still have to entertain. Lots of popular RPG's use different systems than DnD and remain fun, but if the design is poor, or the story and gameplay suck, then no matter what system you use, it won't be all it could be.

 

Video games have the unique ability of combining interactivity with amazing fantastic visuals, something books, movies, board games, and PnP can't deliver all at once. Its a relatively new medium, and it evolves every year which can be a challenge for developers to really focus on what makes a game fun. Fun is widely percieved as new tech. New tech drives a lot of sales. I think a lot of developers and publishers feel new fancy technology has to be in place to compete. If you are setting out to make a top selling game, an RPG is probably one of the hardest genres to attempt it.

 

Gromnir made a nice point recently in another thread about Bioware. "our biggest complaint of bio games is that they is made for the average gamer. bio tries to make the mostest number of folks happy, and inevitably that leads to a certain 'mount of mediocrity." Money can undercut a lot of good designs. Its not always the case, but seems to be more often than not.

 

In the end though, it is up to the developer. The road to a successful game has to be travelled by them, and their decisions, ideas, and implementation determines the quality of game. Money is only an obstacle, just like time, creativity, and many others. These are what hinder RPG's, not DnD. IMO.

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Unfortunately, convincing physics and representational hit detection still can't simulate a reality, which is what rpg rules try to do.

You could have every section of a model's body cordoned off to check where the sword struck, which organs where hit and how badly, check how the force of the blow would unbalance the model, check if an artery was hit, if it put this person into shock, so on and so forth. All of this built into the game mechanics.

Or you could use RPG rules. 1-6 damage, critical hits, stunning, knockback and such. These are well defined rules that are already pretty much balanced and just need to be put into place.

I never suggested that convoluted simulations be put in place for everything. Some things work just fine as is and complicating the simulation further would be neither noticeable to the player or necessary. But what's the excuse for not having projectiles or fireballs or whatever that move according to real world physics and bounce and ricochet accordingly? What's the excuse for using die rolls to check if the PC is silently hidden in shadows when computers can calculate line-of-sight and light sources and how sounds moves through an environment? Why break time up into rounds if it could possibly be avoided?

 

Basically, all I'm saying is that I think CRPG developers shouldn't be afraid to pick and choose from the ruleset, ditching rules where another algorithm could produce better results. That, and I'd really really like to see a good CRPG in true, full 3d with all of those neat things that true, full 3d worlds can do in modern video games.

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If anyone feels that DnD is holding back better design, its because they simply don't like DnD.  It is very subjective.

I am sorry, but, what? I've been playing and DMing D&D in its various incarnations for a long time, and I think that it is most definitely holding the game design back - because the designers often use D&D conventions out of habit (even when much better alternatives are available), and others purposefully try to break away from D&D by making illogical design choices, just so they can be "different."

There are no doors in Jefferson that are "special game locked" doors. There are no characters in that game that you can kill that will result in the game ending prematurely.

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If anyone feels that DnD is holding back better design, its because they simply don't like DnD.

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Unfortunately, convincing physics and representational hit detection still can't simulate a reality, which is what rpg rules try to do.

You could have every section of a model's body cordoned off to check where the sword struck, which organs where hit and how badly, check how the force of the blow would unbalance the model, check if an artery was hit, if it put this person into shock, so on and so forth.  All of this built into the game mechanics.

Or you could use RPG rules.  1-6 damage, critical hits, stunning, knockback and such.  These are well defined rules that are already pretty much balanced and just need to be put into place.

I never suggested that convoluted simulations be put in place for everything. Some things work just fine as is and complicating the simulation further would be neither noticeable to the player or necessary. But what's the excuse for not having projectiles or fireballs or whatever that move according to real world physics and bounce and ricochet accordingly? What's the excuse for using die rolls to check if the PC is silently hidden in shadows when computers can calculate line-of-sight and light sources and how sounds moves through an environment? Why break time up into rounds if it could possibly be avoided?

 

Basically, all I'm saying is that I think CRPG developers shouldn't be afraid to pick and choose from the ruleset, ditching rules where another algorithm could produce better results. That, and I'd really really like to see a good CRPG in true, full 3d with all of those neat things that true, full 3d worlds can do in modern video games.

Sorry if my example was crappy, but it still sounds like you want to replace the RPG rules with simulations of the environment.

 

Having algorithms check for hiding in shadows, critical hits, how much damage was done, where bullets ricochet, whether someone was knocked over, and how well they hear is extremely difficult if you don't use random values.

 

My convoluted example was pointing out that if you want to see how much damage was actually done to someone, you would need a fairly complex model to test that. Or you could use random values (or static ones) to gauge the damage. In that case, you're basically using RPG rules.

 

The same goes for the rest of the checks. If these systems have a solid threshold, they'll seem less realistic. i.e. "I know that if a guard comes within 2' of me he'll see me, no matter how dark it is." Also, how would these skills increase over time (a rather big RPG thing) if you're just using the mechanics of the engine?

 

If you're bouncing fireballs around a corner, it sounds like you're playing an action game. RPG deal with tactics, they always have. Skill with a mouse and gauging angles of deflection properly aren't really an important part of playing a character. Your CHARACTER has the skills, you just tell him how to use them.

Oh Jimmy, you were so funny.

Don't let me down.

From habit he lifts his watch; it shows him its blank face.

Zero hour, Snowman thinks. Time to go.

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I am sorry, but, what? I've been playing and DMing D&D in its various incarnations for a long time, and I think that it is most definitely holding the game design back - because the designers often use D&D conventions out of habit (even when much better alternatives are available), and others purposefully try to break away from D&D by making illogical design choices, just so they can be "different."

I always play under the assumption that my DM or if I am DMing that the rules are up to the DM. DnD is the groundwork and provides the system basis, but the presentation of all these things is up to the DM. The developers should have the same freedoms, and if they have to strictly adhere to everything WOTC says then I can see how it can begin to be limiting. But I don't blame DnD for this, I would blame whoever is mandating that the devs have to do something a specific way. Even under these conditions a great RPG can be made.

 

BG 1 and 2 are probably my favorite RPG's of all time. They use DnD so I can't agree that DnD is holding RPGs back. It is other factors that hold it back. If someone disliked those games, then they might have an entirely different perspective.

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If you are designing a game based on the DnD license, then there's no reason to suspect that it is holding you back by any means. In this case, you are making a DnD game--if you want to do something the d20 system doesn't handle well, you've made a poor choice of licenses.

 

If you aren't doing a d20 license, then you shouldn't be developing a d20 style system. People are smart, you don't need to throw d20-like stuff at them just to sell your own rpg system.

 

So I don't think it is holding up game design in the least.

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Depends on how well the rules of the game is being implemented. Frankly I like to see d20 System stay out of the computer market all together. d20 System was designed for PnP gaming first and foremost, NOT computer gaming. Its like putting a square peg in a round hole.

 

I rather see a rules system built specifically made for the computer being implemented. Something like SPECIAL or even SPECIAL 2.0 that the real Black Isle staff was working on. If you guys can do something like that instead of using d20 it would be indeed great.

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I'd say no, things like the D&D license don't actually hold back game design. Its up to a developer to be as original as he wants. D&D, and other licenses, present mere guidelines, not constrictions per se.

 

What i do believe however, is that D&D compromises game development as a whole. Most CRPGs out there take influences from D&D. The use and abuse of fantasy settings is one factor. The other is the use of class-based systems. You're bound to find many, many CRPGs which while not D&D, still use the classical fantasy setting with stereotypes to promote itself. And unfortunately these are a winning formula (god knows why). Fantasy settings nowadays are terrible and cliche; and class-based systems are usually very restricting (nothing beats out a well-balanced skill-based system). The problem is many developers think fantasy + classes = t3h w1n, and don't try to invest in other settings. Those that do try other settings, however, end up having other aspects that bring it down, and marketing folks, being the smart bunch they are (not), automatically think that because some non-fantasy, or non-class-based games failed, then they will always fail.

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Depends on how well the rules of the game is being implemented.  Frankly I like to see d20 System stay out of the computer market all together.  d20 System was designed for PnP gaming first and foremost, NOT computer gaming.  Its like putting a square peg in a round hole.

 

I rather see a rules system built specifically made for the computer being implemented.  Something like SPECIAL or even SPECIAL 2.0 that the real Black Isle staff was working on.  If you guys can do something like that instead of using d20 it would be indeed great.

If they are doing KotOR2, then they'll probably just do like Bioware and use the Star Wars RPG system (d20).

 

I don't know why people use a system as "die" oriented as d20 for computer games. 2nd edition rules were much easier to understand, they were just tedious as all hell when doing them by hand.

 

Shadowrun's unprogrammable "d6" system is one reason it hasn't had a good CRPG treatment in the last decade.

Oh Jimmy, you were so funny.

Don't let me down.

From habit he lifts his watch; it shows him its blank face.

Zero hour, Snowman thinks. Time to go.

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Chris Avellone:

Personally, I'd say no, at least from the CRPG standpoint. It does create some limitations, but part of good game design is to work within the parameters given, whether it's the game system or the game world. You can still create a great story, great characters, great quests irrespective of whatever game system or campaign world you use.

 

(My italics)

 

To answer the question posed by the original poster look at this quote in the context of Planescape: Torment. 2EAD&D is, to many, one of the most inflexible and moribund incarnations of the D&D game. Yet many see PS:T as perhaps one of the most enthralling uses of the game ever to appear on the computer. Go figure. OK, they took some interesting liberties with the rules, like the dynamic alignment and stuff, but that only added to the feeling of difference. I will ponder the new rules-fascism seemingly practiced by the current licence holders later, as this is another way that this question can be looked at (for example, I remember MCA or Dave M mentioning that the old TSR people were pretty laid back about Planescape 'canon' when they were designing PST, as well as not bothering too much about the class-switching and other deviations...an attitude that served the final product and the reputation of the brand well).

 

So, does D&D hold back "better game design" from the standpoint of...

 

A. D&D as a gaming system on which to base a CRPG?

 

- or -

 

B. D&D as a phenomenon, and the way the licence has been used over the past few years?

 

Both have a direct bearing in my opinion.

 

As far as 'A' is concerned, well others here have answered the question, really. A good developer can always make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and a good gamer will see a fun product for what it is and not worry too much if it bears the D&D moniker as long as it's fun. I also concur that D&D has set a sort of hackneyed standard of what constitutes "fantasy" in the genre: we have to have elves and orcs and grumpy Scottish dwarves (etc). The brand leader is always going to have that sort of effect...heck Wendy's make square burgers but they are still reminiscent of the stuff available under the Golden Arches....

 

'B' is more of an untapped issue, and it is in this context that I think that D&D is having an adverse effect on CRPG development. Why? Well, both Hasbro and WotC's management of the licence over the past two years could be generously desribed as mendacious. Developers have privately cited numerous examples of nit-picking by (especially) WotC who are pen & paper gaming guys, not CRPG developers. OK, it's their precious IP but unless they try to relax and introduce a bit of the "Rule Zero" philosophy that is preached for the tabletop game and extend it to developers then we'll continue to see the D&D slump on the PC that has recently occurred. Really, did Sawyer's IWD2 alt.ranger really threaten the entire fabric of the Dungeons & Dragons game? Palpably not.

 

:: Armchair Business Guy Mode Activated ::

 

If I were the licence holder for electronic media for the D&D game I'd have the following guidelines for awarding a D&D licence to a CRPG developer:

 

1. Is the game fun and a quality product? This is the primary consideration that all subsequent rules serve to facilitate.

 

2. The licence should be treated totally as a franchise...issue as many as there are people who can make quality product that fulfils the premise of rule 1. No exclusivity deals.

 

3. Developers should be given latitude to play Rule Zero as they see fit for their product. A liaison at WotC should OK radical rules-changes to preserve the integrity of the IP, but generally speaking new classes, races, house rules and so on should be treated with a "can-do" attitude. D&D is a thirty year old, venerable game system...not your sixteen year old sister going on a date with your best friend from the football team. It'll survive a few liberties being taken.

 

Until Hasbro/WotC change their stance on these issues then, yes, D&D is in my view contributing to the atrophy of CRPGs in general, especially those being developed in North America.

 

Cheers

MC

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I would agree with everything you say here accept this:

 

2. The licence should be treated totally as a franchise...issue as many as there are people who can make quality product that fulfils the premise of rule 1. No exclusivity deals.

 

What you end up with is market saturation and stuff like this:

 

http://www.entertainmentearth.com/prodinfo...number=FGSWRRBF

 

Just because people will buy something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should sell it to them. You have to protect your product from becoming a joke. Granted somethings are bullet proof...

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The exclusivity deal that Atari has I think in the end is hurting D&D so I agree about that point. That was a dumb business decision when Hasbro sold the Electronic Gaming Rights for D&D to Atari along with Hasbro Interactive. They should have kept control themselves.

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Sorry if my example was crappy, but it still sounds like you want to replace the RPG rules with simulations of the environment.

It sounds to me like you're making distinctions where they don't exist. The only difference between RPG rules and the complex simulation systems present in video/computer games is that one has been built for a single human mind (a DM) and the other for a computer. The ultimate objective of both is to create a simulation representative of, generally speaking, the world in which we live, while maintaining play balance.

 

If you're bouncing fireballs around a corner, it sounds like you're playing an action game. RPG deal with tactics, they always have. Skill with a mouse and gauging angles of deflection properly aren't really an important part of playing a character. Your CHARACTER has the skills, you just tell him how to use them.

 

Bulls***. I do not buy this idea that an RPG must never call upon the skill of the player. It's weak and far too arbitrary. The very second you move into the medium of computer games, the player has to excercise skill in order to achieve results. The player has to be skillful at working with the game's interface and has to have a certain amount of manual dexterity so that he isn't always misclicking or hitting the wrong keys. If I am playing Baldur's Gate and I lack the quick reflexes to hit the space bar and pause the game when I need to pause, then I'm going to be playing at a huge disadvantage because of my lack of skill. If I see that a fireball is coming my way and I quickly am able to maneuver my characters out of harm's way and minimize damage, then I just used my skill with the interface to make up for my characters' inability to dodge. Indeed, it could be argued that when I load up Unreal Tournament, I'm just telling my character where to move and when to shoot and that it's the character that has the skills; he is skilled at holding the gun straight and his agility allows him to move around quickly. Where exactly does the line get drawn?

 

Perhaps the only kind of gameplay in which this argument might hold up is turn-based, and even then, the interface would have to be very forgiving in case the player is unskilled with a mouse or what have you. If this is what defines an RPG, then Baldur's Gate and Planescape: Torment and Neverwinter Nights and Morrowind and any other game with real-time action are not RPGs. It also means that the RPG ought to pack up its bags and go have a seat next to the Point-and-Click Adventure game, because, quite simply, its time is past.

 

I prefer to think that the RPG still has a future though and much room to evolve.

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I have noticed a disturbing trend in some games on consoles especially with them dumbing down the gameplay for younger audiences, oversimplifying things because they're trying to reach the younger game players in the market.

 

You shouldnt underestimate kids, they can adapt quicker to things than adults can and they'll get bored if you throw the same chaff at them every game, instead of boring them and forcing them away from the gaming market you should be interesting them with innovative plots, engaging game play and show them that a well made game can be as good if not better than a good book or movie. But you do have to do the hard yards and strive for excellence in any particular area your working in, you should try to be proud of your creative efforts.

 

I understand why WOTC are happy to promote their system, the d20 licence allows people to become familiar with their rule style and possibly become interested in other products. In the end though its all about if they're interest is maintained by it.. and its not the d20 system itself that will do that.. but the things its associated with.. the storys and worlds built in the framework.

 

As for whether it holds back development of CRPG's , not at all.. its lack of imagination and fear of extending the boundaries of a genre that holds things back, holding too tight to the past and ignoring the changing flows of the future is what stagnates. Take the best and leave the chaff behind and delve on to new territories and leave your mark. Open new realities for people to partake of, details are all important.

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There is one thing I am totally sick of in D&D games, and that's the Forgotten Realms setting. It's been used, and stolen, by so many computer games that it's really really old. Oh look another trip to the Underdark (which I think is a terribly stupid place anyway). And everyone crowds message boards saying "is Drizzt in it?" Blech. I would really like to see a new game in the Savage Frontiers and Planescape settings, if they must stick to D&D modules.

 

But why do that? Why not take the rules and use them as a base for an entirely new experience? Or toss the rules entirely? The SPECIAL system has been underused. D&D's good, but the constant use of its ruleset is leading to stagnation. One thing I like about RPGs is learning how the rules work, which spells and abilities are most powerful, and when I pick up a D&D RPG I already know. Only so much can be done within that system, and I for one am rather bored with its ubiquitousness. Further, there's only so much a computer can do with a system originally designed for P&P. I'd like to see more RPGs with rules designed specifically to prop up computers' strengths (like beautiful worlds and complex combat) and compensate for their weaknesses (limited player interaction).

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Any computer game that is D&D needs to be approved by WotC. While I may agree in theory with you, in practice that means only current official campaigns such as Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk and the upcoming Eberron. Savage Frontiers, Planescape, Dark Sun and many others are all currently discontinued. I too think Drizzt is overused. There are more interesting NPCs in FR like the Seven Sisters or that guy in Waterdeep who started the Harpers. I am bad with names at the moment. :) But why always so much focus on Drizzt.

 

The problem with not using an established ruleset is balancing, name recognition, bredth of implementation, etc so that's why D&D is common.

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