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Imagine this: You're walking down the road when, suddenly, bandits spring out of the bushes! They say "We're going to kill you and take your stuff!"

 

They refuse any further conversation than this. They automatically know where you are so there's no avoiding the encounter with stealth. Invisible walls form a sphere around you so there's no escape until all the bandits are dead. You fight to the death, collect the loot and XP from the bandits, then the game otherwise continues as if that encounter had never happened.

 

My opinion is that this has absolutely no place in a roleplaying game whatsoever.

 

 

 

 

Before I can tell you why I think this, first I have to tell you what I think a roleplaying game should be: An RPG is a series of questions posed to the player (usually implicitly) and a set of systems the player can use to give their answers. The DM sets the scene asks "What do you do?" and the player says "I do X."

 

When I play an RPG, I want interesting and meaningful questions and systems that allow me to give my answers in a satisfactory way. There's a lot to be said about the systems but today I want to talk about the questions, specifically the "interesting and meaningful" part.

 

Let's give another scenario: You're going down the highway with a dead body in your trunk. There's a loaded handgun in the glovebox. A cop pulls up behind you and turns on his sirens.

 

There's several different approaches you could take here, each with its own set of risks: Do you floor it and try to get away? Do you pull over and try to play it cool? Do you grab that gun out of glovebox just in case?

 

If you screw up, there's several different consequences depending on exactly how you screwed up and how you act to try to fix your mistake. The consequences range from mild (you get away with a speeding ticket but no suspicion from the cop), moderate (you have to kill the cop to get away, so now you're wanted for 2 murders), or severe (the cop arrests you after finding the body).

 

Furthermore the situation is both defined by the earlier context of the narrative and your answer defines the later context of the narrative. Are you guilty? If you are, who did you kill and why? If you aren't, why is the body in your trunk? Are you being framed and trying to cover up the (false) evidence? If you are, are you trying to find the real killers and find justice, or are you just trying to get back to your life as fast as possible? How much deeper are you willing to dig yourself in?

 

 

 

Compare this scenario to the one I posited at the beginning. There's no proper context because the bandits just pop in out of nowhere and you never hear from them again. They're attacking you for no reason except that they're bandits and, thus, the Bad Guys. You have no choices in what answer you can give except Fight to the Death, or stand there and die and reload a previous save (and get attacked again next time you go through that area). There are no meaningful consequences because you either win and continue with the game, or you don't. It fails as a Question to pose to the player by every conceivable metric.

 

Yet this scenario is absurdly common; Probably 99% of your time in your average CRPG is spent wasting your time with this nonsense. Why?

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Yet this scenario is absurdly common; Probably 99% of your time in your average CRPG is spent wasting your time with this nonsense. Why?

 

Perhaps because the majority of players finds combat fun on its own right, and if the game would only contain "meaningful" sequences, it would be woefully short?

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"Lulz is not the highest aspiration of art and mankind, no matter what the Encyclopedia Dramatica says."

 

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To be fair, while I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiment, I can't think of too many good RPGs where invisible walls form - which is really the crucial 'option' in the scenario. Perhaps I've got my rose-tinted glasses on.

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I think the definition of 'game' is appropriate to discuss here - the physical product of a game and what it means for a player and the people who made it.

 

An RPG - one in which players sit around a table and the interaction is entirely amongst human beings - is a flexible system.  The DM is a person, and so they can adapt to player choices and mold the narrative accordingly.  If I say I want my character to eat something he/she found on the ground, there's someone who we, as a group, have agreed is an authority on what that experience will be like.  Everyone is playing the game, but the DM is telling the story.  His audience is there, right in front of him, and has the opportunity to respond.

 

A CRPG, JRPG, or any 'game' in which the player is not in direct, present communication with the people who created it, must be created at one particular moment, and played at another later (usually much later) time.  As such, this system has far less flexibility when it comes to offering the players multiple narrative choices.  Life is full of questions, games are games because they set up a structure in which the questions are extremely specific, and the answers (unlike in real life) have a quantifiable result that contributes towards 'winning' or 'losing.'  

 

A video game takes a tremendous amount of human effort to produce - more than could even be conceived by most of us (myself included).  For each 'choice' that the player is offered, the developers have to do exponentially more work in order to create a response.  Let's say you were a DM in a game of dungeons and dragons, making up a story on the spot.  As a player, I sit there and say 'Then what happens?  Then what happens?  Then what happens?  etc..."  How long could you keep things interesting?  How much work would you need to do beforehand to keep me from getting bored?  What would you do if I simply refused to do what you, the DM, expected me to?  Now, let's say for every potential narrative tangent that exists, you have to have a team of professionals animate characters, create backdrops, write dialog, record speech, code the scene, ensure the fight is "fair," and on and on.  The sort of causal density you're hoping for is just unfeasible for a narrative form that requires so much investment in the physical product.  It's easy to describe the consequences, but it's far more complicated to create them.  In the end, after all that work, you're not even really offering the player that many choices - maybe three or four, but certainly not enough to even approach real-life decision making.

 

Maybe to make things a little clearer: An RPG is generally two separate parts, woven together.  There is the story, which is the narrative that is told to you.  This is the part of the game that could be transposed to another medium - a movie or a book or a comic, for example.  Then there is the game - which is the part that you play, the interactive element to the experience, and the primary content of what you are buying.  Story and Game certainly influence one another in terms of texture and tone, but generally there is a clear dividing line that can be drawn between the two.  Gamers often have a warped view of narrative, in that they believe that being given 'more choices' will lead to 'a better story.'  This is sort of a misunderstanding of the very idea of a narrative; generally a story is told to you - you don't get to decide what happens.  The reason stories are rewarding is because they fulfill a sense of causality that we, as people, hunger after, and they show us the consequences of actions that we couldn't have predicted, but nonetheless are able to believe.  Furthermore, to give the player an illusion of choice could be seen on one level as socially irresponsible (that's a loaded statement and you should probably just ignore it).  A story also takes a lot of work to flesh out, and to dilute that effort by offering the player a choice that doesn't actually contribute to the narrative as a whole actually detracts from the making of a story that has an impactful ending.  A great book is the product of a series of incredibly considered events - there has been no Great American Choose Your Own Adventure Novel (maybe some day).  You wouldn't read one book and wish for it to be three other books at the same time - you'd just go and read three more books.  Stories in games often work the same way.

 

This, of course, doesn't necessarily completely answer your complaint about bad guys with no context in video games.  Sure, in most games you are descended upon by a horde of nameless, faceless baddies that exist only to chop you to pieces.  Consider that the gameplay in almost every RPG is based around combat mechanics.  The combat system is actually the 'game' that you are playing (plus a lot of walking around, and maybe some menus).  The more the developer can encourage the player to participate in that system, the more mileage they get out of the game (not the story) they've made.  If the game is fun, then there's no problem - the player won't stop to question the inanity of the story (Mario is one example, but this applies to pretty much every game ever made).  If the game isn't engaging enough to occupy the player's whole attention, they (you) will get bored and wonder why they're wasting their time.  They'll see through the lack of options in the gameplay and attribute their dissatisfaction to a lack of options in the story.  But the game is what the player purchased.  There are hundreds of fantastic genre books/short stories published every year, dozens of great movies, and many compelling television programs, and they all explore the choices you can imagine and beyond.  From the standpoint of the game designer - why would I want to bother writing a bunch of inconsequential decisions into the story I'm trying to tell?

 

Many good games include generic bad guys with the proper context.  And one should keep in mind that some guys are just plain bad.  Why would a bandit want to talk to you?  He kills people on the road for a living - that's his job.  What's the point of a monster, other than to eat unlucky travelers?  Of course, some games are just plain bad - and it's your responsibility as a consumer not to play them.  

 

One game that touches on these issues, if you haven't played it before, is Shadow of the Colossus.  I'd highly recommend it, in that it plays a lot like a console RPG with all those filler elements (random battles, pointless items) emptied out.  It's sort of billed as a game that's 'all bosses' - but that doesn't really capture what it's all about.  It's a commentary on game design in addition to being a meditation on the notion of predestiny and player motivation in games.  It might soothe the hurt of having to mow down all those bandits in a future life.

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I think you've been playing too much Dragon Age. In Baldur's Gate, intelligent enemies suffered morale failure, and in scripted instances, they could even surrender.

 

Dragon Age, of course! Now I remember those random encounters, and yes they were very annoying. I think most of them were tied into the main story, however.

 

But yup, other than Dragon Age, I can't remember any RPG that had this specific problem. There are other reasons why I don't like combat in most RPGs. For example the discrepancy between being the hero and murdering hundreds of creatures because the game left me no other choice, then getting berated for this type of gameplay I didn't enjoy in the first place by games such as Shadow of the Colossus (or Spec Ops The Line).

 

I'd love to see a game where the number of enemies I face is realistic and where I don't kill all of them. I'd love to see an RPG that was 90% dialogue. Won't ever happen, though. :/

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I've got to agree this form of quite blunt protagonist empowerment is becoming a little distasteful. Personally I found it refreshing to play Thief on the highest difficulties where killing is seen as sloppy, the mark of an amateur and automatically fails the mission. Or Alpha Protocol where the mission stat summation include a tally of the orphans you have created, which brings home that however justified the slaughter, it is still not right.

 

Worse is the fact that our use of violence is so often clumsy and reactive, if we need to achieve an objective of elimination, why are we always tasked with trawling through endless waves of similar mooks guarding that objective. Why can we not plan, infiltrate, evade and eliminate without the inevitable mass murder. An anti material rifle from half a mile away, poisons, manipulation of dangerous individuals, exerting leverage through blackmail etcetera. We are almost always portrayed as hardly capable, and certainly not innovative.

 

There is a place for violence, and massively over the top bullet ballets as we see in the first two Max Payne games, and they are without a doubt satisfying and distinctive. Deus Ex Human Revolution missed out to my mind in only offering a smart player one path to gain the optimal amount of xp, that of non violence, when it was viable to play Jensen as an embittered and on the edge individual who was struggling with a life he neither asked for or wanted. Severance: Blade of Darkness gave us the best combat ever brought to computer games, but there was never actually that much of it, facing two or more foes was a rare thing and extremely dangerous. Which leads me to think that to make the combat more acceptable it needs to be rationed and improved, made dangerous and have far greater consequences in and of itself.

 

Vast masses of foes, all generic and basically lining up to be slaughtered one after the other by the self appointed messianic deliverer of justice just seems clumsy and nasty to me, whether it's in a shooter, hack and slash or rpg. I'd rather my opponent be humans just like myself, equally dangerous and equally interested in staying alive, life shouldn't be cheap.

 

There also has to be far more effective forms of protagonist empowerment, whether that be the perks of Alpha Protocol, the feats of New Vegas or the consequences being shown in the narrative. I sometimes don't mind playing as an idiot barbarian, in fact I enjoy it, but give me the option to play intelligently and with some degree of morality. If for no other reason than it would make a change.

 

As Kreia says: "Direct action is not always the best way. It is a far greater victory to make another see through your eyes than to close theirs forever."

 

Too long, didn't read: Make combat meaningful, reactive and dangerous. Obviously there are bad examples such as the endless waves of slaughter in Dragon Age 2, but there are also good examples such as Fallout: New Vegas and Torment. I'd rather have the latter than abandon the feature entirely, too much of that and we have a graphical picture book not a game.

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Quite an experience to live in misery isn't it? That's what it is to be married with children.

I've seen things you people can't even imagine. Pearly Kings glittering on the Elephant and Castle, Morris Men dancing 'til the last light of midsummer. I watched Druid fires burning in the ruins of Stonehenge, and Yorkshiremen gurning for prizes. All these things will be lost in time, like alopecia on a skinhead. Time for tiffin.

 

Tea for the teapot!

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Actually, this did happen once in BG2, (or maybe twice) and yeah, it was pretty inconsequential/annoying. It's important the game illustrate that your in a rough part of town, but I'd rather that be done with more context. Though in BG2's case, I think the fight revealed some other plot or quest, but I can't be sure. But yeah, exploring random houses and stumbling across some bandit hide out is much more to my liking for handling bandits, or surprise encounters.

 

IWD2 had enemies "popping up", but that was Hook Horrors dropping from the ceiling, though you couldn't tell that due to engine limitations, and also the Snivblrferndkjl coming from out of the shadows, same for Drow fight.

 

What you're really talking about is bad, lazy encounter design, (sort of) as opposed to collecting all the parts of an amulet, going to the grave yard in Kuldahar and summoning a bad ass group of warriors to face off with to claim the Holy Avenger. If Obsidian does their job, they won't screw you over with forced combat scenarios, or ones that feel "cheap".

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I can't think of any game I've played that didn't have at least a few "cheap" or "forced" combat scenarios. Which isn't to say none exist. I just haven't personally played one.

 

In terms of random trash mobs waylaying you all the time ... whether bandits or animals or groups of skeletons or ghosts in a dungeon ... I think I'd find the exploration part of an cRPG fairly dull without at least some such encounters. And I'd also personally find a cRPG without any exploration aspect boring.

 

Hence ... I tend to accept such mob combats. To what degree depends on how much combat focus there's supposed to be. eg., it's fine in Diablo to have random monsters every 10 paces and nothing much else. Not so much in something like Morrowind or BG or Fallout. I expect a mixture of encounters and situations, from complex and involved to simple with little dilemma.

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“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.” – Alan Watts
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In terms of banditry I thought Betrayal at Krondor handled this well, your scouting skill could spot ambushes, you could then avoid or try to ambush the ne'er do wells.

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Quite an experience to live in misery isn't it? That's what it is to be married with children.

I've seen things you people can't even imagine. Pearly Kings glittering on the Elephant and Castle, Morris Men dancing 'til the last light of midsummer. I watched Druid fires burning in the ruins of Stonehenge, and Yorkshiremen gurning for prizes. All these things will be lost in time, like alopecia on a skinhead. Time for tiffin.

 

Tea for the teapot!

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It's cheap filler. Find a way to do something more meaningful cheaply.

"It wasn't lies. It was just... bull****"."

             -Elwood Blues

 

tarna's dead; processing... complete. Disappointed by Universe. RIP Hades/Sand/etc. Here's hoping your next alt has a harp.

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Too long, didn't read: Make combat meaningful, reactive and dangerous. Obviously there are bad examples such as the endless waves of slaughter in Dragon Age 2, but there are also good examples such as Fallout: New Vegas and Torment. I'd rather have the latter than abandon the feature entirely, too much of that and we have a graphical picture book not a game.

Well, let me be clear: It's not that I don't think combat could ever be meaningful and interesting, it's just that it usually isn't. A good example of a game that does this well is a fire emblem nuzlocke run (no restarting chapters if someone dies). You'll inevitably have characters that you get really attached to. But to keep bringing them along, you need to level them up. To level them up, you need to put them in harm's way. If you put them in harm's way, and you screw it up, that character could die forever. Thus the tactical decisions of the game directly tie into the inter-character narrative (because if a character is dead you can't do their support paths).

 

(Not a perfect example though: If you're not doing a nuzlocke run then the only consequence of screwing up is to restart the chapter and replay through a few minutes of work, and in most entries in the series this is a restriction that must be self-enforced, with all the problems that entails. Furthermore, fire emblem combat is ridiculously swingy and you can lose units to the RNG even when you've done everything right.)

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I think I agree with the OP. Potential foes should have some interaction before they attack you(barring assassins, raiding parties, and other types who simply want to slaughter). For example, the main goal of bandits should be to get money without getting hurt, so having them try to intimidate the party into handing over their valuables would be better than having them charge and attack. Furthermore, certain foes should surrender or be open to negotiation instead of speaking 3 lines and attacking.

 

 

Too long, didn't read: Make combat meaningful, reactive and dangerous. Obviously there are bad examples such as the endless waves of slaughter in Dragon Age 2, but there are also good examples such as Fallout: New Vegas and Torment. I'd rather have the latter than abandon the feature entirely, too much of that and we have a graphical picture book not a game.

Well, let me be clear: It's not that I don't think combat could ever be meaningful and interesting, it's just that it usually isn't. A good example of a game that does this well is a fire emblem nuzlocke run (no restarting chapters if someone dies). You'll inevitably have characters that you get really attached to. But to keep bringing them along, you need to level them up. To level them up, you need to put them in harm's way. If you put them in harm's way, and you screw it up, that character could die forever. Thus the tactical decisions of the game directly tie into the inter-character narrative (because if a character is dead you can't do their support paths).(Not a perfect example though: If you're not doing a nuzlocke run then the only consequence of screwing up is to restart the chapter and replay through a few minutes of work, and in most entries in the series this is a restriction that must be self-enforced, with all the problems that entails. Furthermore, fire emblem combat is ridiculously swingy and you can lose units to the RNG even when you've done everything right.)

Ahh, FE. I remember having Roy get killed by a Warrior with a 7% chance to hit and 1% critical.

"I am the expert, asshat." - Hurlshot

"I'm fine with humanity being wiped out" - majestic

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Fearabbit: Google "Age of Decadence".

 

Good tip. I just uninstalled the open beta a couple of days ago because I never could get into it - the setting and the harsh rules weren't to my taste - but I wish people would recommend games that fit the bill more often, just on the off-chance that the other guy hadn't heard of it yet. So thanks for that. :)

 

So what I want is Age of Decadence with fights that you can actually win if it comes down to it, and with magic. I guess.

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you have to know fantasy worlds are pretty brutal in nature the only place its peacefull is in some good gods backyard and even there it sometimes brutal like Valhalla viking fighting each other till the evening and then drink and eat and laugh about how they cuts each other limps of and so on plain simple put it crpg are savage

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I think making the combat tactically interesting and strategically interesting, instead of just strategically interesting (which is the problem with most cRPGs) would solve most of your problems, Micamo.

 

One thing that's interesting to me that is rarely done outside of the Shin Megami Tensei series is building negotiation in at a systemic level. I've been playing SMTIV lately, and one thing that keeps the combat interesting is the ability to negotiate with the demons you fight every round, and maybe even recruit them (which is the mechanic the series is based on, so that's not surprising). The basics aren't that in-depth: they ask you a few questions and usually force you to give them something - money, items, HP, or MP. If you pass their quiz, they'll join you.

 

However, the developers keep it exciting in several ways. Some demons don't speak your language, for example, so you have to learn a certain skill before you can talk to those demons. Other demons will get so impressed with you that they'll get scared and run away. If you already have a certain demon in your lineup, any subsequent demons of that type you face will be like, "Hey, you're hangin' with my buddy!" and walk away from the fight. Sometimes they restore your HP and MP, and sometimes they don't. Finally, no answer you give is a guaranteed winner for all demons of a certain type. One Pixie might join you if you say demons are stronger than humans, but another one might get mad at you for saying the same thing, at which point she and her party are allowed to skip your turn and attack your party. And if you do successfully negotiate with a demon, you may not get any XP, and even when you do, it's peanuts compared to the amount of XP you get from fighting them.

 

These are entirely text-based interactions, simple as hell from a technical perspective, but the controlled randomness of it does a lot to create the illusion of depth in fiction and mechanics with only a relatively small amount of work having to be done by the developers.

 

I haven't mentioned the SMT combat system itself, which also has a lot of interesting mechanics I think are worth looking at.

 

All of which is to say that I agree with you, but that I don't think it's by any means a problem with RPG combat specifically, even in JRPGs. Even Dragon Quest gives you the option to run away. It's a problem that's pretty common in Bioware games, but that's because Bioware has always been kind of crap at integrating combat into their games, and they've only gotten worse at it as the combat and non-combat parts have been more strictly segregated from one another. I actually like the combat bits in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, but they do go on too long and rely too much on mowing down mooks. And Dragon Age's combat has always been dumb WOW-esque garbage, give or take a few encounters. It's interesting that they later made TOR, since DA:O's entire combat system feels like them asking, "How can we sell Baldur's Gate 2 to WOW players?"

 

That bit about an RPG being a series of questions and answers is awesome, by the way. I've always thought of RPGs like that, but I've never had the words for it. Mind if I borrow it for use in other discussions? :)

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Yet this scenario is absurdly common; Probably 99% of your time in your average CRPG is spent wasting your time with this nonsense. Why?

Perhaps because the majority of players finds combat fun on its own right, and if the game would only contain "meaningful" sequences, it would be woefully short?

I think length is a big problem for cRPGs, actually. Most of them are too damn long, and I'd include a lot of my favorites on that list. I wish players didn't expect a certain length out of their cRPGs, because that's really hurting the games as experiences. I'd love to see a cRPG that's five to seven hours long, but has the depth of interaction to support 80+ hours of playtime.

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Perhaps because the majority of players finds combat fun on its own right, and if the game would only contain "meaningful" sequences, it would be woefully short?

To make an analogy to film, it's like if you go to see Pacific Rim and you have to sit through two hours of romantic comedy before the giant robots show up.

 

If you enjoy the romantic comedy, that's fine. If you enjoy the combat sequences of an RPG in and of themselves, that's also fine. But I came to Pacific Rim to see giant robots and I come to an RPG for the conversation of play, the series of questions and answers between the DM and the player: For me, the mini-games the RPG uses to facilitate the conversation are only relevant to the extent that they do that job. I hated the endless randomly generated dungeons filled with endless identical mooks of Rubikon in Torment, while I enjoy what is essentially the same thing in Torchlight. Rubikon is a giant arbitrary waste of my time between myself and Nodrom as a party member, the unfunny romantic comedy between myself and giant fighting robots.

 

One thing that's interesting to me that is rarely done outside of the Shin Megami Tensei series is building negotiation in at a systemic level. I've been playing SMTIV lately...

In lieu of a point-by-point discussion, I'm just gonna give my general thoughts on the demon negotiation in SMT and how it relates to the points I make in the OP. Note the only SMT game I've actually played a significant amount of that has the demon negotiation mechanics is Strange Journey, so the points I make about it may be invalid for other games.

 

- The demons are completely interchangeable, personality wise. One pixie's the same as any other.

 

- The response to what you say is determined by a random number generator: As far as I can tell, in most cases there's no what to know what strategy will be effective and what strategy won't.

 

- The negotiation only works on nameless, generic demons who spawn up out of nowhere. Convincing a demon to leave you alone or join you has about as much meaning as just running away from the combat, except it's just done a bit more flavorfully.

 

- Once a demon joins you they're basically pokemon. Stuff them in your PC box and forget and nobody will ever care.

 

That bit about an RPG being a series of questions and answers is awesome, by the way. I've always thought of RPGs like that, but I've never had the words for it. Mind if I borrow it for use in other discussions? :)

Of course not, I originally got it from the Alexandrian, who got it from various other game writers.

 

I think length is a big problem for cRPGs, actually. Most of them are too damn long, and I'd include a lot of my favorites on that list. I wish players didn't expect a certain length out of their cRPGs, because that's really hurting the games as experiences. I'd love to see a cRPG that's five to seven hours long, but has the depth of interaction to support 80+ hours of playtime.

I remember when I was 8 years old I cared a lot about game length. My parents basically considered games to be junk food and would only get me new ones maybe once every 2-3 months, if I was lucky. Being finished with a game in a weekend or, god forbid, a single day of playing was disappointing because that means I'd have nothing new to do until the next game came around. Now that I get games as often as I want, 99% of the time if a game is longer than like 2 hours I'll never finish it: New stuff I'm interested in comes out faster than I can go through 20-80 hour games. I just don't have the patience anymore to slog through boring filler to get to the good parts when there's like a hundred new games I could be trying instead.

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Well, I wasn't saying the demon negotiation mechanics were perfect. There's a lot I would change about them, including some of the things you said. I'm just saying that it's a system I wish more cRPG designers would try to improve on, and that for all the crap people give JRPGs about focusing on combat, there's a famous and venerated series of JRPGs that has non-combat interactions built in at a systemic level.

 

I will say, though, that I recall finding the demon negotiation mechanics in Strange Journey a bit lacking. I think the ones in SMTIV are great. It's simply a more fleshed-out system.

 

I do like the RNG responses, however. I'm pretty sure increasing a certain stat improves the likelihood that your response will be the right one, and from an in-fiction point of view, it creates the illusion that the enemies aren't interchangeable without forcing the devs to do a huge amount of work. The problem with not having it be random is that the system (as it is in SMT, anyway) becomes boring. You just pick the three responses you need to pick and that's it.

 

There are ways around that, but they involve putting more work into the system than Atlus can probably afford. Which is not to say someone shouldn't try it. I'm just saying that I see why they don't.

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I think the definition of 'game' is appropriate to discuss here - the physical product of a game and what it means for a player and the people who made it.

 

An RPG - one in which players sit around a table and the interaction is entirely amongst human beings - is a flexible system.  The DM is a person, and so they can adapt to player choices and mold the narrative accordingly.  If I say I want my character to eat something he/she found on the ground, there's someone who we, as a group, have agreed is an authority on what that experience will be like.  Everyone is playing the game, but the DM is telling the story.  His audience is there, right in front of him, and has the opportunity to respond.

 

A CRPG, JRPG, or any 'game' in which the player is not in direct, present communication with the people who created it, must be created at one particular moment, and played at another later (usually much later) time.  As such, this system has far less flexibility when it comes to offering the players multiple narrative choices.  Life is full of questions, games are games because they set up a structure in which the questions are extremely specific, and the answers (unlike in real life) have a quantifiable result that contributes towards 'winning' or 'losing.'

A couple of things.

 

First, the DM is not there to "tell the story", or at least, they shouldn't be. An RPG is a conversation: There's a story but it's a story about the PCs, who (should be) controlled by the players.

 

Second, the DM is limited just as the CRPG developer is, though in different ways: A DM has limited time to prepare and limited ability to improvise, while a CRPG developer has limited time to develop the game and limited ability to write scripts that can handle things they didn't expect in advance. These are effectively the same limitations though they have them in different amounts: A DM typically has a few days to prepare and a few seconds to apply their brain to an improvisation problem, while a CRPG developer has years and years to prepare their game but extremely limited ability to write code that can be creative like a human DM. This is a critical difference between being a tabletop DM and being a CRPG developer, but it's not the difference you seem to think it is.

 

A video game takes a tremendous amount of human effort to produce - more than could even be conceived by most of us (myself included).  For each 'choice' that the player is offered, the developers have to do exponentially more work in order to create a response.  Let's say you were a DM in a game of dungeons and dragons, making up a story on the spot.  As a player, I sit there and say 'Then what happens?  Then what happens?  Then what happens?  etc..."  How long could you keep things interesting?  How much work would you need to do beforehand to keep me from getting bored? What would you do if I simply refused to do what you, the DM, expected me to?

This is just you being a bad player. It's the DM's responsibility to come up with interesting problems but it's your responsibility to come up with interesting solutions. If you're going to sit there and expect the DM to monologue the plot at you, the conversation can't happen.

 

Now, let's say for every potential narrative tangent that exists, you have to have a team of professionals animate characters, create backdrops, write dialog, record speech, code the scene, ensure the fight is "fair," and on and on.  The sort of causal density you're hoping for is just unfeasible for a narrative form that requires so much investment in the physical product.  It's easy to describe the consequences, but it's far more complicated to create them.  In the end, after all that work, you're not even really offering the player that many choices - maybe three or four, but certainly not enough to even approach real-life decision making.

In a tabletop game you cull away the decisions that don't matter for the purposes of the type of game being played. Like, unless you're playing a game that focuses on struggling for basic survival against the elements, you don't ask the players exactly what they're eating and how they get it, you just assume that they get enough to eat. If the issue of food and water is meaningless (because it's a murder mystery game instead of a wilderness survival game) the DM just zooms past them and only focuses on the relevant choices.

 

You do this for the same reasons I'm against pointless combats: If something doesn't contribute to providing the experience the players (the DM included) signed onto the game to receive, it's meaningless and should be discarded.

 

We refer to the scenes the DM presents as the "frame", and how much detail the DM assumes away as the "hardness" of the frame. You can have a soft frame where you ask the players dozens of little questions, or you can have a hard frame where the players are asked a handful of big questions. You use a hard frame in the unimportant scenes and a soft frame in the really critical ones.

 

This concept of hardness applies to CRPGs just as much as it applies to tabletop gaming: You don't have to implement every little thing the player could ever conceivably decide to do. Include the choices that propel the game in a meaningful direction (for whatever direction of "meaningful" applies to your particular game) and exclude or assume away the ones that don't.

 

Maybe to make things a little clearer: An RPG is generally two separate parts, woven together.  There is the story, which is the narrative that is told to you.  This is the part of the game that could be transposed to another medium - a movie or a book or a comic, for example. Then there is the game - which is the part that you play, the interactive element to the experience, and the primary content of what you are buying. Story and Game certainly influence one another in terms of texture and tone, but generally there is a clear dividing line that can be drawn between the two.

Bull. This might be how the Call of Duty cutscene-gameplay-cutscene formula functions (and can even be used to great effect in a game like Spec Ops) but it has no place in an RPG developer's lexicon. In an RPG the story is the result of the game, what happens when you write down what happened in the session and cut out all the out-of-character and metagame stuff, not the game itself.

 

Gamers often have a warped view of narrative, in that they believe that being given 'more choices' will lead to 'a better story.'  This is sort of a misunderstanding of the very idea of a narrative; generally a story is told to you - you don't get to decide what happens.  The reason stories are rewarding is because they fulfill a sense of causality that we, as people, hunger after, and they show us the consequences of actions that we couldn't have predicted, but nonetheless are able to believe. Furthermore, to give the player an illusion of choice could be seen on one level as socially irresponsible (that's a loaded statement and you should probably just ignore it). A story also takes a lot of work to flesh out, and to dilute that effort by offering the player a choice that doesn't actually contribute to the narrative as a whole actually detracts from the making of a story that has an impactful ending.  A great book is the product of a series of incredibly considered events - there has been no Great American Choose Your Own Adventure Novel (maybe some day).  You wouldn't read one book and wish for it to be three other books at the same time - you'd just go and read three more books.  Stories in games often work the same way.

Let's be clear: I'm not saying "I want lots of different choices so I can play the game over and over to see all the different outcomes." I want different choices so I can have the experience of deciding. In a book or a film you experience it through empathy with the characters, but in an RPG you experience the game through the experience of being the player character. When I replay Torment I do mostly the same set of choices every time.

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Imagine this: You're walking down the road when, suddenly, bandits spring out of the bushes! They say "We're going to kill you and take your stuff!"

 

They refuse any further conversation than this. They automatically know where you are so there's no avoiding the encounter with stealth. Invisible walls form a sphere around you so there's no escape until all the bandits are dead. You fight to the death, collect the loot and XP from the bandits, then the game otherwise continues as if that encounter had never happened.

 

My opinion is that this has absolutely no place in a roleplaying game whatsoever.

 

Agreed. Though it doesn't sound like you're playing an RPG. Sounds more like some generic, adolescant, and vaguely Japanese melodrama where you can't make choices and "your" character is both pre-made and gender challenged. I don't have many concerns about this happening in Project: Eternity.

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Hey Micamo!

 

Thanks for reading the long/rambling reply.  You make some good points.  I'd like to touch on what is being discussed here.

 

First off, my original statement about 'why' there's so much pointless fighting in RPGs still stands: the designers spent most of their energy developing and refining a combat system, so they fill out the product with with that particular element because that's what they know, and that's what is most efficient in terms of gameplay hours.  Also, considering the primary market for games is adolescent males, whose biological imperative is to kill or sleep with everyone they meet, it's arguably a crowd-pleaser.  This is often to the detriment of the narrative experience and to the sophisticated players' collective chagrin.  I think the phenomena exists for a very pragmatic, if sometimes cynical reason.

 

But we totally went off the rails, so now on to less related, but perhaps more interesting topics.

 

I think the definition of 'game' is appropriate to discuss here - the physical product of a game and what it means for a player and the people who made it.
 
An RPG - one in which players sit around a table and the interaction is entirely amongst human beings - is a flexible system.  The DM is a person, and so they can adapt to player choices and mold the narrative accordingly.  If I say I want my character to eat something he/she found on the ground, there's someone who we, as a group, have agreed is an authority on what that experience will be like.  Everyone is playing the game, but the DM is telling the story.  His audience is there, right in front of him, and has the opportunity to respond.
 
A CRPG, JRPG, or any 'game' in which the player is not in direct, present communication with the people who created it, must be created at one particular moment, and played at another later (usually much later) time.  As such, this system has far less flexibility when it comes to offering the players multiple narrative choices.  Life is full of questions, games are games because they set up a structure in which the questions are extremely specific, and the answers (unlike in real life) have a quantifiable result that contributes towards 'winning' or 'losing.'


A couple of things.

First, the DM is not there to "tell the story", or at least, they shouldn't be. An RPG is a conversation: There's a story but it's a story about the PCs, who (should be) controlled by the players.

Second, the DM is limited just as the CRPG developer is, though in different ways: A DM has limited time to prepare and limited ability to improvise, while a CRPG developer has limited time to develop the game and limited ability to write scripts that can handle things they didn't expect in advance. These are effectively the same limitations though they have them in different amounts: A DM typically has a few days to prepare and a few seconds to apply their brain to an improvisation problem, while a CRPG developer has years and years to prepare their game but extremely limited ability to write code that can be creative like a human DM. This is a critical difference between being a tabletop DM and being a CRPG developer, but it's not the difference you seem to think it is.

 

First Point: Yes, a round-table RPG is a conversation, to be sure - that's a better description of it than I'd come up with.  Though I wouldn't say it is only about the PCs, the player characters are given context within the narrative that the DM creates.  One thing that's pretty interesting is the exterior boundaries of that story, and how in a tabletop game they're plastic.  The DM can change and the players can move to other campaigns, and the players usually bring their own back story to the 'first chapter' that the DM has orchestrated.  I hesitate to put one role's importance over another, as it definitely depends on the personalities of the people playing the game.  But you're right - it's an ongoing dialog between multiple parties who all have the opportunity to shape the narrative.

 

Second: I wouldn't say the limitations are the same at all.  I think it's a huge difference, and its applications result a very different play experience.  Let's say you, the player, are having a conversation with an NPC.  In a tabletop game, you could say any number of things, with all sorts of inflection and references contained therein.  In a CRPG, your conversation will permit you a very specific number of particular options.  There's no room for any gray area whatsoever - your choices are clearly defined before you as the player are even aware of what they are.  Improvisation on the part of a DM might not be nearly as important as improvisation by the player; in a CRPG the player has essentially no room for improvisation beyond what is coded into the engine.  I believe that to be a very significant distinction.

 

 

 

A video game takes a tremendous amount of human effort to produce - more than could even be conceived by most of us (myself included).  For each 'choice' that the player is offered, the developers have to do exponentially more work in order to create a response.  Let's say you were a DM in a game of dungeons and dragons, making up a story on the spot.  As a player, I sit there and say 'Then what happens?  Then what happens?  Then what happens?  etc..."  How long could you keep things interesting?  How much work would you need to do beforehand to keep me from getting bored? What would you do if I simply refused to do what you, the DM, expected me to?


This is just you being a bad player. It's the DM's responsibility to come up with interesting problems but it's your responsibility to come up with interesting solutions. If you're going to sit there and expect the DM to monologue the plot at you, the conversation can't happen. 

 

I put this out there by way of example via extremes.  I wasn't implying that any game should (or would) unfold with me sitting there wanting to be told what was going on with no input on my part.  Nor did I mean to imply that I thought it would be in a player's interest to willfully act against the DM.  I just wanted to emphasize the amount of effort that goes into designing a play experience, and how frequently the DM/Designer has to answer queries from the player.  In some respects, a CRPG is one extended monologue provided by the developers.  They have to sustain a reality using this incredibly complex technology that we, as consumers, have the luxury of sitting back and enjoying pretty passively.  If a tabletop RPG is a 50/50 split in responsibility, I don't think it's unreasonable to say that a CRPG is 90/10 (or even 99/1), with the lion's share of work falling to the developer.

 

 

 

Now, let's say for every potential narrative tangent that exists, you have to have a team of professionals animate characters, create backdrops, write dialog, record speech, code the scene, ensure the fight is "fair," and on and on.  The sort of causal density you're hoping for is just unfeasible for a narrative form that requires so much investment in the physical product.  It's easy to describe the consequences, but it's far more complicated to create them.  In the end, after all that work, you're not even really offering the player that many choices - maybe three or four, but certainly not enough to even approach real-life decision making.


In a tabletop game you cull away the decisions that don't matter for the purposes of the type of game being played. Like, unless you're playing a game that focuses on struggling for basic survival against the elements, you don't ask the players exactly what they're eating and how they get it, you just assume that they get enough to eat. If the issue of food and water is meaningless (because it's a murder mystery game instead of a wilderness survival game) the DM just zooms past them and only focuses on the relevant choices.

You do this for the same reasons I'm against pointless combats: If something doesn't contribute to providing the experience the players (the DM included) signed onto the game to receive, it's meaningless and should be discarded.

We refer to the scenes the DM presents as the "frame", and how much detail the DM assumes away as the "hardness" of the frame. You can have a soft frame where you ask the players dozens of little questions, or you can have a hard frame where the players are asked a handful of big questions. You use a hard frame in the unimportant scenes and a soft frame in the really critical ones.

This concept of hardness applies to CRPGs just as much as it applies to tabletop gaming: You don't have to implement every little thing the player could ever conceivably decide to do. Include the choices that propel the game in a meaningful direction (for whatever direction of "meaningful" applies to your particular game) and exclude or assume away the ones that don't. 

 

This makes perfect sense - and I like the terminology you use.  Ultimately I suppose the level of desired 'hardness' (*har har*) would come down to the player, and where the player is getting their enjoyment from the game itself.  For the sake of argument, I think this falls under the umbrella of earlier statements of mine to the effect that in a tabletop game, the 'hardness' of the frame has a level of flexibility based on the interaction between DM and PC.  In a CRPG, the developer has to anticipate how important they think certain decisions will be in the mind of a player.  An excellent play experience means that you and the developer were of like mind in this regard, while a poor experience is when you want more - or fewer - decisions regarding a certain event, but this isn't a guaranteed outcome even in the best circumstances.  

 

This is kind of what I was getting at when I said that if the player is enjoying the game, they won't be asking so many questions.  Some people, as hard as it is to believe, like those pointless fights.  Maybe they're still working out the combat system, or maybe the enjoy it simply for its own sake.  I can see why a developer would want to give their game the benefit of the doubt, and throw a few more fights in the mix.  If they place the importance of this part of the gameplay over that of the story, then it's an easy decision on their part.

 

I had read another post by you wherein you said that your patience for games has diminished significantly since you were younger - you no longer want the 80+ hours of game time that you did as a kid.  I'm the same way.  I'm much quicker to say that a game is wasting my time than I ever was ten years ago.  Stuff that seems 'soft frame' when you're fifteen just reads as filler when you're older.  So don't think that I'm an apologist for games with lots of pointless combat - I commend you for walking away when you've had enough!

 

 

 

Maybe to make things a little clearer: An RPG is generally two separate parts, woven together.  There is the story, which is the narrative that is told to you.  This is the part of the game that could be transposed to another medium - a movie or a book or a comic, for example. Then there is the game - which is the part that you play, the interactive element to the experience, and the primary content of what you are buying. Story and Game certainly influence one another in terms of texture and tone, but generally there is a clear dividing line that can be drawn between the two.


Bull. This might be how the Call of Duty cutscene-gameplay-cutscene formula functions (and can even be used to great effect in a game like Spec Ops) but it has no place in an RPG developer's lexicon. In an RPG the story is the result of the game, what happens when you write down what happened in the session and cut out all the out-of-character and metagame stuff, not the game itself.

 

Interesting!  I was all ready to refute you out-of-hand but the more I thought about, the more your statement overtakes my own thinking.  Which is not to say that I don't have a rebuttal   ;)

 

I'll admit I was wrong in assuming on what you as a consumer were paying for.  I certainly can't speak on your behalf and tell you why you bought game X - that's not for me to know.  And the truth is that any of us on this board are most likely paying for both - game and story.  In a perfect world they shouldn't be in competition with one another, but would exist as the harmonious experience that it sounds like we're both after.

 

What follows is probably the meat of what I'm getting at.  When the beginning and the end of a particular game are preordained (as in CRPGs) - I find that I'm not really comfortable with the manipulation of the interior details being described as 'narrative' or even 'story.'  I tend to lump choices like 'I shoot him' or 'I let him go' into gameplay elements rather than story elements.  This is part of the reason why I think there's such a significant difference between tabletop RPGs and CRPGs.  As a player in a tabletop RPG, I take part in conceiving the story, ad-hoc, alongside the DM and other players.  We grow the narrative out of the gaming experience.  We can riff on each other and give one another immediate, significant feedback.  As a player in a CRPG, I can sort of nudge the story elements down certain paths that the developer has cleared for me, but at no point can I operate outside the structure that has been packaged and sold to me as a product.  I can't help but view the 'experience of deciding' through the abstraction of the game itself: the door A, B or C that has been erected by the stage hands.  It's a decision, but a decision that is designed, is heavily constrained and lacking in the complexity or context that defines a choice in real life.  It feels more like the illusion of choice than real choice.  On a philosophical level, it more resembles tying my shoes than it does defining myself in any significant way.

 

This closes the gap between 'player choice' and all those stupid bandit attacks and brings them much closer to one another than to the actual manipulation of a narrative - at least in my mind.  I cannot for the life of me feel like I am telling the story, because I know any decision I make is already written into the code.  I suppose this sort of thinking makes me a gaming Calvinist.  It's also why I'm prepared to view 'Story' and 'Game' as binaries when it comes to CRPG design.  Once the code is written, the conversation is over - the player is just choosing which parts of it they want to hear.  I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but I do think it is a defining part of the medium as it currently exists.  Hopefully that clarifies a few of my thoughts on the topic.

 

 

 

 

Gamers often have a warped view of narrative, in that they believe that being given 'more choices' will lead to 'a better story.'  This is sort of a misunderstanding of the very idea of a narrative; generally a story is told to you - you don't get to decide what happens.  The reason stories are rewarding is because they fulfill a sense of causality that we, as people, hunger after, and they show us the consequences of actions that we couldn't have predicted, but nonetheless are able to believe. Furthermore, to give the player an illusion of choice could be seen on one level as socially irresponsible (that's a loaded statement and you should probably just ignore it). A story also takes a lot of work to flesh out, and to dilute that effort by offering the player a choice that doesn't actually contribute to the narrative as a whole actually detracts from the making of a story that has an impactful ending.  A great book is the product of a series of incredibly considered events - there has been no Great American Choose Your Own Adventure Novel (maybe some day).  You wouldn't read one book and wish for it to be three other books at the same time - you'd just go and read three more books.  Stories in games often work the same way.


Let's be clear: I'm not saying "I want lots of different choices so I can play the game over and over to see all the different outcomes." I want different choices so I can have the experience of deciding. In a book or a film you experience it through empathy with the characters, but in an RPG you experience the game through the experience of being the player character. When I replay Torment I do mostly the same set of choices every time.

 

 

Understood.  I sort of lumped my primary response to this in the paragraph above.

 

It's funny, because despite all I said, Torment is one of my favorite games of all time, though I go about replaying it differently than you do, in that I try a different route each time.  No matter what path I choose, the narrative still manages to be compelling despite so many elements remaining constant.  In many respects, I feel like PS:T has probably predicted this entire debate by however many years it's been since its release - the whole game is about the illusion of choice, the choices that are made for a player beforehand, and the motivation for making choices at all - you as a player are thrust into a game where player decisions have apparently already been made any number of times beforehand.  The writers for this game were brilliant!

 

I was about to sum up some sort of blanket argument and then I remembered that I don't actually disagree with your statement regarding games with lots of boring, pointless fighting.  In fact, I agree whole-heartedly!  A toast to you, sir!

 

POSTSCRIPT

Also - someone showed this to me earlier today.  This is certainly no accusation, but is hilariously relevant to any discussion about what us fickle players actually want:

http://www.neatorama.com/2013/08/04/The-Internets-Dream-Game/

Edited by HunterOG
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It's funny, because despite all I said, Torment is one of my favorite games of all time, though I go about replaying it differently than you do, in that I try a different route each time.  No matter what path I choose, the narrative still manages to be compelling despite so many elements remaining constant.  In many respects, I feel like PS:T has probably predicted this entire debate by however many years it's been since its release - the whole game is about the illusion of choice, the choices that are made for a player beforehand, and the motivation for making choices at all - you as a player are thrust into a game where player decisions have apparently already been made any number of times beforehand.  The writers for this game were brilliant!

 

 

Mmmmm yes, constants... and variables...

I enjoy a game that will let me trick myself into (momentarily) believing the illusion of choice in the game (well, more ignore that it is a selection of limited choices), or a game that can cleverly use that illusion as part of its narrative.

I enjoyed reading the back and forth. 

But back to the original topic, I agree with the OP in that combat in a game is so much more enjoyable when there is a believable context for it. It isn't always a love it/hate it thing- usually a scale. I accept that bandits want to just kill me because that seems a fairly bandit-y thing to do (and a fairly ubiquitous trope). But breathing a little more life into the situation immerses me more into the game world.

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