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On whether the "magic" is there or not in CRPGs


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The post below inspired me to make this little thread on the topic of that "magic" we'd love to see in CRPGs:

 

 

 

Personally, I've thus far played the two Shadowrun campaigns and am currently in what I believe to be in the early-to-mid game of Wasteland 2. They deliver what they promised, but none of them has been particularly awesome so far (though the Shadowrun campaign set in Berlin is currently my favorite). It's not that I dislike them, but when I played, say, Baldur's Gate 2 or Planescape: Torment, I really cared about what happens whereas with all of these new games, I do not. I'm not sure why. For example, Wasteland 2 does a great job of presenting its setting and there has clearly been a lot attention paid to details... but the magic just isn't there. It is a good game and occasionally quite amusing so I don't doubt that I will finish it, but I'm not going to stay up at night to play it. Maybe it's just that I'm not a teenager anymore, but then again I still get the same feeling from reading books as I did then so it's more likely that something is lacking in these games.

 

I feel exactly the same way.

 

I've played both Shadowrun Returns and WL2, and they were pretty great in many respects, but they lack that RPG "soul" or "magic" that's gripping to such a degree that I really immerse myself in the setting - also, that I want to take another dive into them, just because the story and the characters and the setting is that good and "magical".

 

Obviously, this is a matter of personal taste.

Still, I have to 'fess up and say that not a single post-apocalyptic CRPG has ever gripped me in that way. I have no idea why, but that's the way it is.

 

I've done some soul-searching in my corrupted gamer-heart, and the result is pretty weird, even to me, but here's my personal list of games that I can think of off the top of my head that had that soul, and not all of them are CRPGs in your ordinary sense either:

-BG1 & 2

-Planescape: Torment

-the NWN2 series

-the NWN series (barely)

-DA:O (barely)

-Ultima VII

-Dishonored (The setting, the story and the main characters certainly have "soul")

 

All these games give me "magic" that is on par or even better than reading a good fantasy novel. I'm reading Patrick Rothfuss atm - his books have that RPG "soul", I'm after - brilliant stuff!

 

 

Examples of games that don't have this CRPG "soul" or "magic":

-M&M, even the latest iteration (X Legacy), lacks it

-The Wizardry series

-IWD 1 and 2

-DS series (the last one had it in parts thanks to George Ziets)

-Shadowrun Returns

-WL 2 (plenty of smiles, but I didn't care for my characters or those NPCs - I had a hard time telling them apart, despite diff skills)

-D:OS, and also the original Divinity (more of the funny part of the spectrum)

 

I'm really hoping that DA:I, T:ToN and PoE will have that "magic" that I desire, only time will tell.

 

What are your thoughts on this?

 

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*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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Hurlshot: Heh! To some degree, this may be true, at least for me. But like Althernai wrote, I do get that same "magic" from books I have never read before, so it's not just nostalgia and CRPG jadedness. :)

 

It's some sort of atmosphere and kind of writing that bring out the emotions. I'm not much of a weeper (no Dishonored-pun intended), but certain documentaries about the world wars, sport achievements and grand deeds in fantasy can still make me shed a tear or two, it seems, well, on top of my family and my beloved kids, obviously! :mellow:

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*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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I don't think it's that the 'magic' has faded... I think Black Isle made the top 5 RPGs of the last 20 years and when you cite a Black Isle RPG, you are basically comparing the old masters to modern art.

 

Wait until after the polished version of Pillars is out and can be scrutinized; then we'll have the answer.

Edited by Gizmo
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Personally there are very few games that have sparked such a giddy feeling of excitement in my cold, dead heart, unsurprisingly:

 

Ultima V&VI, from their brilliant introductions and throughout evoked that feeling.

Diablo, surprisingly enough possessed that instant enchantment and atmosphere.

Torment and Icewind Dale also made me smile in anticipation as they began, fingers waggling over the keyboard in excitement at the experience to come.

Fallout of course, brimming with originality, style and innovation pleased me inordinately.

Severance: Blade of Darkness possessed a lonely, magnificent atmosphere that I believe the Souls games have preserved.

King of Dragon Pass, one of the areas that this game excels at, possibility and adventure to come.

 

For me no Obsidian game has yet captured this atmosphere of thrilling at the adventures to come, and the possibilities that await, except New Vegas. That opening introduction and intriguing narrative, it enthralled me, and followed by the Couriers supposed death left me even more intrigued. It presented a setting and situation that I wanted to explore and immerse myself in. However I think Obsidian games have usually some early point in the narrative that grabs my attention, whether that is Alan Parker conspiring to steal secrets from Alpha Protocol, the Exile facing down Atris, finding the last resting place of the Tenth legion in the Mournweald, the finding of the first Silver Shard awakening a vague suspicion or what have you.

 

Edit: The fourth chapter of the Witcher also qualifies I think, the real heart and soul of the game.

Edited by Nonek

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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I think Dragonfall has that "magic" in spades and will certainly go down in my books as a "classic".

 

Sure there is a special feeling to the Fallouts and what have you but it's just different. It's like 15 years ago they were released now. It's likely we were pretty different people when we first played them.

 

I view everything with a *much* more critical eye nowadays, for good or ill.

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Starwars: Mebbe I spoke too soon. I have yet to play SR: Dragonfall! :)

 

Nonek: Ultima V & VI certainly deserve to be on my "magic" list as well! Diablo 1 and especially 2 had atmosphere in spades, but it still lacked that care for my character that I crave.

 

Orugun01: Nostalgia is but a part of it, no more. Reading my list and others (New Vegas was mentioned, which for me didn't quite make it - I'd rather place its "magic" on the scale of Skyrim's - heretical, I know!), there are newer games there, and the books and films that give us that same sweet "soul" are recent enough. Still, my entire array of opinions on this could be that of a semi-old fantasy geezer! :grin:

Edited by IndiraLightfoot

*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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Sounds like a new Internet definition for @davidgaider

 

"heart", "magic", "soul" = what people attribute to games/movies/books they like that in fact really, really suck.

This week's funniest post all categories! :lol:

*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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"Magic" games...

 

For me, that would be a number of the very old crpgs (Rogue, Ultima IV, Phantasie I-III and a number of others), bg2 (not bg1 for some reason), fallout 1 (not 2 so much), PS:T. Getting close but not quite making the list would be Witcher I and DA:O. I *think* Fallout 3 would probably make the list too.

 

Rambling a bit (thinking out loud)

 

Since newish games still managed to stir the flames to some degree, it may not just be an age thing (contributing factor, but not the whole Explanation).

 

Style over substance probably also contributes to it.

 

A favourite pet peeve of mine is "internal consistency" (or rather the Feeling that it's lacking). When you feel like something doesn't make sense in the game world and it's only there so some invisible checklist can have ist bullet points crossed off.

 

Minigames and QTE's. Few things kills a game more effectively than those.

 

Too many cutscenes has the same effect. Even worse if prerendered rather than scripted in the game engine.

 

When you feel beaten and tricked (trolled) by the developers rather than the game (the Darth Malak fight in Kotor anyone?).

 

When the ego stroking becomes so bad you feel your breakfast coming up again. Bioware often overdoses people on it. Obsidian is not innocent of it either. The interlude halfway through NWN2 OC with all the backpatting was... horrible.

 

Maybe it's because so many games these days are designed "by committee" and formulas rather than visionaries and lunatics with outrageous ideas?

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“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.” - Albert Einstein

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Rambling a bit (thinking out loud)

 

Heh!

 

A favourite pet peeve of mine is "internal consistency" (or rather the Feeling that it's lacking). When you feel like something doesn't make sense in the game world and it's only there so some invisible checklist can have ist bullet points crossed off.

That's why I reckon Dishonored is so very good - everything permeates everything - atmosphere/story interdependence down to the UI (The 4X Endless Legend actually has that consistency)

 

 

Minigames and QTE's. Few things kills a game more effectively than those.

Tell me about it! They certainly made Kingdom of Amalur dorky, not to mention the D&D 4th ed Dageerdale and its end boss fight dragon ride. But seeing Keyrock playing Bayonetta 2, he's at least having some fun and I could have sworn there's QTE in there somewhere, or perhaps it's hidden?

 

Too many cutscenes has the same effect. Even worse if prerendered rather than scripted in the game engine.

 

Too much of that and you have some machinima. It needs to fit the setting nicely and be sparse enough.

The interlude halfway through NWN2 OC with all the backpatting was... horrible.

That was indeed one of the worst sections of that OC, still it managed to save its "soul".

 

 

Edited by IndiraLightfoot

*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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How much does a good introductory sequence contribute to this sense of anticipation?

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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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Nonek: Good question! In a weird way, many of my favourite CRPGs with "soul" have rather modest beginnings:

NWN2 - you start in the inglenook, at your stepfather elf's side. There's a village fair coming on....

Dishonnored: You are playing hide and seek with the empress' daughter...

BG1: You are about to leave the safety of the rather mundane and bookworm-heavy Candlekeep, although with a clandestine threat looming over you...

 

Obviously, very soon, something catastrophic will strike your player character in most of my "magic" games, and then you are off on your journey.

However, I'm not that fond of full on action at the start of a CRPG (this thing worries me regarding DA:I, for instance - I also disliked the typical Elder Scroll start of Skyrim).

 

EDIT: Not that such a full-action start would automatically ruin the possibility of a CRPG having that "soul".

Edited by IndiraLightfoot
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*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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You can't go back home, everyone changes and however much you want to you can't enjoy "soulful" games as when you did since who you were at the time played a big part on why you enjoyed those games.

If you're asking for a more adult (not XXX) version of "soul" then i'm right there with you.

 

Mostly I think I've began to be less forgiving with games, I've seen the same tropes and plots for years to the point that i'm bored by it. I liked PS:T because it was different, because I couldn't tell where the story would be going (although I had suspicion that it would be other planes) Whereas with recent games I feel like i'm listening to someone tell a joke I already know the puchnline to and no matter how many times I say the punchline he keeps telling it.

 

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I'd say the answer to that question is kind of like the answer to "who's the sucker in this poker game?"*

 

*If you can't tell, it's you. ;)

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Orugun01: Yeah, there's always that! However, in some weird way, I have become more lenient at the same time, mostly because I've gotten more impatient when playing games, so I can accept a little handholding to at least some degree without getting all upset about it.  Two things that I don't compromise on, though, in my adult version of "magic" CRPG are:

-The story-atmosphere-setting complex

-And what Gorth mentioned, that precious "internal consistency"

*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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Its not just RPGs, I felt the "magic" when I booted up Assassins Creed 2, faded a bit by Revelations, but was right back again in 3. I couldn't wait to get home from work to boot them up, and would stay up late playing. None of the games I've played since have had tha, Divinity Original Sin, Wasteland 2, etc, all good games, but I haven't come close to finishing them and am spending my gaming time mostly on EUIV now, which has already got like 250 hours out of me.

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The area between the balls and the butt is a hotbed of terrorist activity.

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On the particular cases of Divinity and Wasteland; for me what turns me off from them is the story. I can put up with the repetitive  and long turn based combat, but as soon as I start wandering without direction then I lose interest. Divinity kept stretching the "big reveal" to the point that it was almost quaint how they kept hyping it even though it already had revealed all. With Wasteland I lose interest when they keep trying to make it a mystery that the baddies are robots; no ****, the robots I have been fighting since the beginning are bad.

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I'd say the answer to that question is kind of like the answer to "who's the sucker in this poker game?"*

 

*If you can't tell, it's you. ;)

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Wasteland 2 had the worst intro ever for me.  It was tough, I didn't get into it until I got to use my skill check to open up the first robot.  That was my hook.

 

 

Sometimes mood has a lot to do with it.  I tried to get into Dishonored twice and petered out early, then one week it just clicked and I loved it from start to finish.  The same happened with the original Deus Ex. 

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Starwars: Mebbe I spoke too soon. I have yet to play SR: Dragonfall! original.gif

Do try Dragonfall. As I said, it was my favorite of the three and comes pretty close to what I was looking for.

 

I tried to think about what goes wrong with such games. From most to least important:

 

1) Appeal to nostalgia is a coin with two sides. On the one hand, the old games were good so similar games should also be good, but on the other, I've played the old games (many, many times for some of them) so it shouldn't be too similar. A non-Kickstarter example: Dragon Age: Origins would probably have been a lot more fun if I hadn't already played half a dozen games with the "hub and spokes" model. Furthermore, the individual "spokes" were more or less well designed, but they followed such an obvious pattern (bit of talking, lost of combat, binary choice at the resolution) that it made the later ones predictable. Basically, there should be somethings which are new and surprising in the structure and mechanics of the game -- too bad that when the developers try for this, it usually makes the game worse. It's hard to find something which is both new and good.

 

2) I don't like the characters as much. This is weird because by objective measures (e.g. the total amount of dialog), the characters from Baldur's Gate 2 weren't all that developed -- but for whatever reason, the few interactions they did have managed to sketch interesting and/or amusing personalities whereas the new games fail at this despite devoting more words to it. It's similar to how a well-drawn pencil sketch can be better than a poorly-drawn watercolor painting. Same goes for the romances (although come to think of it, neither of the Shadowrun games had any romance at all and I don't see how Wasteland 2 can have them given the structure of the party).

 

3) I'm getting somewhat more jaded as I get older. With books and even movies, I'm able to compensate by being more discerning, but there are so few CRPGs that attempting the same trick would probably leave me with an empty set.

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3) I'm getting somewhat more jaded as I get older. With books and even movies, I'm able to compensate by being more discerning, but there are so few CRPGs that attempting the same trick would probably leave me with an empty set.

 

 

This is a good point.  Really games in general haven't elevated to a level of the best writers and directors.  How many games can really be compared to the works of the greatest novelists?  

 

Games as a whole are fairly sophomoric.  Which is great when I'm in the mood for that, and I often am.  But it doesn't really create a lasting impact that will stick with me. 

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Couple of things come to mind:

 

1) I feel I need a definitive player character. There may or may not be party members, but I have difficulty RPing if there's more than one character of my own creation in the game. I struggle to get into the spirit of Wasteland 2 and Divinity: Original Sin for example, even though mechanically I'm quite happy with them. Also most 'old school' RPGs from the 80s and 90s suffer this problem - your Gold Box games, Might and Magics, etc.

 

2) I don't really care all that much about the absolute quality of the story/writing, but I do absolutely care that it respects player agency. Even in a completely linear game, this manifests in being able to disguise the rails well - that is, if you're only going to have one path through, better bloody well make it the most obvious choice that a reasonable player character would take. For example, I feel both Dragon Age and Baldur's Gate 2 are mechanically quite boring, and yet I believe the latter is a very good game overall, and the former rather substandard - a position I'd never be able to justify on gameplay alone.

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