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J.E. Sawyer talks about Strength requirements and defines RPG

Ausir June 16, 2010 User blog:Ausir

In the Bethesda forum, J.E. Sawyer talks about the Strength requirements for weapons in Fallout: New Vegas:

Strength requirements are soft requirements. You can still use a weapon if you don't meet the requirement, but it will sway (if a firearm) or swing more slowly (if a melee/unarmed weapon).

It's also a progressive penalty. If you are 1 or 2 points below a weapon's requirement, the penalty is not very pronounced. If you have a 2 ST and pick up a minigun, that's when it's really bad.

Meanwhile, on Formspring, he answers various questions from the community, including a lengthy discussion on the definition of RPG:

A friend of mine who used to work in game design says that the biggest problem with roleplaying game stories is that developers mistake writing more for writing better and that other genres are better suited for interactive storytelling. What do you think

If the central narrative is meaningfully interactive, I would classify it as an RPG. That is, I consider interactive storytelling to be the primary defining characteristic of RPGs.

I don't disagree that some designers write too much, but I think that's an indictment of specific content, not the fundamentals behind the genre.

You would not consider old dungeon crawlers as RPGs, then? And do not many adventure games center around interactive storytelling?

I would consider them RPGs by the definitions of their time. If someone were to make Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord today, I would not consider it to be an RPG.

Can you elaborate on why contemporary RPGs are defined as interactive narrative? IMO RPGs have always been the same - dependent on the player's development of a character's stats. E.g. AP would have been enhanced as an RPG if there were dialogue skills.

Would you consider Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to be an RPG? How about Devil May Cry 4? Ninja Gaiden? Call of Duty 4? All of these games feature the gaining of experience points (or equivalent) to unlock new abilities.

Advancement of character abilities is not unique to RPGs -- certainly not in the 21st century, anyway.

Most of the criticisms of AP have to do with the elements that aren't role-playing related. Personally, I don't think the DSS system would be improved with the addition of dialogue skills.

I would consider the xp aspects of the games you mentioned to be RPG systems, yes. But they are first and foremost action games, as your twitch-skill trumps the strategic planning from developing stats. Whereas in a "true" RPG, this is not the case.

Would you classify Oblivion and Mass Effect as "true" RPGs? Both are games in which your ability to actually aim attacks and time input are the primary determining factors in landing hits/doing damage.

In response to your Oblivion/Mass Effect question, I don't know why we have a black and white view of it. Do you think there can be a gradient scale of "RPG-ness" on which Morrowind would be more of an RPG than Oblivion, but both are RPGs.

They don't have to be black and white views, but if you're going to classify things based on criteria, those criteria should be consistent. The previous question declared, pretty emphatically, that Castlevania: SotN, DMC4, et al. were action games with RPG elements. Given Mass Effect 1/2s primary reliance on player skill in combat, what makes those games RPGs and not action games with RPG elements?

I see ME as it's classified, an Action RPG. Course, there's a very blurry gradient between an ARPG and an action game w/RPG elements. But it's clear (to me) what the RPG elements are. Oblivion, diplomatically speaking, is not very good at being an RPG.

Overlapping the mechanics of Mass Effect and Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, what are the elements of ME that make it an RPG and R6V2 not an RPG?

I think you misunderstood. As ARPGs are a hybrid of two elements, it's NOT easy to classify one. As such I *don't* classify ME as a "true" RPG. However it does have *more* RPG elements as R6V2 has equipment stats but no character stats and skills.

I don't have any difficulty classifying them because I don't intrinsically link styles of combat with the RPG genre. I classify games as RPGs based on their interactive storytelling. More specifically, if you have the ability to define and express your character(s) personality in a way that significantly alters the development of the story, it's an RPG. If you don't have that ability, it's not.

Where does Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare fall on the RPG scale for you? It has stat-heavy equipment, XP, levels, classes, unlockable classes, and perks.

How are games such as D2 (and 3 coming up) ARPGs, then, as they do not have interactive storytelling? What about Oblivion and Morrowind, as they do not allow storytelling or personality choices? You can do well easily in COD4 without unlockables. Not ME

I don't consider the Diablo games to be RPGs. They are action games with character advancement and equipment upgrading. It doesn't make them better or worse games because of how I classify them.

Furthermore, while it is necessary to be clear in classifying what constitutes as an essential element of a genre, actual implementation usually combines multiple genre elements and thus need not be easily classified. Popular example: Action-Adventures.

I think "action-adventure" is one of the broadest/least clear genre classifications. I may just be dense, but when someone tells me that a game is an action-adventure game, it gives me no clear idea of what to expect.

What the hell is with this rhetoric? So you're telling me that if stats are not exclusive to RPGs then they are not necessary if the story is "interactive"? The average text adventure has a more "interactive" story than the average RPG. What about that?

Text adventure games typically don't allow you allow you to define and express your character's personality in a way that meaningfully changes the development of the story. An interactive story, to me, means more than just going through it via player input.

Would that mean text adventures are RPGs? And to be clear RPG = stat system and dice rolls. But stat system =/= RPG so please stop using Castlevania or whatever else game which doesn't even have a proper stat system or dice rolls in defense of your point.

There are RPG systems that don't use dice to resolve conflicts. Most notably, Amber uses straight statistic comparisons. Marvel Universe uses bids of resources to resolve conflicts.

A lot of the more recent (starting with Symphony of the Night) Castlevania games have a full array of "basic" stats (Strength, Constitution, Intelligence, Luck, Attack, Defense) in addition to purchased/leveled spells/powers/familiars. I don't know if that constitutes a "proper" stat system to you, but has always seemed well fleshed out to me.

Seriously, this is embarrassing to read. To be clear: Interactive storyline is not IN ANY WAY essential to RPGs.

I don't share the same opinion and I don't see why that's such a big deal.

So, you consider a game an RPG if it lets you define your pc's personality in a way that "significantly alters the story". There must be very few games you call RPGs then, since most only offer the illusion of choice and the story stays the same.

Yes, not that many. I think that offering the illusion of choice is bad for any game. I'm fine with being put on rails in games. Please just don't give me ten ways to be redirected into the same outcome.

To be clearer, I think it's fine if RPGs plot lines wind up in a similar place. But many RPG plot lines are made up of a lot of little relationships, small quests, and character conflicts that you can resolve as you see fit. That is what I think is interesting and find rewarding.

Well, the general audience considers the Diablos to be ARPGs. If that's not the subject, then we have come to an impasse in the argument. I'd say MY criteria, though, for an RPG, is asking whether I can win without leveling up (or a similar mechanic).

I will certainly not argue that the general audience considers the Diablo games to be ARPGs. I've only been trying to advocate my position; sorry if it came across wrong.

There are also two questions there that are actually related to Fallout for a change:

You once said you were interested in a Fallout spin-off based during the resource wars. Does this idea still interest you? Because it sounds like it would be awesome.

Yeah, I think it could be really cool, especially if the focus was on the European/Middle Eastern conflicts. Maybe that's just me, though.

How come you and the guys at Obsidian never bother to correct all these journalists who keep crediting Obsidian designers as the "creators of Fallout". None of the creators work there, you guys shouldn't steal their credit.

They usually don't say "the creators of Fallout" but something like "some of the creators of the original games", which is true for Feargus, Avellone, Menze, ScottE, Aaron Brown, and Chris Jones.

As well as some other interesting questions:

Which do you believe is a more important factor in creating a good game: having a strong story and dialogue, or having strong gameplay?

Having strong game play. I think when Lord Gamerson invented games, the best thing he did was put the word "game" in the term "game play".

You said you've done writing for games too? Didn't know that, I always assumed you weren't a story designer since I've never heard anything about your writing (no offense intended). So what games have you done writing for and what parts did you write?

I've done writing for Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter, Icewind Dale 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, and a little for Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir. The only two major characters I've done have been Isair and Madae in Icewind Dale 2, and they weren't particularly good.

Are you more on the "photorealism" or the "cartoony" side when it comes to graphics in computer games? Why?

I think that the visual aesthetics of a game should be driven by what you're trying to accomplish with them. Heavy Rain is really trying to present a very grounded, subdued world where subtlety can carry a lot of weight. Okami creates a fantastic painted world because it's rooted heavily in myth and abstracted imaginary landscapes.

Use your fundamental concept of the world and game to visualize the world you are going to create, consider how your characters fit into and move through that world, and let that vision -- even if it is indistinct -- drive the visual aesthetics.

Bioware gets a lot of flack for recycling the same plot structure a lot. Do you think it's a creative vice to recycle that much, or is it alright to reuse the plotting so long as the dialogue, characters and worldbuilding are fresh?

I approach storytelling from the perspective of theme and conflict first and work backward from that. I have been criticized for developing plots that do not meet players' basic expectations for tempo/pacing/structure, so I may be the wrong person to listen to when it comes to such things.

The way I look at it, you have to try to satisfy your audience and hopefully yourself along the way. If you can get up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror, and earnestly believe that you're doing the best you can to meet both of those goals, keep going.

What do you think of 'metaplots'? (IE the Old World of Darkness's fiction continuity, world events in MMORPGs, etc) Do they eliminate player choice by backgrounding them, or create the illusion of a deeper and more dynamic world? Or both?

Old World of Darkness fiction... continuity? Good one.

Player choice involves what the player is directly involved in. I think the stature and significance of the player's actions has to be measured in the context of other things that are going on.

If mountains are being moved in comparison to what the player is doing, the player's actions may seem insignificant. If the player's actions start out small but then grow in importance and become directly involved with what was previously a high-profile background plot, I think it can create a believable sense of growth and importance.

In any case, I think that presenting an advancing "world" narrative that is reflected in the environment is a good thing.

In your metaplots answer you warn against the player feeling insigificant, but do you feel that that is necessarily a bad thing? Are games forced into being a Dick Fantasy for players? Even in Silent Hill you're still "The Only Guy Who Matters"...

It is only a bad thing if the world's narrative is what is making the player feel insignificant. A game that focuses heavily on one character's personal struggle can be intensely focused on just that, with very little background narrative, and I think that's fine.

If the world puts a lot of attention and emphasis on big things happening in the world and you're not really part of it, I think that can be problematic.

I think Assassin's Creed 2 did a good job of balancing big world events with the secret assassin/templar world of Ezio. The things Ezio does are intertwined with (and in some cases cause) the major events of the setting, but ultimately Ezio is driven by a very personal motive: revenge.

Do you people read those "IDEAS AND SUGGESTIONS" threads? If so, do you consider those ideas? If not, why not? I feel like they're pointless at times, because devs don't even reply to those mostly. Feels like lots of people writing for nothing sometimes:(

I read many of them but do not usually respond.

Since we're on the subject of what makes an RPG or not, what do you think of games that have role playing options but force the player to use the developer's own protagonist instead of letting us make our own (like Planescape Torment, or Alpha Protocol)?

Personally, I prefer RPGs where I have some control over my character's appearance, sex, and (if I'm lucky) voice. But if I'm stuck with a pre-defined appearance, that can also work.

To be clearer with that question: AP for example gives us a lot of role playing options but Mike's personality is often that of a sarcastic guy regardless of our dialogue picks and the player isn't able to change that. So would you still call that an RPG?

Yes, but I can understand the criticism.

What's your opinion on first-person RPGs like Ultima Underworld or FPS/RPG hybrids like Deus Ex and System Shock? Do you feel like RPGs should only be done in the third-person or isometric perspectives or does it not matter?

I think it matters for the specific game, but I don't think perspective is a defining characteristic of RPGs. Perspective is something that should be considered in the context of what you are attempting to accomplish or achieve.

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