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Wacky

The Decline of the Western RPG

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I ignore MMORPGs, because they're mostly crap in terms of overall experience (OMG let us grind to level 80 and then grind some more).

I posit this question as someone who has obsessed and played more western RPGs than he cares to admit. (This is why I am also ignoring the "eastern" RPG, which means that FF God Knows What Number, Chrono Trigger, Pokemon, etc. and games of its ilk don't "fit" so much with what I am talking about.)

You will find somewhere about my room copies of the Ultimas; games from when dungeon crawling was a very basic affair up to now, when Commander Shepard kicks arse and takes names. I have wanted a good story to go with my game since forever, and RPGs do it for me. Whether it be the Fallout series, Icewind Dale, STALKER, Fable, my eternal crush on the Elder Scrolls (One day if Bethesda's "world creation" team and Bioware's "plot" team get together and make a game I will die happy).

Barring that one hope, I bring your attention to two particular games. These are Black Isle games- Baldur's Gate, and the other being Planescape Torment.

They were mostly released around 1999, when Starcraft first came out. BG, especially BGII, was a big hit, and PT is a cult classic, but I look at these games and no matter how wonderful the games are that come after it...

They're missing something.

RPGs are not just games; RPGs tell stories. They hark back to ancient times when we sat around a campfire listening to someone tell stories about things that resonate with us. And everyone nowadays *knows* what makes a good story- the Hero's Quest being the obvious abstracted concept- but again, I bring you back to these two games.

The infinity engine was a clunky thing; BGII aggravates me to no end with its complexities in a way Dragon Age just doesn't. And yet, I believe BGII is the better RPG, even if DA is the better *game.*

There is something that stirs the soul when a story is told of a person with the soul of a God, and how they dealt with it. Or rather; "if you were given great power... how would you deal with it? Do you do the right thing, or the easy thing?"

With PT, there is the same thing, which is incredibly, incredibly simple- "What can change the nature of a man?"

These things are relatable to real life. It elevates these games from the status of plaything to genuine literature. PT, I believe, is actually one of the best pieces of literature ever made.

This is something that modern RPGs DO NOT HAVE. What is the closest thing to it that the modern era has? DA comes tantalisingly close. But what questions does it ask of you, the player? "Do ends ever justify the means?" This is a worthy question to ask. But what does the game do to let you explore this question? Somehow, in between the cleverness of the plot and game mechanics, there was something lost. Something undefinable. Something that makes PT and BGII endlessly replayable, just as Morrowind is still on my computer, while Oblivion is not. It's not about the "bigness" of the thing. Oblivion had a surely more epic plot than Morrowind. Yet something about this backward province of Tamriel feels absolutely *perfect* and in the story it wanted to tell me. In my mind, they are almost like good books- books you can play again and again, because in playing through them you are harkening back to the story that the game wants to tell you.

I raise a lot of questions and I don't answer very many of them. I would like some opinions on what you guys think is that missing "something." Something that elevates a game to an artwork. Something that explains why I think BGII, Morrowind and PT are the best RPGs ever made, and I will never see their like again.

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Well, I think you just about hit it.

I rarely play new video games anymore because I think they're all missing something, or rather they're all packed with too much crap. When I play anything but an RPG, all I care about is gameplay that challenges me and forces me to be creative. That just about never happens anymore -- instead, you get a focus on shock value and graphics. Woooo... :/

Buuut I digress. RPGs today don't seem to take many risks, and the world-building is fairly derivative and superficial. Take PT as an example. Derivative? Uhhhhh, never seen anything like it. Superficial? It was hardly a game at all, but rather an animated novel. If you're in to that kind of medium, the experience will be a memorable and lasting one. BG2 is more of the same, but with a somewhat deeper focus on gameplay and less on storyline development.

The same can be said of Morrowind vs. Oblivion. Morrowind was more of a first-person animated novel, albeit not as well-written as that of PT, while Oblivion was more of a 'AWWW YEAAAAAAHHHHH' kind of modern game. Morrowind's often vacuous and backwater world was frequently empty, yet profound, evocative, and immersive. Morrowind relied more on the generation of a truly wild and teetering land which made the wandering and adventuring feel genuinely exciting, novel, and heroic. Oblivion's world made you feel like an errand-boy in a Medieval universe you've already experienced a thousand times in books, movies, other games, at Medieval Times (dragon tail soup = the shit), wherever.

When it comes down to it, I think it's a question of risk and novelty, and often the two come in tandem. New games are almost always built to sell -- an unfortunate but understandable truth. So it goes with movies and music and almost every other medium. Before the video game market grew into itself as much as it has now, I believe developers were more willing to produce unique worlds and stories because the market itself was composed of more sophisticated gamers on average and the developers were usually fairly small, so there weren't many patriarchal pressures from some owner company like Activision or EA to produce a saccharine product that everyone will want to swallow.

Am I on base?

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I've been playing a lot of morrowind in the past week but I can't say I would ever use it as a great example of an RPG, as far as storytelling goes at least. it's too easy(preferable even) to lose track of the main story and just go off doing random things, it's appeal to me is more in its sandbox nature. but I would agree that it hits on a deeper level than oblivion, the world of vvardenfell is endlessly immersive

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Sounds like you need to play some Alpha Protocol. In spite of the setting it's probably the closest a modern RPG has come to the old Infinity Engine games when it comes to immersion.

There isn't some arbitrary distinction that just makes older games better, but it's more of a symptom of a shift in trends in the gaming industry as a whole. As you mentioned BGII and PT are underappreciated masterpieces that only really appeal to a relatively niche crowd. Studios like Bethesda and Bioware have 'grown up', and as such, nowadays it's much more a matter of maximizing profits by appealing to a crowd that is as broad as possible while minimizing expenses on aspects that don't appeal to the typical gamer (like an expansive storyline, complicated character customization/skill trees, etc.). The removal of RPG elements and overall simplification of series like TES and Dragon Age is, again, symptomatic.

That doesn't mean that there aren't any good RPGs coming out anymore, but you should look beyond the major dev studios to medium-sized or indie devs that still have to truly establish themselves to find the real gems.

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The nostalgia level in this thread is over 9,000.

yeah this basically

BGII and PT are underappreciated masterpieces

underappreciated, yes

masterpieces, definitely not

I've actually played both of these games for the first time fairly recently on the suggestions of others and the thing is that the story in both of them is not really any better than the best story efforts of any video games coming out these days - and since they're old RPGs, they play like absolute shit

no I think everyone really does need to just a) take off the nostalgia goggles and B) stop caring about RPGs

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Studios like Bethesda and Bioware have 'grown up', and as such, nowadays it's much more a matter of maximizing profits by appealing to a crowd that is as broad as possible while minimizing expenses on aspects that don't appeal to the typical gamer (like an expansive storyline, complicated character customization/skill trees, etc.). The removal of RPG elements and overall simplification of series like TES and Dragon Age is, again, symptomatic.

That doesn't mean that there aren't any good RPGs coming out anymore, but you should look beyond the major dev studios to medium-sized or indie devs that still have to truly establish themselves to find the real gems.

it's a JRPG but FFXII is a perfect example of this, yasumi matsuno eventually walked out on the game and quit the company because they kept making him change the game to be more marketable. there's still creative games coming out, you just generally aren't getting them from studios that are already well established. for bigger companies appealing to the widest possible audience is the main objective, and while making something that most people will like is feasible, making something most people will love isn't likely.

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I think one of the major problems is that in trying to appeal to a wider audience, more and more of the elements that are most often considered RPG elements are taken out either to simplify the game or because they're deemed unnecessary.

Take Skyrim for example and how most of the stat system from the earlier Elder Scrolls games has been discarded - rather than the newer "WRPG"s actually being RPGs, they're closer to other genres but with some minor RPG elements added into the mix. Perhaps it could be considered the genre evolving, but to me, an FPS with RPG elements is still an FPS with RPG elements, not an actual RPG.

Another factor to consider is how many larger companies are trying to appeal more to casual gamers with their single player storylines, whereas multiplayer is thrown in on top to "appease" the hardcore gamers. Apparently us hardcore gamers just want to grind or something? (citation needed) As a result, we end up with shorter storylines and a stronger focus on flashy gameplay elements.

Of course, that's not to say there aren't still gems being produced, but this is just part of my take on the whole thing.

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What really differentiated Morrowind from Oblivion for me is that when you leave the prison in Oblivion, everyone is cordial towards you, you can immediately join whatever faction you want, etc.

In Morrowind, you are shit. Literally, people walk by you, glare, and say: "Scum." Similarly, if you show up at a Telvanni town, not only do the quest givers treat you like a dog (if that), but so do the townspeople. In Vivec and Mournhold, the guards also treat you like you are about to stab someone -- this is refreshing from having every single guard sound helpful and innocent.

Racial differences are a huge deal in Morrowind -- in Oblivion I feel like it's never brought up. That Dunmer blacksmith treats me the same as any other one, which was strange to me after playing Morrowind. Hopefully Skyrim addresses this...

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I think one of the major problems is that in trying to appeal to a wider audience, more and more of the elements that are most often considered RPG elements are taken out either to simplify the game or because they're deemed unnecessary.

More than likely it's because they don't necessarily add depth. How many Zero Puncutation reviews are there where Yahtzee finds an easy way to break an RPG by finding some godly spell or item? The more options you add, the harder the game is to balance, and there often end sup being vastly dominant options and skills/items that you would never want to pick. I'd rather have a smaller set of options and mechanics, but have them be properly balanced, than a million skills, most of which are totally useless.

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morrowind is a weird example because i honestly don't have a god damn idea of what that game is actually about. i played that and oblivion for about 50 hours each and didn't touch the main quest in either.

to be honest, i am not really sure if modern rpgs (and games in general) have stories that are worse, or less compelling or engaging, than older games. i can honestly think of a few examples for each side of the argument. what is important to me, though, is that gameplay has come leaps and bounds since 15, 10, or even 5 years ago. gaming is fundamentally an interactive medium, and while i think it is incredibly and often critically important to have an engaging storyline, the reality of it is that it's not the first thing on the priority list. it can be a very close number 2, but i don't think there is room anymore in the market for games that you "play just for the story" like there was in the 90's or early 2000's.

there was a big mentality back then that if you wanted to enjoy a good story with your game, you had to play rpgs (western or jrpg), which meant trudging through a lot of menus and very slow combat and action sequences, which many gamers had no interest in doing. i don't really think we have lost anything by abandoning that model in favor of a more streamlined approach to rpgs that incorporates developments made in action games and first person shooters. i think having more actual, real-time, hands-on action benefits rpgs. i love a lot of western and jrpgs from the 90's and early 2000's, and i really enjoy replaying them, but they play kind of like shit now. their mechanics are outdated. i'm not convinced that streamlining the rpg formula to include more gameplay and less visual novel is a bad thing, because when i sit down to play a game, what i am most interested in is experiencing something that a novel or a movie can not offer me.

i don't mean to imply that story is unimportant, i just think that this generation is in sort of a transitional period with the genre. both western and japanese developers have spent the past decade or so trying to figure out how to make rpgs work in a modern context, and i think western developers, at least, have gotten to a point where they have something pretty good figured out - a template that they can work on from here (don't know about japanese rpgs because i don't really play them anymore). maybe now they can refocus and start crafting better stories. i don't really know. again, i'm not totally convinced that all rpg stories before this generation were better than all rpg stories now, although i do see your point. my point is that if it took a few years to make the genre suck less from a gaming perspective, i think it was worth it.

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More than likely it's because they don't necessarily add depth. How many Zero Puncutation reviews are there where Yahtzee finds an easy way to break an RPG by finding some godly spell or item? The more options you add, the harder the game is to balance, and there often end sup being vastly dominant options and skills/items that you would never want to pick. I'd rather have a smaller set of options and mechanics, but have them be properly balanced, than a million skills, most of which are totally useless.

While this is very true, the WRPG originally derived from tabletop games like D&D which are heavily stat-based, so however you look at it, some people will look unfavourably on the decline of stats in games. As it happens, I'm happy to let genres evolve with the passage of time, but personally I never thought there was much wrong with the stat system in Morrowind unless you started hacking it and altering your stats to absurd levels.

The point about godly spells or items breaking many RPGs is also very true, but it applies to a lot of modern non-RPG games too; take the tranq gun in MGS4 for example with its unlimited ammo and capacity to take down pretty much anything with ease (except Geckos @.@). Or the line-cutter in Dead Space. I think there's a Cracked article on this subject out there somewhere.

But I agree - balance is a major point in gameplay, though stats are part of the freedom we were given in RPGs - the ability to shape our character how we want so I don't want to see them gone entirely. (Not that I'm suggesting this is what Skyrim has done, only that it could be the first step on the road in that direction)

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I raise a lot of questions and I don't answer very many of them. I would like some opinions on what you guys think is that missing "something." Something that elevates a game to an artwork. Something that explains why I think BGII, Morrowind and PT are the best RPGs ever made, and I will never see their like again.

Because it's not 10-20 years ago?

And hey, gamers, you want to know how the nostalgia factor works? You want to know why you today's games don't do it for you like back in the day? Because back in the day you used to actually just PLAY the damn game without the standards and bullshit you put on games today.

When you were kids, there was a genuine openness in your approach when you picked out your games. Were you concerned about balance and game-breaking and translation and awesome story and company politics and graphic engines and all that shit when you were 9? No. It just looked cool and you thought "Oh, let's try this!"

Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but you didn't know until you actually gave the game a fair fucking shot and put some effort into it. It's great you know WHY you liked games back in the day and can identify the elements that went into it, but now you're so drowned in that pseudo-knowledge that it inflates your standards until only one fucking game a year is worth considering. ("You" the editorial)

Another factor that goes into this is you forget you're not children anymore. Everything was a lot more awesome when you're 7-13 because everything's largely still new. Now you've got 10-20 years of gaming under your belt and the only games that look even remotely interesting in the mainstream genres are ones that look like the ones you used to play when you were kids. Also, most of you have to live real lives now and go to work and have relationships and kids and diseases that will kill you in a few years.

Did you think it was all going to same?

If you see a little curtness in my post here, its because I'm amazed how few very intelligent grown adults seem to really get it here. The games, for the most part, are not the problem. Today's games are different but they're just as fun and awesome as they were back then, you just don't know how to approach them as awesomely as you used to back when you hit your peak in that hobby.

I challenge you this: Go to rpgamer.com, look through the latest releases, (not REVIEWS, RELEASES), make up a list of titles for your system of choice, randomly pick 3-5 of them and just have yourself a weekend playing them without your bullshit standards. Set it up in a game room, get a pizza and a coke like you used to, and just have some damn fun. If you can genuinely do it without thinking about balance and history and all that, I guarantee you you'll have at least 20% more fun playing it than if you approached it like all your other games these days.

Bottom Line: THE GAMES ARE NOT THE PROBLEM, JUST RELAX YOUR STANDARDS AND HAVE FUN.

Golly, when did playing videogames get so serious?

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^^ Analyzing videogames as a medium on a meta-level is not a bad thing. I'd say that the medium has matured enough by now to warrant some serious discussion, so threads like this are always welcome.

It's also not like doing one thing (taking videogames 'seriously') and talking about what makes them work prevents you from just sitting back and enjoying them after that. Fuck, we do it with movies and books, why not video games?

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^^ Analyzing videogames as a medium on a meta-level is not a bad thing. I'd say that the medium has matured enough by now to warrant some serious discussion, so threads like this are always welcome.

It's also not like doing one thing (taking videogames 'seriously') and talking about what makes them work prevents you from just sitting back and enjoying them. Fuck, we do it with movies and books, why not video games?

Because its also the same reason people are denying themselves games they probably could be enjoying and then wonder why they can't find any games they like anymore. Same with movies and books too. Meta-discussion is fine as to understand why we enjoy it and why it works with some and not others, but now I feel it's gotten to the point where it's outright preventing a lot of gameplay.

People blame these things on pretty much everything other than themselves. If they were willing to just drop some of it, they could find more games and movies and books they would enjoy.

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While the nostalgia factor is definitely there, you really can't deny that some kinds of games just aren't profitable anymore.

I'm going to buy Skyrim, and I will almost certainly enjoy it. But I will probably still wish I was playing Morrowind.

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The more options you add, the harder the game is to balance, and there often end sup being vastly dominant options and skills/items that you would never want to pick. I'd rather have a smaller set of options and mechanics, but have them be properly balanced, than a million skills, most of which are totally useless.

a good recent example of this is fallout 3 - there are tons of ways you can build your character but all of the ways that aren't 'my character is good at shooting guys' are essentially superfluous

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While the nostalgia factor is definitely there, you really can't deny that some kinds of games just aren't profitable anymore.

This is true, but I think its mostly because the cost for development versus perceived lost markets scare off developers more than there actually being a small market for those games.

I kinda think about that when I play Castlevania Adventure Rebirth. That game couldn't have cost way too much to develop and its fuckin' awesome as hell. I wish I could find how much that game sold.

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Meteo don't get me wrong, I *LOVE* ME, Fallout 3 and NV, and Dragon Age.

They are better games than BGII and PT. I should know because I still have the above on my computer with BGII and PT. And you raise good points about the nostalgia filter.

But there is an indefinable quality that means that Morrowind, PT and BGII have a replay value that for some reason most modern RPGs don't. Let's face it- I've played ME2 once through, and I don't really want to play it again (Toolin' round the galaxy doing DLC stuff doesn't count- I mean play the whole thing through again). DA got really close to me wanting to play it repeatedly- and my theory is because it's close to a work of literature, in the same way BGII and PT are.

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I've always felt "take off your rose tinted nostalgia goggles" is an intellectually lazy argument for people that aren't willing to seriously look at the differences between games now and then. there's so many "classics" that I've seen this argument tossed at that I've played 10 years after release for the first time and still wound up loving them, it really just seems like a lame copout to me.

game development costs are definitely a driving factor in this, cutting edge graphics sell and making a game with those goals costs money. there are more adventurous games out there still, you're just more likely to find them for $5-20 on steam or XBLA than for $60 on display at a local retailer. this isn't really unique to RPGs or even video games either, everything ultimately gets mutated at least a little in hopes of reaching a wider audience - frequently pissing off the people who liked what it was to begin with

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I've always felt "take off your rose tinted nostalgia goggles" is an intellectually lazy argument for people that aren't willing to seriously look at the differences between games now and then.

that's because you're incapable of believing that maybe your opinions of old video games have nothing to do with quality and everything to do with being old

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