Saturday, August 6, 2011

A CRPG Wish List

[Note: All images were removed from this entry five days after the initial posting because something was hosing the RSS feeds. Sorry about the all-text format.]

One of these days, I'm going to sit down and conceptualize my idea of the perfect CRPG. Until then, here's a list of things that I rarely or never see in CRPGs (keeping in mind that I haven't played them all; feel free to comment on games I've overlooked) that I would love to see developers include in the future.

1. Adaptive end games based on how long the player takes. In Baldur's Gate II, you end one chapter emerging from the Underdark, hot on the trail of Irenicus. After resting up, you head immediately to Suldanessellar to save it from the mad elf's rampages. Or not. Instead, you can head back to Athkatla and do some more quests. Or just wander around. Or explore Watcher's Keep. You can let literally years of game time pass before going to Suldanessellar. And when you get there, Irenicus and his minions are always in the same exact stage of their invasion.

How much cooler would it be if every day that passed, you had to face more enemies, and more powerful enemies, when you finally deigned to visit the elf city? What if, enough time having passed, monstrosities started making their way out of Irenicus's now-conquered city and into the surrounding countryside? Yes, it would require more programming, and some modifications of the quests in Suldanessellar, but not as much as you might think. You just have to move your encounters with key characters from houses and outdoor areas to dungeons and modify a little dialogue.

Essentially, I want games to punish me for dithering.

Oblivion almost gets there with this, by having Oblivion gates open up around the countryside, but their appearance is based on quest stages and not on the overall passage of time (this strikes me as something that someone ought to be able to mod). Also, Mehrunes Dagon doesn't realize it, but he has the laziest minions in the history of the pantheon. He sends them through the Oblivion gates, and having reached fresh air and grass, they promptly...well, hang around the gate until some adventurer shows up and kills them. If the creators really wanted to ramp up the sense of urgency and danger, they'd have these hellspawn wander into nearby towns and start killing guards.

2. Integrated use of character names. Honestly, why have me go through all the trouble of naming a character if everyone in the game is just going to call me "The Warden" the entire time? The ham-handed ways that games find to ignore your chosen name border on laughable. In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, it turns out that whatever name you use, you're actually an amnesiac ex-Jedi with a curiously androgynous name, which everyone uses after it's revealed. In Jade Empire and Oblivion, the arena masters insist that your real name isn't memorable and have you pick something like "Flaming Dragon" that, coincidentally, they have sound files of the announcers using. In Fable, you buy a title like "Pie Master" or "Chicken Chaser." There are times in Baldur's Gate in which NPCs use the third person plural pronoun to refer to you ("Don't annoy the child of Bhaal! They are our only hope!") because the creators were too lazy to vary the text based on sex.

Yes, I know that the main issue here is spoken dialogue. No one wants to play a game in which cinematic-quality voice acting is interrupted by something that sounds like a drunk Stephen Hawking trying to speech-recognize whatever weird combination of vowels and consonants you've given yourself. But here's a secret I don't think most modern game developers realize: Not every bit of dialogue needs to be spoken! Though I picked on them above, the Baldur's Gate games actually strike a good balance. People refer to you by name in the text dialogue, and when the spoken dialogue reaches that point, it just throws in a substitute or stops entirely. I can live with that.

3. Tactical use of the environment. I want to be able to block entryways with bodies, toss rocks and chairs at enemies, shove foes down flights of stairs and over balcony railings, splinter doors with an axe, and pin enemies to the wall with the well-placed shove of a table.

Again, Oblivion almost gets there. The developers spent a lot of time on realistic game physics--you can even move individual limbs of dead foes--to almost no purpose. Although you can pick up and throw things, there isn't a single place in the game where it's important to do so. And bigger objects, you can't move at all.

There are non-CRPGs that handle this well. Half-Life 2 comes to mind. It's been a while since I played, but I remember the delight of using the gravity gun to embed paint cans in the skulls of enemy soldiers, or blocking a stairway with a bed while I tossed grenades into the room below.

4. Crippling, disabling, and amputating in 3D CRPGs. I include the last bit because these types of injuries have been possible in some isometric CRPGs going back to Wizard's Crown. But they'd be so much more satisfying in modern 3-D games with better graphics. Why does a sword slash always lead to a little blood loss but never a severed arm or leg? Mind you, I'm not keen on these things happening to me, but the thought of slicing wings off cliff racers excites me in ways I don't fully understand.

5. Temptation to evil. A lot of games let you be evil, some even providing alternate main quests and endings for this choice. But not enough games truly tempt you to evil. You generally end up with the same advantages and disadvantages, the same power and level, no matter which path you choose. In Neverwinter Nights, you can bully people into giving you more money for quests, for instance, but money loses most of its value about 1/4 of the way through the game. Being a thief in Morrowind grants you virtually no advantage since so much stuff is lying around anyway (and there's no karma meter, so evil choices have no real effect). For God's sake, you can spend the entire game of Oblivion as a vampire, and never kill anyone! In a good CRPG, being evil wouldn't be a "choice" you make to vary the gameplay, but rather just as it is in real life: a temptation to measurably greater wealth and power.

6. Fire. This is partly related to #3, but I would really like--and please don't infer anything about my psychology based on this--to be able to set things on fire. Like, permanently. I want to hurl one of my torches into a pile of straw and watch the whole barn go up in flames. After all, the Daedra destroyed Kvatch--why can't I do the same to some annoying farmhouse?

7. Graffiti. Swords of Glass remains the only game I know where you can make permanent marks on dungeon walls, and even there you only get an "X." The ability to tag doorways and dungeon walls would help immeasurably with mapping, or even just determining what dungeons you've already explored. I shouldn't have to drop arrows to mark paths already taken.

8. A true split party. I think the first game I played that allowed me to send party members in different directions was Ultima VI. I still remember how awesome it seemed at the time. The Infinity engine games were famous for this, and I used to role-play it a bit, pretending my ranger PC just needed to get away by himself for a while. I'd see how much of a map I could clear before having to call my other party members for aid. In one memorable bit in Icewind Dale II, you can have a thief plundering items from a house while your paladin simultaneously apologizes to the owner.

But why can't I split my party across multiple maps? Why can't I send Jaheira and her annoying husband to return the cloak to some guy in the Friendly Arm Inn while the rest of the party continues through Cloakwoood? I know the answer, of course: programming limitations. But those should be a thing of the past in 2012. If I have five active quests, I want to be able to send five different PCs off to accomplish them.

9. A modern setting. Look, I like high fantasy and sci-fi as much as anyone, but are there any good, honest-to-god CRPGs set in the real world? I don't want to play a dental hygienist, of course, but why can't you CRPG a police officer? Or a Navy SEAL? A spy? I'm sure you'll all tell me about games in which you can do this, but you have to admit: they're few and far between.

10. Weapon familiarity bonuses. You begin the CRPG with a sword--a treasured family heirloom passed down through the generations and given to you, in a tearful episode, by your dying father. What do you do with it? Slay a few rats and then sell it as soon as you find a long sword +1. Honestly, CRPG characters have no sentimentality. They're happy to discard any weapon or bit of armor as soon as something better comes along.

I finished playing Dragon Age: Origins a few weeks ago, and I loved how you got bonuses for wearing different pieces of armor of the same style. It makes sense if solely from a fashion standpoint: my Morrowind character looks pretty silly with a leather cuirass, ebony boots, chain greaves, a glass pauldron on one shoulder, and a steel pauldron on the other. Now it's time for weapon familiarity bonuses: the longer you wield a particular weapon, the greater its power. Your original bronze short sword might be a short sword +9 of dragon slaying by the end of the game. This would make you think carefully before discarding one weapon in favor of the latest and greatest.

What other desirable features do you almost never see in CRPGs? Discuss while I ease myself back in to active playing.

P.S.: Just got that in under the wire, didn't I?


  1. This is why computer-based role-playing games take a back seat to real pen-and-paper role-playing. The closest you can get to these things is to have a DM running a module for you in Neverwinter Nights (something which I've had some experience).

    Perhaps in another decade, they will come up with ways to do these things, but I doubt it. The sad truth is that while the games may look a million times better than they did 25 years ago, they are much more simple and forgiving. It seems that the more graphics you add, the less options you have. And this is why the older CRPGs are usually better than most new ones.

  2. It didn't do it across the board, but with one particular weapon Planescape: Torment fulfilled # 10. Dak'kon's zerth blade, which was maintained and shaped by Dak'kon's mental powers, increased its attributes and gained new powers as Dak'kon leveled up.

    For # 8, Adventure Construction Set let you play multiple characters and send them anywhere in the world (whichever game world you're playing), switching back and forth between them in its turn-based way. And when you get to Wasteland, you'll see it allows party splitting, too, but I don't remember how far the separate parties can roam from each other. The Magic Candle allows party splitting as well, and you can also let split-off party members stay at various trainer's buildings or a shops in different towns, building up skills or earning gold until you decide to come back to them and re-integrate them into the party.

  3. The indie CRPG Exile III (and it's later remake Avernum 3) has a time-adaptive world. As time goes by, various disasters destroy towns on the surface world. There's also a major event in the underworld that takes place after a certain span of time, but it's quite possible to finish the game quickly enough that it doesn't happen.

  4. I literally just finished Alpha Protocol. It's essentially Mass Effect: the spy rpg. Depending on whether or not you like mass effect, that might be good or bad, but I had a blast.

    And I have to admit, I *hate* time-sensitive quests. It's probably related to my personality, but it creates tension and stress that I don't want in a leisure activity. It's also exacerbated when games are inconsistent about it. Tossing in one or two time-sensitive missions is just obnoxious, especially if they sound like every other 'rescue imoen soon... in the next few years ideally' quest.

  5. 1. Fallout 1 - the whole game is time sensitive.
    In Fallout 2 there is one time sensitive instance - if you acting urgent enough, you can save some settlement, but if you linger to much you'll find it empty and see security camera recording of everyone being murdered.
    In Mass Effect 2 last part of the game is timed - the less you linger around, the more people you save.
    There is also one older game where towns were destroyed as the game time passes, but i don't remember any details about it. Probably thinking of Exile 3.

    4. Look at modern Fallout games. There is a lot of crippling, disabling, and amputating, too much even.

    9. Those are really rare. Aside from Alpha Protocol, which is action-heavy, only Another War and it's sequel comes to mind. Those are RPG's set in WW2. Not actually modern setting, but still close.

  6. I'd love to see some of these features.

    #1 - If someone approaches you with a quest, if you take too long someone else should complete it (because why wouldn't there be other adventurers out there?). It would be interesting to hear how they were doing, or if they died attempting something. This would prevent the Oblivion problem of gathering quests up and completing them in any order, no matter the apparent urgency.

    #5 - You rarely see 'evil' done well in any game, to the point where you get the small choice of paragon/renegade or something. Alpha Protocol was better, if only because you made choices without a karma meter, your actions affected people's opinions of you, but all choices were justified in character.

    The main issue of course is budget. When you are forced to spend a rather large proportion of your budget on voice acting and graphics, it leaves less in the pot for features that may require extra programming and testing time.

    It's a shame really, that the big developers can't make games that are quite as ambitious as some of the games of years gone by. This is why I tend to look to smaller developers/publishers, who tend to be able to fit more features in at the expense of graphics or voice acting. I'd say Mount & Blade was the first game in a while where I had that feeling of amazement that wasn't based on graphics or whatever.

  7. #1 worst idea ever, so you waste some days going into an optional dungeon and you lose the game because the main boss during that time amass a big army? (by the way Heroes of M&M has this feature, but it's a strategy game)

  8. I found that #3 was very satisfying in Dark Messiah of Might & Magic. Coincidentally done in the same engine as Half Life 2.

  9. The Realms of Arkania games allows the player to split the party and send them to seperate ends of the world, if necessary.

    With regards to #6, I very much agree. I think it comes down to the idea of balancing that is prevalent in gaming. Basically, any choice should be (roughly) as good as any other choice, so the difference often ends up rather small, in terms of gameplay. Personally, I don't see the point of trying to micro-balance a single-player game, and I wouldn't mind if an evil character ended up with significant advantages over good characters.

  10. Jagged Alliance (at least the second installment, I've never played the first) allowed party creation and splitting (and even solo operations, if necessary). It was quite nice, and realistic. While I like the feature, I think the problem is not so much programming limitations, but timing. In a grander-scale strategy game (such as the "laptop screen in JA2), it works, as well as in turn-based games. In a real-time game, such as Baldur's Gate, it's difficult to present to the player, unless you want to do it movie-style, "meanwhile, in Beregost...", which is still serial, not parallel, and thus a little farther from the real thing.

  11. My thoughts.

    #1 - The programming is easy, the balancing is tough. Players play at different speeds, and take a different amount of time to build up to different levels and confront different foes. A slow, deliberate player will see his problems compounded.

    Nevertheless, it would work with an adjustable difficulty system and a lot of prompts (like peasants escaping from the growing horde and begging you to help). Put that way, it would add story and be a great feature.

    #2 - Probably won't happen until text-to-speech replaces voice acting, which will take a while to get to the same level. And even then players would have to stich together phenomes to let the computer know what it's supposed to sound like. Or record voice and try to match it.
    The problem is intonation. People are really good at it, computers suck.

    #3 - This will likely become standard in the near future. As you point out, other genres are already doing it. It's only a matter of time.
    The Force Unleashed gives a good idea how this kind of thing might works with magic.

    #4 - You don't like the Holy Grail? I'd recommend watching it again. It is kind of annoying the first couple of times, then the genius of it all shines through.

    #5 - Yeah, that's interesting. I don't even think it's a matter of tempting, just setting up systems that really mimic what might happen in both long and short term, and let the player discover for themselves. That would be nice.

    #7 - Oh yes.

    #9 - There's Alpha P... Oh wait, everyone already said that.

    #10 - This is probably the only one I don't agree with. Just like real life, we throw out crap when it gets old. Would you rather fight in your grandpa's rusted out chainmail that got hacked up in the last war or that spiffy new magic armor you just found?
    I like the idea of being to upgrade weapons magically (Wizard's Crown did this pretty well), which would give cash a much longer lifetime than it has in most RPGs, but an item improving just because you use it? I'm not seeing it.

  12. Actually, only recently has evil even been a comparably viable path - I peg KOTOR as the first instance that I can think of. Almost every CRPG I've played before that that had a morality system at all penalized the player for evil actions. In games like Baldur's Gate and Fallout, many quests could not be completed in an evil manner (or even taken as an evil character in some cases), you would be forced into conflict with incessant swarms of guards, etc. There were rarely any compensatorily evil-only quests, and it was far more common to have good-only than evil-only treasure.

    I'm not sure how well it would go over with the average gamer (apparently 80%-ish of whom tend to play good when given a morality system) to have evil be the more rewarding path, but it would certainly be interesting. I'll settle for just having an integrated, logical evil route though. In a lot of games that do support a full evil playthrough, it's difficult to see the evil character's motivations for undertaking the primary quest or agreeing to undertake some side quests even if they can later be turned to darker results. I often wonder why, for example, my bad guy character isn't just joining up with the main villain. (And was very happy when in NWN2 I got the option to do just that.) It's also nice when the evil options flow logically out of the situation instead of being simply, cartoonishly evil, and conversely that they not label simple desire for payment as evil.

  13. I can't agree with many of these. In particular, number 10 is a bad idea. No one wants to play through a game accumulating +whatever bonuses on the same old iron sword. You might see it as rewarding players for not ditching old stuff, but I'd see it more as punishing players for daring to use whatever new awesome thing they quested and fought to get. Maybe, you could get people to look at old weapons again by upgrading them later in the game - that old sword your father left you might turn out to be a crazy ubersword once you go through the event that unlocks its true potential. Or you can allow transferrable upgrades, so later on you might want to reduce your later swords into accessories you slot on to your original sword (which is itself poor, but has more upgrade slots).

    But in general, anything that advantages doing the same old stuff over and over again (and disadvantages trying out new things) is just plain boring.

  14. There was a 3rd person action rpg/arena game called "Die By The Sword" that seemed to be based entirely around #4. Your character or monster could be hit in and loose any of the major blocks that built up their 3d models. In arena mode it works as horrific injuries are what it was all about, but in the story mode I had lost one of my feet early in the game and was unable to complete it due to later puzzles requiring speed and jumping abilities

  15. Jagged Alliance 1.13 has almost everything you want.

    Not all RPGs occur in a fantasy setting, if you're OK with that JA 1.13 is one hell of an RPG.

  16. sorry, that should read Jagged Alliance 2 1.13, or JA2 1.13

  17. Fallout 1. The longer you take, the more settlements die. Possibly even your own.
    You even get a different ending if you select the 'bloody mess' feat at the beginning.

    Arcanum for good/evil. Completely different endings for good/evil endings. (Make sure you install the Unofficial Patch to see the alternate endings, it's broken otherwise) Further, people react to you differently depending on your alignment, race and even gender. (No women in the mens club. Go to the brothel? Different jobs for you depending on gender. Dwarf? Good luck talking to elves. Magic? Goodluck talking to technologists and vice versa) It's a game where discrimination is rampant. It's actually an excellent world and well ahead of its time. It suffered because official patches were slow to be released and woeful in their execution. It took the efforts of a forum member called "Drog Black Tooth" to fix the game.

  18. #1, Nooooooooooooooooooooooo. I don't want games to punish me for taking my time to enjoy them properly. If a game has 100 hours of gameplay, I want to enjoy every single one of them and not get slaughtered due to taking too long. That would just mean I had to finish the game as soon as possible, missing a lot of content.

    Now, having the game change dynamically around me is a different matter. Changing some quests, removing others, adding some according to how much time has passed would work, adding to replayability, but it would also be time consuming to implement in a good fashion.

  19. It all comes down to how to difficult it is to program these concepts. Consider a simple character creation process programmed in BASIC:

    10 FORX=1 TO 6
    20 A(X)=0
    30 FORY=1 TO 3
    40 A(X)=A(X)+INT(RND(1)*6+1)
    50 NEXT Y
    60 NEXT X

    This code snippet rolls 3D6 six times and places it into an integer array called A(X). This is sufficient for a DND/Telengard style CRPG with a single character.

    Now what if the programmer wants to implement a party-based game? He or she could use a two dimensional array A(Y,X)-- Y representing the character pointer, X representing the attribute. But you'd also need a separate array of pointers to keep track of the party order -- because you don't want to copy A(1,X) to A(3,X) when character #1 changes spots with character #3.

    I just use the preceding as an example (this type of programming has already been known since the dawn of CRPGs), but in order to implement the desired things will increase the complexity of the programming exponentially.

  20. About the modern setting, I guess it has to do with the necessary distance you need to put between morally questionable behaviour and reality. Most CRPGs involve some form of grinding to power-up your character. In a real world, it's called genocide or mass-murder, so it might be better to stick to fantasy universes.

  21. Of course, no one "reinvents the wheel" anymore, especially with programming knowledge being publicly available on the internet. So whatever was done in the past can be implemented into newer CRPGs today.

    I guess I just prefer the simple CRPGs. I imagine that the game of Rogue faithfully translated to 3D could be a lot of fun.

  22. A version of Rogue was made in 3D (sort of) with SSI's "Dungeon Hack." It's basically a Rogue-like using the D&D ruleset and the "Eye of the Beholder" engine.

  23. For #1 I have heard Din's Curse does this in a diablo style game. I have yet to play it myself due to it being a windows only game.

    Andy_Panthro mentions "The main issue of course is budget. When you are forced to spend a rather large proportion of your budget on voice acting and graphics, it leaves less in the pot for features that may require extra programming and testing time."

    I think it has more to do with making games in a corporate environment, rather than budget. When you have management making design decisions and vetoing anything they think might offend or even challenge someones thinking you can not push the limits, instead someone lucky or independent has to prove it can be done before management comes to you and says "why haven't we been being innovative like this, its all your fault". Even if you find one head who will let you work creatively, the management beast usually has about 5 other heads that all disagree with anything new or creative out of a religious fear of change. This more than anything else is why we don't see any real big steps of progress or innovation from the big companies, and really why should they when they are so good at marketing the baby steps they do take and can trick people to make a decision to buy what they make after a few tailored previews and some flashy marketing campaign.

    Wow I sound really bitter about the state of the industry, but its more that I myself have worked in a corporate environment and I know first hand the negatives of that culture.

    And now I feel compelled to say that none of my statements reflect my current work environment. So if a boss reads this please don't fire me I like to eat.

    On a much more positive note, glad your back addict.

    1. Din's curse runs perfectly in wine. You can play it on Mac or Linux with only minimal hassle.

  24. "For #1 I have heard Din's Curse does this in a diablo style game. I have yet to play it myself due to it being a windows only game."

    Yeah, the time pressure quests are the entire point of the game. It operates on a principle of requiring the player to prioritize among various objectives - you might be working on a task that someone needs done immediately, but while you're working on that you're getting bulletins that a mid-level monster on a lower floor is in the process of leveling up into a major threat. The increasingly hectic pace is what makes it fun.

    The previous game, Depths of Peril, is similar except there are competing adventurers and factions in the world.

  25. Very interesting ideas, but there's the problem with keeping the game fun, not just realistic.

    #1 As others have noted, this would be tough to balance and tough to make fun for everyone. But I would have loved to see Oblivion monsters wander out of the gates into nearby towns, with more monsters appearing as time went on.

    And I've always wanted to play a game in a large world where the world went on without you - not that you'd be too slow to finish a quest, but that there'd always be something to do somewhere (and you could never do everything). If you went left instead of right, things to the right would still play out without you (to worse effect, most likely).

    Of course, you couldn't have an epic save-the-world main quest this way. But I could do without that.

    #3 YES, absolutely. But just as spoken voice technology keeps games from using our chosen names, so do fancy (i.e. expensive) graphics keep us from rearranging the terrain as we wish. You can't chop through a door with an axe unless the programmer draws a pretty picture of a chopped door, and what if the player wants to chop through the wall, instead? Or use a battering ram? Or explosives?

    You can let a player do almost anything with a physical model of the world (as in Dwarf Fortress, for example). But if you want the player to see it, in elaborate detail, rather than just imagine it, that becomes too expensive. In some ways, advancing computer capabilities actually lessens the potential gameplay.

    #5 No, I see this just the reverse. Games often encourage us to be amoral, because there are no real penalties for bad behavior. Few of us are pickpockets in real-life, because the rewards are small and the dangers great. But in a game, this is often the way to get wealthy, and there's absolutely no danger at all. If you get caught, you just reload a saved game.

    Evil behavior - or, more often, just amoral behavior - is far more tempting in a game than in real-life, because it's rewarded in a game. Get the guards mad at you? Great! That means more experience and better loot! Steal everything that isn't nailed down? Why not? The town won't get suspicious of a stranger, even when everything they own has suddenly disappeared.

    In real-life, criminals tend to be pathetic losers, risking far more than they could ever hope to gain. And those few who succeed often don't live too long, since all the other criminals are anxious to take their place. Games, on the other hand, really do tempt you to be evil, unrealistically so. Why do we need even more encouragement than we already have?

    Note that I'm not worried about morality in a game (how dumb would that be?), although I generally do like to play the hero. But this kind of thing is just hopelessly unrealistic. It's designed for power-players, not role-players.

  26. "In some ways, advancing computer capabilities actually lessens the potential gameplay."

    There's always been some degree of tension between gameplay and graphics/sound, but it does appear that things have finally progressed to the point that both aspects are really vying against each other. IIRC, Mike Laidlaw basically confirmed this when he said (paraphrasing) that you can have slick graphics and sound, or you can have a lot of gameplay content, but you can't have both (one guess which side of this Bioware comes down on).

  27. I agree with most of the suggestions from CRPG Addict but some of them more than others.

    For example, tactical combats. How awful it would be that you as a bowman actually could hit the foes in the leg and make them advance slower towards you, if not even run away when failing a moral check. Why does monsters or humanoids almost never, ever flee from combat ? I think they should pass a test for every companion killed in their group by my sword, increasing difficulty for numbers killed and then either break off an flee or plead for his/her life.

    I also miss the opportunity for tactical combat. I should be able to burn things orou build obstacles than either win you time (so you could use distance weapons for longer time) or to trip your foes. Even make ogres not able to pass small doorframes for example.

    Also let the monsters have a goal. Not only to walk around waiting for you to appear or just attacking without any reason. Make them first and foremost ask for gold to avoid attacking, or second to take you as a slave to sell or ransoming you or whatever. They should have more goals and tasks in game. Why not discovering a goblin party in the distance who are discussing amongst themselves before raiding av nearby village ? Let them in turn be scared away by a nearby Ogre wandering. It seems we should be happy only seeing wild animals attacking each other and nothing more.

  28. more thing

    Merchants always have very good and available equipment in the beginning. But even when you are famous and about to save the world or the town where he lives in, he still charges you enourmous amounts of gold. The pricing system should be more advanced and depending on how threatened the merchant and/or his town is/are. The distance from your past deeds and so on.

    Better to let them have only quite mundane weapons (which you will need in the beginning) and let the magical ones only be found in rural areas, chests, or in the evils den and so on. That makes it a little bit more realistic.

  29. The problem I see with morality in most games is that even if they monitor everything with a "Karma Meter" you have to basically be a paragon of pure virtue or the worst scum of the earth to get anything out of it.

    I tend to usually pick three or four from the "good" column for every "bad" one, and that's usually enough to keep me kind of good. I'll save the village, kill the bad guys, replant the fields, but I'm going to take the reward or not return the magic heirloom. I'm just this guy, ya know?

    Taking the choices as individual decisions and picking what seems best from the character's point of view is seldom rewarded, even though it should be the default method of playing. Very few people are solidly good or evil and the only way I ever get perfect karma meters is when I am gaming the system. Not to mention that I'm never able to play totally evil, some of it is jsut stupid, not evil.

  30. I'm going to reply having not read all the comments; apologies for duplicating anything. Also, not all of the games I mention below would count as CRPGs in the context of this blog.

    2. Integrated use of character names: Wizard 101 does this. You get to build your name from lists of common words. In-game, when NPCs talk to you or refer to you, the text shows your name, and the voice actor says "wizard" or "young wizard."

    3. Tactical use of the environment: I once nailed a guard to a wall by his hip with the crossbow in HL2. :)

    4. Crippling, disabling, and amputating in 3D CRPGs: There's a pretty simple reason nobody does this. If you did, there wouldn't be any point unless it also affected you. Testing has shows that if your character gets weaker as he gets injured, the game tends to get a lot less fun.

    8. A true split party: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and the sequel sort of let you do this, with dispatch missions. You can't play a dispatch mission, though: you just send characters out, and then after a set period of time, they come back and you're notified of success or failure.

    9. A modern setting: The World Ends With You, for the NDS, was set in modern-day Japan, but again it might not really count as CRPG in the context of this blog.

    10. Weapon familiarity bonuses: what you mention, I would consider more as sets, in the Diablo mold, but I take your point, and Diablo II had them--increasing bonuses as you got multiple pieces of the set. The counter to this, of course, is that constantly giving the PC new weapons and armor is a way to maintain interest in the game by providing a constant stream of little rewards; Blizzard has explicitly said so.

  31. Answered in the order I think of them:

    Fallout uses crippling and disabling. If you get hit in your arm, your accuracy goes down. Hit in the leg, you slow down. Hit in the head, vision gets blurred. Hit in chest/torso slower to recover.

    That is how you win fights against some of the nastiers out there. When they are armed with rocket launchers and you are down to a pistol, dropping a few rounds into the arm can be all it takes to turn the tide. Rocketlaunchers are useless if you can't hit what you are aiming at.

    Likewise Arcanum follows this basic principle too. (More simplified. Arms/legs/head or general shot).

    Twilight 2000 for a modern game.

    For tacticle use of environment you are generally looking at more of a builder type game (Eg. Dwarf Fortress. Dig out a trap that is activated by a lever which then taps that lake that then floods the tunnel the enemy are charging up).

    Weapon familiarity. Hard call. Many games try and I haven't seen a 'success' yet. A recent example is the online game Lord of The Rings Online. Legendary weapons can level up too. However, at the end of the day it's just turned into another cookie cutter design. There is no feeling of achievement, just something else to 'deconstruct' for 'phat loot'.

  32. RE: WCG's post:

    You're thinking of the small time criminals. Your petty street thieves, drug dealers, carjackers, convenience store robbers, etc. The sort of thing that is undertaken mostly by desperate, uneducated amateurs and doesn't often turn out well for them in the long run. And yeah, that's probably the average criminal. Contrary to the movies. But you also have to consider the big league folks. The Mafia dons who've lived long, luxurious lives full of power and influence and wealth. The dictators who've subjected entire countries to their every whim. (Kim Jong Il, anyone?) The Wall Street inside traders and scam artists who've made illegal billions and suffered little to no consequences. Etc.

    There's no reason to assume a player character in an RPG is going to be the petty kind of wrongdoer, not when they invariably achieve such great things at the other end of the spectrum.

  33. Lots of opinions on this. First off, I'll be the first to admit that #10 was a bit of a stretch. I was looking for a tenth item, and I had a note in my "ideas" pad to say something about the lack of sentimentality among CRPG players, and I fit them uncomfortably together.

    I appreciate all the information on the games I haven't played. I look forward to them.

    There were some strong opinions on #1. Moonmonster, I don't like time sensitive quests either when you "fail" at the quest after a certain amount of time. But I wouldn't matter if time-sensitivity meant that the quests adapted--perhaps got harder, or took longer--if too much time passed.

    I didn't mean to suggest that #1 would make the game REALLY hard, just change a few plot elements and increase the number of random encounters, perhaps.

    I also think maybe I was understood a little on #3. I didn't mean that the games had to integrate character names in SPOKEN dialogue; it's just rare that you find a game that integrates them at all.

    On the evil thing, I also think I didn't come across. I want games to tempt me to evil not just as a character, but as a player. I'll give you an example. When playing Baldur's Gate II, I often find time to go to a secluded area of a map in Athkatla (the northwest part of the Bridge District works well) and start casting spells to cause the Cowled Wizards to show up and attack. I fight waves and waves of successive Cowled Wizards. Why? For the loot, and the experience. But in a real sense, I can't justify a "good" character doing those things. I'm tempted to evil for the extra bonus (and in the game, there's no karma penalty).

    Saintus, I love your additions, and I would have put it them post if I'd thought about them. Your "monsters should have a goal" idea is another thing I generally like about the Infinity-engine games. Much of the time, when you encounter foes, they're on their own sort of mission and you begin the combat with a bit of dialogue.

  34. You're thinking of the small time criminals. Your petty street thieves, drug dealers, carjackers, convenience store robbers, etc.

    Maybe. But that's generally what we do in RPGs, isn't it? Do you see Kim Jong Il pickpocketing people in the street? At best, we become simple bandits (if very tough ones).

    If you want something more than that, an amoral player character would have to become a king himself. You'd need to play more of a strategy game, like Europa Universalis III or something like that.

    Anyone with lesser power pretty much has to contend with people above him. If you play a "good" character, you can count on working together with other "good" people. But an "evil" character - or just an amoral character - is out for himself. So he's not just predator, but also prey, to anyone who can take him on.

    At best, he's got allies of convenience. But no one is going to cut him any slack. If he's too weak, his underlings will replace him. If he's too strong, his superiors will see him as a threat. A bandit leader could become a king, I suppose, but you'd be switching to strategic gameplay (ordering other people around, rather than doing things yourself).

    I'm not saying you can't make a game like this, but it probably wouldn't be an RPG - not if you wanted it to make sense.

  35. There's some misinformation above regarding Fallout:

    Any game that lets you complete the main quest while simultaneously murdering every single sentient being in the game world is pretty much the pinnacle of giving evil characters options. There are also quests that allow you to be a slaver if you'd rather not go for genocide. The brilliance of the game lies in that you can reach the same end game without killing anything.

    Also, only the first half of the game has a time-sensitive quest, the second half does not.

  36. In regards to your good/evil choice. Definitely play Arcanum then.

    Truly a game that has 'evil play' in mind. Even a spectacular ending if you go evil. (Won't spoil it for people that have not played it. Just trust me when I say that it is WILDLY different to the good ending, or one of the many other endings)

    There are rewards and penalties for going evil in Arcanum. Even your companions change depending on your alignment. You will find some who refuse to join you because you are too good or too evil.

    Quests open/shut depending on your alignment too.


  37. 1: I would much rather the game give me non-time sensitive plots that I could explore at my leisure. Ongoing crime waves, situations where the villain *has* what he wants and you have to overthrow him. Nothing changes, because he has what he wants. Then have him react to side quests you do. More gathering allies, liberating small areas of the evil overlord then stopping evil from winning. So that the game *rewards* you for doing all the side quests, instead of punishing you. Start the game at maximum hardness, then each time you do a side quest remove some random encounters, or turn an opponent into an ally. Force the opponents to go on longer range patrols by remove a base, thus giving them more ammo/food/money as loot.

  38. 2. This is unforgivable in a text environment. If the game saves your name it is not hard to render that in text. I've seen it done in games where they leave a pause for your name, or always place it at the start/end of a paragraph and just don't read that bit. I didn't mind it.

    3. You sir, NEED to add X-COM to your list. Use the environment, blow up the environment, change the environment.

    4. I'm sure you'll find more of these as you go on- Stuff like this became big in table-top RPGs in the late 80s/90s.

  39. 5. Meh, I like being the hero. I hate thinking I'm missing a ton of cool stuff by not being a dick and going around raping women and burning innocent peoples homes.

    6. Play. X-COM.

    7. Cool idea. Problem is it takes a metric *ton* of memory once you pass the text era. Even games like Fallout and FPS slowly delete old marks to make room for new ones, as drawing things takes a lot of memory. Also Nethack can do this with (E)ngrave. Careful using your weapon, it will dull. Gems are a good thing to do this with, hint hint hint.

    8. Increase in system requirements: You have to run more opponents each time you split the party across multiple screens. Turn based game? No problem, if you don't mind loading times. Real time? Ahahahahahahaha, your funny. Each area you loads *doubles* what the game has to do. Send your 6 party members to 6 locations? 6 times the memory. So either you have areas 1/6th as large, with 1/6th the opponents in them or um, lag like hell?

  40. 9. Why can we have Modern Warfare, Goldeneye and no CRPGs? I agree 100%, even though I prefer SF. There is Hybrid Heaven for the N64, and some other obscure ones I think you'll find. I suspect that things will get better in the 90s.

    10. D&D has tried this, I never liked it. I want to kick open an old chest and find a ton of loot, find a voporal sword, and pass mine onto a new hero.


    I'd like to see a game where you run a large group of people, like in X-COM, but more RPGish. Send them on missions in various sized groups. Easy missions inside your territory for those you control, helping peasants and such, while you send more experienced troops against your rivals and whatnot.

    Kinda like X-COM but with more RPG elements, and less get-stomped on hardness and technical limitations.

  41. #1 really resonates with me. So I'm going to apologize for posting without reading all the other comments like I saw someone else do.

    If I take the time do all the side quests to get the best gear, my enemies should be doing something with that time.

    There should probably be some sort of difficulty curve to the final battle. Getting to the end with minimal gear and a low level character should be tough but winnable because you've surprised you're enemy before they're really ready either.

    There is probably some "sweet spot" where you've done a few key side quests for high reward items that makes for the easiest endgame.

    Finally, there is the 100% completion path where you literally stop the villain at the last possible instant because you've been wandering the game world solving every petty dispute and delivering packages for everyone you could talk to. This should be very difficult but once again winnable because your character is now a powerhouse and armed to the teeth with the best items and consumables in the game.

  42. What wonderful games I've never heard of before! I'm totally taken off guard by Die by the sword. Man, Interplay made some sweet games!

    My first rpg was Ultima 7. Since then I've been somewhat jaded. You could move everything in those games, other than the tables. And most of the Ultima fanbase say Oblivion is the closest thing we have to something as interactive.

    If I can't stack up boxes to climb onto roofs, or block doorways with items. They haven't got the formula right. I think I can compliment ultima 9 on this. Stacking empty potion bottles into a tower higher than LB's castle was the highlight of my experience.

    I agree with the name thing. To expand on that idea, we need better, more in depth dialogues. To harp on u7, I've never played a game since that made me feel like I was in a virtual world, more than in u7. And to a great extend it was due to the fact that you asked their name.

    Walk up to anyone on any street and and look at them or say "hey", "how ya doin" they aren't going to respond with their name and job title, then give you random advice. That's something you would need to ask, if you even get that info in today's world.

    In Oblivion, (I haven't gotten too far) the bulk of the npcs in the first HUGE town you can ask rumor and imperial city. And their answers are identical. Yeah, I'm fooled into believing this is an alter reality.

    Have each npc with a name and a job and even a, god forbid, personality! Even make it so npc won't talk to you until you've done something to earn their trust.

    Breakable environments! Holy smokes, I'm totally playing Jagged Edge now! I don't need to see a door splinter in different ways to be happy when I break it with an axe, a hammer, a powder keg. I just want to blow the damn door open!

    What an rpg these commenters would make right here. Geeze Laweeze!

  43. I wanted to second Canageek's comment above: "I'd like to see a game where you run a large group of people, like in X-COM, but more RPGish."

    Man, I'd love that! X-Com: UFO Defense is possibly my favorite game of all-time, and I've long wished for more games along that line (using that same squad-based combat, in particular). It's near enough an RPG already, so this wouldn't be hard, I'd think.

    You could play a wannabe king in a war-torn land. Starting with a single squad of men - with names, equipment, attributes, skills - you could start to bring order and peace to the immediate area. And you could start to build a new community (or restore an old one).

    Of course, there would always be the question of how far and how fast you could expand. You could recruit more followers - not all warriors - but you'd have to feed them, equip them, pay them. And you'd have to build your society - your fortress, your city, your nation. You wouldn't direct everything, of course, but with everything in tatters, you'd need infrastructure as well as organization.

    The trick would be making this more of an RPG - an RPG with strategy elements, to be sure, but still an RPG. Or perhaps an RPG/strategy hybrid. You'd have to know each of your followers and really care what happened to them. And there would be times - maybe most of the time - when you'd be taking up arms yourself.

    Now just set this in a SF setting - perhaps post-apocalyptic - using science and technology instead of magic, and I'd really be happy. :)

  44. ZRPG (dead state) has some of these elements planned but it is indirect control-ish like majesty or DF instead of XCOM's full squad control.

    Its a small dev team with more of a story about how people react under emergency situations that shake the bonds of society. So they wont be doing a large open world, but my hope is for this initial release to be successful enough to drive more of these innovations into a squeal or another post-apoc game.

    Forum is here,11.0.html
    Game site is here

  45. Why, oh why, cant I edit that bad spell check word substitution? Come on Google its not like you don't have enough money or employees to support that code...

  46. Bleh, going to try posting again after blogger ate my comment yesterday:

    1) Take X-Coms combat, modernize it with doses of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. Keep the destructive terrine.

    2) Make it more RPG like with FE:POR's character stories, add in an Ogre Battle like plot, and non-linearity, then extend it greatly, allow you to go anywhere, do any mission like in FF:TA. Want to go kick raiders out of a small town your followers want? Do it. Want to send a team to loot old ruins? Sure!
    The FE:POR plots between characters could be woven into the world to give it more of an RPG feel: Get bonuses and more story for liberating someones home town with that character. Assign some characters to the same unit for bonuses or additional character development (FE:POR had a system for this, and Balder's Gate had diolauge that would only occur randomly and then lead to fights and whatnot.

  47. I'd also envisioned a post-apocalypse setting, as it lets you do all sorts of fun things with acquiring items: You can't just go buy 340 assault rifles like in a modern game. This also means that while your grade A troops are fully decked out, you could still have internal security squares with pistols and peashooters.
    Also vehicular and tactical combat should be interesting if well done.
    I'm thinking of the fallout/the postman/Damnation Ally type nuclear war post-apoc, not a zombie outbreak.

  48. 10. There's a playstation game that did exactly this. I remember it being incredibly irritating.

  49. As far as modern-day RPGs go, I'm shocked and surprised that nobody mentioned Vampire Bloodlines. Unlike Alpha Protocol, it doesn't stink to high heavens...except the whole combat thing, and about the last half of the game. But it brings me to point #2...

    More RPGs should feature more truly experiences based on character class. In Bloodlines, Malkavians practically get a whole different experience, dealing with talking stopsigns and using their dementation ability, Nosferatues have to stay to the sewers, and sneak carefully topside to avoid getting penalized for breaking the masquerade. There's more than this, but those are two of the more outstanding examples.

  50. agree with all of those except for "real world rpg", I think it would be incredibly boring. Unless it's something like vampire bloodlines

  51. Really? We have some great books set in the real world, why not an RPG?

    Here are some ideas for that:
    Noir RPG: Detective fighting criminals in the 1930s.

    Technothriller: How many books does Tom Clancy sell a year? I don't like them, but it is a cool and popular genre, and the only game I can think of set in it would be Modern Warfare.

    I'm sure there are more we can think of.

  52. My #1 feature request in Modern CRPGs with cut scenes and extensive dialog:

    Any boring/annoying NPC/cut-scene can be interrupted with the "Just shoot him" button. I can't even count the number of times I wanted to do this in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, and I liked those games a lot. But every once in a while, some RPG dialog writer goes overboard with unskippable dialog/cutscene that is not essential to the plot of the game.

  53. This comment has been removed by the author.

  54. I've given a lot of thought to the issue of spoken names in games, and some games that construct seamless audio sentences on the fly.

    The first example I ever encountered was actually in the hockey game "NHL 96," which managed to describe the situation with every player on every team in a way that sounded seamless and was definitely not text-to-speech generation.

    Another, minor example was at the beginning of trivia game "You Don't Know Jack: The Ride," when it asked for my name, I typed in Troy, and the elevator voice (voice actor) said, "Thank you, Troy." Again, pre-recorded, not text-to-speech, and sounded perfect. I've no idea how many names they actually recorded for that one throw-away moment (my name was never mentioned again, and I've rarely been able to get it to repeat the phenomenon, as it is very random, apparently.)

    With modern games entering double-digit gigabyte sizes, I think it might be worth the additional layer of immersion to have some key character voices implement pre-recorded phenomes to construct names on the fly; or perhaps give the player the option to choose from an extensive list of possible name combinations, sacrificing a degree of customizability in exchange for a bit of immersion.

    (As it is, I'm called "Chosen One," "Dragonborn," or "Commander" so often that I usually forget what name I came up with for myself anyway.)

    1. It's hard to imagine--lots of extra recording sessions and disk space--but not impossible.

      I name my characters things like "Chester," though. I look at other people's screenshots online, and they've named their characters something like Bl00di6xxx. I don't get that, and phenome-based speech wouldn't begin to recognize that.

    2. The real problem is the English language: There are *so* many ways to pronounce things. The real solution is to have players enter their name in the international phonetic alphabet.

      However, most games these days use voice acting. There are *hundreds* of popular names out there. So you'd have to spend a few hours recording all of those. That would get some of the names I use (Daria, Silver, Dancia), but what about my Dad's Kajit, Skittles? Or the person who decides to give there Argonian a perfectly cannon name?

  55. I'm guess you're going to skip over Star Saga 2: The Clathran Menace, but it implemented #1 from the beginning. I don't know if the whole game was basically on a timer, but slowly the galaxy would be filled with an alien race bent on exterminating all others.

    This wasn't just flavor text: "The ominous approach of the survey line of Clathran battle and colony ships was sweeping through the galaxy, identifying, classifying, and exterminating all in its path."

    It also proved to be a much harder game as the number of viable worlds dwindled. I never beat this game, even with overpowered imports of characters from the first game.

    It's too bad the developers didn't finish out the trilogy. I'd definitely help fund a Kickstarter project if there were one.

    1. Why do you assume I'm going to skip over it? It's on my list in, like, two games.

      I hope I can get a decent summary of SS1 first, though, since I didn't finish it.

    2. When I said skip, I meant you'll only touch upon the game and probably not finish.

      Summary of what I recall posted over in the Star Saga 1 post.

    3. There is a Let's Play of Star Saga 1 over at the RPG Codex Playground, written by no other than your number 1 groupie Crooked Bee:

    4. Thanks, Petrus. That'll help ease me back in.

    5. I don't remember your entry for the first one.

    6. I just went back and checked the article. I remember it now but for some reason (probably because I never played it) I did not connect the game with the name.

      Zenic would he have to finish the 1st one to play the second one?

    7. No. It's a stand alone game, but allows you to import characters, much like Bard's Tale I and II.

      The only reason to import is to bring over the supplies, equipment, and abilities from the first game; otherwise, you start out with very basic equipment and few materials.

    8. Unfortunately the LP seems to be suffering from delays. Reading through that and all this talk makes me want to play through myself though. It seems there's a general lack of playthroughs and walkthroughs from these games. It'd be nice (for myself) to fully explore the game for once, and log it for posterity somewhere.

  56. ADOM has the background corruption double once 90 days pass.

  57. I keep blowing into the same horn: I'm amazed you haven't yet played the Fallout series. You will love the first two games. Even if you stop this blog, do yourself a favor and play them. Fallout 2 is the slightly better game, it's bigger, looks better, more NPCs, quests, etc... However, there are a couple of goofy pop culture references which makes me think that you will enjoy the first game more.

    About fire, an old Peter Molyneux game, Syndicate, contained flame throwers. I broke the game by finding out that you could just stand at the corner of a house and the enemies would come running towards you, so you can set them all on fire (they continue running into the same direction like a headless chicken, until they're reduced to ashes...). I easily managed to wint he game this way and completed the most complicated map way before many others...a huge design flaw....
    Syndicate, by the way, is not that different from X-Com, you have a team of "subjects" that you can equip and enhance biologically. You can do research. There is the alteration between your "command center" and the places where the action takes place. But I don't consider these games RPGs... (and I've never played X-Com extensively.)

    1. I've heard other people compare xcom and syndicate, but to me the real time vs turn based elements make these feel completely different in play.

  58. You may be interested in the "Darker Morrowind" patch. It adjusts the game's light levels so that night is actually dark, and replaces the event/level driven progression of the monsters and plot with time-based ones. Dilly-dally too long and high level monsters overwhelm the town guards and will kill plot-essential NPCs. (Although you can still win if you manage to find the last boss and are strong enough to kill him.)

  59. As there are some comments about X-com you'd like to know that ther is a project of roguelike X-com:

    Unfortunately it is not finished but it looks very promising.

  60. Regarding #3. There's a cute easter egg in Ultima Underworld where when talking to one of the friendly ghouls deeper in the dungeon (Eyesnack I believe) the Avatar can make fun of his gristly name because it's not like compassion is a virtue or anything and the ghoul will take minor offence. But if by chance you've happened to have named the avatar Eyesnack then you get the response "But though art named Eyesnack as well!"
    This was talked about by the programmers on the TTLG forums, despite working in an environment where every single byte counts they wanted to leave it in because it just wouldn't make sense otherwise to dunk on the poor ghouls name and get away with it if you were named the same.

    1. That really is pretty amazing. Except by those who discovered it by inspecting the code, you have to imagine that no one ever encoutered tht dialogue in-game.

  61. Since it's coming up and since it might or might not get over the being a CRPG hurdle, I'd like to mention that with a deft strike of a hammer, Star Control II nails #1 exactly the way you wished for (things gradually becoming more difficult and the world gradually changing after a certain time limit. There are also plenty of hints that it is going to happen, nothing out of the blue like Disciples of Steel.)

    We now know that Dragon Age 2 DLC's had items that level together with you, and those made everything else become obsolete pretty quickly, not a really good implementation of your idea. I do like the idea, but the way I imagine it is that it would happen only to a few select items and those items would have their own story and/or plot, almost like an extra character.

    Let's go up to #11. Relationship management. CRPG's that include romance options have virtually all their related effort focus on getting into a relationship, and practically nothing at all on what happens afterwards. A game where I could initiate a romance, say, about 1/3 of the way through its playtime, and then have the option to experience the actual relationship throughout the rest of it, now that game I'd love to death. I'd love to be able to discuss events that took place with my partner, and to work out the boundaries of the relationship and how we function together. There is a gold mine of unexplored opportunities right there.

  62. One could say that the original XCOM could fit #1 and #8.

    #1 - It adjusts the level of difficuly (i.e. send harder aliens) based on how well you performed your missions. Eventually if you take too long, you would lose all the countries because of alien infiltration of the world governments (lose funding), but you'd have to be incompetent to allow that to happen. The aliens would also send base retaliation missions if it "figured" out where your bases are located.

    #8 - This might be weaker, but technically, you're managing troops in XCOM. Your role in the game is the commander of XCOM. You split the "party" all the time as in deciding which and how many soldiers go on which mission (from which base too once you have more bases) and you could have multiple missions going on at the same time in later stages of the game.

  63. The_Liquid_LaserMay 4, 2021 at 5:50 PM

    #3 Tactical use of the environment.
    The best game I've encountered for this is Freedom Force (2002). Hopefully it is on your list and you will get to it eventually. It's a super hero RPG where you control 4 heroes in real time combat. You can pick up lampposts or cars and hit the enemies with them. You can go flying into a building and bounce off (ouch)! Do enough damage to the building and it will crumble to the ground. Then you can pick up the rubble and throw it at the enemy. It's great! There are lots of things in the environment to interact with.


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