Role Player Plays his Role

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Diogo Ribeiro, aka Role Player from Ludonauta and newsie at RPGCodex writes about gaming development on Consoles and the PC:

Problem between consoles and PCs from a development standpoint is that as limited as a console may seem to PC gamers (and it really is limited on a number of things but then, that is the tradeoff between a multitask platform and a single task platform even if more and more the gap is being shortened) it’s a stable platform. That’s one of the reasons why many developers focus on consoles – it significantly cuts down on playtesting and future support costs, such as patches.

Also you have to factor in that term we usually dislike – market realities. A console is for the most part more accessible in terms of price than a PC (and even in somewhat unfairly, it’s also considered easier to work with than a PC – after all, PCs are seen as complex things by most people; an unfortunate misconception no one seems too interested in clearing up). Can we make the case for the PC’s multitask and superior GPUs? Sure. But then, there are already dedicated internet services being developed for consoles as well as specific voice chat software. Also consider the likelihood of console gamers having a PC for other tasks consoles cannot perform (most of which you’ve already outlined in your previous post), along with a console.

Plus, a console’s life cycle is mostly related to technology advancements – a problem PC users also have to deal with. What we buy today is made obsolete in a very short time. This is no different from consoles since they (mostly) operate on the same hardware. While we could sit here and throw barbs at the mad rush for graphical prowess (seriously, do we need to go higher than Unreal 3? That looks amazing and something my computer will chug along to even get 20 steady frames per second), people only looking towards the ability to play videogames are inevitably flocking to consoles. And at least for a while, brand new PCs were more expensive than brand new consoles.

This isn’t to condone the game’s development platform of choice but it’s nonetheless understandable. The real reason to be afraid of the game being developed for the Xbox 360 is the possible baggage that comes with it, ie, trying to follow some design trends specific to the platforms’ games such as compartmentalized minigames which simply work independently of character skills. You can also expect invisible walls, invulnerable NPCs and so on from the technical side of things. Things which are just exceptionally poor design but that most gaming journalists will often pay no mind and will not denounce them.

Any thoughts?

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5 thoughts on “Role Player Plays his Role

  1. A few notes from a game design perspective:

    “compartmentalized minigames which simply work independently of character skills.”

    However, it is easily possible to create such mini-games which work with said character skills. The idea is to try and immerse the player further in the game world through interaction, as opposed to merely telling him whether he has succeeded at performing a given task or not.

    “You can also expect invisible walls, invulnerable NPCs and so on from the technical side of things. Things which are just exceptionally poor design but that most gaming journalists will often pay no mind and will not denounce them.”

    The reason why most gaming journalists usually don’t comment upon such things? First off, invisible walls mechanically serve the same purpose as visible ones. You could replace invisible walls with mountains or buildings or high walls, but the end result and purpose are the same: To close off certain areas of the game. Barring huge advancements in procedurally created content, there is no such thing as a game without limits. The very word “game” implies such limits, after all.

    Secondly, the reason some games have invulnerable NPCs is simple: It is there to keep the player from getting irreversibly stuck and having to recant his actions. Remember how you might get stuck in old adventure games (I’m specifically thinking of the old Sierra adventure games, but this can be applied to many others), because you forgot to pick up or use a certain item at a certain specific time, forcing the player to regress further back into the game, forfeiting much of his progress, or even restarting the game outright. Invulnerable NPCs may seem like a poor design approach, but the other side of the coin is a hundred times worse.

  2. but the other side of the coin is a hundred times worse.

    I really don’t agree with this statement, make the invulnerable NPC an image on a monitor, a hologram, a magical projection, or put him/her simply talking through a phone.

    Make it physically near and both immersion and coherence of the gameworld suffer too much.

    It does provide some good moments on youtube, though 🙂

  3. However, it is easily possible to create such mini-games which work with said character skills. The idea is to try and immerse the player further in the game world through interaction, as opposed to merely telling him whether he has succeeded at performing a given task or not.

    I’m well aware of the nooks and cranies behind the design philosophy but it still is one that betrays the concept of character, when the character becomes all but a shell that has no active hand in the role being played. Immersion through interaction however, is a non-sequitur to the problem since immersion is in the eye of the beholder: there is actually no design problematic that requires it – it’s a question of expectation with the genre, not with its game mechanics. From a rule system or mechanic application of said rules, there’s never any peculiar situation where direct player input (or reflexes) need to be used. We can argue whether the player has a feeling of achievement regarding the outcome of the situation – at which point we can bring player over character semantics into discussion, which is a curious topic nonetheless – but that has been one of the underlying concepts of the genre against other genres: a character or avatar exists to performs actions that the player cannot, to play a role the player can’t. Not the other way around.

    Of course, it is possible to combine them both in a way that both concepts of character skill and player achievement are achieved (see: Wizardry 8 and the lockpicking sequence for rogue classes) but these are not the norm, specially not on consoles.

    The reason why most gaming journalists usually don’t comment upon such things? First off, invisible walls mechanically serve the same purpose as visible ones. You could replace invisible walls with mountains or buildings or high walls, but the end result and purpose are the same: To close off certain areas of the game. Barring huge advancements in procedurally created content, there is no such thing as a game without limits. The very word “game” implies such limits, after all.

    The word “game” implies no such limits when such limits are defined by design, not by the medium. You yourself bring up procedurally generated content, a technical advancement that elegantly puts that notion to rest.

    To the more important matter at hand, and to use your logic, developers should have no qualms with constructing a virtual city with no visible walls whatsoever because in retrospect the application would be the same and the walls would still be there. Am I reading this right? How about using untextured models for enemies – we don’t need a texture since the end result and purpose is the same: an enemy in the game for the player to fight against? That argumentation is wholly unadequate to the very word you brought up earlier – immersion. A designer can’t tell a gamer there is nothing beyond a certain limit but then actually showing the player that there is – only the passage to what lies beyond is blocked by an arbitrary, invisible barrier. It’s also an example of lazy design, more accurately poor level design. Unless there is some design memo I did not receive telling everyone that invisible walls are the only way to give the sense of limits, that is; and if this is the case, I would gladly take a look at it.

    Also, I never stated or implied a virtual space is limitless – on the contrary, my complaint is aimed squarely at the lack of presenting the virtual space as limited to players when all signs in the virtual world point to this.

    Secondly, the reason some games have invulnerable NPCs is simple: It is there to keep the player from getting irreversibly stuck and having to recant his actions. Remember how you might get stuck in old adventure games (I’m specifically thinking of the old Sierra adventure games, but this can be applied to many others), because you forgot to pick up or use a certain item at a certain specific time, forcing the player to regress further back into the game, forfeiting much of his progress, or even restarting the game outright. Invulnerable NPCs may seem like a poor design approach, but the other side of the coin is a hundred times worse.

    I’m sensing a condescending trend in the replies, as if you’re assuming I’m not familiar with what I’m talking about or as if I’m unaware of the reasons as to why these things exist (which isn’t the case), but I’ll refrain from commenting on that perceived judgement and simply ask – what can an invulnerable NPC do that better design cannot?

    Your example isn’t validating the use of invulnerable NPCs as a means for better or less troublesome advancement in the gameworld. Only, that invulnerable NPCs are a widely used and efficient method – not that it’s necessarily the best or any better than not using, say, vulnerable NPCs and a more detailed system that tracks down variables and presents consequences to player actions and choices (such as alternative routes or situations based on the player’s decision to kill an NPC important to the story as a means to advance). Procedurally generated content, as you brought it up, is a way to deal with it. Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura was an example of getting it right on this particular case: there were always ways of advancing in the gameworld that did not require immortal NPCs and presented many alternate methods of plot progression – it was the “other side of the coin” and it worked rather well. No one said it’s not a more demanding road to take – simply, that it’s possible.

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