Differences in Gameplay, Gameplay Differences

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Jay “Radhamster” Woodward posted this suggestion on the Bethesda Games Fallout 3 forum:

A lot of threads about specific gameplay elements have tended to gravitate toward contention about these two issues:

1) “What are the differences in gameplay between the original Fallout and Fallout 3?”
2) “Do the gameplay differences mean that Fallout 3 should not be considered a sequel?”

I think these questions deserve their own thread.
Moreover, the first question shouldn’t be ignored; if you believe the differences are too great, it would be more interesting to know what you think the differences are, than just to have lots of sound and fury that doesn’t address the specifics.

This lead to this topic, where the discussion is really intense, with RadHamster bringing his views on the table:

Typically when posters mention PnP gaming, it’s in the context of a claim that we’ve abandoned pencil-and-paper gameplay. It seems like even many “Bethesda supporters” have come to accept that idea as a given.

With, as ever, the caveat that I’m speaking for myself, not for the whole company: I don’t take that as a given at all. And I would encourage everyone, fans and detractors alike, to be more skeptical about that claim.

There are a lot of very familiar arguments surrounding the subject of PnP; inevitably, they will emerge here. If no one else wants to take them on as they present themselves, I think I could give it a go. Time permitting, naturally. smile.gif

I want to point out something potentially surprising, which you (meaning anyone who’s reading this) might not have considered before:

You have never played an RPG where all relevant character stats were determined solely by character skill and not player skill — and, moreover, you wouldn’t want to.

How can I make such an audacious claim? Well, let’s momentarily consider a stat like Strength. In a purely stat-driven game, whenever you want your character to do anything strength-dependent — whether bashing a door open, lifting a huge weight, smiting a foe, etc. — there are formulas that take your character strength into account. It doesn’t matter whether you, the player, are a wimp or a musclebound powerhouse: every time your character needs to use his or her muscles, the only thing you as the player are doing is rolling the dice.

Now, imagine how a PnP game would work if Intelligence worked the same way.

Every time you wanted your character to take some action that relies on using his or her brain, the only thing you as the player would do is roll the dice. No fair using your own intelligence! No choosing where to move, or whom to attack. No choosing who to talk to, or what to say — indeed, no choosing anything, because making choices is a function of intellect. To put it succinctly: if your character’s intelligence were governed solely by statistics, your character would be an NPC.

Obviously, that’s not how it works. In any PnP game with an Intelligence stat, a character’s effective intelligence is a blend of the character stat, and the player’s real-world intelligence. Furthermore, that blending is absolutely foundational to PnP gameplay. (And if anything, it’s the player’s intelligence that dominates; a PnP player makes free choices much more often than making INT rolls.)

My point is simply this: The hybrid nature of character intelligence means that it’s not, and never has been, a question of whether it’s valid for a “true” pen-and-paper game to allow a hybridization of player and character skills. It’s only a question of which skills are valid to hybridize, and to what extent.

(EDIT — two quick side notes:

First, when playing a PnP game, you can and should allow your character’s intelligence to inform your decisions about how to role-play that character’s actions and dialogue — but this is a function of player choice, not a function of character skill. The original Fallout actually “out-PnP’d PnP itself” with the low-INT dialogue, but it still didn’t oblige you to make idiotic decisions in other contexts, e.g. combat.

Second, if you’ve played a PnP game that doesn’t have an Intelligence-type stat, then I admit it could be fair to say you’ve played an RPG where all stats were determined solely by character skill and not player skill. On the other hand it might be equally fair to say that its designers didn’t include INT because they acknowledged that character intelligence is governed primarily by player intelligence.)

I’ll make it shorter:

Some people claim that “true PnP” requires “character skill” to be completely free from the influence of “player skill.”

The point is that this claim is not true — not even remotely true — for character intelligence.

Every time you make any kind of decision for your character, your character’s intelligence is not only influenced by player intelligence, but in fact dominated by it.

This is not my experience on the Fallout series of classic RPGs, but does he have a point anyway? Time to discuss.

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4 thoughts on “Differences in Gameplay, Gameplay Differences

  1. id like to see differences between fallout 3 and oblivion to be honest (its prolly been covered here… but I missed it!)

    interest post though all the same

  2. It is easy to distinguish the two games, but the real comparison is will it feel like a Fallout game, and that is a thing you only can answer after seeing it live or better yet, after playing it.

  3. I’ll play the devil’s advocate on this one. In a PnP game you can also pick up a super-ultra never-miss cannon of supreme doom from the first bar you walk into if you have the right DM. When a video game is said to be based on a PnP game it’s based on how that game is supposed to be played, not on how the game is actually played. In any PnP RPG a player SHOULD make all decisions based on their character’s personality and intelligence. The only place where their own intelligence should come into play is in the figuring out of how their character would act in that situation. I would consider this not so much a function of player choice, but rather a part of the game that is meant to be enforced by the DM.

    That being said, in the same context, a cRPG which is based on a PnP game can allow the same sort of ‘cheating’ so to speak as the PnP game did, so the question shouldn’t be one of which stats are “hybrids”, but rather in which situations will the DM (or game mechanics) allow the player to break character. That part’s a matter of interpretation by the people who are deciding how the PnP game is supposed to be played (or in other words, what the ideal DM for the game would be like).

    Now that being said… Regardless of whether or not a player is using his own intelligence or acting according to his character’s intelligence, I think that the whole point is that the game should at least allow the player to act according to his character’s stats. Still not having played FO3 I can’t really say whether or not VATS sufficiently allows for a player to play a character more intelligent than himself (what with adding extra time to consider his position and figure things out), so I’m not gonna take a side in that debate, but I do think that the line is a bit more hazy than many seem to think it is.

  4. but rather in which situations will the DM (or game mechanics) allow the player to break character.

    And that’s the most important way to measure how a game is indeed a RPG or if it concedes too much when we talk about player skill. Good point.

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