On Hunted And The RPG “Detour” Claim

By Jim Rossignol on May 25th, 2011 at 12:07 pm.

This article over on Gamasutra is a little skewed by its title, “How RPGs Were A 30-Year Detour”, because inXile’s president Matt Findley doesn’t actually say that specifically, but it’s interesting and provocative all the same. What he said was this: “Well, you know, we analyzed the long history of video games. I think these games always wanted to be action games at their heart. I think all those old turn-based games, it’s just that’s all the technology would allow.”

Controversy! Some thoughts on that below.

Here it is in more detail, in case you didn’t read the link:

Findley: We have been talking about making this game since the early ’90s. At Interplay… we made games like Stonekeep. We would sit around the conference room table and go, “Some day, the tech is going to exist to be able to do this type of game in real-time 3D.” Back then, it was all faked. [laughs] So, I think we’ve always wanted to get around to making a fantasy action game. We love the fantasy genre from even before computer games, whether it’s tabletop or novels. We’ve just been huge fans of it.

The fantasy genre has been really only represented in the RPG category. It didn’t need to be that way. Action games are so fantastic, that we just really wanted to do something relevant in the action category, in a rich fantasy universe. That’s just kind of the origins of it.

Gamasutra: Approaching this genre what was your go-to in terms of the way you wanted to present the action or player interaction? Because it’s sort of a new spot for you guys as a developer.

Findley: Well, you know, we analyzed the long history of video games. I think these games always wanted to be action games at their heart. I think all those old turn-based games, it’s just that’s all the technology would allow.

The tech today, using Unreal Engine 3, which allows us to prototype really, really fast and spend more time to make the game than worrying about the technology, it allowed us to deliver on that action experience.

Findley is basically saying that classic turn-based games were not turn-based by design, necessarily, but because they were constrained from modelling what they intended to model by the technology of the time. The only good way to articulate this kind of fantasy combat, in the 8-bit and 16-bit era, was to break down into turns and statistics, and have the player control the action by making decisions moment by moment. Now that we can show these things in real-time, we do, and we should. It’s an argument that you see flare up in RPS comment threads all the time, and it’s an important one, because it’s about the perception of how games work, and why we value them.

What’s interesting about Findley’s words is that the systems he’s talking about result in quite different experiences for us as players – the experience of playing a turn-based RPG against the experience of playing an action RPG – and it’s the specific nature of these experiences that we have come to love and value. A turn-based game allows you to set up the parameters of what you want to do based on the skills and statistics of your characters, and then watch that action unfold, while a real-time game means you have to deal with events using at least a modicum of your own abilities to control what is happening on the screen. A cerebral set of decisions, versus a more instinctual, skill-based set of reactions. They are quite distinct user-experiences: as distinct from each other as bouncing a ball is from sitting down to play a boardgame with real-life people.

Now it might well be true that Findley and other designers of that era really did feel like they were constrained by technology and that actually they’d like to see all these battles playing out in real-time on the screen, but the truth is that – via necessity or intention – they created something quite different, the rewards of which are to be understood in a way that is specific to that kind of game. I do not believe that, if there were no constraints on technology, then a turn-based genre would never have been invented. This kind of game existed, and still exists, as a direct counterpoint to action games. It broadens the scope of what it means to be a game, and it seems narrow-minded to argue that action games exist as any kind of end-goal for game development evolution. Action games were the first games, of course, and they certainly remain popular, but that does not make them more fundamentally game-like, or more valuable to the experience of gaming. Findley seems to be arguing with “these games always wanted to be action games at their heart” that gaming evolution is skewed in a particular direction, or that developers have some particular evolution for gaming in mind. He’s wrong, but I do have some sympathy with what he is saying, because he continues:

“There’s kind of this convergence across all games where the genres are really getting blurred. Like, I don’t think people playing BioShock realize they’re playing an RPG. Or even in Grand Theft Auto, you go into the weight room and pump up your character. There are all these elements of your character getting better. That’s what those games are really about. It lends itself to the action genre just as well. You’re starting off with really weak weapons. You’re finding better ones, better pieces of armor. You’re getting more hit points on your character. You’re getting the ability to store more mana. “

What this kind of observation articulates is that technology now allows us to model more of what would previously have appeared in stats and numbers in an RPG, and present it as actual on-screen events, while hiding the mathematics of it from the user. This is why Findley regards Bioshock as an RPG: because while it is a linear shooter on the surface, under the skin are the kinds of numbers that might previously have been exposed to the user in the stats and results of an Interplay RPG. The issue, however, is whether we interpret what technology allows us to do as what game designers should be doing.

[This is related to a judgement made gamers that has been termed "the immersive fallacy", which is an observation about confusion over what it means to be immersed in a game. Some folk are inclined to argue that the pinnacle of immersion would essentially be a Holodeck level of fidelity, with the user situated directly within the simulation, whereas it's also possible to be "immersed" in entirely abstract game-playing. Confusion of what "immersion" means in these cases leads folks to make similar claims to the one Findley is making, because they feel that being "in" the world through real-time 3D graphics is more important to the user than engagement other game mechanics.]

Ultimately, if all games want to be action games, then the end experience for gamers is always going to be based around one band of possible ways to play a game. There’s a fundamental difference between a game designed to be poised and thought over, in which characters play their role based on their own abilities, and a game that requires us to respond and react directly to what’s on screen.

It’s this distinction that makes us want to call Mass Effect 2 a “Guns & Conversation” game, rather than an RPG. The phrase “role-playing game” has, for many gamers, come to represent an experience that is about managing characters indirectly, through skills and statistics, rather than by taking direct action. While I love the trend towards real-time simulation and the conflation of “RPG-elements” into all aspects of gaming, I wouldn’t want to miss out on someone making a turn-based version of Stalker. There’s a danger that statements like those made by Findley are going to limit and reduce what it is that games are, as a whole. That’s something that game designers should be mindful of when they start thinking about what their games really are “at their heart”.


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  1. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    How many hundred replies will this post get?

    Edit: I mean, I saw this story yesterday and oh god, this will get talked about, am I right?

  2. CMaster says:

    I’d be inclined to agree.
    Turn-based systems (and this includes all the old board games) existed due to the impracticality of making all these games in real time. Making your character do a dice roll to connect a swing in a PC game was because you can’t really swing that axe.

    But the upshot of all this is that it create a form of gameplay that some people like. Now I’m not a huge fan – turn based and abstracted is fine for when you are controlling lots and lots of elements on a big scale, like in Civ or so. But when I play as a character, I prefer to have direct control (if effected by stats) rather than just directing a pile of stats. But I’m not the only player out there and those who like their funny abstractions are welcome to them.

    • Corrupt_Tiki says:

      I have to agree there.
      Turn Based games are great for epic scale Strategy games etc.
      But apart from that they are a bit of a niche, there is still room and love for them in this world though!

    • DrGonzo says:

      Yes, it has created a niche of games that I do enjoy and many others do. But I read comments from posters such as Wizardry who want the entire genre held back because they want a turn based game about stats.

      Ultimately RPGs should be about immersing you in a story or world and we have the technology to do so in real time with fantastic visuals as The Witcher 2 has shown among others.

      I really hope people carry on making turn based tactics games. But RPGs have fallen way behind the curve, as is highlighted by people actually enjoying Dragon Age. A game with such poor visuals, acting, writing and gameplay would be crucified in any other genre.

      The Witcher 2 (which I am loving) isn’t actually as good looking as reviews and peoples responses suggest. It’s just that it matches the standards of other genres.

    • DainIronfoot says:

      Yeah, that’s my preference too, although there’s obviously a market for the old school RPGs so they won’t go anywhere, even if they’re only made by indie devs. Which is nice right?

      And I had pretty much the same argument with wizardry. I’d rather not have it again :(

      All I can say is, I want more RPGs with a combat system like M&B. There are still numbers clicking away in the background calculating how proficient this character is with a sword or a bow, so there is still progression and character development. At the same time, I’M the one swinging the sword or aiming the bow. My actions matter.

    • MajorManiac says:

      I absolutely agree. Having played computer games since the 80s, I’ve seen the general progress in game design.

      Going from games like Battle Isles to Command and Conquer was wish fulfilment for me personally. I still like turn based games (especially when tabletop), but the beauty of the computer is its ability to enable new types of game-play, with ever advancing technologies and design tools.

      I once did a dissertation on games, and found games like Chess predate written language. So there will always be a place for all game types, and that’s just great.

    • CMaster says:

      Edit: ah, Jim has rescued this post and made me a double poster.

    • CMaster says:

      For some reason, this comment keeps getting picked up as spam.
      I’m not quite sure why, it doesn’t even contain anything resembling a link.

      Yeah, I see some of the rants by Wizardry et al as a bit worrying – even where Vinrath treads occasionally. The idea that real time action, or techniques involving player skill diminish from the tactical nature. They certainly don’t have to. In most (multiplayer) FPSes for example, I’m mostly focussed on tactics, they make up for my only mediocre aiming and movement (although are helped by my sharp reactions).

      At the same time, the idea that we shouldn’t bother with Chess any more because Creative Assembly have given us Total War seems to miss that Chess, while being a pretty poor simulation of war created its own genre of interesting gameplay and challenges.

      Beyond all that, I’d join in with “I like my actions to matter”. I like to feel like it is my personal skill, rather than some dice rolling stats that determine the result of actions. I like to feel like the action is indeed my action. I’m quite prepared to put up with some sort of character progression system on top of that, but it has to be said that games where you just click on enemies and wait for the result (Desktop Dungeons for example) do nothing for me.

    • Jumwa says:

      “But RPGs have fallen way behind the curve, as is highlighted by people actually enjoying Dragon Age. A game with such poor visuals, acting, writing and gameplay would be crucified in any other genre.”

      I hate to sound like I’m trying to provoke, or being ridiculous, but I can’t help but agree. I wont rag on the writing (video game writing in general is just not impressive, except in the odd case) but Dragon Age stunned me with its unimpressiveness. Perhaps in large part due to my disappointment at the game being misleadingly advertised as a heavy action-RPG, but it seemed so crude and ancient. Visually it was terrible, and the glassy-eyed mannequin sex scenes with their cheesy romance music still kinda haunt me to this day.

    • suibhne says:

      But there’s the rub, CMaster: why do you feel that real-time gaming is less abstracted than turn-based? One of the very frustrating things about the “TB vs. RT” conversation is that RT advocates rarely recognize all of the ways in which their systems, too, are highly abstracted relative to reality. There’s no inherent “realism” or “immersion” advantage to RT systems, and indeed they can be inferior to TB systems on both counts. And RT systems are abstracted to hell and back – just like TB systems.

    • Chalky says:

      @suibhne – In RT games, you click your mouse to swing your sword. In TB games, you click your mouse to roll a dice to swing your sword. That is by definition more abstract.

    • Berzee says:

      “you click your mouse to roll a dice to swing your sword”

      Unless it’s one of the many turn-based games that doesn’t randomize numbers.

      Really QWOP is the least abstracted action game I know of. Clicking a mouse to swing a sword leaves out all the muscle interactions.

    • Wizardry says:

      I think you guys have continuously miss the point of my posts. The action RPG is a hybrid genre. It’s a mixture of action game and RPG. You can’t talk about which one is the right way for RPGs to head in because only one of them is a straight up RPG, the other is a hybrid of it. It’s pretty much like saying that you prefer RTSs to TBSs and therefore strategy gaming as a whole should head in the direction of RTSs. It’s just a really stupid thing to say. You’re effectively doing a Matt Findley.

      My issue has always been the dismissal of turn-based CRPGs in favour of hybrids. Just look back through RPS articles and calculate the ratio of articles on RPGs and action RPGs. I’m sure there are a lot more articles about the latter. You have games such as The Witcher, The Witcher 2, Dragon Age 2, Fallout 3, New Vegas, Alpha Protocol, Oblivion, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, Divinity II, Risen, Two Worlds, Two Worlds II and Arcania: Gothic 4 on one side…

      …and on the other side you have Neverwinter Nights 2? A terribly boring game in an awful engine without turn-based combat. Its expansions? Mask of the Betrayer has a far better story as well as choices and consequences, but it still has all the same flaws. Dragon Age: Origins? Boring MMORPG inspired real-time-with-pause combat mechanics in a game full of filler encounters that make you repeat the same tactics over and over again with no variation.

      That’s pretty much it. If you’re a fan of action RPGs you are catered for. If you’re a fan of non-action RPGs then you get the odd game or two but they end up being bland. If you’re a fan of strict turn-based RPGs specifically? No chance. Play the few independent RPGs that exist.

    • Zyrxil says:

      Chalky says:
      05/25/2011 at 13:59

      @suibhne – In RT games, you click your mouse to swing your sword. In TB games, you click your mouse to roll a dice to swing your sword. That is by definition more abstract.

      You haven’t thought this through.
      TB: Click mouse, invisible RNG determines damage in a range and with a chance to miss
      RT: Click mouse, invisible RNG determines damage in a range.

      There is no difference in level of abstraction.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Wizardry: Any love for the Drakensang series?

      Zyxril: It seems pretty obvious that there is one less layer of abstraction there, on the basis that in real life if you stick a sword into something it’s unlikely you’ll then miss.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      @Wizardry: Semantics aside, I concur.

    • Rinox says:

      @ DrGonzo

      I disagree on the Witcher 2 looking great mostly because of its relative prettiness compared to other RPG’s. It’s just a really, really good-looking game, without any disclaimers. There aren’t a lot of games that come close or do better.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Lilliput King: Yes. Drakensang and The River of Time would go in the second category, but again they don’t have true turn-based combat.

      It’s interesting to note that there are no signs of a positive future for non-action RPGs. Dragon Age II showed us all that BioWare aren’t interested in making games in the style of Dragon Age: Origins again. The developers of Drakensang went bankrupt. Obsidian seem to be far more interested in real-time games currently, though out of all large developers they are the most likely to make a turn-based RPG or just a non-action RPG out of the lot.

      It’s basically just independent RPGs for people like myself. On the other hand, it seems that action RPGs are becoming more common by the day.

    • suibhne says:

      @Chalky: Am I correct, then, in understanding that “abstraction” to you simply means “discrete interface steps”? That’s clearly what you’ve referenced here.

      I don’t agree with that definition. To me, “abstraction” is always understood in relation to what we understand as “reality”; it’s a question of how real-life action/experience is abstracted/translated into ludological form. From that perspective, TB games sometimes offer more flexible choices, and they almost always offer less interface latency (even when they have more elaborate interfaces), so I often find them less abstracted than RT systems – because TB can more closely approximate the range of real-world options I, as a player, imagine I might want to have in any given situation.

      TB and RT systems are both abstracted, in the sense that I’m interacting with a gameworld through mouse/keyboard input and a generally pretty significant interface for choosing weapons/spells/targets/etc. The difference you cite really isn’t meaningful to me.

      I don’t think one type of system is inherently better (at all things) than the other. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. But the notion that TB is somehow more primitive or more abstracted is a baseless canard – I’ve yet to read a single convincing argument on this point. Tho I still hope someone will eventually succeed in making one, since so many people seem to hold that belief. ;)

    • deejayem says:

      “TB and RT systems are both abstracted, in the sense that I’m interacting with a gameworld through mouse/keyboard input and a generally pretty significant interface for choosing weapons/spells/targets/etc. The difference you cite really isn’t meaningful to me.”

      I think the point is that, while both systems obviously are completely unrepresentative of real-world actions, the sense of participation – the illusion, if you like – is qualitatively different. As Jim says, one demands responses on a tactical level, the other on an instinctive, more physical one. I’ve never felt the need to physically duck a shotgun blast when playing, say, Fallout, where I have in Stalker.

      The trouble is, this discussion is full of loaded terms. I don’t know that “abstracted” is necessarily a bad thing in a game. Combat is pretty “abstracted” in Planescape Torment, but that doesn’t stop it having some of the best world-building and story-telling of any game EVAR. This is in danger of becoming a “which system is better?” discussion, when surely the point is both systems offer huge opportunities for entertainment and it’s in our interests as gamers to see both explored by developers.

    • Urthman says:

      in real life if you stick a sword into something it’s unlikely you’ll then miss.

      In real life, when you decide to try to stick a sword into something, your body doesn’t do a canned animation that’s the same every time you do it and that will for sure penetrate the skin of an opponent who is standing a meter in front of you.

      Real-time combat is fun, but it’s much more abstract and simplified than a system that tries to take into account the fact that there are lots of situational variables that will effect the success of an attempt to hit an enemy with a sword.

      In real life, attempting to hurt someone with a sword is a combination of skill and luck, something very much like a dice roll.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      It’s interesting to note that there are no signs of a positive future for non-action RPGs.

      There are many genres untouched by AAA studios these days: 2D platformers, adventure games, Elite-style games, turn-based tactical squad games. All lovely stuff that I want to play, but probably won’t sell millions of copies on multiple platforms.

      That’s the broader problem. The games industry as a whole have condensed the vast majority of their resources around a relative few popular (sub)genres. And they’ll keep doing it as long as that’s what sells.

      Indies have filled the 2D platformer market quite well. I’m fairly confident that the rest will develop in time.

    • Wizardry says:

      @TillEulenspiegel: I agree, though I was only talking about RPGs due to the subject of the article in question. It is indeed the same across many genres.

    • Nick says:

      You are wrong, turn based is not a technical limitation. It is not archaic, it is not backwards. It provides a totally different *type* of game, it allows different mechanics and indeed tactics that would never work in a real time situation, its abstract but its a game and all games are abstract in some way.

      Turn based games simply provide a different experience to real time ones, its not about being realistic (but then how realistic is your average RTS? Not at all). People often use the tired old ‘herp derp we take turns standing there and swinging axe lol’ well guess what, its not a simulation of real life, its a game and dealing with situations where you can’t retaliate untill your turn is a mechanic of the game.

      How about this.. in most (few exceptions) RTS games your troops all over the map won’t retreat from an overwhelming force, won’t get out of the way of a tank about to roll over them, won’t react intelligently to situations unless you go over there and micromanage them, how realisic is that? No chain of command, its not real at all, its dumb! But its a gameplay mechanic. Thats no different an argument and no less missing the point by a mile.

      Bottom line, you don’t like turn based games, fine, but guess what.. the vast vast vast majority of games out there aren’t turn based. They are catered for you, so why do people like you moan and bitch at every opportunity about the few games that aren’t catered for you? Why call them archaic because you fail to understand the mechanic is part of how the game works, part of what makes it the game it is? Just stop it.

    • Wizardry says:

      You tell ‘em, Nick.

    • TariqOne says:

      A post-turn-based, stat-fiddling world just isn’t one I’m happy to live in. So many of my favorite games, be they pen and paper or computer games, were just such animals.

      I also like games with an action bent (Bloodlines, Mass Effect 1 and 2, Fallout 3 and NV). I’ve had wonderful times with the subgenre.

      I wouldn’t hail the diminishment of stats and slow-paced, thoughtful play as a necessary advancement or evolution of the roleplaying game. For me a lot of the fun of an the RPG comes in character design and evolution, apportionment of stats, creation of the concept, the arc of the character, thinking about how he or she would respond to situations or work through a problem.

      The “advances” in the cRPG have tended to come at the expense of those things. It’s notable to me that RPS called a game like Witcher 2 the savior of the cRPG genre. To me it represents a trend towards abandonment of a lot the things I love in RPGs. It offers the player no say in character design. Statistical fiddling with the character is replaced or at least significantly diminished in favor of twitch skill development in the player. Combat becomes a frenetic affair, not something savored slow and plotted out like a chess game.

      So while in many ways games like Witcher 2 and Dragon Age 2 (the latter of which at least had customizable characters and pausable party-based combat) can be excellent immersive fun, for me they take away as much as they add to the genre. And I think we’re the poorer for it if they completely crowd out and drive into extinction the more traditionalist offerings. In fact, they very nearly have already.

      And perhaps I’m being overly provocative in saying this, but they are, in my view, part of the broader “consolization” of games so lamented in these pages.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I’m with Nick.

      Hmm… haven’t felt right saying that for a while.

    • Archonsod says:

      “The developers of Drakensang went bankrupt.”

      You sure, cuz they recently announced an expansion to River of Time…

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Radon Labs is dead – or rather, acquired. If you’re talking about Phileasson’s Secret, it’s just the English translation that’s new.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      Radon Labs was bought by Bigpoint.
      You can make up your own mind whether or not that counts as dead.

    • dysphemism says:

      On the topic of abstraction, I don’t think either TB or RT have an inherent claim to “realism.” It really comes down to the implementation.
      For instance, yes, it’s silly when a roll of the dice allows a fortified Phalanx to destroy my tank (hence, Civilization lacked realism in its system). It may only happen one in twenty times, but shouldn’t that number be more like, say, one in ten-thousand? (Allowing for equipment failure, maybe!) That’s a failure of the underlying logic to the system.
      Now compare that to a more fleshed-out system: Dwarf Fortress. Graphics (or lack thereof) aside, there’s a game that does realism better than any RT game I’ve played recently. Imagine trying to create that world in a 3D engine in real-time. (Hell, imagine trying to do it any way at all. That guy is certifiably, wonderfully nuts.)

      On another note, I wonder if the rise of mobile platforms is going to spur true-RPG / tactics-game development like Wizardry longs for. Touch screens don’t seem well-suited to many action games, and the casual nature of mobile would seem to favor TB styles (though not the intense, cerebral, number-crunching we’re talking about). Plus, hardware limitations on mobile encourage 2D applications which…. oh damn, now I’m just validating the original point, aren’t I?

  3. DrGonzo says:

    This really isn’t controversial at all. It’s just him saying that he was trying to develop ambitious games and was limited by technology.

    “There’s a danger that statements like those made by Findley are going to limit and reduce what it is that games are, as a whole. That’s something that game designers should be mindful of when they start thinking about what their games really are “at their heart”.”

    That is rediculous I must say. That’s not what he was saying, he was simply pointing out that they were forced to use turn based design. They wanted to simulate a living breathing world as realistically as possible, or combat etc and technology limited them to turn based games.

    That is a completely different statement from all games should be real time action games. I didn’t read anything he said the way you suggested at all.

    • suibhne says:

      It might be ridiculous to suggest that Findley’s comment, specifically, could have that effect. It’s not ridiculous to suggest that Findley’s attitude, as it operates within the zeitgeist of game developers and consumers, could do so. Indeed, it’s already been happening for years.

    • Zyrxil says:

      Dr Gonzo, You don’t seem to “get” the controversy, so you’re dismissing it as non-existent. The point is he says Turn Based only only came into existence due to technological limitations. The controversy is #1 that he says that as self evident when that’s not at all true, #2 he implies with that statement that since no one is technologically limited anymore, turn-based shouldn’t exist.

  4. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    I’ve actually always liked some point’n'click adventures and turn-based RPGs and strategy games for their slowness, and in the best cases it never felt like it wanted to do action at a whole different pace. My imagination can STILL take care of the real action. I like games that let me think, deccelerate and emphasise tactical aspects (excluding adventures ^^)

    Let’s just compare for a popular and recent example Mass Effect 2 with Dragon Age: Origins (although DA:O wasn’t turn based at all, it could be played that way)…

  5. patstew says:

    Personally I think that for RPGs real time is an improvement on turn based (Which is not to say that no more turn based ones should be made of course).
    What worries me is the trend towards ‘streamlining’ RPGs, which seems to be heading further and further towards sociopathic protagonists who’s only method of interaction with the world is to shoot at it.

  6. pirusu says:

    As I was reading, I kept wanting to say “Yes Jim, but…”

    And then you went on and addressed my buts.

    The thing about anyone making any judgment about what a game should be, “at its heart” or otherwise, is that it’s all subjective. Whether it’s the developer, the “gamer”, or the journalist.

    Even if it were true that all games wanted to be action games, and it’s limiting the game play, it doesn’t limit how the person playing experiences said game play.

  7. Kaira- says:

    Not so much about concerning the article, but a little something that has irritated me to no end in RPGs.

    Why is it so, that in most RPGs the “role-playing” extends only to combat, and the actual “role-playing” (by this I mean conversations and such) is often very superficial. Because for me, combat is usually just something that stands in the way of actual role-playing, though I do agree that even combat is part of the “role-playing”, but still.

    • malkav11 says:

      I think this is, in tabletop play, substantially an artifact of the genre having evolved out of addon rules for a miniatures-based wargame. In videogames, it probably has something to do with the fact that it is only practical to deliver unconstrained roleplaying possibilities when a human is on the other end accounting for everything you do out of pure imagination. Even the closest videogame equivalent to date, Sleep is Death (which hands a human player real-time editing tools and asks them to respond to the actions another human player performs) is necessarily limited because of the limited artistic assets and controls available to the gamemaster. More traditional CRPGs are finalized ahead of time and so the possibility space for taking actions in the game must necessarily be constrained to the tiny space around the predefined setting, characters, and choices the developers have produced. Even a handful of choices with any real impact on the direction of gameplay will produce a combinatorial explosion of possible game states that must be accounted for ahead of time. Making the game truly about these choices and not about combat or gathering loot or improving PC statistics would be a monumental task unlikely to function acceptably and I have this feeling it wouldn’t actually be appreciated by most gamers.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s not a lack of free form play that’s the issue, it’s the scarcity of non-combat play that causes the complaint. Or in other words, no matter what the stated objective, quest or goal is, 90% of the time it will involve beating up some mooks.
      Take Mass Effect 2 for example. IIRC there’s a single mission which is not about shooting anyone. Which is silly, we’re constantly told spectres are investigators, yet the only investigative techniques we ever seem to use is more Bronson than Columbo.

      Really it’s questionable whether the computer RPG has ever moved beyond being a skirmish wargame, whether real time or turn based. Virtually the whole of the gameplay is still nothing but combat encounters; if you tried that in a P&P game most players would likely accuse you of using filler, and rightly so.

    • d32 says:

      Go and play Neverwinter Nights 2 or Vampire tm: Bloodlines, Arcanum or Planescape:Torment to see some serious conversation skills being applied in RPG genre. Yes, that’s just one other area, but its there. Crafting skills are often well-represented, too.
      Or get and play ADOM to experience farming, smithing, mining etc. in an RPG.

    • Archonsod says:

      Played them all, and they’re all still dominated by combat. In fact most of them don’t have conversation skills applied at all, it’s the old “if you have skill X you can get reward Y”.

      The Sims would be a better example.

    • Wizardry says:

      Ever played Darklands? Obviously not. It’s about 5% combat, if that, and you can almost always use the skills of your characters to avoid it. It’s only in dungeons where you are forced into combat, but when travelling across the land you can get past pretty much every single encounter by using your characters in appropriate ways. Of course you can try to battle everyone you come across if that’s what you want, but you get far more options to use other methods. Everything from the gender of a character to their horse riding skill can be used to beat encounters. It’s definitely not a combat focused RPG.

    • edit says:

      malkav11 , I don’t think such open-endedness is out of reach or that players would dislike it. All that is required is some comprehensive A.I. and an open world with many interactive elements, and leave the rest to emergent gameplay. To date even the most open ended games rely on pre-scripted plots and events but it’s only a matter of time before someone puts the effort in to achieve fully emergent plot and gameplay that is still engaging. As a bit of a hobby side-project I’ve been fleshing out the design for an A.I. system for just that kind of game.. We’ll get to play a 100% emergent-event open world game if it kills me. I’m optimistic that other devs will give it a try sooner or later anyway.

    • Kaira- says:


      I actually have played Darklands, and the comparison shows even more how “action” is defined as combat in most modern RPGs for about 95% of time. I personally don’t really care that much about TB v RT-differences, they suit different playstyles and visions, and they share one thing in common – both simulate decision making, though in drastically different manners. And as long as they do their job good enough, I couldn’t care much less.

    • Highstorm says:


      I was going to ask the same question before running across your post as I scrolled down. Somehow “RPG” came to be defined as powering up your character through various stat, ability or equipment upgrades (typically to make you stronger in combat), rather than what the letters actually stand for: Role-Playing – and what those words actually mean.

      Few games have really dared to focus on actual RP. The only one I can really think of at the moment is Neverwinter Nights, which I played for 7-some years on an RP server. Bioware gave players the tools to create their own worlds and characters within which to tell their own stories. There it was about making a unique character with his or her own history, ambitions, flaws and personality, and then pretending to actually be that character as you interacted with the world and its inhabitants (both PC and NPC). Yes stats and combat were part of it – a vital part even – but they weren’t the focus. The very best DMs I got to interact with knew how to tell engaging stories without combat, that mattered to your character, furthered his story and development, and could even provoke an emotional response from the player behind the screen.

      The article here talks about immersion in games and what exactly that means. I wouldn’t try to define that for everyone, but I know that for me personally the very best level of immersion comes when I feel like I am my given/chosen/created character. That his or her actions, choices and responses are reflecting my own personality and ideologies as though I myself were the one placed in that situation, forced to deal with those scenarios. The Mass Effect series has done this for me, as my Shepherd isn’t simply all paragon or all renegade, but a unique person with her own personality that can act like a paragon in one scene, renegade the next, and perhaps neutral by the end. It’s playing the character as opposed to simply playing the game.

      Those are the “RPG Elements” that I want to see in games. I couldn’t care less about an Ogre Slaying Knife +9 in my Modern Warf4re.

    • TariqOne says:

      As odd as it may sound, MMOs do probably the best job going in facilitiating properly broad roleplay, and then generally only incidentally. It’s primarily due to the fact that there are other players to interact with (a key feature of tabletop play that most cRPGs continue to inexplicably leave on the cutting-room floor). Also “grinding” activities, particularly crafting, though typically thrown in as a cynical timesink, can be a welcome respite from mook-beating and a nice excuse to ride about exploring your pretendworld more or less in peaceable thought.

      Of course, roleplayers in MMOs tend to be derided as carebears ERPing in taverns all day, but in truth MMOs tend despite their almost universally crappy design and crappier communities, to create sufficient space for clusters of likeminded people to design and interact through characters in manners beyond simply clicking your mouse to hit stuff with sticks.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Highstorm: You seem to be another person mixing up role-playing and role-playing games. Games by their very nature restrict role-playing with their various rules and systems. When D&D was created way back in the 70s, would you have been one of those people criticising it for not being as pure a role-playing experience as plain old role-playing? It makes no sense to me. The purest form of role-playing is role-playing. Role-playing games were created as a merger of gaming (specifically a descendent of wargaming) and role-playing. Therefore role-playing games are not purely about the role-playing, because then role-playing games needn’t have been created in the first place as role-playing had existed for thousands of years prior.

      Role-playing games are about playing a game that facilitates role-playing, specifically with the abstraction of a character in which you can shape as desired. The purpose of creating a character is to allow you to role-play your character effectively within the game’s rules. Defining the strengths and weaknesses of your character allows you to make decisions for your character on a role-playing level, rather than at a game level, confident that your role-playing decisions will be respectfully played out in the game using your character’s statistics.

    • Highstorm says:


      I’ve tried to get into roleplaying in MMOs with my friends with varying levels of success. It usually dies out rather quickly though, due to the static nature of the worlds. However I did see a fair bit of roleplay going on in my WoW days, some looking quite serious or deep. I was always jealous of those groups but didn’t know how to work my way in. So I suppose it’s possible to get around the static nature of MMOs and perhaps I’m just doing it wrong.


      I understand the distinction you are trying to make, but don’t feel I’m confused at all, as you say. I understand that games have rules – that they are necessary to make the game function. While I gave the example of the Neverwinter Nights toolset giving you free reign to create your own rules (actually still confined to the hard-coded D&D-esque rules), I am not asking for, nor expecting any or every game to be so open. Mass Effect, as I brought up, is linear both in its storytelling and gameplay, however I feel like it lets me play their pre-designed character in such a way as to make him or her my own. This is presented through more than filling in boxes with experience points to unlock new, often generic abilities. In fact, when I look at my Commander Shepherd, she is defined by the conversation choices I made through the game, and not by her level or class.

      You seem to be suggesting that a “character” is defined primarily by their stats, abilities, skills, spells or other assorted “I can do this” buttons. That being able to choose those things is what defines role-playing. I simply have to disagree. I never felt like I was role-playing in Counter-Strike because I chose to buy a shotgun this round rather than the M4. Nor that I was making Kratos my own in God of War by powering up my chain blades instead of the spells. None of those things affected the actual character in terms of how he was portrayed, or perceived by the world around him. Those were game choices made to give me an advantage in specific areas within the game, so that I could progress.

      This is where I believe the term Role-Playing Game has gone awry or, at the least, morphed into something quite different than its name would suggest.

    • Wizardry says:

      I can’t agree in the slightest. RPGs couldn’t have gone wrong so quickly. There were computer RPGs in the mid 70s, just after D&D was created, that were all about exploring dungeons, killing monsters and finding loot. In fact, I’m sure early D&D scenarios were all about exploring dungeons and killing the foozle at the end, or perhaps finding an enchanted item.

      Having dialogue choices does not make a game an RPG. If you have a game that’s purely about dialogue choices and nothing more, with dialogue choices branching the story in various ways, you just have a branching text adventure rather than an RPG. In fact, there was branching interactive fiction back in the 80s and they were never called RPGs.

      However, choosing dialogue options does allow you to role-play. In fact, probably more so than killing monsters in a dungeon. So why isn’t interactive fiction a sub-genre of role-playing games while dungeon crawlers are? Simply because the latter let you define characters, with those statistics and traits branching/modifying gameplay, while the former don’t.

      However, if you made a character, giving it various traits and/or skills and statistics, and the dialogue options were restricted by the skills and traits of your character, it would be a role-playing game. In other words, a character who is physically weak may not get accepted into an ogre tribe, while a character who is physically strong but mentally weak may not be able to side with the mages. That’s the difference between role-playing and role-playing games.

    • Eolirin says:

      The answer to this is actually rather subtle; non-tabletop roleplaying games require grind. They cannot exist if there is no grind. And combat is a really really easy way to generate grind.

      Mechanically, every single video game RPG in existence is centered around a character progression mechanism that exists independently of the content progression for the rest of the game. In order to have a progression mechanism that exists separately from the rest of the game, you need a set of easily repeated activities. Combat is by far the easiest way to achieve that; it’s a self contained, complex system which can be varied in minor ways to generate a large amount of unique situations, this slows the mastery process down enough to keep things interesting, and scales well with statistical improvement.

      By comparison, most other methods are *really* hard. They tend not to scale, or tend not to be easy to generate. There are systems you can make that are effectively combat systems, but that use a non-combat skin, but that’s just dressing the same mechanics up differently, and tends not to happen because combat is easier to sell than something that behaves the same way but isn’t about fighting.

      @Wizardry, this is a minor almost semantic point, but strictly speaking that’s not true; what makes it an rpg is not that characters with different stats have access to different actions linked to the value of those stats, but that characters can exist across a range of stats. In the former case, I could create a game with a preset group of characters who have preset stats that never change, and place them in a game in which they have restricted dialog or gameplay options based on those stats and it’d be a hard call to consider that an RPG. It’s an adventure game with branching paths depending on which character you’ve chosen, or an action or tactical strategy game with different combat mechanics depending on which character you pick. It’s the ability to have a character that exists within a sliding range of options that lets you define yourself as an RPG, and that implies that progression lies central to the definition not the mere presence of stats.

    • Wizlah says:

      Wizardy, My memory is pretty fuzzy about this because I no longer have a copy of the first edition of the AD&D DM’s Guide about, but I’m pretty sure in there there was a small section which explicitly dealt with the idea that the ruleset was not about “exploring dungeons and killing the foozle at the end, or perhaps finding an enchanted item.” but rather creating a series of adventures within a campaign world. without which we wouldn’t have greyhawk or forbidden worlds or the many other campaign settings which became commmon to AD&D.
      Role playing is a verb that can apply to many actions in modern life. Role Playing Games was a phrase used to specifically describe role-playing characters for fun in either one off scenarios or campaigns. Yes, they always involved a ruleset of varying complexities. But the ruleset does not solely define an rpg, any more than the campaign or the playing styles of the gamers involved. RPGs require a responsive world (usually defined by the DM/GM), at least one player, a series of planned scenarios, a lot of improvisation, and a ruleset (which can resolve things like fights or picking locks), and in a campaign world, an ever growing place which responds to the choices and intentions of the characters played by the gamers. Yes, you can play an rpg just as some kind of mechanical problem defined only by a character’s statistics and dice rolls. I believe the phrase used to describe that way of playing role playing games as roll-playing or power-gaming. The point here is the system allows you to play it many different ways, because a role playing game is flexible like that. Unlike your definition of a role-playing game.
      You continue to define rpgs as only those things that have rulesets, because it fits your argument that anything moving away from turn based structure with characters you define cannot be an rpg. You describe branching dialog choices as simple interactive fiction, ignoring the fact that in a P&P game, run by a good gm, those choices and discussions can come back and affect the world you’re playing in multiple complex ways which can be modeled by a good gm but can’t be replicated by a roll of the dice. They become part and parcel of the appeal of a campaign in role playing.
      Finally, to your example:
      “In other words, a character who is physically weak may not get accepted into an ogre tribe, while a character who is physically strong but mentally weak may not be able to side with the mages. That’s the difference between role-playing and role-playing games.”
      This is a false dichotomy. the scenario positied is something that would only happen in role playing games. and the point of an RPG is simply this: the weak character may try to become part of the ogre tribe, and how they succeed or fail (through trickery or the simple luck of the dice) will have implications for the rest of the game beyond just a gain in experience points or an increase in a character trait. It will allow the GM to create future scenarios around that characters success or failure and how they subsequently behave. Maybe they come to hate the ogres and try to build a group which destroys them. maybe they become some kind of mediator between the ogres and other groups, or even some kind of champion. Maybe other characters within the party come to plot against them because they don’t trust them any more.
      It is this last aspect, the idea of an interactive world which responds to your choices which a computer will be a long time replicating. but games like the witcher 2 explicitly aim to tilt at this particular windmill and make it an enjoyable experience. It’s one of the things which make them a role playing game.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Eolirin: I fully agree with you on the first part about the use of combat in RPGs. You’ve hit the nail on the head there with why combat is so heavily used.

      On the second part, I partially agree with you. A game where you choose pre-created (developer created) characters, each with pre-set statistics/traits, would indeed be something like an adventure game with perhaps some action or turn-based combat. Have you ever played Maniac Mansion, the old LucasArts adventure game? At the start of the game you have to pick a two or three characters out of six. All characters can do most things in the game, but there are certain puzzles that can only be solved by certain characters. For example, Bernard can fix things like telephones and radios and Wendy is a writer who can write a manuscript to solve a puzzle. These are skills, though not numerical ones, that effectively change the game depending on your selection of characters. It’s not an RPG, however, because you never create or modify the character’s skill set in any way at creation time or during the game.

      I only partially agree with you because, after numerous lengthy debates on other forums, it’s often agreed upon that you can have an RPG without levelling up at all. As long as you have a deep enough character creation system to allow you to specify your character in enough detail at the start of the game, you don’t need to gain experience and level up your abilities. As long as you are benefited and constrained by your very own character then a game is a role-playing game. If you can choose your name, race, gender, age, upbringing, social class, place of birth, educational institutions, attributes, skill set and weaknesses, and the game constantly reacts to all these values, then you can successfully design the character you want to play the game with, knowing that the gameplay will be altered based on who you are.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Wizlah: I don’t agree with you at all. You keep talking about the importance of the game’s content, not mechanics. Basically, you are talking about everything that makes the GM important in an RPG, the setting, the branching story, the effects that the player’s actions have on the game world. These are all good things, but these are all part of the “role playing” aspect of “role playing games”. That’s what makes role-playing games different from things like war games. It’s very important, of course it is. Its translation into CRPGs comes in the form of the game’s world, story, plot, characters, towns, villages and narrative choices. The game’s content. But even if you have a really dynamic game world with towns and cities full of characters with unique dialogue, a plot that changes based on every action you take and every character you interact with, it still doesn’t do what D&D did, and that was to integrate all of that (role-playing) within a framework of a game that lets you define a character and play as that character. In other words, all of those things could be experienced in free-form group story telling, sitting around a table. D&D was basically that plus game rules. And those game rules can interact with your imagined characters by giving them definitions within the game’s state (statistics, skills, traits, attributes blah blah blah).

  8. JackShandy says:

    I’d say the problem with turn-based video games is exactly that; it’s clear that they want to be real-time. In a good board game, there’s a clean abstraction to things that lets you see straight through the pieces to the imaginary fight they depict. A video-games clutters that up with the animations and things as if it were real-time.

    It won’t let you view the game as an abstract representation of an event, because it’s got these fully-animated 3D models. But at the same time you can’t see it as a fully realised 1-to-1 model of events like a real-time game is meant to be, because the turns make everything ridiculous and abstract. Worst of both worlds.

    • suibhne says:

      RT systems make everything equally “ridiculous and abstract”. And I can think of numerous TB games that clearly don’t “want” to be RT, as you claim. Take classics like X-COM or ToEE, for example. Why do you feel those games “want” to be RT? Why does featuring 3D modeling mean that a game necessarily “wants” to feature real-time combat?

    • JackShandy says:

      Hold on, let me explain myself. Even though you move the pieces one by one in a board game, there is an implication that everything is happening at once – the turns are just an abstraction. There’s also an implication that a turn is just reflecting a single person’s actions over a tiny space of time – say, five seconds. So time in a board-game is a pretty fluid, abstract thing.

      The animations in a turn-based video game like X-Com, though, occur in real-time. So you have this abstract, weird passing of time implied by the turns, and this 1-to-1 passing of time implied by the animations. Combining both of them make the fact that everyone but the moving unit is frozen in time seem really unnatural.

      -It’s not that X-Com wished it had real-time combat; I’m sure it didn’t. But it shied away from the abstraction of the turn-based system, so it obviously must have wanted that type of visual representation you get from real-time games, at least.

    • Hallgrim says:

      @Jackshandy: I’m not sure you can make a more offensive/rediculous argument in a “A vs. B” debate than “B really wants to be A, the dirty minx”.

      EDIT: Just saw your reply.

      I’m still confused. Do you think that if it were possible to ship boardgames with tokens that are mechanical automatons that would carry out simple actions, Fantasy Flight wouldn’t use them? Because it would corrupt the pure abstraction of things? Why do they spend all that money on art in the first place? Surely the text is more purely abstracted than some silly picture of Gandalf. (This card looks nothing like Ian McEllen… wtf)

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      Tell me what a turn-based animation looks like.

    • JackShandy says:

      Hallgrim: I’m definetly not against flavour: by abstract, I don’t mean every games should be clean and spartan, no frills allowed. The artwork gives you things to visualise, but it doesn’t give a specific impression of how fast time is going like animations do. I’m sure people would buy automations that enacted a real-life version of star-wars chess*, but I think they’d get board of the down-time watching animations pretty quickly and turn them off.

      Malawi: Doesn’t exist, yes, well done. They’d have to get rid of any animation that says “The flow of time is proceeding at THIS rate.” – that is, all of them. The style of Blight of the Immortals*, for instance (Although of course that has a very clear idea of how fast time’s going).


    • suibhne says:

      That makes more sense – thanks for the elaboration. I still don’t agree, mind you, but I appreciate the follow-up. ;)

      So would you feel comfortable if a game like X-COM or ToEE had no “real-time” animations? That’s confusing to me. But I think the disconnect between our views is that you still seem to see TB and RT as a continuum, where RT is somehow more “realistic” and incorporating any “real-time” elements means that a TB game is trying to edge closer to the RT side of the continuum. Is that correct?

      I don’t look at it like that at all. RT handles some things more “realistically”, but TB is more realistic in other respects; neither seems inherently more “realistic” to me. Rather, they’re different tools which are suitable for different goals.

    • suibhne says:

      Also, for the sake of curiosity: how do you feel about, say, BattleChess or Archon? Do the animations in BattleChess make it less chess? Do they mean it aspires to “realism”, or to “real-time” gameplay?

      By the way, I could just as easily mount an argument that the current proliferation of “bullet-time” modes in games from Max Payne to FEAR to The Witcher 2 is a signal that those games aspire to be turn-based. I’m not just being polemical here; I think that makes just as much sense as saying “animations can’t be turn-based”.

    • Nick says:

      All games are an abstraction. Thats why they are games and not reality, some may take realistic elements, but they apply a set of rules to them which you follow in playing the game. Turn based is merely one of the possible rules, it usually makes for a very different expereience in the way a game plays. Its a choice not a limitation.

    • JackShandy says:

      One last clarification for good luck. By definition, Real-time games have a less abstract depiction of the flow of time than Turn-based games. In all other ways they’re the same. When I say RT games are “More realistic”, that’s what I’m referring to.

      And yeah, I’d say Battle-chess is pretty much exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the natural product of “Hey, we’re making chess as a video-game, how can we add things that they can’t have in a board game?” And so we’ve got chess where you pause after every turn to watch a short movie.

      Neither Real-time games or board games ever force you to sit watching your character do things for you during gameplay (Ignoring cutscenes and quick-time events). Only turn-based videogames. I think that’s the sticking point for me.

    • Nick says:

      And many Turn Based games allow you to skip animations altogether, either for your enemies or yourself or both.

  9. Will Tomas says:

    I think it depends on what sort of experience you want. I don’t really want to feel like I’m playing a boardgame when I’m playing a computer game, as it’s fundamentally not as transportive as something more tactile for me. But I do understand that some people love that kind of thing, even if I’m not personally as much of a fan.
    I wrote about this a lot more here, though.

    • Zyrxil says:

      “Virtual dice”. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. You know how in Team Fortress 2 a medium range shot from a pistol could do 10-15 damage? That’s 5d2+5. Dice are a physical representation of an RNG, not the other way around. You say virtual dice over and over, but it has nothing to do with anything, as all games use RNG in some fashion. RNG have nothing to do with “immersion”, even if game mechanics were to be accepted to be a part of immersion.

      Isometric camera- Name one way an overhead view is objectively less immersive than having a magic eye 3 feet behind the back of your character’s head.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Zyrxil: It’s funny because, even though it’s not exactly isometric, Ultima VII is one of the most immersive games ever made. It shits on games like Oblivion.

    • Antsy says:

      As far as I’m concerned immersion isn’t the result of POV but rather a sign of good game design. Regardless of the type of game you’re playing or whether or not it’s turn-based or real time a good game is one that sufficiently rewards or punishes the player for the choices they make.

    • Wizardry says:

      Yeah. A sign of good game design. Not the only one at all, though. Some of my favourite games aren’t really immersive in the sense that you feel like you are the character you are playing. Although they are immersive in terms of absorbing you into them due to being plain fun to play.

  10. AtkinsSJ says:

    I suddenly really wish there was a cerebral, turn-based version of Bioshock.

    I think keeping things turn-based allows for a greater variety of actions that you can perform. Admittedly I’m not much of an action player, but if there are more than a couple of things I can do in an action game, I tend to fumble and do the wrong thing. With a turn-based game, you have time to consider all your options, and so there can be more options without overwhelming.

    • suibhne says:

      In fact, Bioshock and Bioshock 2 are a great example of one of the key problems with RT systems: interface latency. Because of both games’ clunky interface for choosing plasmids/weapons, I ended up relying on just a small subset of the tools offered by the games. Granted, this can be fairly easily solved in RT combat – just look at The Witcher 2′s quick-select wheel – but it exemplifies a larger issue (the significant limitations which interface imposes on player choice) which is effectively addressed by TB systems, thus allowing much greater system complexity (which can be a good thing – but obviously isn’t inherently superior).

    • Urthman says:

      In Oblivion, the fact that you can pause the game during combat and take your time selecting a spell or a potion or an alternate weapon makes the game much more strategic and interesting.

      If it weren’t for that pseudo-turn-based aspect of the game, I’d have probably just equipped my best sword and spammed my 2 or 3 best spells, and been bored of the game after the third dungeon or so.

    • Nick says:

      Huh, I thought setting up hotkeys would let you do that more easily =)

      (in Oblivion)

  11. mazzratazz says:

    Um, maybe this is just me being ignorant, but wasn’t early RPG design at least in part determined by a desire to translate tabletop RPG mechanics into a virtual context? Technological constraints are all well and good, but you’d think stats and rolling dice and “turn-based” combat are just (partially) results of that. Seems a bit narrow-minded in either case to let the entirety of history be down to technological evolution.

    As for the central debate, my general rule applies: any designer who actively argues that *insert certain type or genre of game* is gaming’s destiny or the only possible course of gaming’s future development, is probably a moron. There are zero reasons to exclude certain, entirely valid game types from the equation simply because YOU personally believe games are evolving in a specific direction. By all means, make your action RPGs. But let turn-based RPG lovers have their turn-based RPGs. Seems like common sense to me.

    • Jumwa says:

      My D&D DM guide, however, states that the turn-based nature of the game is done to try and simulate real life action in the most realistic manner possible given the limitation. So… if they’re trying to copy tabletop gaming, I suppose they could trace back the argument to tabletop gaming trying to imitate action themselves.

    • Xercies says:

      Yes I was thinking that, he’s actually kind of wrong, maybe they did want non turn based eventually but all these RPG designers were basically trying to get the D&D experience on the computer, turn based battles and all.

    • Will Tomas says:

      I agree – and I think that the Witcher 2 and the other ‘RPGs’ of this time being far more action-driven is a sign that the D&D experience is now rather over.

    • Archonsod says:

      It shouldn’t really be an issue in the first place. P&P never restricted itself to only one way of doing things; five years after D&D was released you had Amber, a system using no dice whatsoever. Later you had a push towards hybrid systems exemplified by White Wolf, and you even have things like Deadlands which makes excellent use of Poker in it’s rule system.

      The one thing all successful rule systems tend to share is that they recognise the system is simply a means of enabling play rather than being a goal in and of itself. The problems aren’t inherent in the system themselves, it’s how well the system matches the actual game that’s crucial. Making a game real time or turn based for no better reason than you want it to be is usually a recipe for disaster.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      any designer who actively argues that *insert certain type or genre of game* is gaming’s destiny or the only possible course of gaming’s future development, is probably a moron.

      Yeah. Some people here remind me of those screeching about how adventure games are dead forever. Well, no; that was a temporary market trend and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      By all means, create the games you want. The mass market wants action action conversation story with a little bit of RPG. Others will still create the games they want, not out of some misguided sense of nostalgia, but because there are several huge differences for the player you haven’t bothered to think about.

    • Wizlah says:

      “The one thing all successful rule systems tend to share is that they recognise the system is simply a means of enabling play rather than being a goal in and of itself. The problems aren’t inherent in the system themselves, it’s how well the system matches the actual game that’s crucial. ”

      I believe that when CDProjekt were making the witcher, their combat system (with the dicerolls behind it) arose because they were trying to come up with some visual representation of how the witcher might fight that you would have some input into. Now, I realise it didn’t really work, but I can only applaud the intention, in line as it was with the design philosophy you’re espousing above.

      Maybe this guy sees everything in terms of action, and that’s fine. I do fret when it seems like designers think action and some form of first person simulation is seen as the ONLY way of immersing a player in a world. A responsive world that you can interact with in ways above and beyond simple combat is immersive. Sneaking in thief? Immersive. No shooty/fighty involved.

      Jim makes a valid point about the intention of the designers versus the end experience of the players. And whilst I don’t think designer’s statements are necessarily dangerous, as Vinraith points out, so long as designers intend to limit us to one kind of immersive experience, we will be the poorer for it. You’d think that was self-evident, but maybe games designers are too lost in their own technical world to notice.

    • alh_p says:

      With recognition to Archonsod, I have say that all games that are not entirely abstract and in seek (in any way) to represent a “real life” situation basicaly employ a structure, mechanism or gimic (as you will) to build their simulation of -exactly in the way of scientific models. In the way that an electron can be modeled as a sphere orbiting a nucleus, it is also apparently a cloud or an energy band.

      I’d also say this discussion is like arguing that photography is the logical conclusion of painting, or not. They are different art forms that seek to represent a view of reality. Like shining a spot-light on an object, one art-form or genre will pick out some features, another spotlight will pick out others. I’d think it sad to be unable to appreciate all these perspectives and would be as sad to lose RT as turn-based games.

  12. cybernomad says:

    I think they were never forced to turn-based game mechanics. He overvalues here the constraints of technology. Nothing would have stand in the way of an Action RPG with the technology of asteroids. And later, games like Castlevania were clearly Action RPGs long before the supposedly turn-based-forcing 1990s. I think its the same as saying Lord of the Rings were constrained by the technologies of bookprinting and was at heart an action movie trilogy.

    • mashakos says:

      “Castlevania …”
      heh, young people nowadays seem to confuse powerups with “RPG elements”

      Being at the ripe old gaming age of 28, I distinctly remember playing games like X-Com and Utopia, wondering how they would be like if I could zoom into one of the characters and actually take part in the actions I made on each turn.

      So yeah Matt’s sentiment is shared by many who were around in the late 80′s to mid 90′s

    • d32 says:

      mashakos: They would be fast, chaotic, uncontrollable mess.

    • Wizardry says:

      Action RPGs have existed since the first half of the 80s at the very least, therefore it’s not even about whether it was possible back then or not, because it definitely was.

  13. JuJuCam says:

    I’m glad you brought up board games because that’s exactly what I was thinking about while reading the early part of this article. I think many non-gamers are intimidated by the complex nature of current games, which have been iterated and refined to a point that there are now fairly consistent standards. Twin-stick control mechanisms in 3D action games for consoles are so standard that most of these games that even bother having a tutorial don’t give a new player a whole lot of time to become accustomed to them.

    Whereas board games can have quite complicated mechanics and interactions, but the often necessary turn-based nature of them means an easier entry point, and “control mechanics” such as they are remain as diverse as ever – in fact becoming more diverse in recent times.

    And so with turn based games you rarely have to worry about mastering a control scheme and can focus your efforts on mastering the systems at play in your own time.

    I daresay some games may well have been turn-based due to technical restrictions, but to assume that every game wished it were realtime 3D is a fairly crude oversimplification in my opinion.

    • Mirqy says:

      Agreed. I think the turn based mechanics emerged more because people were trying to convert a very successful genre of non-video games – pnp rpgs – onto computers, so keeping the turn based mechanic was more obvious than dropping it.

      Personally, I want to experience a Holodeck level of fidelity, sitting right in the simulation, and to play a simulated boardgame within that simulation.

  14. Jumwa says:

    You can involve stats and the management of them into an action game in such a way that it becomes less and less about any ‘skill’ or reflexes. Though doing so inevitably invites the chest-thumping internet denizens to rush out and cry “IT IS TOO EASY! I AM INJURED BY THIS GAMES EASINESS! FACEROLL ROFLCAKES!”

    So I don’t think an action game necessarily means it has to be all about those things, it’s just that the gamer culture is dominated by a certain outspoken mentality that all games should be punishing and hard, and so an action game must be unforgiving on its reflexive requirements.

  15. AndrewC says:

    I would prefer to have any physical, external action be represented to me by sensory input – like visuals and audio.

    It’s a preference though, and not due in any part by me never, ever understanding turn-based gameplay beyond, say, Worms.

  16. Lobotomist says:

    Let me use eternal words of Bill Lumberg: “How about that”

  17. Cinnamon says:

    Stonekeep was not a turn based strategy game by any stretch of the imagination. This is as silly as Doug Church popping up and saying that he never wanted Ultima Underworld or System Shock to be turn based games and that with modern resources he thinks that he could do them better. There are also old designers of real turn based games who were very happy working with turn based and would quite like to make new turn based games with modern resources. I think that even Ken Levine has said that he would love to make games like the old turn based games that he enjoyed but he has been convinced that he can’t make it a commercial reality. He would even have preferred to make the Freedom Force games as full turn based.

    Gary Gygax defended turn based combat in RPGs to the last and said quite confidently that he never had any aspirations of making D&D a real time action game or felt limited by his tools. If starting over with the benefit of hindsight he would not have made something like a real time action game.

    I wonder what the state of any Wasteland project is at inExile? I’ve heard that there is at least one respected Interplay veteran who would work on the project just for the love of it if it was a proper turn based party game with gameplay that does justice to the original…

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      Ken Levine is right, actually. He can’t make it a commercial reality because he’s Ken Levine of Irrational Games, Subsidiary of 2K Games, Subsidiary of Take Two Interactive.

      A smaller, leaner company could do it, though. Maybe they won’t sell 4 million copies, but they would be profitable enough, I’m sure.

    • Cinnamon says:

      Well, I had no reason to doubt his honesty. He must have gone through a lot in his time to get various projects green lit. 2K do publish Civ but everyone knows that is only because the project was a big hit originally for Microprose and games buyers have, annoyingly maybe for some, kept on buying and enjoying it even though they should have “moved on” to RTS.

    • Urthman says:

      The fact that you can pause the game at any moment, take your time considering your strategy, pan the camera around to see the action from the coolest possible perspective, then press go and watch the BIFF! POW! is what makes Freedom Force such a great game.

      Trying to play it in real time, with the AI handling most basic encounters and the camera pulled back all the time to keep an eye on everything would’ve made the game really dull. I’ll bet many of the people who didn’t like it tried to play it that way.

  18. bluebottle says:

    This is the single most damaging delusion that clouds the minds of game-makers; that there is a single point of perfection to which all games not only should aspire, but do aspire. A point which happens to be Gears of Fucking War.
    Civilisation only wasn’t a rip-roaring homo-erotic manstomp because of technical limitations.
    UFO would have been an explosion packed Michael Bay-a-thon, if only the Gollop Brothers had been lucky enough to have access to the Unreal3 Engine.
    And Dungeon Keeper would have been wall-to-wall guns and alien killing, if only Bullfrog could have squeezed those extra Hz from the old p120.
    This is why I can’t have nice things anymore.

  19. BigJonno says:

    I’ve often suggested that pen ‘n’ paper RPGs are turn-based out of necessity and their electronic descendants’ obsession with their tropes is entirely unnecessary. That said, I enjoy turn-based games for their pure strategic focus and I don’t believe they’re inherently inferior to real-time games. I’d certainly take a straight turn-based game over the quasi-real time with pauses style popularised by Baldur’s Gate.

    As has already been mentioned, my concern is maintaining depth of interaction and customisation in RPGs, because I agree that their “streamlining” is going too far.

    • Urthman says:

      So have you actually played D&D or some other pen & paper game and thought, “This would be so much more fun if all the action was happening in real time and I really only could pay attention to my character’s combat and maybe glimpses of what a couple of the other players are doing”?

      That seems like it would only be an improvement if you’re playing a boring hack-n-slash game where everyone’s just doing the same boring combat moves over and over. If you’re playing a game where players are encouraged to do clever and creative things on their turn, seems like everyone would want to be paying attention and enjoying each person’s turn.

      When you’re reading a book or watching a movie, do you think it’s a limitation that the narrative perspective jumps from one character to another so that you see simultaneous events from more than one perspective in a turn-based manner?

    • BigJonno says:

      I think this is simply selling real-time action games short. The oft-mentioned Mount & Blade is a perfect example of a game where you control a single character, but have to worry about battlefield strategy and give orders to others. Why not apply that to a party-based game? On top of that, there are many example of action games that aren’t just about mindlessly pounding a button.

      I guess it comes down to why an individual plays pen ‘n’ paper RPGs. If you’re there for strategic combat, then a computer RPG where you control a single character in real time isn’t going to scratch your flavour of RPG itch. Me, I’m all about developing and playing my character, so full party control isn’t a priority for me. It’s something I enjoy, it just isn’t my defining feature for RPGs.

      The more I think about it, the more I realise that the “guns and conversation” label can be applied, with a few tweaks, to the vast majority of RPGs. It doesn’t matter how many stats, skills and pieces of gear they’ve got, they come down to fighting things or talking to people. There are a whole lot of other things you can do in a tabletop RPG. Take something like SpyCraft as a random example; it has one class that is a combat specialist and one social specialist. The others cover stuff like vehicles, infiltration, obtaining gear, information gathering, computers etc.

      I just think that turn-based games are no more or less inherently “RPG” than real-time games as combat is pretty low down on my personal list of what makes an RPG. Others may disagree and that’s fine, until they start suggesting that one form or the other isn’t a real RPG.

  20. Ybfelix says:

    One thing though, I think that using hidden dice rolls to determine the results of real-time actions, while sounds like an acceptable middle point, is disliked by quite some of players, as examplified by complains to Mass Effect 1, Vampire:Bloodlines, Alpha Protocol etc. Yet I think the technology for real time role-playing a character visually (as opposed to just applying your own mouse/controller skill) is still not there. A lot of action games also have stats building, but I don’t see many of them, say, let a swordsman with sufficient strength points to break an enemy’s parry using a basic swing.

  21. Namos says:

    So basically he’s saying that games should always have been action-oriented? Makes me respect turn-based games more, considering they were so awesome even when they are the inferior type.

    Really, the idea that games designed around inferior technology to what we have available today are therefore inferior to modern games is preposterous. Worse, it goes against the idea of games as a medium, in casting value judgment over older forms. Technology has expanded that kind of games that can be designed, but it has not, for the most part, rendered old designs obsolete.

    Also, why do we care when this guy is making a game like H:TDF?

  22. misterk says:

    I do love a good turn based rpg, because there are tactical options involved there that aren’t available in a real time game. If I’m just controlling one guy then I can probably handle making tactical decisions in real time, but with a party of several I really can’t.

  23. RakeShark says:

    I think my issue with Turn-Based RPGs is that the execution of actions tends to take a back seat to the mechanics of actions.

    In a sense, a game should make every action I make feel like the most awesome thing anyone could do at that point in time, not trivialize the action behind a mist of numbers, rolls, and stat challenges while two figures bap each other on the head with sticks. To me, Turn-Based RPG combat feels like the end of combat is the best thing to achieve, where as Action RPGs revel in the middle of combat. I think Fallout 1/2/Tactics found a nice middle ground between the tactics of mechanics and the excitement of action. However, I think Turn-Based RPGs can step up their game in presenting combat as something much more interesting to wade through.

    It may be a case of presentation, as given the right lighting, camera skill, and soundtrack you can make just about anything appealing to a broad audience.

  24. Vexing Vision says:

    I think it boils down to something else entirely – boardgames/table-top vs computergames.

    Me, I’m a dying breed. I love Dominions for having 250 different stats for each of my 50000 units. I love huge, massive, complex boardgames a la Avalon Hill when they were still good. Car Wars, Magic Realm, World in Flames… give me stats, complexity and above all OPTIONS.

    I want Options in my games. Actiongames follow the real classic Fight/Magic/Evade options. I can cast a spell/activate skill, slash with my basic attack or dodge/run/block. But when I want roleplaying games, I want to finetune my skills, select my exact position (because the elven fighter I play is so much more dextrous than I am), select the strength of my attack and the bodypart I am trying to hit, while setting up the rest of the partymembers to do exactly what I want.

    Temple of Elemental Evil is the one modern-ish game that satisfied this crave (I just wish they had picked one of the better classic D&D modules). Realms of Arkania (especially part 3) remains an exceptional well done rpg-conversion full of meaningful stats and abilities.

    I want complex, meaningful turn-based options. I want to take my time to explore and investigate all possible outcomes. Any modern RPG that comes with more than a hitpoint-stat and more than Fight/Evade options is an instant-purchase for me.

    I also love my Diablo clones. I liked Witcher 2. I’m looking forward to Skyrim. But someone give me some modern-graphics turn-based roleplaying stuff with a manual that’s more than a factsheet, please.

    Shame I’m the minority. I don’t think there’s a market for this. But hey, Indie devs reading this, maybe you want to earn some money from me? Please?

    • thegooseking says:

      I think you’re right. The initial point of putting RPGs on the computer, back in the 70s, was to be able to play D&D with a computer doing all the boring number crunching bits. And there are still people who want to play D&D with a computer doing all the boring number crunching bits, and that’s fine. Turn-based RPGs are in that sense “closer to the source”. But that doesn’t devalue the action-RPG, which can be easier to engage with on a fictive level, without having to worry about all those statistics getting in the way of suspension of disbelief, because they’ve been abstracted from view.

      Simply put, it has long (long) been established that there are different types of RPG player (even in pen and paper RPGs), with different motivations for playing. Arguing whether turn-based RPGs or action RPGs are better is kind of stupid, because they’re intended from the get-go to satisfy different player types. So the problem isn’t that turn-based RPGs are better but developers dumbly continue to make action RPGs; the problem is that developers cater to the player types who want action RPGs (as they should) while ignoring the player types who want turn-based RPGs (as they most certainly shouldn’t).

    • Vexing Vision says:

      There are quite a few action RPGs that I enjoy.

      But I’m craving for a serious turn-based high complexity RPG. I know Spiderweb Games, but they’re getting less and less complex…

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Football Manager is the nerdiest, most number-filled game around, and it’s hugely popular. It’s the one I’ll cheerfully point to every time there’s the claim that flashy action is the only way forward. Here’s a game that you could pretty rightfully sneer at as a bunch of spreadsheets, and it’s selling like hotcakes, utterly destroying its easy, streamlined, pretty counterpart in FIFA Manager.

      And let’s be clear: a love of football is not enough to play and enjoy this game. You need to spend the time to deeply understand FM and its mechanics. It’s a hardcore simulation with many variables to control.

      So, game designers seeking to tap an under-served market rather than squeeze in on what everyone else is doing: look at FM. Figure out why they’re successful.

    • Smaug says:

      Give me another Arcanum and I will give you all my money

    • thegooseking says:

      There are quite a few action RPGs that I enjoy.

      But I’m craving for a serious turn-based high complexity RPG. I know Spiderweb Games, but they’re getting less and less complex…

      Well, despite what I said, I semi-secretly hate the idea of player ‘types’ per se, precisely because that implies that we can’t want different things at different times. I think it’s perfectly possible to enjoy both (though perhaps not at the same time).

      But I think the types are good indicators of our preferences at a given time, even if that is subject to change from day to day. And I’m sure quite a few people at least exhibit a strong overall preference for one or the other, even if it’s not total.

    • Nick says:

      Same as you really. But there IS a market for this, it may not be the mainstream market, but there will be a profitable market nonetheless, all those fans of Wizardry, RoA, M&M, the original Fallout games etc, they aren’t all dead or something. There are new fans of these games too, this sort of thing does appeal to some people, like anything. I guess we’ll see what happens when the likes of Dead State and Age of Decadence get released, how well they do will hopefully help shape the future of the more traditional aspects of the genre, although obviously not in the AAA market. But frankly most AAA games are fucking dull as shit.

    • TariqOne says:

      I was just going to say Dead State and Age of Decadence but I guess you already did. I’m hoping one or both of those scratches my RPG itch.

  25. pakoito says:

    My main point against a RT RPG (which I also love) is that they lack the variety of options that a TB may have, and in the end they feel more like a crippled action game.

    Also, the “spreadsheet” is so much abstracted that there’s no room for that much min-maxing or perfectly executed strategies. ¡CHOOSE THAT GUY, UNLOAD EVERYTHING ON HIM! ¡OMG LOWLIFE, CHANGE CHARACTER CAST HEALTH TOO SLOW I’M DEAD!

  26. jack4cc says:

    So Fallout 1 & 2 wanted to be some sort of action game ? Burn the heretic I say, burn him MOAR !!!

  27. Dreamhacker says:


  28. Vinraith says:

    Thought vs. Twitch, round #8598479438540. Why on Earth people are always wanting to narrow our options is completely beyond me.

    • Archonsod says:

      Yet your brain is still a significantly faster processor than any CPU currently on the market. You’re just getting old grandad :P

    • Vinraith says:

      I must be, since I can’t fathom what your post has to do with mine.

      My argument is that there’s plenty of room for thoughtful turn based games, twitchy action games, and everything inbetween. Anyone trying to tell you there should only be one or the other is full of crap, it’s an idiotic false dichotomy as old as gaming and it needs to go.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Or that the 2 are somehow mutually exclusive.

      I’ll have both types of game please.

    • Archonsod says:

      “I must be, since I can’t fathom what your post has to do with mine.”

      Not all action games are twitch mainly. Certainly any twitching in something like ARMA would only be applicable on the kind of timescale reserved for geology.

    • Vinraith says:


      I would argue that calling ArmA an action game is doing it a grave disservice, it’s a tactical shooter and those (by definition) are thoughtful creatures.

      I think we’re essentially on the same page but using terms differently.

    • Nick says:

      So true, I’m a fan of both, but one is terribly underserved.

  29. NumberNine says:

    “I mean, the reason those games were turn-based sword battles is that was the only option you had. I think, now you get that twitch element of “me at the controller.” When you take the monster down because you successfully hit, blocked, switched to exploding arrows, and shot him in the head, you’re getting that same depth that you would have had through 30 years ago D&D experience, but it’s happening fast-paced, quick, and in real-time for a modern audience that wants to see action.”

    I thought I’d never become an Angry Internet Man. How wrong I was.

    What if I want my character to shape the experience, and not be able to compensate his flaws with just good hand-eye coordination ? Acting like RT can do everything TB does just as well is delusional. Are developers so unimaginative now that they can’t create a modern turn-based system that is compelling ? Do they honestly believe they’re evolving the RPG genre by making it more like your generic action game ? Is there no more room for actually distinct genres ? Just make Gauntlet 3D and be done with it.


  30. groovychainsaw says:

    The very good points above note that turn-based games give you so much more scope to roleplay a character in a fight, picking the approach, tactics/skills, weapons etc.etc.etc. as opposed to the real time shoot/slash options. It also lets you manage a party (which some people may not want to do – although most games would make more sense with multiple people off to save the world, rather than one uber-warrior), which would be virtually impossible to do with any sort of depth in a real-time game.

    I think turn-based games have far more possibilities for interesting scenarios or stories that emerge from the gameplay than people give them credit for, too. The vast number of options that you (and your opponents) have give rise to numerous ‘story-worthy’ scenarios, with many good examples in my own history from the xcom games, civilisation and more recently, blood bowl.

    For example, blood bowl is the absolute example of a conversion from a board game, more luck-based and transparent with the dice than most games, yet it creates compelling sports-like player stories that are more like real sport than any real-time sports game I’ve ever played (amazing comebacks, heroic last minute touchdowns, terrible freak injuries to name a few :-D).

    Choices, and the ability to manage those choices in a turn based framework where it would be impossible to do in real-time (until we get to matrix-like levels of user interfacing) are what give turn-based games their appeal. Some people like to think more about what their character is doing ,and not be bullied into spamming the ‘shoot’ button whilst under pressure and unable to ‘think fast’. They should be the most accessible games, really, as there’s no ‘twitch’ element involved, you can take your time to learn and figure out what you want to do next. There’s still a market there, publishers just need to figure out a decent game to exploit it.

    (Plus, there’s almost no better game on a phone than a turn based RPG, something you can stop and pick up at any point that doesn’t rely on twitch controls on a touchscreen, perfect :-P)

  31. adonf says:

    For those like me who have never heard of Inxile, this is about an action game called “Hunted, the demon’s forge”. Would it be rude to suggest that this article should say this clearly ?

  32. JuJuCam says:

    Four words: Blood Bowl Blitz Mode

  33. Oozo says:

    I loved Demon’s Souls for the sheer intensity of its combat, where a split-second of not being focussed enough could make the difference between victory and defeat. I adored the “Realms of Arkadia”-trilogy for the simple fact that it was entirely possible to never reach that dwarven city somewhere hidden in the mountains, simply because I had forgotten to pack enough food and water and the right clothes in a region where chances of succesfull hunting where as low as the risk of catching one of a handful of possible illnesses were high. It’s easy to dream of a game that could bring the sheer complexity of the system of the latter together with the physicality of the former and think of that as the ultimate RPG-experience, a dream so bold that Mr Findley does not even talk about it (even though it would render some of the arguments against his point obsolete).

    But, you know what game can rival Demon’s Souls in intensity and dread? X-Com. Said hypothetical ultimate RPG would, for all its merits, not know how to explain that.

  34. Blaq says:

    Making an action RPG is fine and all, and you might claim that turn based RPGs are a thing of the past and people will disagree. But please, do not sodding do so while you are making a game that foregoes the most basic of RPG features — storytelling and player immersion. The perfect example of this is Dragon Age 2 and I have a tiny nagging feeling Hunted might forget the basics of RPG narrative aswell.

    As long as action RPGs keep devolving into Modern Warfare sort of drivel with the only focus being on appeasing the masses, rather than making an actual game, no one is justified in making any sort of claims about genre evolution.

    (And yes, this rant is mostly about DA2, but with the game being such a large title I could see it dictating the genre changes. And no, I haven’t yet played The Witcher 2 so I don’t know how actiony or good it is.)

  35. Lobotomist says:

    Just think that people are now complaining about action based nature of combat in Witcher 2

  36. Zwebbie says:

    Wait, the guy’s company works on Hunted: the Demon’s Forge? That’s hilarious, we’ve been ridiculing that game constantly. Oh, Matt, do throw in some more controversy, because the game’s premise or graphics aren’t going to get it any attention.

  37. Ankheg says:

    Immersion – it’s when there is good atmosphere. You can feel yourself thousands time more “immersed” when you read book then in some overtop technological beat’em to crap shit up action.

    And – every genre have it’s place. It’s more important to be embraced with some new knowledges and emotions. Chess game was invented for no shit. So as turn-based games have it’s meaning – to give a gamer time to think, to solve some puzzle and create good strategy.
    Action games are cool, but it’s just a part of overall picture.

    In addition – Stonekeep was good not for it’s graphics and mechanics alone. But by its atmosphere. Surroundings, music, dialogues, characters, those claustrophobic feeling – that’s what made this game so good.
    It’s not genre – it’s about soul of the game.

    If I would really want to play some fantasy game – I’d better go for larp or trpg with my friends – it’s more healthy and fun. But here – I want some ideas, creativness and food for my imagination and logic.

  38. Azradesh says:

    I have nothing against actiony, skill based RPGs, but I prefer stat based combat. The reason for this is because I want to play a role, I want my character to be good at certain things and not at others. I want my character to dodge or block because *he* is good at those things. I still love combat like The Witcher 2, but I prefer a heavily stat based model.

    • Wizardry says:

      I fully agree.

    • Dervish says:

      I’m pretty sure you’re the first person in the comments to explicitly address this, which makes me sad. That is the obvious crux of the issue to me–Findley’s comment is analogous to saying that all pen-and-paper RPGs really wanted to be LARPs. And that’s not using LARP in any pejorative sense, just acknowledging that they are heavily based on the physical, real-life abilities of the players.

    • Wizardry says:

      Well, only because I didn’t check RPS until this article had been up for a couple of hours. If I would have spotted it the second it was put up, I probably would have commented with exactly the same post as Azradesh and ended up with 1000 replies from my haters.

      It pretty much sums up the difference in focus between an actual CRPG and an action hybrid.

    • Jumwa says:

      It didn’t need to be brought up in the comments, because it was mentioned in the original post.

      And to that many people–myself included–pointed out how a real-time system doesn’t need to forsake combat prowess being based upon stats and such more than player ‘skill’/reflexes.

      The only thing that really prevents real time combat (or action-RPGs if you prefer) from being more along these lines is a prevalent attitude in the gaming culture for games to be “hard”. You can’t have a system where your stats counted for more than your timing of swings and such, because the outspoken segment of the gaming community (that makes up the vast majourity of forumites) would be frothing at the mouth to decree such a game “faceroll” easy, and would tear it apart endlessly.

      There are plenty of obvious or creative means to make such a system work, where your stats compensate for your own lack of skill with, say, timing a block of an enemy blow (maybe such that at a certain level of stat progression your character would do it fully on their own), however I think it’s avoided because of the internet gaming culture.

      Personally when I play games like Oblivion, I prefer the difficulty to be at a certain state so that my characters level and stats are what counts, and as long as I have that on my side, I can blow through opponents with little effort on my part.

    • Wizardry says:

      @Jumwa: It’s not really about whether there is more of a requirement on character skill than player skill because it’s not binary. You don’t just get action games on one side and RPGs on the other, you get an entire spectrum between the two. A game that is 50% player skill and 50% character skill may be a balanced action RPG, but a 25% / 75% game and a 75% / 25% game can both be action RPGs as well. What you seem to be implying is that 49% / 51% is an RPG but 51% / 49% isn’t, even though the differences between them may be indistinguishable.

      The further you move from 100% character skill the more your own skill can compensate. When you reach 100% player skill it is purely down to your own ability and is therefore not an RPG in any way. This can be translated directly into the reduction in importance of character skills and statistics.

      Now, let me get things straight. I can’t think of a single RPG that is 100% character skill focused. Even in turn-based RPGs the player can both exploit the AI and generally use superior tactics to gain an advantage. However, there is still a massive difference between the balance of player and character skill between, say, The Witcher 2 and World of Xeen. If your party weren’t strong enough to win a fight in World of Xeen you had to go and level up. In The Witcher 2 you just reload and try again, hoping to edge nearer and nearer to what would be a narrow victory. Then you win and move on. It’s fundamentally different, even if The Witcher 2 does require more character skill than player skill.

    • Jumwa says:

      No, that wasn’t my point at all.

      I was merely pointing out how an action oriented combat style in a RPG doesn’t need to be all about player reflex or ‘skill’, and that you can have a measure in between to varying degrees. However, we rarely see anything towards stat-heavy action combat because it provides an easy target for angry gamers.

    • Fyr says:

      I couldn’t agree more. I want to be able to do things in games that I can’t do in real life.

      With Kinnects and Wiis and stuff, something like MLB games could just rely on your own ability with bat.
      But I can’t play baseball. I suck at it. And if I wanted to go out play it I’d do that instead of buying a game.

      That is the Reductio ad absurdum disproof here. I don’t want a game that accurately models everything and consequently forces me to have the same skills as what would be required to perform that activity.

      I want to be able to replace my own lack of ability to coordinate a block with that of my character.
      No, I don’t want it to be part my blocking skill and part my toons. I want it to be all his.
      Why? Because I want the game to reflect the skill I have in other areas; selecting an appropriate skillset for my character, strategic selection of combat location, tactical application of spells.

      And NOT instead have some moron with a brain the size of pea to not have to worry about any of that because he has leet twitch skills and can block what I never could that way.

      I want to HAVE to build a character correctly, equip him suitably, plan a strategy and use good tactics.
      I don’t want any way around that.

    • Archonsod says:

      You can’t completely eliminate player skill being a factor without eliminating the player. Even in traditional turn based systems like Wizardry, winning a combat is as much about the player picking the right attacks, spells or knowing when to pop a potion or scroll as it is about the actual skills of the character.
      Fundamentally all you do is shift the skills around. Action RPG’s tend to rely more on reflexes and co-ordination from the player, turn based usually rely on probability prediction and strategic thinking.

  39. JuJuCam says:

    One of the most memorable games I can’t remember was an obscure pseudo-turn-based Foot-the-ball game. It was amazing. You’d run around the field dribbling the ball in real time, but at any point if a decision needed to be made eg you pressed a pass button or you were about to be tackled, the game would pause and you’d be free to select your next response. It had anime styled characters and I get the feeling my inability to recall exactly what it was called may be because I played it in the original Japanese.

    There were stats and you could build up your players in the traditional RPG way, I’m pretty sure I played it emulated but I can’t recall if it was a SNES game or Genesis. Never been able to find it since.

    Anyway I’ll never forget its complete disregard for genre conventions. I enjoyed it too, aside from how vastly different it was to everything I’ve seen before.

    • thegooseking says:

      I wonder if that was the inspiration behind the Blitzball minigame in Final Fantasy X. It definitely sounds similar. No doubt someone else will have noticed the similarities and commented about it somewhere on the interwebs.

  40. d32 says:

    I’m pretty sure chess wants to be realtime, too. And with a current, limit-less technology, every chess game on a computer should be first person shooter.

  41. edit says:

    I’m still waiting for some developers to think about “action” as something other than “violence”. We can simulate and\or represent anything at all in a game, and what, killing is the only thing we have the imagination to make engaging? I so freaking sick of “enemy types” which you have to kill a thousand replicas of to proceed. I want unique individuals. I’m so sick of killing everything that moves. I want interaction with these characters, interesting artificial intelligence. I guess most devs nowadays think there’s no need for deep A.I. when the NPC will be dead within moments of meeting the player. Blah. Fantasy universes can indeed be wonderous, but all the while it’s just grinding through enemies it’s the same tired old crap.

    I used to love adventure games but so far they have failed to reach the same level of interactivity as some other genres. Adventure devs wonder why their genre is no longer terribly popular yet they have entire environments in their games with only one or two objects that can be selected or interacted with. In the 2D era few other genres had any more depth of interaction, but nowadays you might play a game like Mata Hari along side a game like Fallout 3. I’m sure you know which one most players will be more engaged by.

    RPGs have really pushed interactivity in game worlds to their (at that time) limits so there has been plenty for RPGs to thrive on and evolve as technology has improved. I think the most immersive digital experiences are first person and give the player as much direct control as possible rather than abstracting actions themselves behind stats, though the ultimate combination to my mind uses stats and RPG-derived ideas as a source of depth. Perhaps they can stay safely behind the scenes though. As long as the improvement the stat supposedly represents is made clear to the player, be it visually or in their experience of playing, showing numbers isn’t really necessary.

    It’s definitely true that technical limitations have been the source of many genre conventions. Right now, though, games can have any kind of player activity we can imagine. Many limitations that were once universal are entirely gone. Game developers should be rethinking everything they take for granted in gaming.

    • Kaira- says:

      Basically what I cursed somewhere above. I love The Witcher for its talky bits, not so much because of its actiony bits. It would be quite interesting to see what kind of reaction a RPG with no combat would produce. Though combat arguably has its place in RPGs, I do feel that it’s blown out of proportions, to the point where it sometimes takes over the actual role-playing.

  42. bluebogle says:

    I for one miss the Wizardry and Might and Magic style turn based RPGs. I love the RT RPGs like Bethesda and Bioware put out there, but they’re simply not the same game. The experience is wholly different. Turn based games are more contemplative and slow, something I want more of.

    • Wizardry says:

      I definitely agree with this. Variety was lost over a decade ago.

    • Vinraith says:

      Indeed. I find both types of games enjoyable, I don’t understand why one is so easy to find these days and the other so difficult to locate. Well, yes, I do, but it’s still frustrating as hell.

  43. Ruuster says:

    Players in real-time RPGs make more irreversible mistakes and die more often. Those deaths break the immersion more then running on a turn-based system, where deaths are encountered more through the accumulation of several erroneous actions (attrition) then a single mistake followed by a failed panicky attempt to save oneself.

    Also, humans should act like humans. Sure, when I was playing X-Com TFTD my aquanaut team came in 10 multicultural gender-balanced versions of pixelated bland. But when they were on the floor, and three of them got grenade-ed five paces out from the ship, the rest panicked – alternatively dropping everything to cower and shooting everywhere that wasn’t them. That was real man, down there on the ocean floor fighting pixelated aliens. That was the most extreme example, there more, smaller such ones – a single soldier, perhaps, having a freak-out because three aliens are taking shots at her, her only protection a rock that she can barely fit behind. But these were humans, having human experiences, and I was there with them trying to save them. I can’t really say I’ve seen much similar in recent adventure games.

  44. RagingLion says:

    I think I agree with this guy.

  45. Drake Sigar says:

    Given that RPGs contain things like character development and ambiguous choices, doesn’t it make sense to market those concepts towards an audience that appreciates those things – the older gamers? And since those older gamers no longer have the wrists of a twelve year old boy, it makes even more sense to reward tactical thinking via turn-based gameplay rather than rewarding reflexes from real-time gameplay.

  46. Jimbo says:

    “It’s this distinction that makes us want to call Mass Effect 2 a “Guns & Conversation” game, rather than an RPG. The phrase “role-playing game” has, for many gamers, come to represent an experience that is about managing characters indirectly, through skills and statistics, rather than by taking direct action.”

    You’re not wrong, but it’s pretty funny that so many people think that “Role-Playing Game” is an appropriate term to describe “managing characters indirectly, through skills and statistics”. Instead of just accepting this because many believe it, we should probably try and remedy the situation by pointing out how absurd that opinion is.

    I have no problem calling ME2 an RPG because that’s what it is – a game about role-playing. I have no problem calling it a Third Person Shooter either because that’s also what it is, and the two terms are in no way mutually exclusive. Saying it can only be described as one or the other is like saying a car can only be described as Fast *or* Blue.

    Game genres have never worked neatly enough to be mutually exclusive because they’re often named for totally different elements – one might be named for how time is handled while another might be named for where the camera is positioned. As soon as anybody strays from a well established game type, the game classification system falls to pieces in terms being able to neatly pigeonhole games.

    The only reason you might consider ‘RPG’ an inappropriate term to describe ME2 is because the term has -bizarrely- been usurped by Loot, Levels and Die. ‘Role-Playing’ has somehow had its own name stolen by elements which once only existed in service of it.

    (Also, this game is going to flop so bad.)

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Is King’s Quest 6 an RPG, because it’s about role-playing Alexander?

    • Wizardry says:

      Again, role-playing games and distinct from role-playing. You are role-playing when you are pretending to be a character by reacting to situations in a way that you think the character would. You are playing a role-playing game when you do exactly as above but with firmly defined character to interact with firmly defined game rules.

      D&D is considered the first RPG, but why? Role-playing existed for centuries before D&D. What made D&D, the first RPG, different? It was the inclusion of a character sheet and game rules on top of the role-playing that made it the first RPG. Defining your characters either statistically or by giving them firm traits (for statisticless systems) is what makes an RPG different from merely role-playing.

      You can role-play in GTA by pretending to play as your favourite superhero, saving people from thieves and thugs, but it’s only a role-playing game if you can make your in game character distinct from someone else’s so that the game can punish or reward you based on who they are and how they are defined.

    • Jimbo says:

      I’m not familiar enough with it to say. Do you actually role-play this character throughout the game, or are you simply guiding him down a strictly pre-determined path?

      To me, ‘role-playing’ implies that you have some meaningful input into how your character conducts themself, and subsequently that the wider narrative is impacted by how you are role-playing your character.

      I’m not suggesting that every game where you have a character should be considered an RPG. Similarly, if a game has say, a single binary decision to make at one point during the game, it would be a bit of a stretch (and pretty misleading) to refer to the whole game as a Role-Playing Game. Common sense prevails in such cases. ME2, however, devotes a substantial amount of time to role-playing throughout the duration of the game. The same can be said for the Third Person Shootering.

      I don’t think that necessarily means we need to come up with some flash new genre name which takes both into account though. If we do that every time a game straddles the established genres we’re going to end up with nearly as many genres as we have games. How many games would currently fall into this proposed “Guns & Conversation” genre? Maybe a handful, which isn’t enough to warrant adding a whole new genre to the gaming lexicon – especially when the already existing terms TPS & RPG describe them perfectly adequately.

    • Wizardry says:

      It’s not about having choices to make. Every game has choices to make. Do you shoot guy A or guy B first? Do you set up a school or create a new power station? Even if you are talking about narrative choices you are way off the mark. You could have a game that throws the protagonist into cut-scene after cut-scene, pausing at regular intervals to allow you, the player, to pick what the protagonist does next. Each choice could branch the story entirely to create a truly non-linear narrative. However, this isn’t an RPG either. It’s a choose your own adventure game. A piece of interactive fiction/film. We don’t call those crappy FMV games with branching narrative RPGs do we? Why? Because they don’t contain statistics.

    • Jimbo says:

      @Wizardy If we were still talking about ‘cRPG’s then I might agree with you that this specifically referred to a computerized version of (non-computer) games like D&D.

      But nowadays I think it’s pretty widely understood that, in our context, the ‘G’ in RPG is referring to ‘Game’ as in ‘Video Game’, not ‘game’ as in “a competitive activity or sport in which players contend with each other according to a set of rules”. ie. RPG now uses Game the same way ‘Driving Game’ and ‘Adventure Game’ use it. ‘Game’ now merely being the accepted short-hand for how refer to these electronic entertainment products we interact with – that there is a rigid and defined ruleset we can refer to isn’t a requisite. These games could just as easily (and perhaps would be if we had got here by any other route) be called ‘Role-Players’, and that would be fine too. A case could be made for still using ‘cRPG’ when wishing to refer specifically to games in the D&D mould.

      That shift in how the ‘G’ is used is a pretty natural evolution though and at least still makes sense. Unlike ‘Role-Playing’ now being taken to exclusively mean “managing characters indirectly, through skills and statistics, rather than by taking direct action”, which makes no sense at all.

    • Wizardry says:

      So Heavy Rain is an RPG because it’s a game and you have choices? Awesome. The RPG term is now completely fucking useless!

      P.S. I don’t agree with you in the slightest.

    • malkav11 says:

      I don’t care particularly if we call games like the old SSI Gold Box games or Jeff Vogel’s Exile, Avernum and Geneforge series RPGs or giant ostriches. What matters is that we agree on a term so it can convey the intended gameplay details, and then we make more of them. It just so happens that RPG is what they were labelled and so I expect we’re stuck with it.

  47. Manley Pointer says:

    Completely agree with Rossignol that this falls into that category of (often self-serving) public statements by game designers that their games are more truly game-y than other games they don’t like. A lot of would-be intellectual game critics like to make similar public pronouncements, claiming that all the designs that fall outside the scope of their own research (games that prioritize story over gameplay or gameplay over story, take your pick) are somehow outmoded or degenerate.

    Most of these arguments, like Findley’s, are laughable attempts to reduce the amazing diversity of game designs into the few types that the theorist feels most qualified to talk about. One of the easiest rhetorical tricks is to claim that some ideas belong in the past and their own ideas anticipate the future. It’s pretty much impossible to debate such a nebulous claim, and doing so (by talking about historical and modern trends in game design) only draws you into a black hole of wankery that has nothing to do with actually playing or close reading the individual games we enjoy.

  48. StingingVelvet says:

    If Bioshock is an RPG then so is Call of Duty multiplayer, which is a scary thought. In short I do not agree that character growth and stats make anything an RPG. Similarly in GTA: San Andreas the character growth mechanics were a) universally hated, as far as I remember, and b) pretty pointless in the end.

    There are many ways to define an RPG and none of them are “wrong” necessarily, but some of them certainly do open the term up to mean almost any video game, which I think is pretty counterproductive.

  49. Psychopomp says:

    All I took from this is “Chess, Fire Emblem, Civilization, Fallout, Disgaea, every tabletop RPG, and boardgames are all outdated now that we can button mash trololololol.”

  50. drinkingjacket says:

    I don’t understand how anyone can say a TB game is more cerebral or complex than a RT one. I have never met a TB game I could not power game the crap out of. Just because it takes 10 x more hours to play doesn’t make it more complex. Buried underneath all the attributes, spells, abilities, tech trees, whatever the game is calling it, at heart all a TB game is, is a simple combat sim. The only exception to this would be, chess. Amazingly, when compared to any of the many rose colored RPG’s or TB strat games of yore, Chess has few and simple rules, yet there are millions upon millions of words and hours devoted to its study, and it is infinitey more complex than anything like ToEE, XCOM (and i love x-com), Wizardry 8, whatever. FFS, IBM built a super computer just to play chess at a high level against a human being, A super computer.

    And yet we are here, on this forum, arguing about which is more complex, a TB or a RT video game under the name “RPG.” As Wizardry and others pointed out, D&D, which birthed the whole “RPG Genre” anyway was just a graph, pencil and miniature representation of Tolkien’s battle in Moria. The rules exist to provide framework for the imagination, to allow for others to enter into the fantasy, and for a shared experience to be possible. Without those rules it will quickly deteriorate into a bunch of 5 year olds trying to out imagine the breadth of their individual powers. Seriously, if Gygax was alive today, would he be toiling away creating TSR to publish books about fantasy combat or would he be making a video game?

    We are the dinosaurs. Show a 12 year old a classic TB RPG and then show him something like DA2, which do you think he will play? Sweating in a basement rolling D20′s or measuring out charge distances for your Scaven’s was awesome. I loved it. But does that kind of gameplay really translate to the video game as well as we all wish it would? If it did, wouldn’t it have by now?

    And seriously, Role Playing and Roll Playing are 2 very different things, and I back up my contention that there is not a Roll Playing product that has ever existed, be it tabletop, book or pc/console born, that cannot be power gamed and transformed into some kind of absurd arms race. The systems are never as strong as you think they are.

    • Wizardry says:

      Not quite sure what power gaming has to do with the turn-based and real-time debate. You can power game Diablo just as much as Champions of Krynn. The issue of game balance is another topic entirely.

    • Nick says:

      Oh, cool, rose coloured got dragged out along with nerd sterotypes and what have you. Compelling argument, good job squire.

    • ffordesoon says:

      You’re absolutely right, drinkingjacket. Numbers are a means, not an end. Arguing that a game is not good because it doesn’t rely on numbers and turns and stats and the like (and that is what Wizardry and his cohorts seem to be arguing, no matter how they frame it or how many times they say that games can still be awesome if they’re not turn-based RPGs – yeah, i’ll believe you when you talk about how awesome something that isn’t a turn-based RPG is) is essentially like arguing that a novel is not good because it doesn’t contain enough commas, or that a film isn’t good because it doesn’t contain enough jump cuts. These are all techniques used to convey information to the person engaging with a given piece of art. They’re all shortcuts, but because gaming is necessarily mechanics-oriented, and because the people who self-identify as “gamers” are (IMHO) unhealthily obsessed with categorization, little cults have formed around these particular shortcuts. But they’re only shortcuts, mechanisms operating in concert to produce and deliver little flashes of meaning. I like some of these shortcuts myself, and I love plenty of turn-based games. But would I make a conscious choice not to read a novel because, say, the author wrote primarily short sentences, or used too few commas, or whatever other example of a ridiculous complaint I can think of? Would you? Of course not. If it’s good, and/or we are interested in the subject matter, we will read it.

      Now, some people like what they like and nothing else, and that’s fine. I only have an issue with people who sit around complaining to other people that they’re not being catered to. but don’t even attempt to actually change things. So, Wizardry? If you hate the current surfeit of what you call “action-RPGs”, well, go and make your “true cRPG”. Find people to help you on RPS. Do something about the alleged problem. Redress the balance. If you’re truly as passionate about this as you seem, you can do it. I like turn-based systems and cRPGs. I’d play it.

      Or, hell, start a blog or something devoted to your “true cRPGs”. Attract disciples. Affect people’s opinions indirectly. Build a community that can produce something of value, something that adds to the conversation. Do something.

      But if you’re going to sit here and tell me that many of the games I like aren’t “real” in some way, or are inferior to the alleged “real cRPG”, and if you’re going to do that while you yourself are apparently sitting there and doing absolutely nothing to affect the future of this genre you say you love so much – well, I’m going to call you part of the problem, because you’re just annoying people like me without doing anything constructive. That’s absolutely your right, obviously, but you’re just making what you call “action-RPGs” more popular, because the only thing I wanna do when I read one of your comments is go play an “action-RPG” to spite you.

      As for me, well, I like options. I like being able to choose to hack a door in Deus Ex or BioShock or System Shock 2, as opposed to being forced to hack it with some mysterious non-interactive device a la Call Of Duty. I like being able to choose who I kill and who I don’t kill, and I like it when that choice means something. I like picking my equipment before a battle, and then barely skirting by on that equipment despite the fact that another loadout would clearly have been better suited to the task at hand. I like being allowed to fail. I like being closed off from content because I can’t persuade a guard to let me in. I like skill trees and perks and stats and all the rest of it, but only if it adds to the game. Combat by die roll? Sure, as long as it’s meaningful and fun.

    • Wizardry says:

      @ffordesoon: Funny you should try that on me because I am a full time independent game developer making RPGs. I guess 9 times out of 10 you would have picked on a non-developer, though. You just got unlucky this time.

      Also, statistics, skills, traits or whatever do make an RPG an RPG. It must do. That’s what D&D added to role-playing to create role-playing games. Even in computer games, if you remove statistics you land in another genre. Take player developed characters away from the Gold Box games and you have a turn-based tactics game, similar to something like King’s Bounty. Take the player developed characters away from Baldur’s Gate and you get an RTS with a pause function. Take the player developed protagonist away from Mass Effect and you get Gears of War with dialogue options. Take the player developed characters away from Darklands and you have a text adventure.

      It’s just completely obvious to me. I’m not sure why it’s not to other people. The “I don’t want statistics in my RPGs” brigade may as well just play the appropriate genre rather than complain about RPGs having statistics/skills/traits/character definitions.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I guess 9 times out of 10 you would have picked on a non-developer, though.

      Maybe. I think if you appreciate certain things about games, it overlaps pretty well with the desire to create your own. I remember when I was about eight years old, relentlessly making up adventure games, drawing them out on paper, heavily influenced by King’s Quest. Then trying to create some kind of wargame with coins, dice, playing cards, and anything else I could scavenge.

      The pen&paper RPG world is that kind of outlet for the slightly older crowd. Anyone can create their own adventures, run their own campaign, etc. So much possibility, and all you have to do is write and work within their rules. It mostly passed me by. But I imagine that most participants are not mere players, but creators as well.

      ‘Course, translating that desire into a profession encounters significant practical hurdles. I’m a mere part-timer. I find it difficult to resent anyone who wants to create their own computer games, but realistically can’t, due to lack of appropriate skills or resources or whatever. GameDev.net is littered with people who will never finish something playable, but are often good participants in constructive discussion.

    • Wizardry says:

      I know what you mean. However, I know I’ve got the technical skills to create the game I want to create. I also know that I’m a sufficiently good game designer and not one of these hacks who want to “create their own FPS like that one really popular FPS”. I’ve got the time (and partially the money) available to do so, too. It’s just my motivation that peaks and troughs far too much for my liking. I don’t make steady enough progress. One week I can do quite a lot of work and the next I might just spend the entire week thinking.

    • ffordesoon says:


      You are actually a developer?

      Then I apologize unreservedly for aany offense I may have caused, and wish you the best of luck in the development of your game. As I said, I fully support there being more turn-based RPGs of the style you’re aiming for, because you are quite correct that that style of gameplay has gone depressingly out of fashion.

      I didn’t say that traits/skills/etc. aren’t the defining characteristic of an RPG. Clearly, they are. I mean, I’d argue that JRPGs are still RPGs, but I can understand someone claiming that they’re not due to their linearity. My only issue with your argument is that you’re equating turn-based gameplay with “true RPGs”, which isn’t right, in my opinion, because it presupposes that real-time gaming is necessarily “twitch” gaming, and therefore can’t be thoughtful. I think we agree that skills and their application within a gameworld form the backbone of Western RPG gameplay, but the application of player skill to a given problem can be just as cerebral as the application of character skill to the problem, and both play an equal role in turn-based and real-time games. It could even be argued that it’s more cerebral to play skillfully, because the application of character skill is passive and dependent on a die roll, whereas the application of player skill is active and dependent on the player’s decisions. A turn-based RPG is essentially asking the computer to decide something for the player, which is not as intellectually demanding as tactical adjustment to a changing situation is. But turn-based RPGs require just as much player skill as real-time RPGs; each simply uses a different skillset, is all. In turn-based RPGs, the player is tasked with choosing the right skill for a given task, the selection of the correct equipment, etc. In real-time RPGs, the player skill is in adapting to an ever changing environment, aiming directly, etc. The difference in the two is essentially the difference between being a manager of a baseball team and being a player. Both require skill; they just require different skills. If it’s character skill which makes an RPG, then all movies and novels are RPGs. Surely the purest expression of “character skill” as it pertains to cRPGs would be something entirely divorced from player input, wouldn’t it? It’s the computer throwing the die, not the player, just as it’s the writer and not the reader who decides what characters will do. Interactivity means “player skill”. There’s no getting away from that.

    • Wizardry says:

      I know that interactivity means player skill. I’ve said so many times before to other people, even in another reply to this very article. However, I’m a believer that the balance is off in real-time RPGs. You see, in real-time RPGs the very acts of aiming and dodging become player skill dependent. These are very fundamental and low level actions that a character can perform. On the other hand, the player skill in turn-based RPGs is generally the tactics involved in combat. This tends to be, in multi-character RPGs, the coordination of all the characters. This coordination of multiple characters is a very high level process, something that is hard for individual character skills to be involved in. Therefore, even in tactical turn-based RPGs, you have individual characters defined by their statistics, where as the input (player skill) comes in the form of controlling them all, telling them when to use their skills and abilities.

      In a way it’s like football management. The best managers are the ones who can get the best out of their players. The best turn-based CRPG players are the ones that can get the best out of their characters. However, real-time RPGs are also about getting the best out of your characters, but the method involved is to compensate for their shortcomings by adding their own abilities to their characters’ abilities. If one of your characters is crap at aiming, you can make up for this somewhat by being the best Counter-Strike player in the world. If your character is crap at dodging and blocking, you can make up for this by being the best Street Fighter player in the world.

      It’s to do with the balance here. When you tell your character to do something in a turn-based RPG then it’s purely down to their statistics whether they succeed or fail, and to what degrees. In a real-time RPG you tell your character to do something in much the same way, but this time with a dose of player skill due to the continuous passage of time. Whether your character succeeds or not, and to what degrees, is also based on their statistics, but also on the unpredictable continuously moving state of the game world. I’ll expand on this last bit.

      In a turn-based game it’s quite easy to work out the possible states of the game world at a given point in the future. You can predict that within the time frame it’ll take your character to perform a specific action that no enemy in the game can move more than a certain amount of spaces from where they are currently located. This means that any player can judge the effects of their actions, given enough real-life time staring at the screen. In a real-time game you are timed in your decision making, and after you’ve made your decision and told your character to perform an action (swing sword), you may still miss the target (enemy moves away from your cross-hair before the animation can finish) without it being down to character skill at all. In other words, real-time games don’t just give limited time for players to decide on their course of action, they also make it impossible to accurately predict the state of the game world after their action has been completed.

      As soon as a player tells their character to cast a spell on a group of enemies, pause the game and ask them what they think will happen as a result. If it’s a turn-based RPG they will be able to tell you which enemies will get hit by the spell and perhaps what their chances of being affected by it is, based on their saving throws and resistances. If it’s a real-time RPG they will not be sure which enemies will get hit due to the enemies being able to move around while the spell is travelling through the air. This is a key difference on top of the limited time the player has to choose their actions.

      Yes, turn-based RPGs do require a lot of player skill. However, the player skill comes in the form of the ability to get the most out of the characters and their statistics. In real-time RPGs, the player skill comes in the form of compensating for the shortcomings of characters as well. In real-time RPGs, the player skill is used in conjunction with the character skill to perform actions. In turn-based RPGs, the player skill is used separately on a much higher level, to do things that character skill has no part to play in.

    • ffordesoon says:


      Ah, I see. You’re saying, then, that a turn-based RPG’s relative predictability for someone who knows the systems inside and out ultimately results in a more satisfying tactical experience, because the player is not having to compensate for the constant unpredictability of an eternally shifting real-time system in addition to compensating for a character’s lack of statistical readiness for the fight ahead. In other words, for someone like yourself, it’s more frustrating to have the statistical feasibility of your character’s attack – to use the most obvious example – undercut by a lack of situational/positional adaptability on your (the player’s) part than it is to be screwed simply because the numbers didn’t add up to work out in your favor, yes?

      I respect and understand that, actually.

      Is there some way I can get in contact with you outside this public RPS page? If this isn’t too presumptuous of me, I’d rather like to contribute to your game in some capacity. Beta-testing, maybe some writing for the quests or something? If that seems less than palatable to you for some reason, I fully understand, but I’d feel like I’d passed up a fun opportunity if I didn’t at least ask, and I think having at least one tester who isn’t a diehard turn-based player could really only help you. I didn’t expect to want to do this, but you actually seem pretty reasonable now that I see where you’re coming from, and I’ve always been interested in influencing the development of a turn-based RPG.

      Think it over, will you? I’d put my email addy here, but, you know, public forum and all that.

      Thanks for your classy response to my admittedly presumptuous and arrogant queries. :)

    • Wizardry says:

      @ffordesoon: That is pretty much what I meant, yes. When you tell your character to shoot at an enemy in a turn-based RPG, the game performs a hit calculation and a damage calculation using the statistics of both characters. In a real-time action RPG the game may do the same, but it would also rely on the reflexes of the player to perform the shot, and the movement of the enemy in real-time to avoid the shot. You have these extra factors that break away from the traditional “statistics mean everything” approach of old CRPGs.

      I’ve sent you a PM (on the forum) regarding the latter part of your reply. If for some reason you don’t receive it or can’t retrieve it, just reply again here and we’ll try something else.

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