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  1. #1
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    As a huge RPG fan for 30 years - my rant about RPG's being called Action-RPG's!

    I have been playing RPG games on the Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64 then PC since around 1981. I have kept every game I have ever bought so have around 800 games in my collection. I also spent from 1991 to 1997 running a small games publishing company, trying to become the next Microprose or Activision, but it wasn't to be.

    Far and away for all that time, my favourite genre has been the RPG, and since around 2005 I have seen the genre under attack in terms of dumbing down, console orientated.and generally diluted like the adventure genre was before it. I will defend the genre with my dying breath, to try and slow it's decline.

    One of my annoyances, is that since the advent of console style Action-Adventures, like Jade Empire, Mass Effect and Bioshock all being called "Action-RPG's", we now see all RPG games being called the same, just like a site did for Daggerfall and the whole Elder Scrolls series!

    Given my long history in gaming, I can bring up two points. One, if all RPG's are now "Action-RPG's", please tell me the name of the plain old "RPG" that had no action in it!

    As games companies budgets went up, they had to sell to the largest market, so by promoting games like Mass Effect as Shooter's with RPG elements (however little) and calling them Action-RPG's, they could sell to the FPS and RPG markets. Only after these titles started appearing did RPG's generally start being called Action-RPG's. Why the media have followed this marketing ploy I have no idea, but it now means we have a wide range of titles from Borderlands at one end and The Witcher at the other all called Action-RPG's!

    For over 25 years games like the Ultima series, the Elder Scrolls series to Morrowind and every other "RPG" was called an RPG. Everybody knew that every RPG ever released had had combat in it but felt no need to call the games anything else. You had character skills and attribute dice rolls that impacted on how combat fared and that was good enough.

    Today we have games that call themselves Action-RPG's when they have no character skills or attribute trees. Where attack and Defence is decided by the gun you have and the armour your wearing. These types of games should be in the Action-Adventure category.. Games like Mass Effect, STALKER, Bioshock, Rage, Bioshock 2, etc.

    In a separate category of "RPG" would be those games that still have a character skills/attribute mechanic for deciding combat along with weapon and armour related to those skills. Games that are plain old RPG's would be Fallout 3, Skyrim, The Witcher series, the Gothic series, Wizardry 8 and a game that came out two weeks ago: Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning. Maybe they could be designated as RPG's by virtue of having sneak or crafting? Whatever it is, all RPG's for all time have had combat (action) and yet only since the advent of the multiformat market in 2005/6 has everything become "Action-RPG's".. For you, a specialist PC site, were to use the term Action-RPG's for all RPG's would shock me in it recidivism. If you have gone down that road already the war is almost lost.

    Remember, the Adventure genre was going strong until Tomb Raider came along and called itself an "Action-Adventure". Hardcore Adventure fans complained bitterly that Tomb Raider was not anything like an adventure game. The complaint was practically (always the case) ignored, and more and more "Action-Adventures" were released. Within 2 years the adventure genre was practically gone.

    I think the same thing is happening with the RPG genre now. You can have such a wide range of genres within the all encompassing "Action-RPG" genre, that it loses all meaning. This allows developers to keep cutting out RPG bits without having to change it's genre!

    For over 30 years we have had games like Daggerfall, Ulima VII, Darklands, etc released with no thought of calling these RPG's anything other than just that - RPG.

    We have had isometric, third person, first person, realtime and turn based combat. But every one used the skills/attribute mechanic to oversee combat. We have RPG's doing exactly that today, Skyrim, Kingdoms of Amalur, Witcher 2, Drakensang, Risen, Two Worlds 2, Divinity 2, etc and yet they are all called Action-RPG's!

    So media get off your high horse and call them RPG's, and those where your defence went up because you put on a better suit or your shooting was better because you got a better gun, but the game had no skill or attribute trees should be called Action-Adventures"!!

    Has gaming got so dumb across the board that just because an RPG has combat it is called an Action-RPG however little or how many RPG elements it has in the game!?
    Last edited by uk_john; 20-02-2012 at 01:48 PM. Reason: formatting

  2. #2
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    What is this doing in this section? It's not like RPS is the sole progenitor of what you see as a devolution of the terms.
    Nalano H. Wildmoon
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  3. #3
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kadayi's Avatar
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    I thought this guy was banned tbh. Still he and Wizardry could have a duel to find out whose the more hardcore RPG fanatic. I do like the idea that because they put RPG on a cassette box in the 80s that somehow means they are the true cRPGs. Even though they bore little if any relation to P&P RPGs.
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  4. #4
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kadayi View Post
    I thought this guy was banned tbh. Still he and Wizardry could have a duelto find out whose the more hardcore RPG fanatic.
    If guys like that are the gatekeepers to RPG fandom, then I want nothing to do with the genre.
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  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    Drink'th the tainted cup.

    Not an "action rpg"? It'll need to be turn based, that simple. Or maybe a well implemented pause option.

    Dungeons of Dredmor is qualified, but it's a roguelike, so don't expect narrative or rather, a hand written one.
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  6. #6
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus thegooseking's Avatar
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    The real problem is that genre is a nonsense identifier. I think the reason for this is that gaming is not a medium; it is a collection of media with a host of different representational forms and modes of interaction. There are certain genres that are more suited to a particular gaming medium (e.g. strategy) and there are certain genres that are transmedial (e.g. RPG). Our terminology doesn't really identify these different gaming media (in fact, I think the majority view is still that gaming is "a medium" rather than a collection of media, though if you think about what differentiates one medium from the next, it's easy to see why that might be wrong) so the notions of genre and medium get conflated.

    I submit that action-RPG isn't really a subgenre of RPG: the difference between an action-RPG and another type of RPG is more like the difference between a horror film and a horror novel - both are examples of the horror genre, but exist in different media.
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  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thegooseking View Post
    I submit that action-RPG isn't really a subgenre of RPG: the difference between an action-RPG and another type of RPG is more like the difference between a horror film and a horror novel - both are examples of the horror genre, but exist in different media.
    I can accept that line of reasoning - especially since by that mode the term 'RPG' isn't primarily defined by how often you're sacrificing virgins on the altar of Gary Gygax. Seriously, all this crap just feels like No True Scotsman sometimes.
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  8. #8
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    I always hated the thought that RPG's were defined by leveling up, the exponential expansion of your ability ruins nearly all attempts to make you feel like part of the world.
    Eldar scrolls style skill based: So I spamed summon skeleton and now I am a master conjourer?
    List selection: I kicked the crap out of 20 rats and now I can cast fireball/pick locks better?
    Class based: I trained for 20 years in guild X and now after spending 5 minutes helping old ladies cross the road I'm more of a master in skill Y.

    I can tolerate it best when the story is not attempting emotional depth, or you are clearly ear marked for this exponential growth in the story.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    all this crap just feels like No True Scotsman sometimes.
    Surely it's 'no country for old men'?
    Last edited by Heliocentric; 20-02-2012 at 02:46 PM.
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  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heliocentric View Post
    Surely it's 'no country for old men'?
    Only in the sense that "I can't stand all this real-time stuff because my cataracts and arthritis put me at a disadvantage."

    No true RPG would choose action over abstract numbers that approximate action! Why, the very idea...!
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  10. #10
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    Some proof

    I saw someone playing the Mass Effect 3 demo, and being given the choice to play the action way, the RPG way and the story way:

    Bioware says on-screen under RPG that this option is RPG style because it offers character face creation and the ability to choose dialogue options - neither of which are RPG elements at all; like skill and attribute trees or sneaking or crafting, etc. So I would say it's an Action-Adventure, not Action-RPG, especially when that second option of just choosing dialogue options, which sounds very adventure like!

    If all we're going to get is the ability to create our game characters face for companies to be able to call their next Crysis or Fear or Far Cry as an Action-RPG with just that one non-RPG feature, we're pretty much going to have the end of the Skyrim style RPG as we know it!
    Last edited by uk_john; 20-02-2012 at 03:24 PM. Reason: spelling

  11. #11
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by uk_john View Post
    neither of which are RPG elements at all
    Says who?

    10char
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  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    Says who?

    10char
    So your saying if a game lets you create the main characters face and gives you dialogue options, it's an RPG? That's crazy!
    Last edited by uk_john; 20-02-2012 at 06:19 PM. Reason: grammer

  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus thegooseking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    No true RPG would choose action over abstract numbers that approximate action! Why, the very idea...!
    But they all use abstract numbers that approximate action; the difference is whether its transparent or under the hood. Transparent numbers are constrained by the necessity to be tractable to a human player without a degree in advanced mathematics, while occluded numbers are constrained by the necessity to be intuitive, because if the player can't see how the computer arrives at the outcome, you'd better be sure that the outcome is what's expected. Conversely, transparent numbers make it easier to see how those outcomes occurred, while occluded numbers are free to be more complex. Hitting and missing cliff racers in Morrowind was neither transparently explained by the rules nor intuitive, which is what made it so frustrating.

    The reason I think of that in terms of media is that that basically boils down to a difference in representational form. But the reason there's an argument in the first place is that people disagree on whether the tractability of the rules is a positive quality of RPGs or a (necessary in pen and paper; not so much on computer) limitation of RPGs. And that's basically TSR vs. White Wolf and the whole Rule Zero debate all over again, which I don't think can have a definite answer beyond putting it down to personal preference.
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  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Fumarole's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kadayi
    I thought this guy was banned tbh.
    I think he was a few years ago. Seems someone has an axe to grind.
    Last edited by Fumarole; 20-02-2012 at 04:44 PM.
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  15. #15
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kadayi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by uk_john View Post
    So your saying if a game lets you create the main characters face and gives you dialogue options i and RPG? That's crazy!
    Only to you John, only to you.

    As regards the whole numbers thing. It's important to remember that all of these overt stats are an inheritance from the P&P days (where all you had was lead figures and your imagination) and that early computing was very much a case of number crunching with not much in the way of visual richness. Now with the ability to render reactive and responsive virtual environments & NPCs there is an argument of redundancy with much of this because you can convey a lot of information purely through visual means, or bake it directly into the game world in some manner rather than as an abstract.
    Last edited by Kadayi; 20-02-2012 at 04:57 PM.
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  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Heliocentric's Avatar
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    I am suggesting that RPG'S be split into 'Skill Check Game' (SCG) and :weapon class:(guns,swords, magic, etc) Conversation (G&C, S&C, M&C) (point and click 'Adventure' shall be merged with 'hidden object' games as a place holder.

    Problems solved.
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  17. #17
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thegooseking View Post
    The reason I think of that in terms of media is that that basically boils down to a difference in representational form.
    Yes, that's exactly what I was alluding to. My previous post was sarcastic.

    I was having a conversation with a friend recently who loved the idea of Dwarf Fortress - as management sims are his favorite genre - but wanted a more graphical and streamlined interface. He was worried that such would dilute the genre, to which I responded that Dorf Fort is not defined by its ASCII graphics. It is merely expressed that way.

    All gaming is abstraction, but the rulesets - whether intuitive or formal (as all are tractable) - are merely a means to an end.
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  18. #18
    Lesser Hivemind Node Feldspar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heliocentric View Post
    I am suggesting that RPG'S be split into 'Skill Check Game' (SCG) and :weapon class:(guns,swords, magic, etc) Conversation (G&C, S&C, M&C) (point and click 'Adventure' shall be merged with 'hidden object' games as a place holder.

    Problems solved.
    Couldn't we just classify games into two boxes: Games with kittens and games lacking kittens?

    Thusly developers could decide in the design process which box their game was going to fall into, and for those people who refuse to play a game if it falls in a particular box a simple patch would convert the game from one to the other.

    On second thoughts this board would just fill up with threads on the definitions of kittens...

    People like to classify stuff, but stuff doesn't always fit nicely in the boxes, so you either make a new box or get the shoehorn out. The classification isn't killing off certain types of game, it's all about marketability.

  19. #19
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Feldspar View Post
    On second thoughts this board would just fill up with threads on the definitions of kittens...
    I was gonna post a pic with a lolcat, but this seemed more apt:

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  20. #20
    Lesser Hivemind Node DigitalSignalX's Avatar
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    Try playing Jade Empire or Mass Effect without applying a single skill point or character stat. It becomes pretty challenging, if not impossible as you progress if you have the game difficulty at normal or higher.

    It also might be worth suggesting that genres are less meaningful now. Back in the day, it was important because almost all purchases were blind, or possibly had only the benefit of a magazine article to define the game for you along with whatever was on the box cover. Now we have a multitude of sources, from actual Demo's and YouTube vids to a plethora of sites covering games in detail. So you have a much better idea if a title purchase will appeal to you regardless of how it's branded.
    Last edited by DigitalSignalX; 20-02-2012 at 05:20 PM.
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