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The Oblivion of Western RPGs 304

1up has a piece looking at how Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion may just be what the western RPG genre needs to spring back from the brink of nonexistence. From the article: "Western RPGs focus on the characters, and the world around them is a tool to let the player-as-character do and see more. Eastern RPGs focus on the events unfolding around the characters, and how the characters affect the world around them. Western RPGs are based on the experience of tabletop role-playing games, limited only by the imaginations of the players and the game master, where Eastern RPGs are more re-creations of traditional storytelling. Oblivion has taken huge strides toward meeting fans of MMOs halfway by building A.I. that really lives alongside the player and ensuring that the actual missions are easily pursued."
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The Oblivion of Western RPGs

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  • by aitikin ( 909209 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @03:39PM (#15028749)
    I find it interesting that they talk about how character development is the big thing for Western RPGs. I never realized that RPGs were ever really that commonly created in the Western Hemisphere. I would have to say that the change to having the primary focus on character development is more a general revolution in RPGs. All of the table top RPGs and such were extremely story oriented as well. No one wanted to play a game of D&D where the master was a bad story teller.

    Also, the fact that technology has increased so much is the only reason that the character development can take place. Eastern RPGs seem to be a continuation of the classics, which took place when they could only have so much and the best thing they could do was tell a story.
  • Single Player glory! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cy Sperling ( 960158 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @03:41PM (#15028775)
    I can identify with the player mentioned in teh article who dislikes playing with other people. I have been quite bored with the glut of MMO & RTS games that have come to dominate the swords and spells genre of gaming. I have been playing Oblivion for about a week and it is so wonderfully full of single player greatness I can barely stand to go to work and wait 10 hours before my next hour of exploration. Every character I meet in the game is absolutely in-character and free of the slightest hint of l337speak of griefing behaviour that permiates the online worlds. I can come and go from the game at will and know the world has waited for me to return to it as if I hadn't gone to my job all day. Best yet, the NPCs aren't just manequins anymore- they are completely entertaining to watch as they attempt to live their lives and deal with each other. The first time I saw a pickpocket get attacked and killed by city gaurds- I was delighted. He was someone I had met and talked to and now, due to his unscripted actions, he is dead and gone from the game. The actions of the NPCs impact the world permenantly. I imagine that, just like in GTA, after my initial wonder of exploring the world starts to wane- there is an abundance of non-save-game fun to be had by simply messing with the locals to see how the game's AI reacts.
  • Re:WoW (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rabbot ( 740825 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @04:07PM (#15029058)
    Not really, WoW is in a completely different genre. And even if we were talking about MMORPG's, there really wasn't anything for WoW to bring back. It's not like we had a lack of good MMORPG's to play. There is no denying that WoW was hugely successful, but that was mostly because it caters to the non-mmo crowd, the casual gamer. It requires minimal time/investment to make significant progress in the game.

    Anyways, the thread is about traditional PC RPG's (single player games).
  • Undead Genres (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hanako ( 935790 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @04:18PM (#15029167) Homepage
    While adventure games have been considered a "dead genre" for years, there are actually MORE of them being released to the mainstream currently than there are single-player RPGs!

    It's a shift in the market. As the adventure fans come to recognise that they are no longer considered a hot property, they also become more willing to accept ANY adventure game that comes along, and thus it becomes easier for extremely small studios on a low-budget to make an adventure game and get it published for retail. These adventure games don't get the huge marketing push of the 'hot' genres, but they are out there. Check Gamespot - you'll find several reviews of recent adventure games. Every single review will include the phrase "Adventures are a dead genre". Despite the fact that, y'know, the game is right there and they are playing it. :)

    So yes. There is a lack of single-player RPG goodness on the shelves. If it persists, expect the independents to eventually pick it up, just as they have with adventure games. *Especially* as better rpg toolkits become available. RPG Maker XP has already produced at least one English PC game on sale...
  • by Gorath99 ( 746654 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @04:26PM (#15029225)
    Instead of the term "Western RPG" I'd use "traditional PC style RPG". The kind of rpgs you don't play with a joypad and that don't require massive amounts of mouse-clicking. I'm talking Betrayal at Krondor, Baldur's Gate, Fallout, Wizardry, Albion, Bard's Tale, the old SSI games, Planescape Torment; those kinds of games.

    Don't get me wrong: I've spend a significant portion of the past four years playing Morrowind, I had a lot of fun with Diablo (the original more so than the second one) and I've enjoyed all the Final Fantasy Games for the SNES (and Chrono Trigger... wonderful Chrono Trigger...), but I long for another Baldur's Gate or BaK.

    The more recent Bioware fare really isn't in the same genre; Neverwinter Nights felt like Diablo, only without any of the atmosphere. Bethesda makes some of the greatest games in the rpg genre, but they've always leaned a bit towards being action games (remember how you had to make hacking gestures with the mouse to hack with your sword in Arena?) and I fully expect them to move more into that direction as console gamers make up a greater part of their audience. Not that I blame them, mind. It's just that noone seems to be making games in a subgenre that I love so dearly anymore.
  • by Ayaress ( 662020 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @04:35PM (#15029306) Journal
    This is how I've always made the distinction:

    Eastern RPGs - and for that matter, a good chunk of western ones, too - give you a role to play. At best (i.e. the western RPGs like KOTOR and Jade Empire that are much closer to the console RPG style), you get to decide wether to be a nice guy or a jerk along the way.

    Western RPGs - the breed of them that's truely dying, even in a world where KOTOR got game of the year - you're given a stage to play on. Everything else is up to you. I'm several hours into Oblivion right now. I'm not even sure if I'm on the main quest or not, but I love it anyway. The Ultima series are the only games I played much of that I can really compare to Elderscrolls in terms of sheer freedom.

    I love that I can just blow off the main quest givers and go do whatever. Become an assassin, a thug, a knight in obligatory shining armor, (Or if I invest enough time raising my skills, all of the above), or just blow that stuff off and spend an hour picking flowers in a field.

    Or even doing something completely pointlss and weird. In Morrowind once, I had a weekend off and nothing else to do, so I set about stealing every last spoon in the game (I think - I may have missed a few, but I had a good couple hundred of them), and then writing "I AM THE KING OF SPOONS" with them on the roof of the Underskar... Just because I could.
  • by Rydia ( 556444 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @05:03PM (#15029559)
    The problem with both is that they each only have one or the other essential components of a real RPG- character development and self-determination.

    Console (eastern is a stupid, overinclusive category) RPGs generally have a lot of the former- characters are vivid, plots are involved and very party-driven. Problems evolve with this because there's little self determination ("Whee! I get to chase sephiroth to YET ANOTHER RANDOM LOCATION!"), character development is often superficial due to the maturity of the audience ("I'm, like, totally not caring about this village I'm risking myself to save") and general lack of choices. There are some advantages! SO3 makes fantastic use of facial expressions and voice acting, for instance, because the game knows generally people's relationships, etc. SO2 lets you simply NOT TAKE annoying people along (Precis!!!).

    PC RPGs (again, Western is a stupid descriptor) we get "sandboxes." The advantages are that the player has more control over his characters, more options in interaction, and more opportunity to change outcomes. The downfall is that these sorts of abstractions lead to anemic central plotlines and shallow characters.

    However, these two styles are not incompatable! There is a fantastic middle ground that no one has discovered. In order to fuse the two, the game must have a large cast of characters, a strong central plot (but not be on rails), and a crapload of so-called "mini-quests," mostly character-based. When the player cannot control every aspect of his main character, at least give him the option of adding that "aspect" of that character by adding party members that conform. To facilitate this, a huge cast of optional party members allows the right level of customization. This large cast can still be used in general "main plot" development, however, by separating characters into groups (mage, scientist, cleric, etc), and write flexible (or modular) dialogue so that for purposes of the main plot, characters are interchangeable.

    Next, character development/sandbox. By putting in very character-specific, optional subplots/subquests, you allow these characters to grow without hindering the main plot with too much generalization. This also streamlines the game by omitting character development for characters not used by the player, or if they just don't feel like developing that character in that direction.

    All this allows you to separate characters from the central plot. Stories are generally about internal development of the cast (the modern novel concept), but often (Ulysses, for instance) the plot of the story is secondary to character development completely unrelated, on the surface, to the main action. In this way, you can have a strong but not entirely character-driven plot.

    All these allow the player to go through with as much or little freedom and character development as they choose, while maintaining the "epic" story required to make the story itself fulfilling. It's a good system, and I wish people in the industry were trying to explore this area rather than simply throwing their lots in with either the entirely linear or entirely nonlinear camp.
  • Re:hrm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nuzak ( 959558 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @05:43PM (#15029891) Journal
    > When I want to be fed a good story i'll play the latest Final Fantasy

    Echh ... it's not even a good story when the execution is so wrecked. Maybe it's tolerable in the original Japanese, but when the main characters are animated with even the body language of inarticulate bratty children, I tend to doubt it.

    Come to think of it, FFX might have been a pretty good story if not for Tidus. There's a good story in Xenosaga too that's not too bad if you remove everyone who actually speaks. Maybe they should write a Noh game.

  • by svip ( 678490 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @06:01PM (#15030023)

    there is an abundance of non-save-game fun to be had by simply messing with the locals to see how the game's AI reacts.

    I agree there. The AI is so buggy you need to do very little messing about to make it do hilariously stupid things. Like when I got in Jauffrey's way and he jumped up and down on a candlestick for a minute then fell through the wall. Brilliant!

    Or when you beat up a quest-vital NPC (they're immortal, so much for freedom), then kill all the guards that come for you, then surrounded by corpses you go buy your groceries from the NPC who just woke up and has forgotten everything that happened.

    Or when you assault some innocent and if you don't kill him in first blow and he sees you for a second before dying, a guard comes running from the other side of the town at mach 3 - so you jump over a wall into an alley and he starts running around the block, so you jump over again and he turns around and goes back around the block.

    Or when you tapdance on a storekeep's desk throwing all the goods around the room, then take out your claymore and play golf with the remainders. Then you lift up an apple and set it down again and 200 city guards suddenly enter.

    Also got a kick out of how a guard gave me permissing to investigate a murder scene, so I lifted up a parchment in the basement (not knowing about the red cursor yet) and "Boromir" yells Stop stealing from me! despite us being far away from his home in another person's house where I had permission to be.

    And it started out nicely when I got accosted by the guards for horse theft in a far away town when I went up and talked to them after being given the horse at the priory early on.

    At least the AI is nicely forgiving. Early in the game you can attempt to assassinate Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise and pick the pockets of his bodyguards, and if you get caught you only have to say you're sorry and they forget all about it.

    And if you decide after a mad killing spree leaving the streets filled with slaughtered townsfolk that you regret this, you just have to hand over a few gold and all is forgiven and you're once again lauded as a hero.

    I love this game.

  • Elder Scrolls (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Saxerman ( 253676 ) * on Thursday March 30, 2006 @06:41PM (#15030344) Homepage
    I suffered through Daggerfall and managed to enjoy it despite the bugs. One of the things I really enjoyed with the random quest generator which I found sorely lacking in Morrowind. Back when my friends and I were all playing Daggerfall, I found it highly enjoyable to trade stories about what our characters were doing. We could all come up with unique encounters that made for entertaining stories, even if it might have been little more than an exercise in adlib. I was on a quest to go into a dungeon and get (mummy wrap) when I encountered a (lich)! I (ran like hell back to town) and (bought a scroll of Spell Immunity) only to find (my weapon was useless against it!) So I reloaded and then (went back into town at night) to (steal an ebony blade) only to make it back and find the (lich) was stuck inside a wall which made it pretty easy to finish it off.

    Morrowind, of course, had entirely static quests and dungeons, and once you cleared them out, they stayed empty. While this made for more of a believable world, I found it detracted from the uniqueness of the encounters. We were all basically stuck in the same cookie cutter world, and while we might use different spells and equipment to accomplish it, we all basically ended up in the same place. Not to mention I found the main story line in Morrowind to be teh complete suck, and the 'ending' was even worse.

    How does Oblivion stack up in terms of random quests?

  • by General_Crespin ( 840569 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @06:46PM (#15030376) Homepage
    Just for the record, it is possible to disable quest-important NPC immortality via the INI. Just another example of the dumbing-down. (Don't get me wrong, Oblivion does tons of stuff beautifully- but there are also many examples of making the game easier to play on the console and restricting the PC players.)
  • Re:WoW (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nisim7 ( 767141 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @06:49PM (#15030397) Homepage
    WoW is not an RPG because you do not play a role, which is the point of a role playing game. You play a character that is only distinct in the skills which it has. The world offers no element of roleplaying. The closest thing that comes to role playing in WoW is on the role playing servers, and that is only if the people get into it. If you want to see roleplaying in an online game, go play a few MUDs (achea, etc). You are forced to role play or else you will be kicked from the server. As for single player role playing games (at least the so called Western ones), most are usually valid because the manner in which you must act is not determined by your class. You can do anything you like as a certain class, you just may not be very good at it. For instance, in Oblivion, if you have a thiefish character, you can still wield broad swords and do both the fighters guild and mages guild quests, they just may be much more difficult. Or you can just sell flowers all day long. In WoW one is bound to their class. My thief in Oblivion can learn destruction magic (or other types), he, again, just may not be good at it. In WoW, no rogue will ever cast a spell...period. Additionally, in WoW end-game all you do is perpetually raid and wait for an expansion. In Oblivion end-game (meaning the end of the main story line) there are still guild quests, misc quests, daedra quests, vampire quests, or you can create your own drama by shooting a guard and becoming a fugitive for the next 10 play hours until you get caught or pay your bounty. The possibilites, while not limitless, are much greater than the almost linear possibilities of MMORPGs. You can keep playing even after you finish all the quests. I think the first RPG to do this was Secret of Mana on NES (though I may be wrong, possibly Ultima).
  • by DeadChobi ( 740395 ) <> on Thursday March 30, 2006 @07:09PM (#15030535)
    Let's not forget about tasty, refreshingly warm and flat, Nuka-Cola! Now with extra Roengens!

    The only "western" RPGs that I really enjoyed were Fallout and Planescape: Torment.

    I thought Fallout was an incredible game because it had some of the most goofy quests, like defeating a scorpion at chess or becoming a pornstar. But it also had a dark side to it, as in the Master's plot to turn the world into an army of super-mutants. I really enjoyed the Mad Max-esque "one man against the world" play style, and how you could choose to do many things, but ultimately you were required to save the world. And at the end, you could sleep with Miss Kitty.

    In PS:T, the most endearing character had to be Morte the floating talking skull. Who could forget such exploits as finding a hooker so that she could curse Morte out. There was also Fall From Grace, or the slew of other characters who would join you because they knew you in a past life or wanted to see you succeed in dying for the last time. The Nameless One's story was gripping, and learning about who he was in his past lives was as much a part of the game as making his current life your own. PS:T was really a game about adolescence, about finding out who you really were and finding out who you can become.

    Morrowind was an interesting diversion, but without a lot of depth to the NPCs, I eventually got bored with running around looking for loot. I wanted to find the mystery behind the disappearance of the Dwarves. What really broke Morrowind for me was that you werent thrust into the story. You had to hunt it down, and search for it in every bookseller and necromancers' den. It didnt help that every question I asked the NPCs was met with dry, encyclopedic explanations like "The Dunmer are a dark-skinned race of Elves who live in the province of Morrowind." Bethesda was so focused on creating a gigantic world that they never focused on populating it with anything more than the vestiges of humanity.

    I'm still waiting for another publisher to release the last great RPG. I'm looking for a game with character development and open-ended gameplay. I've played three such games to date, Fallout, Planescape: Torment, and Betrayal at Krondor. I really havent seen many new developments. Ultimately, without intriguing characters, a rich backstory, and an ultimate goal, the Western RPG is doomed to die. I'm hoping that someone, somewhere remembers what a great PC RPG is, and how to make one.
  • by Peganthyrus ( 713645 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @08:42PM (#15031098) Homepage
    Am I the only person who thought "So why are games about gunslingers inherently focused on the character in a way all other RPGs aren't?" before clicking through to the article?

    But then again I'm currently playing <i>Curse of Monkey Island</i> for the first time. I don't keep up with the cutting edge of gaming any more.

    Yknow, an RPG set in the Old West could be kinda fun. (Or the Future West. Wait, wasn't that the much-loved <i>Wasteland?</i>)
  • by Khaotix ( 229171 ) on Thursday March 30, 2006 @10:26PM (#15031532)
    Mod parent up. The truth has been spoken.
  • by Thalagyrt ( 851883 ) * on Friday March 31, 2006 @02:45AM (#15032233)
    I've played both Morrowind and Oblivion, and I have to say... Morrowind really was lacking in a lot of areaa. The world was static, the combat sucked, and the quests and everything were buggy as hell.

    Oblivion REALLY addressed all of that. The NPCs have their own lives, interact with each other, and everything. I understand why you don't like Western RPGs. I'm also really picky about roleplaying games and games in general. I haven't really gotten into many of the Eastern games, and I haven't been able to get into most of the Western games. Hell, I haven't really gotten into many games at all. There has to be something really special about it for me to truly enjoy it.

    Honestly, Morrowind got old about 6 hours into the game, and then I started modding it to make it more fun. I don't like games that force me into one way of playing the game in order to tell its story. I also can't stand games where I have a bunch of characters who line up and fight turn by turn; I like more action and direct control, but that's again personal preference. I'd at least give Oblivion a shot, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. It's very open ended, and the story telling and gameplay is very well done. The AI system is really cool, just to digress a bit. It's task oriented, and bases decisions on what type of character the specific NPC is. There's very little in the way of scripted events, aside from questlines. Even then, the script only tells the NPC what his goal is, not how to accomplish it. I've seen a person in a town leave his house, lock the door, exit the gate and get on his horse to go out hunting on more than one occasion. Anyway, I'll stop rambling about the AI.

    I'm about 30 hours into playing around with Oblivion right now, and yeah, it's amazing. Of course it's just my personal opinion. Also, in case you're wondering, I'm not affiliated with Bethsoft at all, though I do know the CEO of the company, he's a family friend. I honestly think it's the most amazing game I've played to date. You may or may not agree with me, but don't go saying a game is horrible before you've even tried it - that's very closed minded. Just play the intro tutorial at a friend's house some time. It'll give you a very basic idea of how the game works, and you just might like it. =)

    (I'm too lazy to proofread this, so it may have grammar errors and such, so onward with the grammar Nazis!)
  • by Weedlekin ( 836313 ) on Friday March 31, 2006 @07:10AM (#15032828)
    "Let me remind you what table-top role-playing used to mean, at least with a good group and GM. "

    There were as many styles of table-top RPG as there were people playing them. Some liked a theatrical style, others a storytelling approach that resembled an interactive novel, still others enjoyed hack-and-slash dungeon crawls, and some groups preferred games that mostly revolved around puzzle-solving. No one style can be considered more "correct" than any other, because RPG gaming was about getting together with others to have _fun_, so the only "correct" way was the one that any particular set of players liked the most.

    "The stats were _not_ the whole point of the game"

    They were for some people, hence the fact that RPG jargon had a term for them: power gamers. They could be quite disruptive in any group that wasn't into the hack-and-slash sub-genre because they quickly became bored by long interactions with non-player characters, passages of scene-setting narrative, or difficult puzzles that required both group discussion and a lot of hunting around for clues.

    It is also interesting to note that, in the early days especially, particular gamers tended to favour specific sets of rules because they were better suited to their favourite style. Power gamers and the hack-and-slash lovers for example were most happy with the original AD&D, which had a highly abstract combat system in which powerful player characters were completely invulnerable to all but the most capable enemies. This was not the case in (for example) RuneQuest, Chivarly & Sorcery, DragonQuest, or Traveller (an early SF RPG), all of which featured highly lethal combat systems where even the most advanced and well-equipped characters could be taken down by the most lowly if they happened to "get lucky", so players tended to look for other solutions to problems, with combat mostly occurring only if all else failed. This of course suited the theatrical or storytelling style of gamer perfectly, because for them, trying or talk one's way out of a fight was a lot more fun than ten minutes spent rolling dice and looking at tables in a book.

    "You can feel free to point at Bethesda and Bioware games, but they're not the majority by any kind of counting"

    That's because they tend to require a lot of time and effort to finish, and do not therefore appeal to casual gamers. This is no different from table-top RPGs, which also demanded not only time and effort (especially from game masters, who would usually spend several evenings preparing each adventure), but also a lot of imagination, creativity, suspension of disbelief, and commitment from everybody in a group. It is for this reason that they tended to be associated with young, single males of above average intellect, i.e. nerds.

When you make your mark in the world, watch out for guys with erasers. -- The Wall Street Journal