Sunday, February 12, 2006

Rocket Propelled Grenades. Or something.

Self-absorbed discussion on RPGs...

I was looking over my host of ROMs for the various consoles I've owned over the years. Ticking off my fingers at games I loved and games I hated. And I got confused: Why is it that I hate half the RPGs that everyone likes, and like half the RPGs everyone hates? What am I judging that's so independent of what everyone else is looking for?

For example, I love Warriors of the Eternal Sun. It's a D&D game. Pretty crappy. But I love it. I hate the Eye of the Beholder games, which most people liked back in the day. Yet I love the Buck Rogers game, which uses almost exactly the same system!

Similarly, I loved Daggerfall and Battlespire, but hated Morrowind. (Although it should be noted that I cheated like a mofo through Daggerfall. I think everyone did.) I loved FFVIJ, but hated FFVII.

I thought, "is it just a dislike of first-person RPGs? No, I liked Daggerfall, and Ultima Underworld, and so forth... Do I only like party-based RPGs? No, I liked Daggerfall and hated Eye of the Beholder..."

Then I realized what it was:

I was looking for a relaxed game. When I play an RPG, I'm looking to be the only active person in the game. I want to know what to expect when I do something. I want a toy, a relaxed puzzle. You don't try to solve a jigsaw while someone counts down loudly in your ear. And I don't like RPGs that force things on me.

Don't get me wrong: I don't mind a challenge. So long as I know what the challenge is before I step in it.

All the RPGs I like have long, luxurious lead-up times for any given problem. This usually means a map with very few hidden traps on it and a long range of player vision. In its most basic form, this is easiest to accomplish with a bird's-eye view: seeing a long distance, only engaging when I want to engage. Another way to do it is to have only a small view range (like first person mode), but have really slow monsters and nonclaustrophobic level layouts.

I think the reason I have this definite preference is because I'm also a tension junkie. Used to the nature of tension, I have a distinct distaste for anything that pops up without building it. Look at all my favorite non-RPGs (and sort-of-RPGs): System Shock, for example. You are rarely taken by total surprise: you'll always hear the monkeys before they get you.

So what is it about RPGs where they think they can just wham-bam you, no thought to building tension or stress?

I think it's a leftover from "random encounter" syndrome. In a tabletop, it's harder to build stress, because your players have a bunch of options they'll use. They'll buff each other. They'll set a trap. They'll do all sorts of clever things. And your poor monster is toasty. So it's RPG tradition to simply drop monsters on you without any warning at all.

The RPGs I don't like? Universally do this. And there's no reason for it: building tension is fifty times more powerful than simply dropping a monster on you.

Yay. I like figuring things out. Now, to bed!


Patrick Dugan said...

I agree on tension, and I'm trying to take that lesson so seriously as to exclude any sort of combat that doesn't involve a crisis build-up or the involved characters' mutual conflict. So while you're talking about Chrono Trigger (for example) giving more information and letting the player choose his battles, I'd like to take it a step further and have the narrative completely integrated with the microGame.

Craig Perko said...

I built a fake fighting game around that premise. It was like, say, Street Fighter, except the fights were fought by the computer. The narrative unfolded based on who won and who lost.

That was fun. :D