The theses of RPG gaming

With apologies to Martin Luther.

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed hereforth, under the presidency of the Obsessive Gamer Jason McCullough, Master of Spreadsheets and Munchkin Gaming, and Ranter in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate textually with us, may do so by snail mail. Robert Outlaw doth provide works for this enumeration.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
[ol]
[li]Manual looting of the corpses of individual blasphemers is a stench in the nostrils of the Lord thy God. Autoloot interfaces are demanded lest your collection of action figures suffer His wrath.
[/li][li]Realism for the sake of only itself in an invented setting is a blasphemy before our Savior. Limiting the Denari that thine merchants may carry is false idoltry before the holy trinity of loot, stats, and eq.
[/li][li]Elevation of inventory management to the pagan artifice known as Tetris makes thineself an enemy before all of creation, as descibed in 2nd Peter.
[/li][li]Many today have fallen into the foul habit, warned against by the story of Sodom so long ago, whereby they create two sets of prayers in their designs. One which shall be heretofore called Useful and a second known by Useless; and the anger and blasphemy which the learned use of the second engenders in thy flock is lukewarm in thy God’s throat.
[/li][li]Given the power that deriveth from our Savoir, all too many have populated their worlds with hordes of what is called NPCs, but given them no joy in life through reason for existence. What sort of demonic undeath do they continue in, that they have no information that the flock might enjoy, yet clutter up thine reality?
[/li][li]The writing of so-called “stories” should not be used in half-measures. The son of our God enlightened us not with hackneyed parables where thou must save yet another misbegotten King or his whorish daughter. Stories must be non-existant or Great, for Abraham did not sacrifice his son for the ambiguous works come forth from the city of Neverwinter.
[/li][li]Dialogue trees are agreed by all to be a great sin, and the use thereof will no doubt result in condemnation for eternity in a neck-deep sea of burning feces.
[/li][li]The use of weapons operating by action-at-a-distance, the principle that so terrified our church fathers in Greece, results in beneficial action never above that of the weapons known by Melee. It shall be repaired or the Lamb shall eject all who doeth from the presence.
[/li][li]Furthermore, management of individual bits that may be launched from ranged weapons doth drive thine followers to violence, and must be ended henceforth.
[/li][li]The great experiment in the church, whereby one is full before the Lord once more after the action of resting, created to lower the power of sages and the wise, is a failure. Submissions for improvements will be under discussion.
[/li][/ol]

Verily, a divine voice speaketh through thine mouth! Let these theses be spread throughout the land of the Lord, Amen.

Manual looting of the corpses of individual blasphemers is a stench in the nostrils of the Lord thy God. Autoloot interfaces are demanded lest your collection of action figures suffer His wrath.

Agreed.

Realism for the sake of only itself in an invented setting is a blasphemy before our Savior. Limiting the Denari that thine merchants may carry is false idoltry before the holy trinity of loot, stats, and eq.

Conditionally agreed. If an RPG could have a real dynamic economy, that you could interact with as thief/merchant/consumer/trader/all-of-the-above, I would be more willing to forgive any inconvenient artifacts that might result. And I think that “realism for the sake of only itself” can sometimes be a good thing. It always needs to be weighed against inconvenience. Of course the problem with “realism” in having piss-poor merchants is that it then causes the player to do blatantly unrealistic things while looking for loopholes, i.e. selling a bit of loot, then resting 24 hours until the merchant’s gold resets, then selling a bit more, etc.

Elevation of inventory management to the pagan artifice known as Tetris makes thineself an enemy before all of creation, as descibed in 2nd Peter.

Agreed. A weight limit is sufficient.

Many today have fallen into the foul habit, warned against by the story of Sodom so long ago, whereby they create two sets of prayers in their designs. One which shall be heretofore called Useful and a second known by Useless; and the anger and blasphemy which the learned use of the second engenders in thy flock is lukewarm in thy God’s throat.

Wuh?

Given the power that deriveth from our Savoir, all too many have populated their worlds with hordes of what is called NPCs, but given them no joy in life through reason for existence. What sort of demonic undeath do they continue in, that they have no information that the flock might enjoy, yet clutter up thine reality?

I don’t think NPCs’ existences need to be validated merely by providing useful information to the player. I do think NPC’s should be more “living” in their own right, with schedules and perhaps more features (independent stats/agendas/possessions/etc.) so that they contribute to the overall “reality” of the gameworld and can be interacted with in unexpected ways. There should be easy enough ways to distinguish graphically/aurally between “important” and “unimportant” NPC’s. If the game only has the former, it may seem too barren.

The writing of so-called “stories” should not be used in half-measures. The son of our God enlightened us not with hackneyed parables where thou must save yet another misbegotten King or his whorish daughter. Stories must be non-existant or Great, for Abraham did not sacrifice his son for the ambiguous works come forth from the city of Neverwinter.

Nah. I’ll still take a perfunctory RPG plot over the smirking vacuum that is Dungeon Siege.

Dialogue trees are agreed by all to be a great sin, and the use thereof will no doubt result in condemnation for eternity in a neck-deep sea of burning feces.

So then we should just bite the bullet and admit that CRPG’s are really just tactical combat games with a little inventory-juggling along the way, and NPC’s are just signposts with arms and legs?

The use of weapons operating by action-at-a-distance, the principle that so terrified our church fathers in Greece, results in beneficial action never above that of the weapons known by Melee. It shall be repaired or the Lamb shall eject all who doeth from the presence.

Buh? Oh, you mean ranged weapons shouldn’t be overpowered? Yeah sure.

Furthermore, management of individual bits that may be launched from ranged weapons doth drive thine followers to violence, and must be ended henceforth.

Agreed.

The great experiment in the church, whereby one is full before the Lord once more after the action of resting, created to lower the power of sages and the wise, is a failure. Submissions for improvements will be under discussion.

Juh? You mean resting should not heal? I dunno, depends on the individual game. There’s still a use for potions/healing spells if you are in a dungeon or you constantly have to deal with monsters. Certainly resting at an inn ought to provide healing.

Imagine the GDP of some village the adventurers are using as a home base is, oh, 10,000 people * 1000 gold. If they haul 10,000 gold back and unload it after a dungeon run, that’s 10% inflation, overnight.

A realistic economy would result in an angry mob of creditors and merchants murdering your party in the street shortly after their big haul. Furthermore, that everyone gets around “realistic” design decisions by resting over and over should be a big warning flag that it’s not fun, at all, to deal with a cash-limited economy.

If someone wants to do experimental design on simulating a real economy in a RPG, I’m all ears. Limiting merchant cash is no such thing, and just pisses off the players.

[quote]Many today have fallen into the foul habit, warned against by the story of Sodom so long ago, whereby they create two sets of prayers in their designs. One which shall be heretofore called Useful and a second known by Useless; and the anger and blasphemy which the learned use of the second engenders in thy flock is lukewarm in thy God’s throat.

Wuh?
[/quote]

Every RPG out there has two sets of spells: those you want because they’re useful, and the rest. Why are the rest even in there?

[quote]Given the power that deriveth from our Savoir, all too many have populated their worlds with hordes of what is called NPCs, but given them no joy in life through reason for existence. What sort of demonic undeath do they continue in, that they have no information that the flock might enjoy, yet clutter up thine reality?

I don’t think NPCs’ existences need to be validated merely by providing useful information to the player. I do think NPC’s should be more “living” in their own right, with schedules and perhaps more features (independent stats/agendas/possessions/etc.) so that they contribute to the overall “reality” of the gameworld and can be interacted with in unexpected ways. There should be easy enough ways to distinguish graphically/aurally between “important” and “unimportant” NPC’s. If the game only has the former, it may seem too barren.
[/quote]

NPCs don’t exist for anything but the player’s entertainment. Sure, making it look like they have a life can be interesting, but how does NPC scheduling make the game more fun? Do you enjoy hunting them down at 3 a.m.?

I’m complaining about the Morrowind idea of creating dozens of pointless NPCs that just gossip at you, giving you zero information that you couldn’t get from a quest/merchant/what have you.

[quote]Dialogue trees are agreed by all to be a great sin, and the use thereof will no doubt result in condemnation for eternity in a neck-deep sea of burning feces.

So then we should just bite the bullet and admit that CRPG’s are really just tactical combat games with a little inventory-juggling along the way, and NPC’s are just signposts with arms and legs?
[/quote]

Nothing that morose, there’s just got to be a better way of handling this than dialogue trees. Not that I have any idea what the replacement should be.

[quote]The use of weapons operating by action-at-a-distance, the principle that so terrified our church fathers in Greece, results in beneficial action never above that of the weapons known by Melee. It shall be repaired or the Lamb shall eject all who doeth from the presence.

Buh? Oh, you mean ranged weapons shouldn’t be overpowered? Yeah sure.
[/quote]

They’re either amazingly overpowered (BG1, 2), or absolutely useless (Morrowind, everything else). The design of ranged weapons in fantasy games is always just so half-assed. I think Fallout’s balance between the two is ideal.

[quote]The great experiment in the church, whereby one is full before the Lord once more after the action of resting, created to lower the power of sages and the wise, is a failure. Submissions for improvements will be under discussion.

Juh? You mean resting should not heal? I dunno, depends on the individual game. There’s still a use for potions/healing spells if you are in a dungeon or you constantly have to deal with monsters. Certainly resting at an inn ought to provide healing.[/quote]

Magic systems based on “full until resting” are a hack to lower the power of mages. It doesn’t work (you just rest over and over as necessary, unless there’s “no rest zones”; but then what’s the point of including resting?) and annoys the player. Again, there’s got to be a better way to handle magic.

Noah Falstein is trying to create a compilation of design rules, kind of a reference text of sorts. Seems ambitious, but have to agree with his first rule of “don’t fatigue the player.”

  • Alan

Seems I am maybe the only one who likes dialog trees. Granted I prefer the pop-up over the NPC strings for unimportant messages but otherwise dialog boxes are fine by me. The only alternatives I can think of are the “choose a mentioned keyword” system or “type in a case insensitive substring match please” techniques, which I certainly don’t prefer.

I totally agree.

Oh, and on a replacement for dialog trees: how about bringing back text parsers?

Starship Titanic tried (and arguably failed) to resurrect text parser gameplay. Language parsing is a hot topic these days, and I’m sure the state of the art has advanced to the point where you could almost even just speak your interaction to the computer. Of course, I’m not sure whether this is just due to faster processors or actual improvements in the technology. I would love to see a game that could really do a good job of replacing the dialogue trees with text parsing, but then you run into problems with complexity and level of detail. Games, even the “open-ended” ones aren’t really that open-ended. It’s all illusory, with comments and situations prepared to guide you back towards an intended course of action.

The old text parsers were certainly set up this way. In fact, they were replaced with dialogue trees specficially to get around the hassle of a controlled vocabulary, where you could never be sure whether the game was interpreting your proposed solution correctly or not. Really, I don’t miss the old text parsers.

One of my favorite dialogue tree implementations comes from the Sam 'n Max game, where you never knew exactly what you were going to say, only the general class of phrase. You characters would automagically say the appropriate things, or in the case of the non-sequitur icon, the appropriately inappropriate comment. The game was as much about exploring the wacky dialogue as following the story.

  • Alan

I was playing Ultima 4 again, reminding me how much I miss the little text puzzles a decent parser can offer.

It’s not that there’s something wrong with dialogue trees, they’re just aesthetically really icky. They got tiring even in Torment, where the actual writing was pure gold.

I’d forgotten about Sam & Max, what a great game.

The reason the old parsers used to stink so much was that their vocabulary was really limited. They had to fit on a 5 1/4", after all.

Imagine the GDP of some village the adventurers are using as a home base is, oh, 10,000 people * 1000 gold. If they haul 10,000 gold back and unload it after a dungeon run, that’s 10% inflation, overnight.

A realistic economy would result in an angry mob of creditors and merchants murdering your party in the street shortly after their big haul. Furthermore, that everyone gets around “realistic” design decisions by resting over and over should be a big warning flag that it’s not fun, at all, to deal with a cash-limited economy.

If someone wants to do experimental design on simulating a real economy in a RPG, I’m all ears. Limiting merchant cash is no such thing, and just pisses off the players.

Actually, an angry mob of creditors in an RPG would be pretty fun. I’d like to see an RPG so detailed that it can even have panics and depressions and starvations and whatnot. I know, I’m weird that way…

Every RPG out there has two sets of spells: those you want because they’re useful, and the rest. Why are the rest even in there?

Sure, that’s just a balancing thing… no reason for a useless spell obviously.

NPCs don’t exist for anything but the player’s entertainment. Sure, making it look like they have a life can be interesting, but how does NPC scheduling make the game more fun? Do you enjoy hunting them down at 3 a.m.?

I’m complaining about the Morrowind idea of creating dozens of pointless NPCs that just gossip at you, giving you zero information that you couldn’t get from a quest/merchant/what have you.

Well, for me, the appearance of a living and self-contained world does translate to “entertainment” – albeit in a rather nebulous way, more in terms of atmosphere than real gameplay. But same thing with the sunsets, moon cycles, etc. in Morrowind. Do they contribute to gameplay directly? No. But they make the world more fun to inhabit because it feels more real and atmospheric etc.

The only downside I can see to having “non plot” NPC’s is that you waste your time pumping them all for info. So, just find some way to distinguish the two. Plot NPC’s say “Hey you!” or have a green glow around them. Or something. When I walk into a mighty metropolis, I want it to be crowded with as many people as the polygons can push – even only for the atmospheric experience of being in a crowded city.

As for “hunting down NPC’s at 3 AM,” this is one of the classic realism/convenience dichotomies. No I don’t enjoy hunting NPC’s down at 3AM, generally; but neither do I enjoy knowing that NPC’s are stationary signposts whose only purpose is to tell me the location of the Dagger of Zargor. It’s an issue I haven’t resolved entirely but I think I tend to come down in favor of a little inconvenience to make the world seem more alive – and it’s not too inconvenient if the game supplies a good info network as to where an NPC is at a given time, and you can wait for X number of hours whenever you need to. I’m just sick of signpost NPC’s. Maybe it’s a fixation for me…

Nothing that morose, there’s just got to be a better way of handling this than dialogue trees. Not that I have any idea what the replacement should be.

Let me know if you think of anything… meantime we may be stuck with trees.

Magic systems based on “full until resting” are a hack to lower the power of mages. It doesn’t work (you just rest over and over as necessary, unless there’s “no rest zones”; but then what’s the point of including resting?) and annoys the player. Again, there’s got to be a better way to handle magic.

Oh right. Especially in games like MW where you only play one character, so if he’s a mage you’re constantly resting. Yawn (literally). There are different ways to do it of course. Mana potions allow constant mana restoration, but at a cost. This is tweakable via the cost/power/availability of the potions and so should be balanceable on a game-by-game basis. There probably does need to be some kind of cap on mage spellcasting, because if he can just hurl fireballs all day long, it makes combat maybe too easy.

So would I, I’d be amusing. I’m just saying the current half-assed approach “limit merchant cash! Have them only buy certain items!” is the drunkard’s version of a functioning economy. Why, it’s the same to outside appearances! Must punch.

[quote]
NPCs don’t exist for anything but the player’s entertainment. Sure, making it look like they have a life can be interesting, but how does NPC scheduling make the game more fun? Do you enjoy hunting them down at 3 a.m.?

I’m complaining about the Morrowind idea of creating dozens of pointless NPCs that just gossip at you, giving you zero information that you couldn’t get from a quest/merchant/what have you.

Well, for me, the appearance of a living and self-contained world does translate to “entertainment” – albeit in a rather nebulous way, more in terms of atmosphere than real gameplay. But same thing with the sunsets, moon cycles, etc. in Morrowind. Do they contribute to gameplay directly? No. But they make the world more fun to inhabit because it feels more real and atmospheric etc.

The only downside I can see to having “non plot” NPC’s is that you waste your time pumping them all for info. So, just find some way to distinguish the two. Plot NPC’s say “Hey you!” or have a green glow around them. Or something. When I walk into a mighty metropolis, I want it to be crowded with as many people as the polygons can push – even only for the atmospheric experience of being in a crowded city.

As for “hunting down NPC’s at 3 AM,” this is one of the classic realism/convenience dichotomies. No I don’t enjoy hunting NPC’s down at 3AM, generally; but neither do I enjoy knowing that NPC’s are stationary signposts whose only purpose is to tell me the location of the Dagger of Zargor. It’s an issue I haven’t resolved entirely but I think I tend to come down in favor of a little inconvenience to make the world seem more alive – and it’s not too inconvenient if the game supplies a good info network as to where an NPC is at a given time, and you can wait for X number of hours whenever you need to. I’m just sick of signpost NPC’s. Maybe it’s a fixation for me…
[/quote]

I wouldn’t mind if there actually was schedule information, but, of course, that’s something developers overlook, because it’d take out all the FUN of searching the entire goddamn town for that one bastard. Repeatedly.

[quote]Magic systems based on “full until resting” are a hack to lower the power of mages. It doesn’t work (you just rest over and over as necessary, unless there’s “no rest zones”; but then what’s the point of including resting?) and annoys the player. Again, there’s got to be a better way to handle magic.

Oh right. Especially in games like MW where you only play one character, so if he’s a mage you’re constantly resting. Yawn (literally). There are different ways to do it of course. Mana potions allow constant mana restoration, but at a cost. This is tweakable via the cost/power/availability of the potions and so should be balanceable on a game-by-game basis. There probably does need to be some kind of cap on mage spellcasting, because if he can just hurl fireballs all day long, it makes combat maybe too easy.[/quote]

I think mana potions is the way to go, really.

I thought GTA3 handled this pretty well. There are certain cars available only at certain times of day (for instance the BF Injection parked near Diablo territory). It never seems burdensome to wait because the days cycle fairly quickly (a minute a second, IIRC).

I thought GTA3 handled this pretty well. There are certain cars available only at certain times of day (for instance the BF Injection parked near Diablo territory). It never seems burdensome to wait because the days cycle fairly quickly (a minute a second, IIRC).[/quote]

Wait a minute: that’s 24 minutes for a full day cycle. That’s no big deal?

Most time-limited objects are there for a number of “hours.” Assuming one is there for half the day, even if you think to try and obtain it at the very beginning of the cycle the most you might wait is 12 minutes. Usually you will be there with less time remaining (especially if you must travel to it), or when it is already there.

I think Morrowind’s day/night cycle is something like a second-a-minute as well. (Or is it a minute-an-hour?) I think it pans out so that a day goes by in around a half an hour, or less. People on the MW boards whined and whined about this (some, incredibly, wanted the game to proceed in real-time, i.e. 24 hours for 24 hours), but when I played the game it felt fine.

[quote]Dialogue trees are agreed by all to be a great sin, and the use thereof will no doubt result in condemnation for eternity in a neck-deep sea of burning feces.

So then we should just bite the bullet and admit that CRPG’s are really just tactical combat games with a little inventory-juggling along the way, and NPC’s are just signposts with arms and legs?

Nothing that morose, there’s just got to be a better way of handling this than dialogue trees. Not that I have any idea what the replacement should be.
[/quote]

And here’s my real problem with it. I keep hearing people gripe about dialogue trees – which have never really bothered me, but whatever – but I’ve never heard anyone suggest another way. And, for the life of me, I can’t imagine any other way to do it well.

I agree – I think the problem is not with dialogue trees as such but with the way they are being used in many games.

Sometimes you have deeply nested dialogue trees where an important piece of information is hidden behind a string of choices that you have to re-enter in the correct order if you want to re-check this information.

But the biggest problem is the overabundance of filler stuff. You often see a checklist of items with background information, such as:

  1. Tell me about the hoe I should fetch…
  2. Tell me about the giant rats I should kill…
  3. Tell me about the ogres I should placate…

Then you hit every number in order, just to make sure you don’t miss anything. That’s stupid. Such information should be either placed in the manual, or delivered as a single “quest instruction speech” (cf. Diablo 2) since the player’s input is obviously immaterial.

Other text doesn’t even give quest info, it’s just flavour text – but you don’t know until you clicked on the dialogue choice. That’s even worse. You need really, really good writers to make this kind of reading enjoyable, and most RPGs don’t have such writers.

IMO dialogue trees are basically fine but the choices should be cut down to the real choices that actually affect gameplay from this point onward. Anything else can be delivered as a speech with no player input.

That seems to contradict your opinion that ammunition for ranged weapons should be abstracted. In a mana-based magic system, mana potions are the spellcaster’s ammo, after all.

(Note: This is different from health potions because you always avoid to get hurt in the first place, so health potions are just there for emergencies. But mana potions would get used up in the course of regular spellcasting.)

I’ve come to the opinion that resting-for-spells and mana potions are equally evil. A good spellcaster implementation should operate with casting delays, probably extreme ones, and with a very limited spell selection so that spells only complement normal equipment rather than completely replace it (usually in conjunction with some silly equipment restrictions for mages).

Right now, spellcasters are typically the most micromanagent-heavy class you can play in a CRPG, and precisely because they are the one class with excessive “ammunition” requirements – either due to preparing/resting or due to mana potions.