283: Introducing The Escapist's Genre Wheel

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Introducing The Escapist's Genre Wheel

The Escapist breaks games down to their basics and devises a genre classification system that covers all (ok, almost all) of the bases.

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Very interesting read, might hold onto that one.
Also very lovely colours on the wheel, I myself like to keep to the blue.
the RPG would be my favourite genre.

Wow, that was really well thought out. I hope you guys plan on doing a panel about this at an upcoming convention. Like, say, PAX East.

That is really cool. It's a lot of new ideas to process, which may frighten some people, but I think this if a very good step towards figuring out what people want in games and being able to determine what is best for your wallet.

I like it; it looks like it would be a valuable tool for determining a game's genre.

Oddly enough, the game Sakura Wars occupies two spaces on the wheel: SC (turn-based strategy) and SE (adventure). Can we just place it under the broad umbrella of "strategy?" Nah, that'd be too general.

Rawle Lucas:
I like it; it looks like it would be a valuable tool for determining a game's genre.

Oddly enough, the game Sakura Wars occupies two spaces on the wheel: SC (turn-based strategy) and SE (adventure). Can we just place it under the broad umbrella of "strategy?" Nah, that'd be too general.

Yeah, there are some odd cases here and there, especially with the interesting genre blends. In the case of a hybrids, I think we have to be rigorous in determining which type of gameplay is the primary focus of a game. In other words, is it mostly conflict with a bit of exploration, or is it mostly exploration with a bit of conflict? In the case of games like Dragon Age or Grand Theft Auto, the balance is pretty even.

I think the usefulness of the chart is in creating a framework for interpretation of a game's fundamental identity. We've been kicking it around for several weeks now and it's been very useful in providing context for our arguments.

Fans of Civilization are now wondering why their favourite game is now an RPG according to yonder wheel.

Finally!

I've played so many different games, if I had to name a game for each category I could probably make at least 5 run-arounds!

When I wanted to play a game, I always checked whether I was looking for more conflict or relaxed exploration, more visceral adrenaline or thinking challenge and this wheel encapsulates games almost perfectly.

Why isn't conflict + action the red color though? Then the pure exploration would be green, a typical color for soothing exploration. It seems to match-up better.

Seems fairly smooth, with a few inconsistencies that would only fit on some weird 3D graph.
So this going to be incorporated into reviews? Would give people an idea of what kind of game they are looking at, before they watch the vid. Just a small diagram at the top, with he appropriate section marked

Problem is: Action-RPGs

Link and Adol (Ys series) laugh at your wheel for their games encompass the entirety of it! Puny other-genres!

Is it wrong that the title of this article had me expecting something more like the Animaniacs' Wheel of Morality, something to spin and have output a pithy response with no bearing on the topic at hand?

Steve Butts:

Rawle Lucas:
I like it; it looks like it would be a valuable tool for determining a game's genre.

Oddly enough, the game Sakura Wars occupies two spaces on the wheel: SC (turn-based strategy) and SE (adventure). Can we just place it under the broad umbrella of "strategy?" Nah, that'd be too general.

Yeah, there are some odd cases here and there, especially with the interesting genre blends. In the case of a hybrids, I think we have to be rigorous in determining which type of gameplay is the primary focus of a game. In other words, is it mostly conflict with a bit of exploration, or is it mostly exploration with a bit of conflict? In the case of games like Dragon Age or Grand Theft Auto, the balance is pretty even.

I think the usefulness of the chart is in creating a framework for interpretation of a game's fundamental identity. We've been kicking it around for several weeks now and it's been very useful in providing context for our arguments.

In that case, I'd place Sakura Wars under SE, since your strength in the combat sections depends on how you behave during the adventure sections, and the adventure sections themselves take up a large part of the gameplay. However, the final levels of the game are loaded with battles, whereas before it was mostly one battle per level.

The issue with forcing games to occupy points on the edge of a circle is that in order to make the A/S distinction more extreme, you are forced to make the E/C distinction less so, and vice versa. For example, this makes the Action RPG impossible to classify. Allowing games to occupy any point on a "genre plane" would make the system more expressive (albeit more complicated). Perhaps a simpler alternative would be to keep the 8 categories, but also add "ASCE" which resides in the centre of the wheel.

(I'm also not sure why you put music games where you did. Take Guitar Hero - ignoring Star Power, it's entirely devoid of strategy. The game literally tells you what the optimum set of input is.)

That said, I definitely agree that classifying games based on external form is far too simplistic and not particularly useful.

.

I approve of the Genre Wheel, and move to promote its use on the intrawebz

This got me thinking, why don't you guys ever review any grand-strategy titles?

It's easier just to use a tree diagram. It looks more natural and imitates the actual evolutionary history of video games ( like how Rouge evolved out of dungeon crawlers.)

What's the difference between a Brawler and a Fighter?

Also what do you define as Grand Strategy?
Something like Rome:Total War? But that should be in between turn based and real time.

coolguy5678:
The issue with forcing games to occupy points on the edge of a circle is that in order to make the A/S distinction more extreme, you are forced to make the E/C distinction less so, and vice versa. For example, this makes the Action RPG impossible to classify. Allowing games to occupy any point on a "genre plane" would make the system more expressive (albeit more complicated). Perhaps a simpler alternative would be to keep the 8 categories, but also add "ASCE" which resides in the centre of the wheel.

In the case of Zelda, you can probably make an argument for it being in Action/Combat/Exploration. Something along the lines of Knights of the Old Republic, however, I do think there's a discrepancy, and yeah I would agree with putting it into an "all of the above" category in the center of the wheel.

coolguy5678:
(I'm also not sure why you put music games where you did. Take Guitar Hero - ignoring Star Power, it's entirely devoid of strategy. The game literally tells you what the optimum set of input is.)

I don't follow. Music games are in Action/Exploration, which seems fair.

Also, I see the Rules have changed. Remember folks, the password is above the box.

econael:
What's the difference between a Brawler and a Fighter?

Also what do you define as Grand Strategy?
Something like Rome:Total War? But that should be in between turn based and real time.

A brawler would be something along the lines of Final Fight or Streets of Rage (or you could argue for something like Devil May Cry). Fighters are like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat.

Don't know about Grand Strategies, though. I'm not familiar with that term.

I like it -- I just hope that making the Action/Strategy/Exploration and Strategy/Exploration parts of the chart the pink "girly" colours was purely coincidental... you may want to rotate the colour wheel in future versions, just in case. ;)

coolguy5678:
The issue with forcing games to occupy points on the edge of a circle is that in order to make the A/S distinction more extreme, you are forced to make the E/C distinction less so, and vice versa. For example, this makes the Action RPG impossible to classify. Allowing games to occupy any point on a "genre plane" would make the system more expressive (albeit more complicated). Perhaps a simpler alternative would be to keep the 8 categories, but also add "ASCE" which resides in the centre of the wheel.

I agree. The wheel allows any combination of elements except all four, which some games have. ASCE in the middle would solve that.

(I'm also not sure why you put music games where you did. Take Guitar Hero - ignoring Star Power, it's entirely devoid of strategy. The game literally tells you what the optimum set of input is.)

That said, I definitely agree that classifying games based on external form is far too simplistic and not particularly useful.

Music games aren't in the strategy section.

JEBWrench:
Fans of Civilization are now wondering why their favourite game is now an RPG according to yonder wheel.

Or they just didn't put 4X on the wheel. Honestly, I think Civ would fit better in SC, since it's fundamentally about competing with other players. You have to explore the world, yes, but I don't think it fits the Escapist's definition of "Exploration". I think the Exploration/Conflict names are misleading, although I can't think of anything better off the top of my head.

econael:
What's the difference between a Brawler and a Fighter?

Also what do you define as Grand Strategy?
Something like Rome:Total War? But that should be in between turn based and real time.

The Total War games all contain two radically different play modes, and therefore two different genres. They include RTT sections and Grand Strategy sections, but they don't mix them. Basically, they have bits that are one genre and bits that are another genre. No genre-classification system can deal with that. It's TW's fault, not the wheel's. Rome would go in SC and ASC.

This is a very nice classification system, but I'm unsure of its practical usefulness. Aside from the minor niggles that I've just mentioned, I think my problem is that it's entirely gameplay-focused. Video games these days are more than just games, and I think a classification system should reflect that. I'm not saying it can't work, just that I'd want to see it really put into practice before I'm sure it would.

JEBWrench:
Fans of Civilization are now wondering why their favourite game is now an RPG according to yonder wheel.

Well, actually, y'know what?. If you pick Civ apart, you'll see it bears a lot of resemblance to a turn based RPG, albeit a slightly special one. You start with a small character(city), and you must make decisions on how to build up that character. You can add new characters to your party, and you'll have to manage the synergy between your characters. You'll meet other parties too, and you must either crush them in battle or forge alliances with them, and win through other means, like attaining a specific level first, or constructing a specific artifact.

That might sound like a pretty special RPG, but i think we can all agree it seems like an RPG. Now look at how that resembles Civ. Ok, so Civ's pretty deep compared to your average RPG, but since when is that a bad thing?

And a Driving RPG is impossible because...? :)

Almost anything can be a RPG because RPG (in its broadest sense) is not part of the genre picture at all (even if there's only one player, they can invent a metaplayer). If trying to define RPG to one particular thematic concept/platform, someone else /will/ complain.
If you're restricting the definition of RPG to "computer games" in the widest sense, please say so!

Good effort, so long as it isn't just "taken as fact" (by Wiki' for example :p)

Cheers,
d.

It's an interesting idea and seems pretty solid (Mass effect for example doesn't really seem to fit since it blends action strategy exploration and conflict but pretty solid nonetheless). The weird part about it is that I have a sort of hard time fitting in myself in it. I usually like RPGs Adventure Platforming and survival horror (to a lesser extent), I'm clearly more of an exploration gamer but I hate simulation, puzzle and music games and I don't really care for construction either. I guess this could be explained as "I like exploration based games but there has to be some conflict" but I have also been known to like some turn based strategy games even though I don't really like anything else in the conflict side.

So instead of being constrained to one band as you'd expect my tastes seem to occupy two bands and one point, which is a bit weird.

I notice that under this classification most modern "rpgs" would be considered ACEs. Was it deliberate to exclude games like Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, KotOR, or (the new) Fallouts from the RPG genre and put them into action adventure?

> I notice that under this classification most modern "rpgs" would be considered ACEs. Was it deliberate to exclude games like Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, KotOR, or (the new) Fallouts from the RPG genre and put them into action adventure?

This is one reason why "If a genre helps you get your head around what a game may bring to the table, then they're a GOOD THING" is demonstrably false since it may force unrealistic mental speciation and loss of potential to think outwith those boxes. Genres are still useful tags, though, even if they do not/cannot form boundaries as given on the wheel.
RPGs in their broadest sense are an expression of a universal "roleplaying contract"; it's just that that /may/ be hidden to a greater degree in some "games"/"productions" than others.

Cool.
Design wise, I'd suggest moving the "Exploration|Conflict" ring outside of the genre titles. (so that the titles are trapped between "Action|Strategy" and "Exploration|Conflict")

When I saw "AE" and "ASE" at the start of the article, I didn't get it. I assumed these were some kind of third level of classification.

p.s. I love data porn TO DEATH. and admit that my suggestion here may be lame.

Wow. I guess my tastes in gaming are very varied. I love music games much more than most people (expert guitar, drums, and vocals in Rock Band) as well as platformers and brawlers. (well...at least Brawl) But at the same time, I get great satisfaction from games that test my intellect. I like puzzle games like Tetris, Picross,....even Sudoku, (go die Bejeweled) but I don't think there's any room for these such time killers on my best of all time list. I mean games like Zelda, Limbo, Paper Mario,....even Half-Life.....I guess games that involve abstract puzzle solving in real time. I don't think the same satisfaction can be obtained in a turn based game as in one where you see your actions come to life and watch as the solution unfolds before your eyes. These are the games that require true level design prowess from developers.

But at the same time.....the Phonix Wright series is one of my favorites too.....hmmmm....

Great article. However, it makes me sad because I know realize how limited my gaming experience is (only shooters and sports). Now I feel the urge to go and buy another ten games of varying genres. Damn you escapist!

Russ Pitts:
Introducing The Escapist's Genre Wheel

The Escapist breaks games down to their basics and devises a genre classification system that covers all (ok, almost all) of the bases.

Read Full Article

Very well designed. Kudos to you all.

I think it proves one big point very nicely--the only way to make genre useful is to encourage cooperation and communication between people with differing opinions, values, and expectations. That means even rival game studios/publishers/etc. have to come to center and agree on what exactly "RPG elements" constitutes, or other such labels.

I also like how you engage genre. Too many folks confuse it with "setting." There are plenty of great stories (and games) whose genre doesn't match the setting. A story might be set in space, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's science fiction. Genre isn't about how the room is furnished--it's about what you're doing in that room. The rest is just the style of the decor.

Your wheel removes all (or most) considerations of the setting, relegating it to its proper place--costumes and furniture. These can change the flavor of a game, but they don't (or at least shouldn't) define it. Plants vs. Zombies is not "survival horror."

The big "but"...
I think the only place that's problematic is setting "Conflict" and "Exploration" games in diametric opposition. I really think it's just a terminology problem--your explanation works fine, but the terms are a little... eh. Conflict, as you've explained it, seems more about direct opposition--enemies actively working to prevent you from reaching a goal. "Exploration" seems more about indirect or environmental opposition--obstacles block your path, or enemies working to beat you to a goal (but not specifically to stop you).

That would explain why racing is on the opposite side from sports. I think phrasing it in terms of "direct" and "indirect" opposition might make this clearer.

coolguy5678:
The issue with forcing games to occupy points on the edge of a circle is that in order to make the A/S distinction more extreme, you are forced to make the E/C distinction less so, and vice versa. For example, this makes the Action RPG impossible to classify. Allowing games to occupy any point on a "genre plane" would make the system more expressive (albeit more complicated). Perhaps a simpler alternative would be to keep the 8 categories, but also add "ASCE" which resides in the centre of the wheel.

(I'm also not sure why you put music games where you did. Take Guitar Hero - ignoring Star Power, it's entirely devoid of strategy. The game literally tells you what the optimum set of input is.)

That said, I definitely agree that classifying games based on external form is far too simplistic and not particularly useful.

Yes, the idea is not that games only exist on the outer edge of the wheel. That's just where the distinctions are most easily quantified. It's true that there are shades of difference in the various hybrids, but the AS axis isn't necessarily meant to be more meaningful, but it does address the "how" of games, while the CE axis merely addresses the "what." I considered the usefulness of an ASCE category, but ultimately, I felt it was a cop-out. If the point is to say games trend towards one of the four points of compass here (either A,S,C, or E), then saying that a game is a perfect blend of them all makes the whole point of classification moot.

To your point about action-RPGs, that was one of the trickier genres to incorporate. We eventually just decided that, while those games exist along the seam between conflict and exploration, you could clearly tell in nearly every case whether a game was action (reflex-based) or strategy (stat-based). For instance, Diablo and Fallout 3 seem more like RPGs to me, while Borderlands and BioShock are more like shooters. Again, this is not to say shooters and RPGs aren't mixing together in interesting ways, but I think it's usually clear whether a game is a shooter with RPG elements or an RPG with shooter elements.

As far as music games go, I think you must have just misread things. The wheel classes them as action/exploration. In this case, the exploration is not the dimension of space, but the dimension of time.

Russ Pitts:
Introducing The Escapist's Genre Wheel

The Escapist breaks games down to their basics and devises a genre classification system that covers all (ok, almost all) of the bases.

Read Full Article

Also, I foresee a lot of resistance from people that see games as being "cross-genre" examples. Again, it's going to come back to a differing belief in what defines genre.

Someone might say, "Well, this FPS has RPG elements, so where is it on your circle?" But we've got to make sure to differentiate "RPG elements" from "Plays like an RPG." Having a branching tree of selectable upgrades earned through experience doesn't change the fundamental mode of gameplay. It simply gives the game a miniscule shift around toward "strategy."

The game's mechanics aren't the primary concern. Genre should be (and, in your chart, is) defined by what is expected of the player. The ways the game provides for the player to interact with the world (action/strategy), and the reasons the player is asked to interact (indirect/direct conflict) set the principle genre. Other game mechanics (like these nebulous "rpg elements" or other bastardizations of terminology) are simply seasoning that lightly shifts the flavor of the entrée in one direction or another. Not defining features.

So, when faced with a "cross-genre" game, simply ask players to define the game in terms of what the player is expected to do the majority of the time. One will always rise to the surface as the clear winner.

> That means even rival game studios/publishers/etc. have to come to center and agree on what exactly "RPG elements" constitutes, or other such labels.

Good try using "(with) RPG elements" rather than "RPG" as such. The two are not the same, of course. Trying to choose which "islands" are visible with the sea of RPGishness that surrounds everything is a matter of taste even within one media (computer, tabletop, theatre, etc.). Further classification is possible, of course. :)

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