Escapist Podcast: 025: Are Modern RPGs Ruining the Genre?

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025: Are Modern RPGs Ruining the Genre?

This week, we discuss if modern conveniences and mechanics are ruining the RPG genre. We also talk about Skullgirls, the claims of sexism against it and how gender effects the industry in other ways.

Watch Video

Authentic.

I think that hit it on the head for me when it comes to women gamers.

Susan's laid back attitude to the topic was quite refreshing. It was much like her podcast on women in video games. It's nice hearing about the topic from women who actually enjoy and play video games.

To be honest the whole Skullgirls thing threw me off. It seemed like someone was trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.

To move on to Skyrim, hardcore and normal mode seem like a fine compromise. Personally I can't stand being lost. I don't enjoy searching high and low for the mountain to the north east, I'll take my marker please. Though to compromise again I don't mind a few quests having only vague directions, like finding that woman from Hammerfall in Skyrim. Since it was only one quest, I just moved on when I couldn't find the woman.

And Justin I think you should keep slipping in one reference to Baldurs Gate each episode.

Now I really want to make a fighting game with nothing but chickens.., but peta will probably try to kill me for endorsing cockfights...

I'm another person that kept Gorian's letter all through Baldur's Gate... and was a little bummed that it was gone in Baldur's Gate 2.

That said I think in terms of Modern RPG elements taking away from the experience... Morrowind was hard to get into for me because you pretty much had no point of reference to find things it was frustrating to look for a specific cave in that game. I think if Morrowind had marked the general location of a quest on the world map it would have been the perfect solution to that issue. You could tell you were in the general area but after that you'd have find the cave.

What happened to the end of the podcast?
Censorship on Susan?
Did SOPA kick in preemptively?

Just joking, but the end seemed rather abrupt.

I just figured out the podcasts were on iTunes, BUT only episodes 16-this one. How do I download the rest (1-15)? I tried, I really did... I'm gonna a step-by-step instructions... >.<'

So far I figured out I have to get a link of the .mp3 file "from the player" somehow (someone else did this for me for testing purposes) , and that put it into iTunes (or maybe there's another way?), but when I do so, I can only listen to it, I can't find the download option for it in iTunes (I mean eps 1-15, I've already downloaded the rest).

I liked the Bard's Tale version of dealing with items and currency. All items had a set value that you were given the moment you picked the item up(as in auto conversion item(junk)->money). This worked because there was no stressing loot and no real inventory in that game, it was just weapons, armor, magic/tunes and crystals for magic summons.

The problem with the junk filter in Dragon Age 2 was that it begs the question: "If it's junk, why is it even in the game". Sure, with TES you have bowls and stuff but those were used for decoration. If the designers call something junk, that means that it has no real purpose in the game at all.

Nenad:
I just figured out the podcasts were on iTunes, BUT only episodes 16-this one. How do I download the rest (1-15)? I tried, I really did... I'm gonna a step-by-step instructions... >.<'

So far I figured out I have to get a link of the .mp3 file "from the player" somehow (someone else did this for me for testing purposes) , and that put it into iTunes (or maybe there's another way?), but when I do so, I can only listen to it, I can't find the download option for it in iTunes (I mean eps 1-15, I've already downloaded the rest).

If I recall correctly, the podcast is not really on iTunes, but instead it uses the RSS feed to download the latest episode. That would also explain why you are not seeing the older episodes as a download option.

Crono1973:
The problem with the junk filter in Dragon Age 2 was that it begs the question: "If it's junk, why is it even in the game". Sure, with TES you have bowls and stuff but those were used for decoration. If the designers call something junk, that means that it has no real purpose in the game at all.

I bet that there was a meeting at Bioware where a couple of designers sat together and figured that it would be a really "meaningful decision" to figure out which junk to take and which to drop to get the most value out of your inventory space.
I don't really remember ever being in a tight financial situation in DA2, though, and if I recall correctly that would also be the reason which renders the entire mechanic meaningless in the overall context.

You guys cut off the ONLY woman on the show.
That's sexist! You're sexist. (Just Kidding)

On a serious note, another good episode. I wonder what happened towards the end.

Yeah, not sure what's up with it cutting off like that. I'll try to get a fixed version up asap.

What about the fact that a bunch of those Skullgirls are teens? Like 15-16?

About the UI design conversation, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings' UI is quite similar to Dragon Age 2's when it come to calling stuff that you're never EVER going to use "Junk", it puts craftin ingedients in a crafting section, alchemy in an alchemy section and so on.

It's sort of hard to understand why game designers would make these systems that are difficult to use and still have them pass testing, are the testers simply too bored to care?

re: evil version

My aunt swears that she met a guy just like me (same sounding voice, hair color, hair style, age) in a grocery store once. That must have been my good twin. I also have a chin beard, and can do a bellowing villainous laugh reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons.

I loved the hardcore mode of NV and would never consider playing without it. The great thing about that feature was that it was a (somewhat) supported feature that presumably had been tested. I think the argument that convenience features can be turned off or not used is a fallacy, because it's impossible to tell beforehand whether the game will work or feel balanced without it.
I'm an old school gamer and if I am presented with a set of house rules, I play by the rules even if I disagree with them, because that results in a better gameplay experience for everyone involved. That may sound silly in a single-player game where no one else is affected. However if a single-player game presents me with a specific ruleset, I have to assume that this is how the designer intended the game to be played, which would hopefully lead to the best gameplay experience.

More concretely turning off quest guides or modding away hints in a game often doesn't work so well if the world is lacking other types of guiding. Games without GPS aids relies on more subtle hints to guide the player. If the game doesn't have those hints turning off the GPS will leave the player blind. As players we simply don't know what feature set would work in this case until subsequent playthroughs.

On the matter of junk items, I think when DA2 took the step to label junk as junk was the point where they might as well have left it out completely. It seemed so obvious that the designers never even considered why games have 'junk' items and whether DA2 would be better off without them.
Junk can be used in a good way to 'clutter' the game world, to give the illusion that the world is bigger than it is. It's part of a magic trick, but the moment the mechanics of the illusion is shown is the moment it breaks. As players we really don't need to know that the junk serves no mechanical purpose.
DA:O used the classical approach to junk. The junk was not junk but vendor treasure. Bottles of Orlesian wine, expensive paintings, exquisite jewelry. It looked and felt like treasure. In DA2 junk was junk and therefore pointless. Even the icon was junk.

While it is true that most fighting games are about the mechanics or appearance and not about the actual character, there also exists Blazblue with the storymode of a whole Jrpg infused into it's mix of epic mechanics and whatnot which kinda differentiates it from other fighters, in that game people usually just play who they like the best as a character (if they can manage their mechanics well enough) and I felt this oversight in mentioning it needed rectifying since today is the game's latest release in Japan.

Then we have things like marvel vs capcom where the characters are from comics or other games and also come in the game with a developed persona which people choose them based on, being able to use Amaterasu from Okami in a fighting game was so beyond awesome just because of the character being really amazing.

Talking about Amaterasu (here's how a real segway works, podfolks! :P) I think the part of femininity discussed here also comes in play. Amaterasu is a goddess...but her physical appearance in Okami is that of a male wolf, she even behaves like a wolf and not like a divine being in the shape of a wolf. How much would you guys say she is actually a strong female character whose sex simply doesn't matter at all to the plot (so, pretty much the perfect female protagonist) or would you say is she a character whose femininity is so eliminated that she doesn't even count as a female character at all any more?

Where do you think is the line between having a female character whose gender does not matter at all and having a character simply not be female at all?

Nimzar:
I'm another person that kept Gorian's letter all through Baldur's Gate... and was a little bummed that it was gone in Baldur's Gate 2.

That said I think in terms of Modern RPG elements taking away from the experience... Morrowind was hard to get into for me because you pretty much had no point of reference to find things it was frustrating to look for a specific cave in that game. I think if Morrowind had marked the general location of a quest on the world map it would have been the perfect solution to that issue. You could tell you were in the general area but after that you'd have find the cave.

I found everything as a 11 year old kid, morrowind would suck without the requirement to find things, its like the only game where true exploration can take place. :<

The big problem i have with most modern RPGs is how dammed sterile most of them are, DA, DAII, Oblivion and Skyrim suffered greatly from this. They simply don't have the right feel to them whereas an objectively lesser game like "The Witcher" just feels right even though its mechanics and polish are vastly outclassed on paper.

And that is the key point, on paper Skyrim is perfect, in reality it sufferes from a problem i have come to call "Bethesdafication" since Oblivion. Fallout 3, Fallout NV and Skyrim all suffer from it. The games are ultimately not great to follow the main story or even side stories in. You become so detached from the world that you just want to dick arround and the games increasingly punish dicking around, this is why i think modding is the ONLY way to go with a modern Bethesda game. They have this odd mind-numbing dullness to them.

The best new fusion of RPG elements i can think of has been the STALKER games, simply because first and foremost they NAIL the investment and immsersion in the world. Item based progression coupled with a lose quest structure and semi-sandbox world make for an experince that beats many 'propper' RPGs at their own game.

Escapist Podcast Extended Edition! 7 minutes of bonus audio!

I fixed the ending cut off. It might take a little bit for it to propagate out to certain things like iTunes, but it plays all the way through on the site now.

Slycne:
Escapist Podcast Extended Edition! 7 minutes of bonus audio!

I fixed the ending cut off. It might take a little bit for it to propagate out to certain things like iTunes, but it plays all the way through on the site now.

Thanks for editing that audio, video editor.

Modern RPGs may be ruining the genre, but this discussion and the piece of mr. Avellone that started this, misses the point.

Maps and quest compasses may ruin your experience if RPGs are all about exploration to you, but to me exploration is just a small, possibly optional, part of the RPG.

Then again, to me a "cRPG" is any computer game that is marketed as RPG, has some sort of experience or level system in it and is not a fullscale strategy or wargame.

The last 2 parts are rarely needed, because to date anything that says "RPG" on the box is hailed as an RPG by the gaming press and the gaming community and the games have been very diverse.
Games belonging to this super-genre then should be treated as simply games. Do all games need exploration? No, just examine the various genres. I certainly don't feel the need to waste hours watching my PC putting one foot before the other, even if it's in a pretty landscape and all that map and compass may do is save me time.

So that thing that hypothetically ruins modern RPGs will ruin modern games in general. The merits of things like quality control, patches and challenge should be examined.

One of the reasons that wasn't mentioned in the podcast why males comment a lot on extremely sexualized females in video games is because these often betray a very low opinion of the male audience. I definitely think that plays a role as well.

Steve Butts:

Slycne:
Escapist Podcast Extended Edition! 7 minutes of bonus audio!

I fixed the ending cut off. It might take a little bit for it to propagate out to certain things like iTunes, but it plays all the way through on the site now.

Thanks for editing that audio, video editor.

Video audio tank editor ninja?

I disagree with susan on what classifies as sexist. I don't think openly stating that you are going to be sexist excuses you from being sexist, it just shows you don't give a rat's ass. I tend to see if it's exploitive, if the gameplay/story is compromised to allow more close to nude shots or all the characters fighting moves reference sex.

I guess the main thing I look at is if the character has no defining features other than being sexy.

I really liked the comparison to having a GPS and not being able to memorize roads in town.

I really related to this with Oblivion and Morrowind in a way.

With Morrowind, I pretty much memorized every path to every town and knew where every building was by the end of a single play-through.

With Oblivion, though, I didn't really figure out where locations on the map ever were. The marker pointing me to quest targets really crippled me in that sense.

In Morrowind, if I was asked to find a guy in a place, I would have a plan in my head on how to proceed. In Oblivion, without the map marker pointing at them, I'd have no idea.

This also made me explore less and "get to know my neighbors" in a way. I was pretty much familiar with every town and where everyone lived in Morrowind, while not giving two shits about the housing situation of NPCs in the latter game.

I can't agree on what you said about fighting games. Like you don't expect story or character depth, just pick a char you like or whose style suits you.

While that may true for run-of-the-mill fighting games, there are notable exceptions to that. And I'm not even into fighting games at all. When you say something like that it's like saying "You don't expect story or character depth from an FPS, you just pick a gun you like or which style suits you". May be true for a lot out there, but there's a row of very notable exceptions.

Back to fighting games, I'm subscribed to a guy on YouTube that does Let's Plays and usually I watch his videos about a game I'm interested in buying, but sometimes I also simply use his videos to get in touch with genres I usually avoid. That's how I stumbled across footage of some Naruto Ultimate Ninja Ultra Super I-dunno fighting game, which had story, somewhat complex characters, dynamic boss battles with different strategies and even small "RPG elements" like an inventory system with some items being hotkey-bindable and usable in battle.

So I think fighting games aren't just memorizing stun combos anymore.

I was a bit disappointed that a lot of people didn't seem to get the point of a lot of the complaints about Skullgirls. That is, ho hum, more animated bouncing boobs - no-one was at all surprised or shocked at that, it's par for the course, especially in fighting games. (Soulcalibur or King of Fighters, anyone?) It's cheap, pandering and tedious, but not remarkable.

It was the stupid response to people pointing out that the character designs were cheap, pandering and tedious that really pissed people off. Saying (a) it can't be sexist because a woman designed those boobs and (b) accusing complainers of white knighting - that was never going to go down well. If the lead designer had just said, "we don't care, we want to make cartoony sexdoll characters because we think that's fun" in the first place, okay so it would still have been cheap, pandering and tedious, but at least it would be unashamedly so. Thing is, that didn't happen.

It's much like the whole Dickwolves business, really - the original comic annoyed a few people, but the arsehole responses from the Penny Arcade guys to the few people who said they didn't like the comic was what really wound people up.

Thing is, there are games I love that have ridiculous animated boobs in them - I'm replaying Dragon Quest 8 right now and that's full of cartoon boobs, one of your characters even learns a move called Puff-Puff to stun enemies with the sheer sexiness of her bosom! I don't expect games to be 100% right-on and progressive! I just hope that when someone says, "you know, that there, that's a bit crass and a bit sexist, eh?" that people will actually listen and think rather than going straight on the attack and being an arsehole.

*headdesk* Fast travel,ect is not the problem the problem is diluted skills and leveling systems that make it too easy/simple to raise and diluted equipment thats over simplified.

Regarding RPGs... I never use the fast travel in Skyrim and Oblivion. I feel the silt striders and other means of travel (and just plain walking) really give a definite feel of "openness" to a world which is completely defeated by the fast travel system.
As for Morrowind... I took notes and plenty of them. I have a binderful of maps, notes on quests and the like which helped me keep track of what I was doing and where I was supposed to go. It was fun and neat (and completely OCD of me) at the time, but I sure am glad that I don't have to do that anymore (lack of time, and definitely wasteful when it comes down to paper consumption).

Still lovin' the podcast, guys, look forward to it every week, it's become a part of my weekend (my routine is now this: Saturday morning I download the Escapist podcast and Sunday morning, I download the Car Talk podcast XD ).

Scrumpmonkey:
The big problem i have with most modern RPGs is how dammed sterile most of them are, DA, DAII, Oblivion and Skyrim suffered greatly from this. They simply don't have the right feel to them whereas an objectively lesser game like "The Witcher" just feels right even though its mechanics and polish are vastly outclassed on paper.

And that is the key point, on paper Skyrim is perfect, in reality it sufferes from a problem i have come to call "Bethesdafication" since Oblivion. Fallout 3, Fallout NV and Skyrim all suffer from it. The games are ultimately not great to follow the main story or even side stories in. You become so detached from the world that you just want to dick arround and the games increasingly punish dicking around, this is why i think modding is the ONLY way to go with a modern Bethesda game. They have this odd mind-numbing dullness to them.

The best new fusion of RPG elements i can think of has been the STALKER games, simply because first and foremost they NAIL the investment and immsersion in the world. Item based progression coupled with a lose quest structure and semi-sandbox world make for an experince that beats many 'propper' RPGs at their own game.

I disagree..fallout 3, because I found the world so interesting..I cared about that was going on

fallout NV was by obsidian..and was less of a "dick around" type game..it actually had a better story/charachters/ and I think it was structured different to fallou 3

Re: RPGs

As a long time pen-and-paper RPG player, I still find a lot of cRPGs' conventions immersion-breaking. The plot of almost every cRPG is some variation of save the world, but every one of them will incorporate some elements of grinding, sidequesting, crafting and exploration. And I always feel if I were actually role-playing my character, I would think time is of the essence and I don't have time for sight-seeing or to learn a bunch of trades that normally take years to master when I can pay for these things with the gold from all the monsters I kill.

I actually find the plots of old 8-bit/16-bit era RPGs to be more immersive. They were usually along the lines of a) the Dark Lord has been in charge for a long time, but maybe a hero (i.e., YOU) can work long and hard and eventually become good enough to overthrow him and the status quo, b) you're out to right some smaller wrong (avenge your brother, save the princess) but later in the game you discover the stakes are much bigger than you thought, c) it's your job to go around dealing with monster infestations or explore dungeons, but later you learn something bigger is happening. Basically time didn't seem critical until very near the endgame.

Re: peripherals and immersion

A few years ago the arcade near my house got the Time Crisis 2 cabinet with the guns that have fake recoil. I got really good at it. But it absolutely ruined me for any other light gun game that didn't use recoil. Now when I play those games I feel like I'm just pointing a piece of plastic at the screen.

Marik Bentusi:
Back to fighting games, I'm subscribed to a guy on YouTube that does Let's Plays and usually I watch his videos about a game I'm interested in buying, but sometimes I also simply use his videos to get in touch with genres I usually avoid. That's how I stumbled across footage of some Naruto Ultimate Ninja Ultra Super I-dunno fighting game, which had story, somewhat complex characters, dynamic boss battles with different strategies and even small "RPG elements" like an inventory system with some items being hotkey-bindable and usable in battle.

So I think fighting games aren't just memorizing stun combos anymore.

Naruto's an exception, though, because it's an adaptation of an extremely long-running manga/anime series which the devs can reference for characterization, background and stories. Not that adaptations always make the game deeper--Marvel vs. Capcom isn't really deeper than any other fighting game--but the resources exist. Whereas I can't think of an original property fighting game that didn't ultimately have really shallow characters and plots.

Dude, like, you guys, like say, 'like' more than than like, twenty times in like, the same two minute intro to the like, opening like theme song like thing.

I got to the 28 minute mark, and so far I have (after the intro) 72 misuses of the word like. The word was used properly a few times, I didn't count those.

I love this website. Thanks for dealing with me!

This is why for me, JRPG>WRPG every time. I'll take a story-telling experience and a rich world with secrets in it over something that's just a mass of towns and dungeons and things to find. Nothing wrong with that, but for me the genre transcends when the story-telling integrates it all and permeates everything, and the world truly reacts to you.

I'm the Dragonborn, Arch-Mage of Skyrim, Master of conjuring, destruction and restoration magicks, Thane of Whiterun and a member of the inner circle of the Companions. I've conversed with Daedric Princes older than the race of men, slayed hundreds of bandits single-handedly and stared dragons in the eye when putting the final blow in with my handcrafted masterwork sword.

Why does none of this seem to matter? It's great fun to just do these things, but I don't feel like anything I've done over the course of the game has been important, because there isn't any narrative context for any of it.

So are modern RPGs ruining the WRPG? Not for me, but you can hold that view if you want. But there are different schools of RPG out there that are just fine.

The Escapist Staff:
025: Are Modern RPGs Ruining the Genre?

This week, we discuss if modern conveniences and mechanics are ruining the RPG genre. We also talk about Skullgirls, the claims of sexism against it and how gender effects the industry in other ways.

Watch Video

About Fast Travel, it serves a real purpose in most cases. The question we have to ask is, if I'm walking from Whiterun to Dawnstar, am I 'exploring,' or am I just 'commuting?' I'd say that probably the first couple of times, I'm exploring on the way... but after that?

Additionally, I'd argue that having fast travel encourages exploration for more players.

On a long trip, without a fast travel system:

I've got a long way to go, and I already know a major percentage of my play time is going to be spent on travel. For every step I take off the beaten path, I'm adding two steps to my journey -- the time it takes to get to the detour, and the time to get back on track. I'd have to know, without a doubt, that where I'm going is worth the time. As a result, there are a lot of curiosities I would miss because I can't guarantee it's worthwhile to take the time.

On a long trip, with a fast travel system:

I've got a long way to go to this new city, since I don't have it "discovered" yet. But when I see a new destination in the distance, I instantly know two things. One, if it's not worth the effort, I can easily regain the "lost time" by fast traveling to another landmark along the journey. Two, I now have a new "hub" from which I can explore that entire area at a later date -- I can just fast travel to that cave and branch out from there.

Think of your play time like fuel. If you have no way of conserving fuel, you're going to be less likely to take new or indirect routes, for fear of waste. But if you had a near-infinite tank of fuel, you'd be much more likely to go to new places or take the "road less traveled" because you're no longer worried about getting lost or stranded.

________

And the other side: To avoid over-populating the world with fast-travel points, a game can go the route of creating "hubs" instead. Rather than allowing you to fast travel to every discovered location, you can fast travel to a smaller (but still respectable) number of "crossroads" that will put you within striking distance of that destination, thus increasing your likelihood of exploring new locations or having random encounters.

_______

Overall: A sense of exploration or size in a game world isn't just about the amount of time it takes to travel or the presence/absence of guidance along the way. It's about whether the player feels they are traveling through Space (the game's world), or just through Time (the expenditure of minutes of their leisure time). Both will always be necessary, but we just have to ask ourselves of which we are making the player more aware.

In general, fast travel systems can provide a player important anchor points from which they feel they have permission to explore, with a lot less risk of losing time. As a result, they can focus on a greater sense of the game's space.

Sober Thal:
My brain is wired a certain way...

I had the desire to type what I was thinking while I listened to this Podcast. I go all over the place. I make little sense. I typed all kinda crap here.

I love this website. Thanks for dealing with me!

Just stop the whole 'like, you know, really, uhm, er, like' crap. Talk responsibly!

BTW... Thanks for your 'Thanks for Failing' article Susan!

I hate your twitters and emails : P

I'm sorry, I don't know what you're referencing with the "deceive you" comment.

Sober Thal:
Dude, like, you guys, like say, 'like' more than than like, twenty times in like, the same two minute intro to the like, opening like theme song like thing.

I got to the 28 minute mark, and so far I have (after the intro) 72 misuses of the word like. The word was used properly a few times, I didn't count those.

I love this website.

Yeah, it's just the people you hate.

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