There's Not Much Role-Playing in Role-Playing Games These Days

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I think Long Live the Queen has some mechanics that could come in handy. In that game it was more about the character's mood, rather than her overall personality, but the important thing was that her mood was not always affected just by her actions, but rather by the consequences of her actions, or just by stuff that happened to her.

In applying that to other games, I'm thinking, if you choose to be aggressive to someone and he ends up backing down, it will make you more aggressive, because your character just saw aggression get the job done. However, if it results in him getting punched in the face and beaten to a pulp, he may be less aggressive, since he was just shown that aggression can have consequences.

If there are no immediate consequences, you can default to the action and not the consequence determining the changes in the character.

I much preferred the Dragon Age Origins method of giving you a load of lines in any assorted order, and letting you pick an option without necessarily having a clue where it was meant to be on the good / bad spectrum. Wheels just seem a bit half-arsed, to be honest. They may as well go the whole hog and get you to select the conversation route in the game set-up, so conversations become little movies.

Imre Csete:
But it has no custom character so I guess it's not a true RPG.

The character was totally customisable. You could give that posh white guy a lumberjack beard, sunglasses and sombrero while he was infiltrating CIA safehouses.

Dammit, now I'm going to have to do another Alpha Protocol run-through. By far the best game for meaningful choices out there. The fact that that received no sequel (or similar story in the same kind of setting, not necessarily a follow-on), when you see some of the garbage that has, is criminal.

Honestly, I think role playing games would benefit far more from fewer mechanics as opposed to more.

There are three core elements for a good RPG; a role to play, a world that reacts to that role and a whole lot of imagination. Cumbersome alignment systems and dialogue trees can actually do more to hinder that last element.

Oddly enough, I've been having the most fun lately role playing in Skyrim, a seven year old game that was vastly criticized for the shallowness of its quest lines. And yet, it's precisely this shallowness that's made it so fun. The stripped down mechanics actually enable the player to graft their own stories onto the framework world and fully engage their imagination.

For example, in one playthrough, I decided to replicate Michael Moorcock's famous anti-hero, Elric of Melnibone'. With a simple backstory and a presumption that the Daedra were actually the Lords of Chaos, I could inhabit the role of Elric and play out my own narrative against the backdrop of the game. It was a blast!

In another, I played as an archer that was initially intended to be a roguish forest hero in the vein of Robin Hood (Errol Flynn version...not Russell Crowe). Then I discovered the Sneak/Archery synergy. From that point on, my whole gameplay style and character changed. With enough time, skill and perks, I became a bad-ass sniper who could sneak through any dungeon and slaughter all but the baddest boss with a single shot without ever being detected. For that, I had my trusty one-arm and block skills.

And that actually determined the role I played as the character. When I stepped into his Nightengale boots, I became calm, patient and morally ambiguous. I destroyed the Dark Brotherhood solely because they were atrocious at assassinations (honestly, who runs up to a man on horseback and attacks him with a pair of daggers in broad daylight?), but I also led dragons to towns so the guards would do the heavy lifting and I could strike the killing blow.

And in a small way, the world DID react to my presence. I incurred bounties, guards commented on my Daedric artifacts or snazzy Nightengale armor and recognized me as Dragonborn after vanquishing Alduin. This was far more fun than artificial alignment constraints or dialogue trees.

TL;DR - There are three core components to a good RPG, a role to play, a world that reacts to that role and one's own imagination. Adding more gaming mechanics tend to throttle the imagine component and, in my opinion, limit the role playing experience rather than enhance it.

Over to you, comments. What are some fun things you could do with the results of dialogue choices that don't become something a player might mechanically strive for?

Affect how the game plays out in line with your preferences?

e.g. You pick a faction because you like what the faction stands for. No mechanical advantage. You will just be doing objectives whose results, if you succeed, you agree with.

I like your idea of the stats being affected by dialogue choices and agree there is an issue of it becoming more of a mechanical focus. I propose a solution to that problem (or a couple solutions that don't have to be mutually exclusive).

I remember D&D introduced (at some point) flaws to help round out your characters that you took along with feats and skills (if you so chose to). What if by picking certain responses (like aggressive for your example), you gain a point in Strength or something. For every point you gain in strength, you set a level cap in another stat (say intelligence or wisdom [using D&D stats for this example, sorry]). Or, something more direct, could be certain missions in the game aren't allowed simply because they require someone who isn't aggressive and hot headed. Something less direct, but still more noticeable, could be tying that relationship idea you mentioned to the stat bonus. you gain strength, but maybe the blue girl doesn't like you being aggressive. Each stat offers at least one good romance option, but you can't get all of them.

Alternatively, maybe just allow you to set the personality at the start so you get one solid story with a solid protagonist. Especially if the choices don't REALLY matter enough to make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

Synigma:
An aspect to old Bioware games I'm sorry they moved away from: You used to be able to lose characters if you pissed them off or just acted against their interests too many times.

fractal_butterfly:
I think the main problem are the rigid multiple choice dialogue systems themselves. You can't have a natural conversation with that. Also in all RPGs, NPCs do not have anything like emotions or relationships. They should have something, that reflects their attitude towards the player character(s), and maybe each other. They could love or hate the player, could be loyal or treacherous towards him, could fear him or not take him seriously. The right conversation options would then shift these values. A little bit like in the Sims or Stardew Valley. You could then unlock new dialogue options, but you would close up others.

This reminded me of one of the reasons I loved Dragon Age Origins. Each character had a like/dislike bar that showed you how they felt towards you. You could alter how they felt depending on the actions you took and the conversations you had with them. It gave the conversations a tangible feel; You felt closer to the characters because you had to figure out their interests and sense of humour in order to max out the bar. You would even make some decisions based on how it made some party members feel. There were a few in game buffs to the characters for winning their loyalty but frankly I didn't even notice the difference.

My main problem was with the attached gifting system; finding special 'gift' items that ended up just being a matching game since they were all basically created for specific characters. And by late game you could just buy all the gifts for everyone and effectively buy everyone's love if you wanted to.

I think they should bring back something like that though: Maybe remove the visible bar and instead just alter how the character greets you when you talk to them, especially since they can now (arguably) have facial cues to help express how they feel toward you.

Also I hope they get away from defining answers as specific things ie: 1) the lovey-dovey answer, 2) the hard-as-nails answer, 3) quirky-sarcastic answer. This just takes you out of the RP and reminds you that you're just ticking a box. It should be less about your 'personality' and more about how the characters react to your individual choices.

This, pretty much. Also, even though there was a friendship bar in Dragon Age: Origins, it was slightly harder to game than, say, the Paragon/Renegade-system in Mass Effect. Partly because every party member would react to what you said and did and you could bet your behind that one of them would get pissy at you (looking at you, Sten), but also because sometimes it wasn't clear what would give the best or worst reaction out of a character.

The best example of this for me is at one point when you've started to become friends (or bed buddies) with Morrigan. In one conversation the subject of family comes up, and since I was playing a mage (and thus had not had everyone I've ever loved carved up like Thanksgiving-turkey) I apparently had a mother somewhere that's still alive. Not that we ever see her, but anyhow...

Morrigan asks you how you feel about you mother, and the choices range from "love her" to "hate her" to "shut up". Bearing in mind Morrigan is a lady who certainly does not get along well with her own mother, and in fact seems to actively object to any compassion or positive feelings whatsoever, guess which of the responses gives you the most points towards being best buddies with her?

The response that you love your mother. To which Morrigan replies with a kind of stumped and awkward "I... see". Sure, she is totally on board if you say that you hate your mother, but it doesn't give as many friendship-points (or whatever you want to call them) as saying you love her.

I'd like to see this more. Situations where what might seem like the most obvious response to butter up to someone turns out to not be the most optimal one.

I know that in Bioware's games, I used to trend towards Paragon-esque options, but I eventually got bored and just chose the snarky/witty/humorous choices whenever they popped up. Nothing quite like delivering a healthy load of snark on the Big Bad's monologue.

Personally though, I'm just fine with the illusion that my choices matter. I know a lot of people like to look behind the smoke and mirrors and say "it's the same no matter what you do! Lazy developers! Boo!", but that's just not me. I mean, the Telltale series are notorious for more or less going the same way no matter what happens, but I still love them because they're so expertly crafted so that it still (for the most part) FEELS like everything you do matters somewhat.

I wouldn't mind more "the developers think of everything" moments, though. I felt a little sad in Skyrim when some Baroness threatened to sick the Dark Brotherhood on me, and I couldn't respond "I'm the leader of the Dark Brotherhood, ma'am."

SilverUchiha:
Alternatively, maybe just allow you to set the personality at the start so you get one solid story with a solid protagonist. Especially if the choices don't REALLY matter enough to make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

I dunno, some people might want to change their character type partway. A nice character might get cynical or just sarcastic *raises hand*, or a tough one might soften up somewhat.

Might even just be on certain situations. I know there's been a couple of times where my goodie-two-shoes character finally ran out of patience for a certain character (like in The Walking Dead where some guy who almost literally stabs you in the back for SAVING THEIR LIFE starts threatening you to keep away from their daughter. Fuck that guy).

Infernal Lawyer:
I know that in Bioware's games, I used to trend towards Paragon-esque options, but I eventually got bored and just chose the snarky/witty/humorous choices whenever they popped up. Nothing quite like delivering a healthy load of snark on the Big Bad's monologue.

Personally though, I'm just fine with the illusion that my choices matter. I know a lot of people like to look behind the smoke and mirrors and say "it's the same no matter what you do! Lazy developers! Boo!", but that's just not me. I mean, the Telltale series are notorious for more or less going the same way no matter what happens, but I still love them because they're so expertly crafted so that it still (for the most part) FEELS like everything you do matters somewhat.

I wouldn't mind more "the developers think of everything" moments, though. I felt a little sad in Skyrim when some Baroness threatened to sick the Dark Brotherhood on me, and I couldn't respond "I'm the leader of the Dark Brotherhood, ma'am."

Yeah that is something that I find is lacking in a lot of the RPG games there is no real acknowledgment to the rank you achieve in society. You can become the leader of all the guilds and yet the common peasant still treats you like a nobody and gives you a stupid fetch quest.

The best way to do it is to have the game keep track of how often a player chooses certain dialogue options (and in what situations, if that's possible) and then alter future dialogue in the game accordingly. Have certain conversation options simply not appear; for example, if your character has a tendency to be blunt and to the point, an NPC familiar with that behaviour might not decide to bore you with small talk about their life story. Even better, alter the player character's undirected dialogue; a more brusque character will start to speak in shorter, clipped sentences even when the player isn't given the opportunity to decide to do so. An insanely violent and aggressive character will start to terrify potential opponents; a more cautious and diplomatic character may instead receive scorn from the same NPC.

Like, say you meet a tough krogan guy who only respects force. It'd be "You're an asshole, Ryder. I like that." versus "You haven't got what it takes, Ryder. You haven't got the balls." Add a third or fourth option for the median grounds between the two extremes. Not only would it greatly increase the quality of the game, it'd greatly increase the replayability.

The obstacle is that the larger and more sandboxy a game gets, the more expensive it is to have variable dialogue. And big-budget companies like EA are not willing to spend four or five times as much money on voice acting for the sake of making a good game. I mean, shit, the reason the character animations were so godawful was because EA outsourced that job to someone cheaper and shittier.

(They'd rather spend ten million dollars on advertising for a piece-of-shit game.)

C117:

Synigma:
*snip*

This, pretty much. Also, even though there was a friendship bar in Dragon Age: Origins, it was slightly harder to game than, say, the Paragon/Renegade-system in Mass Effect. Partly because every party member would react to what you said and did and you could bet your behind that one of them would get pissy at you (looking at you, Sten), but also because sometimes it wasn't clear what would give the best or worst reaction out of a character.

The best example of this for me is at one point when you've started to become friends (or bed buddies) with Morrigan. In one conversation the subject of family comes up, and since I was playing a mage (and thus had not had everyone I've ever loved carved up like Thanksgiving-turkey) I apparently had a mother somewhere that's still alive. Not that we ever see her, but anyhow...

Morrigan asks you how you feel about you mother, and the choices range from "love her" to "hate her" to "shut up". Bearing in mind Morrigan is a lady who certainly does not get along well with her own mother, and in fact seems to actively object to any compassion or positive feelings whatsoever, guess which of the responses gives you the most points towards being best buddies with her?

The response that you love your mother. To which Morrigan replies with a kind of stumped and awkward "I... see". Sure, she is totally on board if you say that you hate your mother, but it doesn't give as many friendship-points (or whatever you want to call them) as saying you love her.

I'd like to see this more. Situations where what might seem like the most obvious response to butter up to someone turns out to not be the most optimal one.

I think you nailed it on the head with that example; The characters weren't predictable and the way they reacted gave them all depth. Morrigan hated her mother so of course she can sympathize if you hated yours. But if you told her you loved your mother you got to see a glimpse into her psyche. Deep down she wishes she had loving parents who accepted her instead of the cold witch who raised her...

She wasn't just Stone Cold Female Character 1A who respects a player who has selected 50+ 'professionally detached' answers.

I think it boils down to the general trend of quantity over quality. Creating in depth characters like that requires weighing every character's response to every choice the player makes. It's just so much easier to create a system like paragon/renegade (or the new one with 4 variables I think?) and have everyone react to that... but that's not how humans work. Sure a person's reputation might have some effect on how we see them but ultimately most of us treat people based on how they treat us and the actions we see them take.

It's not exactly possible to have a true role-playing video game apart from playing a P&P game over Tabletop Simulator.

You should pick a different target than the dialogue wheel if you are going for a "these days" article. Sure, some games have reduced it to such a barebones interface it is hard to defend (looking at you, Fallout 4), but games in the past have not been much better at handling dialogue choices.

If you are going to attack at the way RPG has become less and less about "role" than ever before, I would focus on how little real customization they allow. Sure, some let you change your hair style or having a heavy plate instead of a shirt, but that doesn't say anything about *your* character. Most games these days allow for very little expression on the part of the player, other than what skin and gun you like the most. For example, in the first Fallout games, you could play a Mr Magoo with incredible luck but terrible perception, or a Hulk with godlike strength but barely any intelligence, and the game would have options and dialogue to accommodate with that. It goes beyond dialogue costs, it is a design philosophy: most games now are not role playing games, but games with role playing elements.

There isn't a good way to implement the kind of role-playing games that having meaningful role-play would work. At this point in time Video Games are stuck on one side of the Role Playing Game forest. Lead-by-the-Nose is all there is. When Video Games venture outside of Lead by the Nose, you get the Original Zelda, and Breath of the Wild. The story is rather weak where you're playing and confined to an Instruction Manual, or cutscenes of the Past. The more you want to tell a story in the game as it is played the more confined your actions have to become.

In D&D this isn't the case. Your DM might have a lead by the nose, but it might also be ad hoc with a detailed story still being told. The difference between Video Games and D&D, in this case, is that an Intelligent Story Teller who knows the players is required. Bioware doesn't know the players. They know themselves and can only write and anticipate future behavior they won't see. So, they end up creating odd quirky things that don't work well if you did middle of the road. A good DM would be able to adapt to who want to play their way, but unless Bioware wants to sell a DM Slave with their games, that's not happening anytime soon.

When we can have Intelligent Robot DM's is the moment those games happen.

Thought a bit about this. If you want to have more versimilitude in your dialogues, you should do away with global counters for "sarcastic", "honest", and so on. I think they are meaningless.
I usually have a distinct way I respond to each person in my life. I'm more serious when talking to my parents, detached with my roommate, straight with my boss etc.
So in a Bioware game, they should track how you respond to particular companion and allow you to shape your relationship with him/her in that way. I first thought it might be a problem that the game could misinterpret your actions, but as long gives you the option to confront it, that would actually be even more life-like.
Additionally, your effectiveness to use a certain mode of talking might increase with use. A joker might be able to defuse a tense situation with a witty remark, but he might not find the right words to console someone, or order a companion to go on a suicide mission.
Such a system could still be gamed, but if your writing is solid, any approach could be valid, so that character expression takes precedence over power-gaming.

It still has the problem that any one player will only see part of all the available dialogue. But I'm unsure you can have better gameplay without better reactivity, and better reactivity has to have more custom content.

Yahtzee, I think your criticisms in EP are very fair. There is nothing wrong with wanting more out of a game like that. I think that was part of my problem with KOTOR and it made me skip out on Mass Effect completely. I felt like I was given so many choices, but none of my dialogue or decisions really made a difference at the end of the day. I feel like I'm more driven to play RPGs that are more narrative driven with characters that are already fleshed out. That way I don't have to assume (from what few choices I have) what I would want my character to say, then be disappointed with the responses or the following actions. The "choice" seems very robotic indeed.

Wouldn't it be interesting for a game to have an hourglass shaped story. Like, the game begins and the player is presented with their usual character creator with the added benefit of choosing some of the details of your characters past. Certain choices will have you start in different places and the story will affect you differently depending on where you start. The story will begin to bottleneck to a certain all important event and then the player will be given more freedom to determine where the story goes, leading to multiple endings based on morality, personality, and event choices. (Coupled with dialogue trees that accurately represent what the character is going to say (Lookin' at you Inquisition!) and consequences/rewards for saying or doing the right/wrong thing). From humble farmer to king of the land. From righteous knight to vile death-bringer. And every step of the way the world reacts to the decisions the player makes. The peasants and knights alike will react to the rise/fall of the farmer/knight, and so on.

I'd certainly love to play a video game that gave me that much freedom, though it is highly unrealistic.

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