Sandbox RPGs-My view on the Genre.

Warning-long post.

With the recent release of both Fable 2 and Fallout 3 there is currently a lot of discussion on the Internet (or more specifically this forum) about freedom, morality and all the other things modern RPGs claim to have. With these two games in mind I started thinking about what makes these aspirations desirable, how far games have come to achieving their goals and what the best direction for future RPGs to take.

Before I begin let me first clarifying a few terms I will use throughout this post. Firstly by real-RPG I am referring to a DnD style tabletop game. Secondly I will be using the Wikipedia definition of RPG throughout this post for video games (henceforth referred to as CRPGs). Thirdly I will be referencing many games throughout this post and some spoilers may appear, I apologise in advance and will try to keep them is spoiler-blocks.

Now on to the actual bulk of the post, I'm going to be dividing this up into an analysis of various different aspects of games and how they affect sandbox RPGs.
But first a quick look at what these games are trying to achieve. The easiest way to do this is to look at how these games advertise themselves, here are some quotes from the backs of boxes and from various advertisements:

Fable 2:
A new life, a unique adventure-every time!

Live life your way!

Fallout 2:
Tough choices and even tougher consequences await you.

Morrowind:
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind is the most detailed game world ever created, where you create and play any kind of character you can imagine.

Mass Effect:
Experience a rich and engrossing story where your choices decide the fate of a galaxy.

Engage in emotionally charged interactions with the most realistic digital actors ever seen in a video game, using an innovative new dialog system

From just these examples clear patterns emerge , these games want :

A) A detailed setting for players to explore.

B)Characters that are created and controlled by the player rather than pre-made ones used in games like Half-Life and Gears of War.

C)Choices that affect the world and the cause the player to stop and pause.

D)Ultimately these all boil down to one thing many RPG's are trying to include: Freedom, being able to be whoever you want, doing whatever you want in a believable expansive setting created to facilitate your choices, whatever they may be.

Now lets move on to how the developers try to achieve these goals, by looking at the various parts of a game.

Graphics. My first reaction is that graphics clearly are of absolutely no relevance or importance whatsoever, however upon further reflection they do have larger importance than I first thought. Primarily they add to immersion, but there's actually very little difference in the relative levels of Immersion based purely on graphics, HD NPCs won't help much to get past the fundamental fact that you're still sitting down pushing buttons whilst looking at a screen. They do however help to allow the player to sympathise and care for the NPCs; it's much easier to care about say Alyx from Half-Life 2 than it is to care about a random citizen in Fallout as in fallout the have no expressions and look identical to dozens of other NPCs some of which may even be visible on the same screen. Another advantage of better graphics is with character customisation, compare for example Baldur's Gate with Neverwinter Nights 2, more physical customisation leads to a more unique character adding to a players sense of freedom.
I feel that the best way for games to move forward graphically is for them to continue to develop realistic facial movements, make NPCs more unique and to allow for character customisation (more on that later).

Gameplay. Whilst many people would say that gameplay is the most important aspect of a game by a large margin (and I largely agree) for the purposes of what I'm looking at here it is even less important than graphics. Now I'll qualify that statement by saying that whilst gampla has an impact on the overall quality of a game, for the games quality as a sandbox RPG, it is largely irrelevant. There is one key feature for gameplay though and hat is to keep all the different gamplay modes seamless, what I mean here is like in Oblivion or Fable keep the combat, stealth and general exploration gameplay all on the screen, so unlike say Final Fantasy where you break from Overworld Map to the standard gameplay to the battle screen. This breaks up the game significantly, it also stops the player from being able to enter combat with anyone at any time, being able to kill/rob any/all NPCs is a simple freedom and adds a lot to a games quality as a sandbox RPG. The main offender here is the original Fallout with its overworld map, this added to the games sense of scale but limited exploration.
Where games go from here is a tough question, there are many different gameplay styles but they have little effect on its sandbox status. Overall I feel that the Oblivion/Morrowind style where you can enter stealth mode with the press of a button and attack with another and you're never using a different set of controls. For games that go down the turn-based combat route(Fallout 1 style) using the same interface, being able to enter/exit combat at any time and most importantly being able to do all the none-combat things (looting, using machinery, etc.) during combat is the way to go.

Story. I'll just say this first stories in video-games suck. I don't even mean that they're sub-par to books or films, generally they are beyond appalling, seriously even the best games have a plot that barely reaches the level of B-Movie or an Airport Fantasy. RPGs are generally a cut above the standard (but that's not saying much), sadly adding in a sandbox element drastically hurts any attempt to add in a major plotline. Before I go into how to avoid this let's first look at why sandbox elements detract from any attempt to add in a story. First of all with a focus on freedom many players are more likely to wonder why they have to fulfil any arbitrary task in the first place, for example in a Linear RPG (for example Final Fantasy) since you're using pre-created characters a player is less likely to wonder why they need to do the quest in the first place as the character will have a justified motivation, whereas in a more sandbox game the default motivation may not apply to the character the player is try to play as. Secondly due to the do anything mentality the general story has less attention given to it and also less direction. For example with Oblivion you're told that the world is in danger but you also know that you can ignore it for as long as you like with no consequences and spend time doing some of the better made side mission rather than the latest maguffin hunt for the main quest, this means the player feels no urgency which detracts from any feeling of accomplishment. Some developers realise this and minimise the "Main Quest" story, for example Fallout just gives you a world and a simple task to solve, but even Fallout any characters people may want to play might have no reason to want to save the vault. Now an arbitrary main quest can be forgiven, the developer merely wants the best of both worlds, what is less forgivable is when the main quest impacts upon the players freedom Fallout 1 did this with a pointless time limit that served only to annoy but by far the worst offender here is Oblivion with unkillable NPCs, they break immersion and detract vastly from a players feeling of freedom.
So how to improve story in Sandbox RPGs? First of all remember that people aren't playing the game for it's story they're playing it for it's freedom. This doesn't mean don't put in any story at all, just put complex storylines in as side quests and make the main quest something generally simple and something that doesn't limit the player. The best execution of this I've seen was surprisingly in a mod for Neverwinter Nights called The Kingdom of Bortiis, it literally just dumps you in a strange town and you're just told "find out what's happening and try to escape". One thing that is important for stories that sandbox games find difficult is to have an interesting villain many of these simply seem to either appear out of nowhere (Fallout 2), are evil for no readily given reason (Fable) or else seem to have no reason why they should be killed (Fable 2).

So if graphics are meaningless, gameplay irrelevant and story poor then what is important to a Sandbox RPG? Well if we look at their goals above then it's the setting, character customisation, tough choices and freedom. So I'll evaluate those as well.

Setting is important for a game like this, it's what they player will be exploring and it's what generally determines how immersive a game is. Now settings in these sort of games are generally very good. Seriously there's a reason people loved Fallout 1 and it isn't because of the combat. There are many ways that they achieve this first of all simply fill the game with lore. This easily achieved with many games featuring a veritable library of books ranging from diaries to children nursery rhymes, this helps give the setting a feeling of a living world. Another thing that helps a setting is to have lots of ways to interact with things, Fable 2 does a good job with this having the player able to marry anybody and also being able to buy and decorate their house, or as in Fallout 2 where the player could get numerous different jobs. Not everything is good however, there must always be a some trade-off between an expansive world and a detailed world. The two extremes I can think of would be Daggerfall (with 750,000 NPCs!) and Fallout (that gave a setting a few brilliantly constructed areas). Making an expansive world results in a lot of either randomly generated areas or a lot of duplicated areas and NPCs, whereas focusing on a more detailed setting results in there being very little to explore but more to find.
Now with the current technology at game companies disposal I hope that we can start getting games that rival Daggerfalls size and even begin to approach the depth of Fallout. However other thins that need improving is the motivation or rewards for interacting with the world, to clarify take Fable 2 for example, whilst you can marry anybody and own anything there is no motivation to do so, no significant reward. This could be changed, first of all developers need to put something in their games that rewards and motivates the player, the most obvious thing is money for the player to buy better things with but lets say you also use a fame stat similar to the one in fable but more meaningful, then when the player does something like buy a house they are rewarded with fame. Generally the idea would be that the more you interact with the world the more rewards you get, the most important thing would be to ensure that all the rewards are meaningful.
Whilst I'm on the subject of setting I'm just going to indulge in a small rant. One thing that I want to see more of in future RPGs is interesting enemies, I most RPGs the enemy designs are unoriginal, bland an generally uninteresting. Look at oblivion, virtually everything you fight is just a funny-coloured humanoid. Same goes for Mass Effect, even the Fallout series other than the Master most of the enemies are just bland. Considering real RPGs are full of vastly more intriguing monsters I just wonder why modern games developers find it so hard to come up with cool enemies.

Character Customisation: It may sound odd but personally I feel that visual character customisation has come too far. To elaborate, look at say, Mass Effect or Oblivion, they give you so many options that I found it difficult to create a face that didn't look like a lump of clay with some eyes poked in randomly. Strangely I feel that the best character customisation I've seen would be for Rock Band, it allows the player lots of freedom without giving them too much. Another good system is the one from the Fable series which has a more dynamic customisation where you're character changes depending on how you play and the more you play the more options there are available. Now to look at the other side of the coin; the character sheet itself. Like the gameplay how this is executed is largely irrelevant to how much freedom is given by the game, this does not mean it should be ignored entirely, once again customisation is the key so a system more like Fallout or Neverwinter Nights is preferable to say Mass Effect or Diablo. Once again the dynamic system used in Fable for stats such as Attractivness, Scaryness and other non-combat stats is something that should be replicated. One final point on character stats is Balance, this is something that should have far more effort put towards games like Fable and the original Fallout are hideously unbalanced with certain character ideas being laughably useless. In games that pride themselves on freedom being unable to progress because you put points in the wrong skill is irritating and is something that should rarely happen to a player.

Choices are a current big thing in games with many games advertising their groundbreaking system for moral choices. They suck, big time. I'll give you an example from Fallout 3

This is why "Moral Choices" are bad, they are rarely executed well often being immersion breaking and generally not difficult. Take Bioshock for example due to the way it's set up the choice boils down to whether or not you murder a small child, that is not a tough choice that will leave the player agonising. This is more than partially due to the Dialogue Tree system most RPGs use, giving you a good, neutral and evil dialogue choice. The problem is that these trees are limited allowing only a few choices and to make sure the player has some freedom they make them as spread out as possible, meaning you end up with very clear cut choices, this is backed up by no consequences other than simply good or evil points. The worst offender here is Mass Effect I played gaining as many Paragon points as possible and people still treated me like a deranged madman who could barely be trusted. Of course since the Morality-Meter is based upon your actions, even if a game does include reactions to your morals everyone will know whether or not your evil ruling out any chance of Role-Playing a gentleman thief or devil-in-plain sight type character. The best I've seen is Fable 2 which has admittedly no dubious moral choices good and evil always being clear cut, it has some actual consequences to you choices beyond movement of an arbitrary dial.

Ultimately sandbox RPGs suffer from one major problem, companies aren't copying one another. Everywhere else in the industry if someone makes a big name game with a cool feature all other games in that genre copy it. However with CRPGs each developer seems content to essentially just expand upon their own formula, this mean that when a great leap is made (like the expression system in Fable) no other company exploits what could be done with it meaning that as a whole the Genre crawls forward at a snails pace.

Anyway this post is long enough I'll try and edit it to expand upon my ideas later. Thoughts? Criticisms? Any viewpoints would be welcome.

Looks like a great post and will be read when I have time, haha.

The moral choice in Fallout 3 being a big bullshit platter? Now, who would've expected that?

Don't know why I'm posting but my attention span died about a quarter of a way through. However I do believe that if things were put together from other games, CEOs of companies should get together and discuss...wow I had this conversation today.

A well written post. However if you can look at a game Psychonaughts and say that its story is crap then you need a slap to be honest.

Don't. Generalise.

Theo Samaritan:
A well written post. However if you can look at a game Psychonaughts and say that its story is crap then you need a slap to be honest.

Don't. Generalise.

I've not played Psychonaughts, sorry. But look at games like Half-Life 2 which is praised for it's story, it's very cliche and B-Movieish, I don't mean the storytelling though, a lot of the reasons why games have poor stories is to do with an unfamiliarity with the medium.

For the most part, I agree with what you said.

I don't agree that all games have appalling stories. I LOVED the story of the Baldur's Gate series, as well as the games Mafia, Mass Effect, and the Half-Life series. I'll admit that there are some pretty 'ho hum' stories and most games, but I'd say there are just as many, and just as bad, stories in cinema and literature.

The 'moral choices' point is a hard one. I don't think it should be removed, but I think the gamer takes a look a the situation from their own (The gamer's) perspective, and not your character's, or the world's, perspective. I posted the following in a 'Morality in Games' thread a few days/week ago:

I like the idea of no morality bar, but people just reacting to you differently. For instance: If I walk into a town and shoot some dude in the head, The people in that town would distrust, or even hate me. No matter if I was super good somewhere else, they didn't see that. They saw me shoot some guy in the head for no reason, therefore I'm a bad man to them. Prices in shops would go up, I may not be able to eat at a certain place or sleep in a hotel or whatever. Police/guards would follow me around in case I did something bad, etc. People would just ACT different if they knew I was a terrible murderer.

That being said, I don't like the 'universal karma' thing either. IF I'm an ass in one town, and I go immediately to another town, how do they know I was an ass? If it's a slightly modern game, it's a communications thing, but most of these games (Not all, but most) are medieval settings (ish). So how does THAT work?

I do agree that games are getting more and more real in that the NPC reactions can really sway your outcome.

One in particular from Mass Effect has stuck with me for a while (Sort of spoiler, so keep that in mind as you read): When I was going through Saren's compound, I ran across his Asari secretary. She begged for her life, and even opened the way for me without a second thought. Now, at the time I was purposely playing as a straight renegade (2nd or 3rd time through the game), so I opted to kill her. But the dialogue I went through to get to that point...she was BEGGING for her life, PLEADING for me not to kill her. I did it, but watching my character shoot her made me actually not like my character. MY character did what I told him to, and I hated him for it. Needless to say, I found it hard to continue my 'renegade' style of play after that moment. I didn't like what he was becoming. Bad-ass quips and one liners and shooting a drug lord in the head is one thing...but this woman (Sort of) was innocent, really...it was cold.

In the end, I think the mindset of the game denizens chooses what right or wrong is, and I think it would be even cooler if different towns had a different set of moral values. One town is all about eye for and eye, another is about forgiving, another settles EVERYTHING with fights to the death (Or something), another has a supreme judge that judges everything and chooses what is right, etc. THAT would be awesome. Then one town might love you for killing that jerk, but another town would like you less because you didn't follow what THEY view as good.

Now I know not one game has it perfect, but some are closer then others. I think morality choices is what adds immersion to an otherwise consequence free gaming experience, so I'd like to see them stay.

Other then that, I pretty much agree with what you wrote. Especially about the main quest and story.

Good post. Long, but good.

I would have to agree with a few others though on story. You can't really say all game stories are so horrible especially if you haven't played them all. And yeah, if you compare the stories to a B movie, they probably would look bad. But we're talking about the context of a game. Besides that, I suppose its more of an opinion.

Baby Tea:
I don't agree that all games have appalling stories. I LOVED the story of the Baldur's Gate series, as well as the games Mafia, Mass Effect, and the Half-Life series. I'll admit that there are some pretty 'ho hum' stories and most games, but I'd say there are just as many, and just as bad, stories in cinema and literature.

The 'moral choices' point is a hard one. I don't think it should be removed, but I think the gamer takes a look a the situation from their own (The gamer's) perspective, and not your character's, or the world's, perspective. I posted the following in a 'Morality in Games' thread a few days/week ago:

Yes but even Baldur's Gate and Mass Effect (can't comment on Mafia) if they were turned into straight-up novels or movies would be Aiport Fantasy, very good Airport Fantasy but not much more(admitidly both those games are aimin for this but stiil) and these are the games that get praised for their stories. They're getting better but in a review "amazing story" esentially means "isn't full of holes".

As for Morality I most certainly do not want them to remove it from games, I just want them to think and to tighten them up before tacking them on, Mass Effect was a prime offendor here.

Axolotl:
Yes but even Baldur's Gate and Mass Effect (can't comment on Mafia) if they were turned into straight-up novels or movies would be Aiport Fantasy, very good Airport Fantasy but not much more(admitidly both those games are aimin for this but stiil) and these are the games that get praised for their stories. They're getting better but in a review "amazing story" esentially means "isn't full of holes".

As for Morality I most certainly do not want them to remove it from games, I just want them to think and to tighten them up before tacking them on, Mass Effect was a prime offendor here.

I think you're looking at game stories from the wrong perspective, and I say that because you said 'if you turn them into novels...' They aren't novels. Most of the 'story' is written by you and what you do. Especially in sand-box games.

I do agree, as you know from my post, about morality in games and how they need to be a bit more involved. Though I'm not sure I'd consider Mass Effect a 'prime offender' in 'tacking it on'.

Baby Tea:
I think you're looking at game stories from the wrong perspective, and I say that because you said 'if you turn them into novels...' They aren't novels. Most of the 'story' is written by you and what you do. Especially in sand-box games.

I do agree, as you know from my post, about morality in games and how they need to be a bit more involved. Though I'm not sure I'd consider Mass Effect a 'prime offender' in 'tacking it on'.

True the story is written by you, but developers still don't quite grasp that idea fully, look at the main quest of Mass Effect and Oblivion, they're done as tradtional Epic storylines, and when viewed as such they're poor. The main problem here is that the main quest follows a linear line, sure you can make choices along the way but it boils down to jumping between locations being good/evil going to the next location for the next choice, few let you affect the story in a large meaningful way.

I say Mass Effect as a Prime Offendor because what would removing the Paragon/Renagade wheel take from the game? I never feel it have any affect on my character or how people reacted to him.

Axolotl:
True the story is written by you, but developers still don't quite grasp that idea fully, look at the main quest of Mass Effect and Oblivion, they're done as tradtional Epic storylines, and when viewed as such they're poor. The main problem here is that the main quest follows a linear line, sure you can make choices along the way but it boils down to jumping between locations being good/evil going to the next location for the next choice, few let you affect the story in a large meaningful way.

I say Mass Effect as a Prime Offendor because what would removing the Paragon/Renagade wheel take from the game? I never feel it have any affect on my character or how people reacted to him.

Fair enough. So what I'm hearing is: if a game truly is sandbox, and 'do what your character would do', then the main story should change (Significantly AND subtly) based on the actions we take, and the time we take to do them. I can fully agree to that.

I actually started a module for Neverwinter Nights (Way back in the day) that had a different starting point for every race and class and gender. The module (On it's completion) would have had class specific quests, would have people react to you differently based on your class/race/gender (Making some quests easily available, and others harder to come by) and a reputation system that would be different for every town you're in (One town loves you, others hate you, etc). Needless to say, I stopped working on it and let it die after having that pesky 'real life' needed some attention. However, the idea never left me, and I've always wondered why developers haven't done something like this. (I even had this idea for a 'legendary weapon', where the weapon you used to complete a quest in a town would be worth more in that town because they know it was used to save them from whatever. I thought it was a good idea.)

And I can understand your gripes with Mass Effect. The choices were big, and I hear the choices you make in the first one have a crazy impact on the 2nd one, but the actual meter didn't do much.

Let's hope some developers read this thread and get off their butts!

First off... excellent opening post Axolotl. It will take me some time to craft a worthy response and I am waaay too tired to even try it at this ungodly hour. I will say more generally about "sandbox" RPGs that developers are becoming more and more relaxed about what the notion of "Sandbox" entails.

Let me refer those interested to Yahtzees recent Fable 2 review. One point he brings up is that you can't kill children in the game. Now before I get flooded with people saying that only an insane sadist would want to run around killing children - I agree. That isn't the point. The point is I am basically rail-roaded into not doing something. I don't have the choice to not kill them and be a good guy, the game forces me too. It is the same with a whole load of other stuff this game has to offer.

Can I tell the main quest characters to stuff their quest and that I am going to the pub to get drunk? Not if I want to reach the next town, for no better reason than an arbitrary trigger. If I become crowned king can I order a guilotine to be errected in the town square and kill people for looking at me sideways? Nope, what I get is a few extra NPC comments and some more money added to my already inflated bank-account. When I hear Teresa say at one point "you should go after her, before her enthusiasm wears off" it pisses me off. Because:-

1. You can take as long as you like, you can go to bowerstone and spend 3 weeks piss-balling about the place and it won't make a difference to her enthusiasm.

2. There isn't a damn thing I can do about it anyway. Evil... pure... corrupt... noble... it makes zero difference. I WILL have to go to meet the next NPC in the quest and everything I have done up to that point makes zero difference.

Fable 2 at least has more to offer in the way of flexibility than its predecessor, Fable. This time you can be a girl, and have kids, and be pure evil or corrupt evil, or pure good or corrupt good, as opposed to simply evil or good. I'll go to a different example of how I think sandbox RPGs are getting less and less sandboxy. Let me refer you to the Oblivion Overview...

Howard commented, "Our games have always been about great depth and variety in creating any kind of character you want and going out and doing whatever you want." He added, "With Oblivion, we're taking the idea of a virtual fantasy world as far as it will go."

That is Todd Howard, the producer for both Oblivion and Fallout 3. Let me show you the kind of options you have in Oblivion. Click this. That is basically what all the quests are like in Oblivion. I can take it or leave it. If I leave it I can just find the guy later and do it then. No consequences, no alternatives. I can't help him reclaim Weatherleah, then kick him in the bollocks and claim it for myself. I can't find the people/creatures currently there and parley with them. All I can do is take a single, narrow, scripted route that has no bearing on the game world or alternatively not take it.

Look at this one. "Knowing it was a ruse, I refused"... I never had the choice to accept. "I had no choice but to kill them"... Isn't the point of these games to give us that choice?

In summary, either the game developers are promising what they can't deliver with the current technology, or they are simply favouring glitzy and graphics and minutae over gameplay flexibility. I think the second alternative is more likely, as compared to previous games these new ones are incredibly limiting. In Morrowind there was around 11 factions you could join compared to Oblivions 4. In Morrowind you had to choose between performing missions for one faction or another, and sometimes even needing to choose between seperate sub-factions within a faction (such as the Fighters Guild quests). Oblivion just had you do all of them, which none having any impact on the other.

i started reading but this is far too verbose for a message board post and isn't written with enough style to warrant any further reading...

sorry

Yeah this type of post really isn't appropriate for a message board. That said, you seem to have a lot on your mind so I suggest you take a look at our new editorial calendar and send us a pitch for an article.

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/content/contact

Everyone else reading this should feel free to do so as well.

I personally feel that the true purpose of a sandbox game should be to be able to explore a rediculusly huge environment in an unscripted manner. I liked Morrowind because you could just jump off the boat and be on your way to whichever place you wanted to go. Nice things could be had without the quests, so why bother doing them? I use them as a substitute for real travel, since I can't really stop and go explore the vast wilderness and deserts, and cities and... (goes on) in reality.

Pretty much any other aspect of sandbox gaming can be found in other genres.

Interesting post. I especially liked the part about about the stories.

It's like an RPG cliche that your RPG has to have some epic storyline about saving the whole damn world or something. But they don't, and when sandbox RPGS try to do it just feels shoehorned in because saving the world from imminent doom doesn't fit with sandbox style exploring and screwing around and it isn't really necessary to motivate the player to explore the world.

Take Morrowind. It's like it had multiple short stories, for example like solving the intrigue in the fighters guild with the Camora Tong. It's perfectly fine to have a sandbox RPG world that lets the player just explore and become involved in multiple smaller stories throught the world.

And the best thing about having multiple smaller stories in a sandbox world than one 'epic' story is that it's much, much easier to give the player choices to bring about multiple resolutions. If you have one huge quest, there's not much room for giving players real choice because otherwise it's very hard to make the sure the long story continues.

Let's take a simple example and say the player decides they hate or mistrust a particular character and decides to kill them. If that character was going to be important for your epic central story later on, then the rest of the long story is ruined. So then the player must be prevented from killing that character, depriving the player of that choice of behaviour.

But if that same character is part of a smaller story, it's OK if the player does that. They've brought that particular story to an end (of sorts), and can still move on and play with other stories in the world. If they replay the game, they have different things to do. So the player gets more of the freedom they deserve to have in a sandbox game.

Edit: Oh, yeah, this too:

Whilst I'm on the subject of setting I'm just going to indulge in a small rant. One thing that I want to see more of in future RPGs is interesting enemies, I most RPGs the enemy designs are unoriginal, bland an generally uninteresting. Look at oblivion, virtually everything you fight is just a funny-coloured humanoid.

I quickly knew Oblivion would be more cliched and unoriginal than Morrowind because Oblivion had goblins and Morrowind didn't. Down with cliched RPG enemies!

Most original RPG enemy: Origami Panda!

Theo Samaritan:
A well written post. However if you can look at a game Psychonaughts and say that its story is crap then you need a slap to be honest.

Don't. Generalise.

Pretty much what I would say also. There are some titles out there with stories as good as Psychonauts'. Now, if only I could find them...

CmdrGoob:

And the best thing about having multiple smaller stories in a sandbox world than one 'epic' story is that it's much, much easier to give the player choices to bring about multiple resolutions. If you have one huge quest, there's not much room for giving players real choice because otherwise it's very hard to make the sure the long story continues.

I'd like to see a big sandbox game at some point that is actually based on exploration--you're in a ship that has just landed on a new continent and you're off exploring. Things I'd like to see in this theoretical game:

1.) NO RANDOM ENCOUNTERS, meaning no hostile-no-matter-what-I-do monsters that drop and respawn without rhyme or reason. In fact, I'd really like to see a game where nothing is hostile by default.

2.) NPC's that interact WITH EACH OTHER and EVOLVE. This would be easiest to implement if you have several in game "languages" that are used by different groups of NPC's, so you don't have to script intelligible dialog for each possible encounter, you can just use stock responses based on some random rolls. Imagine my hypothetical exploration-based game where you wander up on a native village just as some conquistador-alikes (or warriors from a nearby village!) arrive, and you hear something along the lines of: [ANGRY-SOUNDING DEMAND!] [PLEADING RESPONSE] <ENRAGED REPLY> and the interlopers attack! Wouldn't that be cool? You'd have an almost completely different game each time!

What's better, you could then take all the time you've saved by using this unintelligible-dialog method and use it to make the few English-speaking NPC's really, really interesting, with many layers of dialog that change based on various ongoing, evolving situations.

3. NO MAIN PLOT. If you must have an endgame, just have the various other plots *vaguely* allude to or tie in with a Big Bad Evil Guy who is a pain to get to and hideously difficult to defeat. (Even better if there's some logical reason why he can't move to come and squash you on its own initiative.) Eventually the player can go, on their own initiative, to find it and fight it or join it or whatever--have several possibilities dependent on just how much research the player has done.

4. NO ALIGNMENT. Or, at least, no game-assigned and game-determined alignment. There should be in-game consequences, and the player can decide for themselves whether what they did was good or bad on the basis of the consequences. Instead of having the stock "good response, neutral response, evil response" in dialog, have several *personalities*, like "smartass" or "straight arrow" or "resigned".

Okay, I done enough post for now. I gotta submit an article idea, I swear.

I think that RPG's should have different conflicts depending on what your actions are in game.

For the sake of argument, in a modern RPG, have your character get a job at a local store, and work their way up until they become manager. Another story path would have the character trying to destroy the store to make a mall or something to that effect. Another story path would have the character try to obtain an item on sale in the store before it's all gone.

Problem is, fallout 1 and 2 weren't based primarily on freedom in enviroment. They did have a story that you had to follow, and it was important. Getting rid of a great storyline a la fallout 3 one of the primary reasons old school fans vilify the game.

Graphics should be secondary to gameplay always, so much is about immersion these days, yet that was never the point of fallout in the first place. It was to emulate pen and paper style games and work as a spiritual successor to wasteland. The creators themselves decided that turn based gameplay was the most apporiate(and still is) for the game. Realtime rpgs existing then, hell even first person realtime rpgs existed then, yet they still opted for that viewpoint and combat system. Fallout 1 and 2 had moral choices that were leaps and bounds over most modern games, yet you still had freedom around it. There should be a balance between these things,unless a game has a formula(like fallout) that is heavily story depedent.

On video game stories sucking...
Planescape: Torment would like to have a word with you.

The main problem I found with Fable 2 was the lack of challenge. Any one with two opposable thumbs could get through the game's hardest missions easily, and even if they died there was no punishment.

What I want from a huge open ended RPG is a large mine of increasingly difficult missions, which makes the super-badass legendary weapons and equipment actually worthwhile. Or at least make them cool to look at or something.

My fondest RPG memory is probably, no surprises here, from Morrowind. I spent some time starring at the map and thought I'd go explore the island atolls to the south. I swim out there to find a dungeon half sunken and have a merry half an hour rummaging in the dungeon before swimming out. There was a fair number of tough ass monsters and some sweet unique loot as reward. T'was great fun and rewarded my exploration.

Pablosdog:
Problem is, fallout 1 and 2 weren't based primarily on freedom in enviroment. They did have a story that you had to follow, and it was important. Getting rid of a great storyline a la fallout 3 one of the primary reasons old school fans vilify the game.

Really? Look at how you follow that story, you're not given any helpful clues and only 3 parts of the story are mandatory. Almost hald of the visitable areas are completly unrelated to the storyline, and the main focus of the game is freedom to solve problems however you want. Also isn't Fallout 3 more storyline focused?

Can't comment on Planescape haven't played it.

rossatdi:
My fondest RPG memory is probably, no surprises here, from Morrowind. I spent some time starring at the map and thought I'd go explore the island atolls to the south. I swim out there to find a dungeon half sunken and have a merry half an hour rummaging in the dungeon before swimming out. There was a fair number of tough ass monsters and some sweet unique loot as reward. T'was great fun and rewarded my exploration.

I couldn't get into Morrowind, the combat just rendered it feeling pointless and left me wishing that it was Turn-Based. But I might try it out again because you make it sound quite awesome.

On Fable 2 try playing as a Skill Based Hero for more challenge, but yeah some sort of difficulty meter would have been nice but to easy is better than to hard (see Baldur's Gate). My main complaint with Fable 2 was that the map was essentially a line from Bloodstone to Oakfield with the pirate place tacked on, there was nowhere to explore.

 

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