How do you define "RPG"?

Discussion in 'General Gaming and Hardware Forum' started by Montez, Mar 8, 2005.

  1. Montez

    Montez So Old I'm Losing Radiation Signs

    Jun 20, 2003
    There are a tons of games out there that call themselves or are classified as "RPG's". However, the gameplay varies wildly from one to another - with some seeming to have no more in common with each other than the fact that they've been classified as being in the same genre. Since games of a genre should have more in common with each other than not (adventure, sports, platformer, FPS, etc), "RPG" ends up seeming like more of a catch-all for any game that doesn't neatly fit into another category.

    Unlike any other genre, you really don't know exactly what you're getting into when you buy an RPG - which is why there are huge variations in opinion on whether individual ones are "good" or not and why, wholely apart from whether the game is fun or interesting. Everyone can agree on what an FPS or sports game consists of. When you talk about NHL 2005, the discussion is going to revolve around how close it is to real hockey, how it compares to other hockey games, what was fun about it or not, etc. Same with other genres. Half-Life 2 and Doom 3, for example, are at base the same, and the details that are added to that base are what seperates them and makes them into different games. There's a solid foundation from which you can compare and contrast them. The RPG genre, though, is like a Venn Diagram with many circles which barely intersect with each other - Game A might share a single feature with Game B, Game B might have something in common with Game C, but Games A and C might have nothing in common. There's not enough common ground to compare and contrast Fallout, Morrowind, Diablo, Deus Ex, Final Fantasy VII, Bard's Tale and Neverwinter Nights, for example, the same way you could compare and contrast NHL 2005 and ESPN 2005, or Doom 3/Far Cry/Half Life 2. Yet they are all in the same genres, respectively.

    So, after that long and boring intro, my question is: How do you personally define an RPG? What criteria do you use to determine whether a game is a better or worse RPG than another? What exactly qualifies/disqualifies a game as an RPG for you, if anything?

    For me, RPG is defined by where the term came from: "pen and paper" games. A computer game rpg is better or worse as it imitates a pen and paper rpg, which I consider to have a few key features:

    (1) A stat system. You control it, but the character in the game is not you. The stat system is there to let you know or define who your character is, what your character is or isn't capable of, what his abilities are. This should be reflected in a crpg - your reflexes and hand-eye coordination shouldn't effect your character in combat, for example, or else the stat system is useless.

    I'm not going to charm the pants off anyone in real life, and I certainly can't create a fireball out of thin air, but I can do both those things in games - or at least work towards doing those things. Similarly, if I make a character with an IQ of a dog then there are certain things I shouldn't be able to say, certain ideas I shouldn't be able to have my character come up with or enact. Summed up: There should be a system that seperates what you can do from what your character can do, and it should be consistent throughout the game.

    (2) The game world waits for you. You should be able to think about what action your character should take next, and have the time you need to make that decision. In pnp, the number of attacks my character can make isn't determined by how fast I can scream "Attack!" in the DM's face. In a crpg, it shouldn't be determined by how fast I can click a mouse. This should apply to everything in a crpg (with the exception of movement, which would be impractical). An rpg is different from a sport - it's about thinking, not action, and the game should reflect that.

    (3) Your actions should be limited only by the imagination of the game's creator and yourself. This is probably the one I consider the most important, and without a doubt the most difficult to translate into a video game. In pnp, you can do whatever you want, and the DM can improvise to accommodate your actions. Obviously a computer can't do this, so what it comes down to in a crpg is variety and options, since that's the closest a computer can get to the depth of possibility in pnp. If the only combat options you have in a game are to swing your sword or raise your shield, then it's a pretty poor RPG. Same if you only have two dialogue options, or worse no options besides clicking a button to move to the next line in a static conversation. The more variety and depth there is in what you can do within the game, the better an RPG it is.

    There are a few other things, but I think those are the main ones I personally use in comparing rpg's to each other. And yes,I know this topic has been done many times, but it's always interesting to hear what people have to say.
  2. Murdoch

    Murdoch Half-way Through My Half-life

    Nov 24, 2003
    I think NMA should copywrite the term 'RPG' and use your definitions Montez, for they are as good as any. Plus, we could all get lapdances off the royalties. :twisted:
  3. MethidParadox

    MethidParadox Still Mildly Glowing

    Sep 3, 2004
    i completely agree with you. The things that define an RPG should be

    Stat System
    - Ability to really define your character and to have it interact with other entities (NPCs) under a wide range of character types

    World Environment Depth
    - People and Culture
    - Weather and the Earth

    - All choices should be your own
    - All actions should have (logical) consequences

    And I think a really good RPG would take you out of this world into another, leaving behind the cliche tragedies, horros, comedies, and romances of life. It would be a self directed and inticing story.

    Only Fallout falls into this category... but i havent played that many RPGs so really i'm not sure.
  4. The Vault Dweller

    The Vault Dweller always looking for water.

    Aug 24, 2004
    Montez your list is the best anyone can ever describe.

    It should have a discalimer though saying that linearity in a storyline constitutes a game as being more of a movie than a game.

    The Vault Dweller
  5. greatatlantic

    greatatlantic It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Jan 29, 2005
    I usually say if the publishers claims its an RPG, the industry takes their word for it.

    Beyond that, I would say an RPG requires only two things.

    1. A stat system that effects gameplay and can be altered as the game progresses.

    2. To play a character distinct from your real life persona.

    That being said, there are certainly a lot of different archetypes of RPGs. Such as console (FF) style, Diablo-clones, combat simulators, or FPS RPG. The gameplay of a lot of these archetypes are almost unrecognizable when compared to each other.
  6. mettalhed

    mettalhed First time out of the vault

    Feb 11, 2005
    Montez, your list seems to be fairly complete in my book. Pen and Paper is where RPGs started, and it's a good base to compare CRPGs too. I agree with your statement that it is impossible for a computer to imporvise the way a DM can, and the closest an cRPG can get is giving you options in the way you approach things.

    I think the most important aspect to me in the end is the story. Your supposed to be playing a character central to the story. While you should have the ability to control whether this character your taking the "role" of is strong and dumb, or super smart and weak, or any variation in between, it still comes down to taking the role of a character in a story. So in the end, even if the game does have an open ended environment, and many dialogue options, etc. if the story isn't compelling enough to take you into the game world, then it's just not any good.

    The best examples of this have been PS:Torment, and of course Fallout. Even alot of the retro games such as Bard's Tale, Wizardry, and Might and Magic were compelling, even though it usually took awhile to really get a grasp on the story and what was really going on.

    That being said, i've enjoyed a few of the Final Fantasy games in the past, even though they are very, very linear, a couple of them had good story and so kept me interested.

    In the end the best RPGs come from having both a compelling story, and many options in the way you approach it and the game world itself.
  7. Ekarderif

    Ekarderif It Wandered In From the Wastes

    Jan 6, 2005
    I personally don't like having a mandatory stat system. There's so many "RPGs" out there that claim it simply because of the stats. Plus, it's very possible to make a great RPG without a stat system, albeit very difficult. For instance, Gothic doesn't use stats too much but it does offer lots of role playing. As far as story, Fallout 2 didn't offer much of a story but it's a great RPG because of the RPG elements. Morrowind had a horrendous story (and horrendous gameplay in my opinion) but it doesn't invalidate the RPG aspect.
  8. Roshambo

    Roshambo Antediluvian as Feck

    Apr 3, 2003
  9. Sander

    Sander This ghoul has seen it all
    Staff Member Admin Orderite

    Jul 5, 2003
    I disagree. I really don't think a stat system is a necessary part of an RPG. Excellent RPGs can be made with a character you play without defining what he can and cannot do. While a stat system can certainly help define the character you are playing, it is not a necessity for an RPG, and it isn't a necessity to roleplay either. It's a facilitator to make things more logical and impose some limits, but that is about all.

    Again: I disagree. An RPG is about playing a certain role, and while I agree that your own abilities shouldn't determine the character's abilities, not all RPGs should necessarily be built around waiting for the player in all situations. I'll take Vampire: Bloodlines as an example: that game is definitely an RPG, but it doesn't wait for your character in combat. While an RPG should be player-centric, in that it should revolve around the player to make the game interesting, what it shouldn't do is make things so unrealistic by waiting for the player. Quests can have time limits, for instance. One of the things I dislike most in RPGs is the system where you can wait a couple of months to save that kidnapped child.
    There's one thing, though, that should be added to this point: consequence. Options have no use if they have no consequence in the game world.
  10. The Vault Dweller

    The Vault Dweller always looking for water.

    Aug 24, 2004
    Thats one thing that has to be stressed. I hate it how in linear rpg's they have "options" where you can choose to or not to do something. In order to proceed you have to choose "to" do something and if you choose "not too" a random NPC says "You cant do that!" then the question comes back waiting for you to make the "right" choice.

    The Vault Dweller
  11. mettalhed

    mettalhed First time out of the vault

    Feb 11, 2005
    I didn't think about that in my last post, but that is a very good point. Thinking back i've played a couple of compelling RPGs that had very basic stat systems. I myself prefer and in depth stat system because i enjoy customizing my character to my play style, and i do think it can help in immersing you into the environment, but i can agree that its not necessary.
  12. Montez

    Montez So Old I'm Losing Radiation Signs

    Jun 20, 2003
    Excellent read Rosh, if I had remembered that you wrote that I would have just referenced it instead of writing my own.

    @Sander: So for you, what, if anything, seperates an RPG from other game genres? You didn't go too in-depth, but from what you wrote it seems like to you there isn't much difference between an rpg and a platformer/adventure game/FPS as long as there are some consequences to the actions you perform in the game - since in every video game you are more or less playing a character with defined limits as to what they can or can't do. Would you consider Nintendo's Mario or Link to be nearly the same as a character you create in Fallout as far as role-playing goes, for example? (Not being antagonistic, I'd just like you to expand a little)
  13. Sander

    Sander This ghoul has seen it all
    Staff Member Admin Orderite

    Jul 5, 2003
    One of the main defining characteristics for me is, really, choice (and consequence, of course). An RPG can have (partially) predefined characters (remember Planescape: Torment, for instance), but what really makes it a roleplaying game is choices as to how you play that character. Mario and Link allow you to play a character, but they have a focus on action, and little choice as to how you play your character: it all comes down to action, not to playing a character as you want to play it. Which is what Fallout, Planescape: Torment and Vampire; The Masquerade: Bloodlines allow you to do.