The World of Western RPGs


Thus we can conclude the history of RPGs. First there was crappiness and awful, evil, ugly and unattractive people playing them. But the Ultimate Awesomeness of RPG Design (real-time visceral combat, choices and consequences, tormentian writing, appealing content for cool and attractive people) was merciful and revealed parts of itself in the crappy games of ancient. The Ultimate Awesomeness revealed too much of itself in Ultima 7, Betrayal at Krondor and Ultima Underworld. No one paid attention, and thus Ultimate Awesomeness realized that it was too much and too soon. It disappeared for a while. RPGs lost the divine spark. The plan of Ultimate Awesomeness was to never reveal all of itself in one game or franchise, its plan was to reveal small parts of itself in many games until humanity would be ready for the full revelation.

In 1997, the Ultimate Awesomeness revealed the mystery of choices and consequences in Fallout. Aspects of this mystery already existed in the past, but with Fallout this mystery was given a name, a conciousness, a personality. It was given a life. In 1998, Ultimate Awesomeness revealed BioWare to the world, who would lead the genre in romances. In 1999, Ultimate Awesomeness revealed what writing in RPGs should be in Torment. Between 2001 and 2004, Ultimate Awesomeness again was too merciful towards humanity; it birthed Troika, but alas, again too much and too soon. In 2002, Ultimate Awesomeness decided to give success to Bethesda who would deal with the aspect of open-ended hand-crafted world and real-time combat, but in much simpler ways than it was done before. In 2007, Ultimate Awesomeness decided to add more layers to the mystery of choices and consequences in The Witcher. What will Ultimate Awesomeness do next to nudge humanity towards the path of Ultimate RPG Design?

If you decided to skip the history part of this article, then yeah, that is the real history of RPGs. However, if you read it, then you know that the truth is actually bit more complicated than that. But since the gaming public is dominated by the "first there was Mario and then came BioShock" view, it would be a lot better if they would believe in this version of the RPG history. Anyway, I'm finally going to do the final speech and then I will shut up. I really like this speech myself, I think it is awesome and it is just awesome that it is my speech.

Who knows what the future brings? The ancient Mayans say that the world will end on 21st December 2012. They might say that because they carry a grudge against the Western civilization for destroying them, but regardless of that, readers from 2012 know better what will happen to computer gaming industry and RPGs in general. I will give it a try to predict the future. I just ask the readers from 2012 to forgive me. If this is not yet clear, what I meant is that I fully admit that the following is complete bullshit and you can pretty much ignore it.

I'd say that PC gaming is pretty much dead.
"God, you're so original!"
Bear with me.

Let's take Crysis for example. It failed. In sales I mean. It was mostly because of their marketing campaign: "You won't be able to play this game. There is no way you can play this game. Dream on bitch!" that contributed to their lack of sales, but in my eyes it just shows that PC gamers (aside from a few tech junkies) just cannot afford to be up-to-date with the latest gimmicks like DirectX 10 compatible graphic cards, five gigs of ram and Vista. And that is the fault that PC gaming has been making lately. It forces you to upgrade constantly. And that is why it is far more comfortable to own a console. So the way I see it, these kinds of mainstream games will move away from PC's to consoles.

But there is a good side to this. It releases the PC developers from the pressure to be the biggest and baddest. The future of PC gaming is in the hands of small groups of individuals. Just like in the old days when there only 7-8 people working on a game. PC gaming itself will not die, it just loses the exclusivity on the mainstream games, but through the loss it discovers a whole new market. Just how many people do you know that have the latest in computers? Exactly. And in fact, even you probably are 2-3 years behind. Just think of how many people's recent laptops that are not really capable of current games. And this is where I see the future. Instead of focusing on tech and graphics, future PC games will focus on design, writing and an appeal to normal people who just like to play something fun on their not-so-fancy laptop.

It is something that Blizzard (creator of Diablo, Starcraft and World of Warcraft) has known for quite some time. PC gamers do not want to have to update their hardware for a game and many gamers are as happy with well-designed stylish low-tech graphics as they are with high-end system-breaking graphics. One of the main reasons WoW, Starcraft, WC2 and WC3 blitzed the competition; at their time of release they all ran on relatively old computers. I think the time is near when developers and publishers aside from Blizzard will realize this that: well designed low-tech graphics > pretty boring but otherwise high-tech graphics and that good casual-friendly design > anything else. So instead of mainstream games that all look alike, we willget some innovative content that appeals to more people than current games. Instead of action, spy-thriller, epic, geeky stuff we have got in writing for past the past 30 years, we might get something more like It's a Wonderful Life or Old Yeller.

"What?! But we've seen these things in countless family shows and sitcoms." Yes, you are right. But think about it. We never have had the content that we get in a family show like 7th Heaven in games. We have only had geeky stuff. Have you ever thought about it that the reason why your girlfriend or mom does not play games is not because they are hard, but is because that their super cool and deep philosophical stories just do not appeal to them? If we finally had a game that would be like Old Yeller or It's a Wonderful Life... well think about that, a story like that does not need thousand flame wars protecting its maturity.

And why do I assume that we will see this new kind of content in future PC games? Because the mainstream appeal of consoles also guarantees that we will see only more of the same in there. Becoming successful mostly forces you into the same formula – just think of any company who after becoming successful has not really done anything to change their basic formula. Take for example BioWare that only produces epic stories with romances and good/evil choices.

But these new kind of developers free from the pressure of publishers, free to experiement with stuff that would appeal to normal people with normal non-gaming laptops are more likely to discover the appeal of a simple story like Old Yeller.

But what has it to do with RPGs?" Think about it. It is far more likely to see an RPG without any combat in this hypothetical future PC scene than in the mainstream console scene. "B-but, killing monsters is the fundamental element of RPGs!" No, it is not. Many RPGs have been only about exploration, quite a few about skills and stuff, and currently RPGs are pretty much about choices and consequences since outside from the RPG genre no one really deals with this area of game design. The last one was a little unknown shooter called Deus Ex but that was in the year 2000. So killing monsters is not a fundamental element of RPGs, since a majority of genres deliver in this area (and in much more satisfying ways). Heck, even stats aren't. Even shooters have stats, think of System Shock 2. "But that just shows what a mess the RPG genre really is. Is there really no way to make sense of it?" Yeah, it is quite a mess. And it is part of the reason why we have two articles dealing with RPGs here in MobyGames. And we could have a lot more.

In all honesty, I find this to be the place to end this article with the quote from Looking Glass Studios and leave the future to the Mayan Apocalypse.

"The point of all this talk about computer role-playing games
is not to claim that this project of ours is or isn't an RPG.
The point is that great games don't happen by shoe-horning your design
into a rigid category made up by some magazine."

Just one final word: I hope this article has inspired my fellow MobyGamers to write articles of their own – I already envision articles like "Everything that Drunken Irishman is wrong about" and "The real truth about RPGs" in my head.

But seriously, articles like this are important. Okay, perhaps not that important but they sure are helpful. A database like this needs articles so it becomes easier to search what you need; to discover new games, to give a new spotlight to old games, to give games a place in history; to make them alive once again. I do not know about you, but I certainly had a lot of help from Oleg Roschin's article. I am really hoping for a "strategy games" article, "obscure titles that no one cares about article and so on. It is sad that we have so many people with quality knowledge on this site, but they keep their knowledge to themselves, thus damning certain games into unknowing. And after all, it is fun to write an article. People actually read what you say. Well kind of. I know Sciere read it, since he had to approve this... this thing. But even so, I believe articles like this would really help MobyGames. I mean, we are a the best game database out there, but we have no content for theoretical or historical texts helping people to discover these games we have in the database. And some games that are forgotten deserve a spotlight. I know I did injustice to a lot of 80's games by not mentioning them, and even now – Alien Logic: Skyrealms of Jorune cannot forgive me for not being mentioned, but I hope I did justice enough. And that is why I would like to see more MG users writing more articles, because it is hard for one man to give life to all the games ever. Ah, forget it. Good night and good luck.

Special thanks to St_Martyne, chirinea and Sciere for the suggestions and for helping me get through with this horrible mess of an article.

About the author: Drunken Irishman is a fellow MobyGames contributor and a swearing RPG nut.

Table of Contents: The World of Western RPGs