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Wishlist for the Next Big Western Fantasy RPG
by Axel Cholewa on 07/15/12 07:31:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


There have been a lot of great discussion and articles about the latest fantasy RPGs like Dragon Age, Amalur or Skyrim, but some issues I always had with these and other games have never been adressed. Here's my wishlist.

The Little Details

While I liked the comic style of Amalur, the atmosphere of Dragon Age or the freedom of Oblivion (and probably Skyrim, but I haven't played that), they all have in common little "glitches" in the cohesiveness of the world, such as:

  • Wolves attacking me right away.

Wolves simply wouldn't do that. They'd maybe stand on a hill watching the intruder of their territoy, but they'd not rush in and try to kill foes twice their size, especially not in a pack of just three animals. A little more realism in the Fauna wouldn't hurt, I think.

  • Giant rats carrying coins, plate armor or mana potion.

Random loot is okay, but only inside certain realistic boundaries. If I know that giant spiders always (or at least most of the time) give me a certain substance of their web that I can use for a climbing potion, I know where to look for that. And if I don't need it I don't want to loot one only because there's a chance that I can find a better maul in their belly.

Consequences in the World

I love the dialogue system of Mass Effect or Dragon Age 2, but they are only one part of the gameplay. The rest doesn't seem to have that big an effect on the world. So

  • Make gameplay matter.

If I kill a tribe of orcs without anyone telling me to, that might just open the gates for some nasty creatures which only that tribe knew how to deal with. All of a sudden, the world -- and the player -- might face another threat. Maybe the neighboring elves who always fought that orc tribe are overwhelmed by those creatures and in dire need of help.

  • Let the world live on its own.

It always annoyed me that the best way of saving the world in Oblivion was to never start the main quest. Evil only breaks lose when the player follows the main plot, otherwise nothing particlularly dangerous happens. When the player is supposed to save the world, there should be a sense of urgency. Make things happen without the player being there. You can let him know what happened later on.

  • Don't make all choices obvious.

In Dragon Age: Origins the player could decide to help a village or to abandon it. As cool as that is, it's an obvious choice between to alternatives. It could add depth to the game world if the player wasn't told that the village was attacked soon, if the player would just be in the village when it was suddenly attacked. If he heard about the attack later on, knowing that it happened only a day after he was there. Having that knowledge beforehand turns it into an acitve decision. While that is exciting in that very moment, the world could truly come alive if the player would have a more indirect influence on the world.

These are just a few things I wanted to get off my mind. Probably someone has already thought about this or maybe even wrote about it in a comment or two on this very web page. Still I hope that these thoughts might prove helpful for someone out there.

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Alfe Clemencio
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Hi! If you're interested in the "Consequences in the World" part, I've already made a game that answers that. Would you be interested in how that happens?

Axel Cholewa
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Sure. Hit me with the details :)

Bart Stewart
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I'd also be interested in hearing more about that, and I like to think there are even more of us who are interested in that sort of thing.

Any chance of a link to a web page or blog post?

Alfe Clemencio
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Well here is where you can buy the game. If you don't want to buy but are still interested, google up a walkthrough and you'll see how things are done.

Bart Stewart
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Nicely said! I'd also like to see at least a few games built like this.

It's worth noting that what's being described here is a strongly Simulationist perspectivive, where plausibility in the individual and interacting behaviors of world-elements ("realism" isn't quite the right word) makes the gameplay more fun. I've even written some notes myself on how such a gameworld might be designed:
tLiving_Worldquot_Game.php .

It's hard sometimes to have a useful discussion about this style of play design because it doesn't fit the standard beliefs about what's fun. A typically Gamist designer (or player) will ask, "But what do you *do* in a game like that?" When a Simulationist designer gives them the brief but correct answer "Anything you want," they think we're either nuts or that we don't understand Real Game Design.

In fact, we're just working from different definitions of fun. A Gamist designer sees fun as collecting rewards from accomplishing well-defined developer-created tasks according to strict rules. A Simulationist designer sees fun as something that emerges from the player's exploration of a detailed and dynamic world. Those aren't mutually exclusive, of course. Most world-designers will do some of both. But your beliefs about what's fun will lead you to emphasize one of those styles (or the Narrativist or Experientialist style) when you can.

The preponderance of Gamists means that Simulationists need to be aware of how their preferred style of pattern-discovery fun is different from rules-following fun but no less valid. Gamers who enjoy being able to do "whatever they want" by interacting with a complex and dynamic world are equally deserving of games that cater to that style of fun. And designers need to be able to explain why that's true and a path for getting there.

So you keep going with your ideas, Axel. I believe there is a good market waiting for such games to be made.

Axel Cholewa
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Huh, I never thought of myself as a simulationist. In fact, I always opposed the simulationist approach, simply because I never liked simluations, be it flight simulators, "realistic" sport games -- I strongly prefer NBA Street or NBA Jam over NBA 2K11 or the like -- or Civilisation.

But of course you're right: when it comes to CRPGs, I am a simulationist. This is really new for me, so thanks for pointing that out :)

Your Living World article is really great! I, too, wondered for long if such a single player online game, whether subscription based or even free to play, would be profitable. I am a console player, though, and therefore wonder if such a Living World game would make sense on consoles. But then again it might be something worth pursuing especially now, because there are going to be new consoles on the market soon, the next one already at the end of the year. If such a game would be successful it could even provide a reason for players to buy the follow-up console of their current one if the game would be carried over into a new console generation.

There is no CRPG out there that tries to achieve these things, so nobody knows if "gamist" players wouldn't like that, too. For me it's mostly about setting, not so much about gameplay. For instance, in the GTA games NPCs do not randomly attack players, while n Farcry 2 pretty much everyone attacks you. That makes the world of GTA feel much more "natural" than that of FC2.

GTA and Red Dead Redemption are actually good examples of quite "realistic", natural feeling worlds (although in RDR, coyotes attack all the time ;) ). Especially GTA: San Andreas had a lot of features that I'd like to see in CRPGs, e. g.:

* You could level up your skills. How? By pursuing the associated activity! Go to a gym to get stronger, eat to gain weight, drive to become a better driver ...
* The game world responded to the change of your character, and to your actions. Get more muscles and some girls will find you more atractive while others won't. Wanna have two girlfriends? Fine, but if one finds out a hell of a storm breaks lose. Don't spend enough time with your girlfriend and she might just as well break up.
* If you don't eat regularly, you'll get weaker and eventually starve.

At one time I was walking to a burger place. The entrance to its parking lot was a bit uphill, sort of a ramp. All of sudden a plane crashed into the burger place! Most survivors ran from the explosion, but I was too fascinated by what just happened and just stood at the entrance to the parking lot. Problem was, the plane was slowling sliding down the entrance, and when I noticed that it had already gathered quite some speed. It was too late, the plane just ran me over! Although I hadn't saved my game for quite a while I was not at all frustrated, because this incident made the game world feel more alive than any mission I ever was on.

All of these things make worlds come alive, and all of them are obviously fun for a lot of people. And that game is 7 years old!

Joshua Darlington
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I have to assume that simulation is being sacrificed as a resource management issue. Perhaps multi threaded atomized simulation will make more sense as the number of processors on a chip increases.

Axel Cholewa
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Well, probably. But as I said in a comment above, GTA: San Andreas already had features that make for a more lively game world, for example inhabitants reacting to player's behaviour, style of play or wardrobe, or things happening without the player having any influence on it (see my plane crash example from above). GTA: SA is seven years old, so surely it should be possible for contempory developers to include some of these things.

Christian Kulenkampff
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I totally agree with you!
Good old Fallout 1 and 2 have these kind of things. MMORPG-like theme park design is too common in modern RPGs. The fear of irrecoverable choices has lead to NPCs and game situations in general that work like "try until you are happy with the outcome automatons". Modern content-driven games constantly imply players could miss out on something when making a "wrong" decision. There should be less wrong decisions and more ambivalent stuff. When you reward a player for certain "right" decisions you create an atmosphere of a class exercise. This kind of thing is only fun when you can try as long as you want. IMO this is why game designers avoid potential "unwanted" consequences for the player (more precisely: missing rewards).