Developing a Realistic RPG

Posted By at 4:49 PM on Sunday January 31, 2010

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The goal of a RPG developer is to immerse players in a world of wonder and majesty, to open a window into another universe. However, to achieve this, one must avoid distractions that cause the gamer to be aware of reality. While a desire for godhood is the basic principle of games like The Sims, forcing a player to take on an omnipotent or godlike role in an RPG removes them from the story and instead has them manipulating characters.

Menus & Meters:

Control instructions, meters, and menus remind a player that they are operating a machine. Narration expels players from a game by making them witness story events rather than experience them.

In games like the Final Fantasy series, players are constantly assaulted by a flurry of menus. Timed battles require attacks, spells, and maneuvers to be selected from lists. Even the gambit system of FFXII where players set up automated command strings (eg: if X then Y) for their characters to follow is edited using subscreens. This issue is neatly skirted with a real-time attack system such as the one found in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, where the player battles with simulated tools using the Wiimote.

The ability to equip items and view statistics like character health is also often governed by a menu screen. This could be eliminated by having a backpack or wagon with visual representations of selectable items, and having physical indicators of a character’s level or status (like breathing heavily or limping to indicate wounds in Super Mario 64).

Food for Survival:

Another major distraction in RPGs the outright disregard for the basic necessities of survival. The characters can cast spells and talk with dragons and jump to unbelievable heights, but they’re human and being human means regular breaks for eating, resting, and taking care of one’s health. It becomes conspicuous when your party of characters has travelled 3000 miles over hill and dale, snowy peak and barren wasteland, and not once paused to sleep or find food.

This issue is addressed in a DS game called The World Ends With You, where your character eats food for health but could only consume a certain amount per day and slowly digests it to regain stamina. If this route was followed, one would have to convey the level of hunger or exhaustion by character reactions in order to avoid having out-of-place meters.

In a game focused on story and character development, however, food would have to be widely available. Otherwise the developer could risk eclipsing the main part of the game with tiresome tasks designed to procure such necessities. Scarcity could always be added as a challenge in certain game environments such as a winter land.

Another solution might be to segment gameplay into “days,” with the characters stopping each night to camp or buy a room and partake in various story events. One might also deter players from exhausting their characters by invoking a punishment such as inadvertent nodding off or fainting leading to preemptive attacks by monsters or thieves. Careful planning would be needed to ensure that this device did not cause the game to become too linear.

Tutorials:

Due to the complicated systems of combat and manipulation found in modern games, a good deal of player time is spent in tutorial, learning how to play. This often includes button designations, with in-game characters telling the player to “Press this to do that!” However, I believe that a player is better served learning things by trial and error through seemingly innocuous tasks found in the starting village. Kicking a ball to teach object manipulation, returning a lost item to teach questing and inventory, sparring with an NPC to teach combat. If players required more specific instruction (though this shouldn’t be the case), they could resort to the manual without upsetting their in-game experience.

These are just some of the considerations that come into play when developing a realistic RPG. To immerse a player fluidly in the game world with no rough bumps is the first step to creating an unforgettable gaming experience.

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