Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Parallels in video game RPGs

Haven't posted in a while due to some unfortunate events on the home front but we are back!

It seems that video games are sometimes a taboo subject among RPG players - that tabletop games are "serious" and video games are not. I am at peace with saying I enjoy both. I just started playing the latest Wizardry game available in the US - The Labyrinth of Lost Souls which was largely panned in the professional video game review world as being antiquated, boring, and unplayable. Basically, why play this when you can play the infinitely more awesome Skyrim? Or if you insist on playing something challenge, at least go with Dark Souls (I realize that I am playing a little fast and loose with release dates here, but you get my drift). You know, something modern.

Upon actually starting to play Wizardry: TLoLS you find that if you happen to have grown up in the era of games like Ultima, Dragon Warrior, or the old Wizardry games, this game is both familiar and fun. Like with pen and paper games, video game RPGs seem to have added a lot of modern features - see the entire genre of action RPGs - but leave you with basically the same game with a lot of window dressing. The game may be "real time" instead of turn based, and it may rely more on muscle memory, but good video game RPGs rely on a lot of the same things as traditional D&D: game knowledge, good planning, good spot decision making. This is true of high quality games of both the old and the new school. Games like Skyrim just dress it up a whole lot and give beginning players who aren't interested in learning the nuances a lot more assistance. Dark Souls is all the window dressing with none of the help.

This is basically the same as how I feel about modern D&D. Feats, skills, grid based combat - all of this is just a distraction from the core game you are actually playing. Modern combat and skill resolution (the most important mechanical distinctions from traditional D&D) don't actually change anything if you ask me. You roll to hit, you roll for damage, you cast a spell, you roll to jump the pit. The core things all work in pretty much the same way when you boil it down. The calculations have just gotten more complex. Some people think those calculations are the game. I happen to think the game is what happens in between the calculations.

The similarities don't end there though. In Skyrim, you wade through endless bits of tedious dialogue interesting only to the writers to get to the actual game (Paizo modules?) and then go out and play what is basically a pretty traditional RPG game with a lot of help for new players, robust auto-mapping, way-point markers, quest logs, autosaving. Not to mention the assumption that the characters are singled out for a special destiny and quickly rise to levels of tremendous power. That whole thing.

Wizardry isn't like that. You are plopped into a town with no guidance as to how anything works and with a minimal bit of explanation about the dungeon. If you head into the dungeon without hiring a robust complement of retainers you will die to the first kobold run into. Even if you hire 5 retainers you will probably die to the first group of goblins you run into. Through trial and error you learn things. You die a lot. You figure out how to make a map of the dungeon. You realize that you really need both a bishop and a cleric in your party but after that it is up to you. The game makes you think about the game instead of just loading every time you die (I guess that is technically possible, but it is not how the game is intended to be played, death is pretty forgiving). Seems an awful lot like traditional D&D.

For the record, I think Skyrim is fun, I think Pathfinder is fun. There is just a lot about them that is included in them that I think adds nothing, and often detracts from the core things that are fun about them.

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