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Chris Taylor - Hand of Gosh Darn Good Design
Editorial - posted by Saint_Proverbius on Fri 6 December 2002, 23:22:41Tags: Black Label Games; Chris Taylor
Where to start, where to start?
Things that I think are important about RPGs, especially computer RPGs, can probably be counted on one hand.
On my pinky, you have character creation. It's important, but not vital. Stonekeep had its issues, but character creation wouldn't have drastically changed the game for the better, and probably would have hurt the story. And, ohhh, what a better story I could write now (You have gotten better at Storytelling! (134))
On my ring finger, you have story itself. RPGs without story are tactical combat and level treadmill games. Those can be interesting games, but not really conducive to creating a great role-playing game. The quality of the story can help determine the quality of the game, especially for RPGs. Planescape Torment would have been a good game without it's wonderful story, but was elevated to a great game by the quality of it's writing, story and dialogue.
The middle-finger, a very important finger I might add, is that character matters. Not the character of your development team, good character there does help, but the fact that player character statistics should matter in the game. If all characters are treated the same, then you have an adventure game and not an RPG. Fallout and Arcanum did this very well. It not only makes the game deeper, but it provides more replayability, which is a good feature for some.
The pointing finger points out that along with characters that matter, you need consequence of actions. If a player makes a decision, then there should be some sort of ramification based on the result of that action. The more important the decision and the greater the action, then the larger the consequence. This makes the player feel like they are actually accomplishing something in the game that is meaningful. Wasteland has the classic example of consequence of action: that darn rabid dog.
Now for the thumb. The thumb isn't the most important of fingers, but it does allow you to do what dogs cannot - open doors. And that's exactly what my fifth point is about: opening the doors of imagination. RPGs should not be about the mundane. We play the game of Life daily and it's rather boring at times. Like all good pieces of entertainment, RPGs should carry us away and give us respite from our day to day jobs, school and other things of mundanity. RPGs, like no other genre of gaming, can make us think we are on another planet, in another time, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal game designers. Our characters can enable us to do things we players can only imagine. The task of a good game designer is to create unique worlds that can capture the player's imagination. Origin's tagline is "We Create Worlds". That sums up what an RPG developer should strive for.
There are many other things that are important to an RPG, certainly this hasn't attempted to be a comprehensive list. I've tried to summarize what I think are important for an RPG regardless of platform or sub-genre. You should be able to see the Hand of Gosh Darn Good Design in many different types of games, from 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons, to the classic RPGs of the day to the most recent critically acclaimed computer RPGs. From classic high fantasy to the farthest reaches of science fiction, there are always going to be key values that should be incorporated into an RPG.
Except in that Teletubbies Victorian Horror game I've been trying to pitch...