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Fargo, Sawyer, McComb and others weigh in on the future of RPGs at Rock Paper Shotgun

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Fargo, Sawyer, McComb and others weigh in on the future of RPGs at Rock Paper Shotgun

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 27 June 2018, 17:18:08

Tags: Annie VanderMeer Mitsoda; Brian Fargo; Chris Siegel; Colin McComb; Jan Van Dosselaer; Josh Sawyer

Among the prominent PC-centric RPGs released over the past couple of years, Divinity: Original Sin 2 has done very well, but all the others have kind of whiffed to one degree or another. There have been lots of online symposiums about the future of the RPG genre recently, but this latest one at Rock Paper Shotgun is the first to tackle that fact. It's kind of a strange piece, with a whole bunch of participants - Brian Fargo, Josh Sawyer, Colin McComb, Larian lead writer Jan Van Dosselaer, OtherSide Entertainment's Chris Siegel, and even Annie Mitsoda. Each one of them only gets in a few sentences, but the overall message is clear - the future of the mid-sized crowdfunded RPG is basically Divinity: Original Sin clones. Here's an excerpt:

In the mid-to-late 2000s, publishers abandoned the CRPG genre – an acronym describing the very specific genre of video games adapted from tabletop RPGs to be played on computers – which a decade earlier had been a cornerstone of PC gaming. They were more interested in accessible, console-friendly series like Mass Effect and The Elder Scrolls, and PC-centric RPGs all but died out.

Then, around 2012, RPGs made a comeback, largely thanks to the rise of crowdfunding and an endless well of nostalgia. Since then we’ve been treated to heaps of good ones – Divinity: Original Sin, Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera – and there are plenty more in the works. But there’s no guarantee that CRPGs are back for good. Some, such as Torment, haven’t sold well. The future of crowdfunding remains uncertain. And asking fans to commit 50 hours to a single story is more difficult than ever, given the volume of great games that release every month. So how can developers ensure that the genre stays relevant?

Colin McComb, writer on the original Planescape: Torment as well as Tides of Numenera, says that the designers and studio heads he has spoken to want CRPGs to be “heavier on the action and lighter on the exposition” than they are now.

And if CRPGs of the future have fewer words, developers will want “more incisive, entertaining, and direct writing”, with fewer “winding monologues. In at least the immediate future, prose-heavy games are going to [be] much more niche,” he says.

One of the reasons that Tides of Numenera didn’t sell as well as expected was because it was too text-heavy, says Brian Fargo, head of developer inXile Entertainment. Wasteland 2, which came out before Torment, hit a better balance between story and action, and Wasteland 3 will focus on the “strategic aspect of combat in an XCOM kind of way”, he says.

Fargo is particularly keen to introduce “emergent gameplay” of the type that Divinity: Original Sin 2 used so effectively. Players could mess around with different elements to create fun interactions, like killing an enemy and electrifying their pooling blood so that it zaps anyone stood close, or throwing a poison flask at an undead ally to heal them while damaging any nearby enemies.

We’ll see more of that in CRPGs from now on, Fargo predicts, both because it makes for better games and because it’s inherently more attractive for streamers, who are gaining more and more influence over what the public play. “It’s more viral in nature, you’re more likely to get a friend to play,” he says.

Josh Sawyer, director of both Pillars of Eternity games, agrees that CRPGs will put more emphasis on “interactive environment-driven mechanics”. He also cites Divinity: Original Sin 2 as the best example, although developers could equally take cues from games like Hitman that “combine a lot of scripted stuff with a lot of dynamic, environment-driven mechanics”.

“If I were to make a game set in the Pillars of Eternity universe that were not part of the series, I would totally want more of that stuff,” he says. “By making more fundamentally dynamic gameplay that’s more driven by environmental interactions, you’re creating a game that’s richer for creating your own stories, your own gameplay by just fooling around.”

Fargo believes that CRPGs will increasingly feature multiplayer – something the Original Sin games again pioneered – and Wasteland 3 will be the first in the series with a co-op campaign. “Every metric [suggests it will get] more and more difficult to do a single player game. You’ll see more multiplayer [in CRPGs], but the trick is for us to not give up the depth.”

His desire for multiplayer action and more emergent gameplay will culminate in a “secret project” to be unveiled later this year, he tells me, which will combine inXile’s love for storytelling with the freedom of a multiplayer sandbox game such as DayZ or Rust. Those games often simulate the breakdown of a post-apocalyptic society perfectly, but have stories that are often just: “Here’s a rock, go,” he says.

“I’ve been completely fascinated by the emergent gameplay that comes from open-world systems, but yet we love storytelling, and so we want to explore how we might be able to merge those worlds,” he explains.
We've known about that inXile secret project for a while now. Earlier this year they trademarked "Wasteland: Frost Point", which seemed like a likely title. More recently though they appear to have switched to just "Frostpoint", so unfortunately we might not get to make "Wasteland 76" jokes.

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