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Chris Avellone on What Makes a Great RPG at IGN

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Chris Avellone on What Makes a Great RPG at IGN

Interview - posted by Infinitron on Fri 19 June 2020, 16:54:55

Tags: Chris Avellone

As part of their Summer of Gaming programming, IGN have been publishing short interview segments with various game development personalities, such as their interview with Brian Fargo from last week. Yesterday they released a segment with Chris Avellone, apparently edited out of a larger interview with him and his co-writer on The Waylanders, former Telltale designer Emily Grace Buck. Both of them appear to have been asked about the ingredients for making a great RPG.

According to Chris, it's important to allow characters to progress narratively and not just systemically, such that their role within the game world changes over time. He's tired of games that insist on adding a forced twist and suggests that their writers instead consider refactoring their storylines such that what was previously known from the beginning becomes a twist. Chris has enjoyed working in a variety of settings and genres over the past few years and figuring out how to implement roleplaying mechanics that fit those settings. He believes that newer engines now allow more drastic reactivity to be implemented. For example, you can have a quest that results in the creation of a new town in the game world. There's more in IGN's summary of the full interview. Here's the video of Chris and an excerpt:

Avellone adds that it’s also important players see everything – from combat to character progression – tied into a game’s story and/or world. “I think a lot of video game narratives can suffer tremendously when it's apparent that the systems and the gameplay loop are not connected to the narrative – and vice versa – and that there was no attempt to do so,” he says. “I think that it robs a game’s story of a lot of the potential that it could have, and arguably what a game’s story should have.”

“You can take all the typical RPG pillars,” Avellone says, referring to the classic combination of combat, exploration, and role-playing/decision-making that form the backbone of most RPGs. “But what is that in this world that they've set up? And then that ends up usually giving all those pillars unique flavor ... For example, if you were doing, like, a Tomb Raider RPG, like that that has sort of some unique element. ‘How do I combine the feel and aesthetics of this world?’ And how does that translate in the combat system? How does that translate in the exploration aspect? Because the exploration aspects of a Tomb Raider RPG would be much different than exploration in Divinity. And that's where the interesting points come in, is finding that space where the aesthetics of the world and the lore can make themselves felt through all those pillars.”

[...] Avellone says it’s important for designers – whether they be aspiring or seasoned industry professionals – to constantly take stock of a game or a world’s unique elements. To recognize when it’s time to not necessarily “think outside the box,” but rather explore a new box altogether.

“I was going through a really difficult time where the box wasn't changing,” he says. “And because the box wasn't changing, the mechanics really weren't altering all that much. And then the settings weren't altering that much. And I could feel myself being in a rut and I'm like, ‘I don't think I'm growing. I don't think I'm developing’ … The box was always in place. If it had moved just a little bit, that would have been nice, but it just didn't.” Eventually, Avellone says, he got to a point where he decided, “‘I'm going to go find more boxes and I'm going to build towers out of these boxes. I want to see what an FPS is like, I want to see what an RTS is like. I want to see what VR is like. And I want to know how all these different genres tell stories, because I'm guessing there's plenty of stuff that these other genres have learned quite well that would apply to making a great RPG.’”

[...] “What's painful,” Avellone says, “is when you spend five minutes looking at a character, and you haven't been given any options. They're just talking at you; your choices don't seem to matter. The best thing to do in that situation is have a deep talk with the writer,” he laughs, adding, “The second thing is to hire an editor.”

“The third thing,” he continues, refocusing, “is that you want to take that exposition and go, ‘I need the words to stop.’ Can you turn this into a quest where I'm going to encounter all the signposts of what you're talking about that I get to interact with it? Or, rather than having you give me a book that explains your philosophy, give me a quest that's sparked by this philosophy, or two factions fighting where you're stopping that fight (or helping one or the other) you're gonna get a good sense of what they're fighting about just because you're involved in that conflict… [There] are more interactive and game-ey ways to communicate the horribly long, long exposition.”
It sounds like Chris might still be working through some trauma from five years ago, but it's good advice.

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