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Are RPGs too long?

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Are RPGs too long?

Editorial - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Fri 29 June 2012, 14:40:14

Tags: Rampant Games

Jay "Rampant Coyote" Barnson ponders the question and even included a few suggestions.

Usually, it plays out like this: I start playing an RPG. I have a great time playing. I get invested in the storyline. And then, the early set-up stuff goes away and I’m playing through the mid-game. It’s slow. I’m still invested, but I’m doing a lot of make-work and grinding. I get lost figuring out what I’m doing next. I’m still playing, but it’s no longer compelling. I’m not feeling the urge to play every evening when I get home from work. Something happens and interrupts my ‘habit’ of playing. I play once or twice more, days later, trying to remember what I was doing next, and trying to pick up the thread of the story which hasn’t had much presence since the beginning of the game. And then I realize that it’s been months since I last played, and there are other games waiting to be played…

The real problem isn’t so much that the games are too long as a whole. But eventually any games (or stories of any other medium) will begin to drag in the middle. The beginning may be great, the ending may be fantastic, but at some point the middle will have simply gone on too long. This happens with RPGs more often than not, in my opinion.
#1 – Shorten the game. I do love myself some big ol’ meaty epics, so I don’t want all RPGs to do this, but just as all other media can be made or broken by the quality of the editing, so can games. We need RPGs that can be finished in a week or two (or maybe a single caffeine-fueled weekend).

#2 – Improve the game mechanics to keep things compelling through the end. Maybe the reward structure is too regular, or too irregular. Maybe the challenges are too repetitive, or require such similar decisions on the part of the player that they feel repetitive.

#3 – Punch up the narrative to fix the middle. Note that this may often mean changing the beginning or ending (which in game development can be pretty hard). Maybe it’s flowing at too even of a pace for too long. Things need to be changed up. A reversal needs to happen somewhere in there. Maybe a subplot just isn’t working very well and needs to be removed or changed. Whatever. The story needs fixing.

#4 – Do what Bethesda does and allow the player to go for the end-game at the time of his choosing.

#5 – Break into pieces, as multiple games, episodes, or expansions. Treat each of them as a stand-alone story that simply have a larger arc running between them.

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