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Jan Beuck's What Makes a Good CRPG
Editorial - posted by Saint_Proverbius on Thu 10 April 2003, 01:14:00Tags: Jan Beuck; Master Creating
For about two dozens of years, game designers think about the question: What makes a good computer game?
Meanwhile players think about the question: Why are there people that just donÂ´t get it, although they make game after game? Why donÂ´t they even understand it if every magazine, beta tester and website on the net tells them time after time whatÂ´s wrong?
The answer for the second question is: I have no clue (and thatÂ´s why I hope to make a difference myself). The answer to the first question should be in this article, but for some reason it isnÂ´t - at least not entirely. ;-)
ItÂ´s not easy for game designers, as they have to create the games for people without gaming experince as well as for people that may be more intelligent and have more experience with the genre than themselves.
Lets start with a really critical point. ItÂ´s easy for me and I will find many friends here with words like, great game needs great gameplay, but the sense of this article is to talk about game mechanics. A critical point when creating an RPG, one that really can cost you half of the players (the one half or the other one...) is the discussion between a single main character and a party. Both have been sucessfully demonstrated in various titles, but for some itÂ´s only a true RPG if they control the classic party, others disagree and say that itÂ´s only an RPG if the slip into the role of a single character. Although I like both, my opinion is that slipping into a single character is exactly the sense of role-playing, itÂ´s essence. Controlling a party makes it more like a tactical or strategy game than an RRG. Combat, for example, becomes mass-battles. Real time combat games, it also detracts as a party disables any real action. The player becomes a viewer that can only make specific guidelines for the characters to act, but he can not be any of the characters. Especially strange is that there are games you can win although your character (read: you) has died and only his friends go on (like in Dungeon Siege).
In Restricted Area, there arenÂ´t any classes. Classes are fine, but we want to try something different. You can select one of four existing characters which all play their own part in one big story - itÂ´s like being the actor of a movie character, with the exception that you can decide what you do yourself. The interesting thing is that you meet the other characters during the game, and will have different tasks and a different view on the story, depending on which character you play. You will talk to the other (now non-) player characters and sometimes even fight with them side by side. Well, lets hope this interesting idea really works. :)
Although interface originally means the way you perceive and control the game, the word stands mainly for the informative visuals on the screen. In fact, the monitor, keyboard and mouse are much more of an interface than the life bar. Anyway... The interface is very important (this sentence will come again and again...). When I play a game for the first time then itÂ´s not really a problem if I donÂ´t understand how the game works - itÂ´s a problem if I canÂ´t figure it out.
If I paid for the game, and if the game is a RPG, I am surely willing to figure out how it works, but after that it should be comfortable. To be true, I always thought it would be the most easy part to create the perfect interface, but with the following list of demands it was one of the hardest:
High Goals of the Restricted Area interface design:
- Every single command shall be accessable with customizeable shortcuts AND with the mouse. Logically results in the fact that you can even move your character with the keybord (!), although we donÂ´t suggest this. However, it makes combat even more intense (and for those who like it, it creates a SNES action-adventure feeling)
- If you are searching for an information indicator, it must be clearly visible at one look. Otherwise it would throw you out of the game world too much.
- Buttons must be seperated at least so much that you canÂ´t hit the wrong ones by accident.
- It has to be so compact and tiny that you donÂ´t even notice it if you donÂ´t look for it. And it shall not eat up anything of the screen (not easy in addition to the last points).
- The look has to be futuristic, but this must not result in unreadable fonts, too small to make out icons, time eating menu-opening animations or background animations that get on your nerves after being cool the first times viewed.
- The controls have to be intuitive and simple, but offer advanced possibilities for advanced players.
Another very important part of the interface is the way how you use the camera. As in nearly all RPGs, that use of a camera, or view point, you have to worry about is as much about your character. We decided to use the traditional isometric one which doesnÂ´t require much manual camera use.
One of the most important things is that if you play your own game, you have to play it as a player - not as itÂ´s creator. I think of what key I would use, or where I would look for the icon, if I would play the game for the first time. For example, I was asked where to put a button to cancel a mission. After I sit down in front of the screen I looked at it and pressed ESC. It was obviously that I didnÂ´t expect any icon to abort the mission, as in nearly all games with missions (mainly strategy titles), you cancel them with the escape key.
In the boundaries of the genre and our scenario, we try to keep the game as realistic as possible, but only as the game play remains simple. We try to make the interface as transparent as possible. You want to open a door? Left click on it. Want to move to a target location? Left click on it. Want to attack a monster, pick up an item, or talk to a non-player character? Well, you get the idea. It's amazing how many games have different controls and key combination for all these actions when simpler is always better.
Although game technology is a term 3D shooters would like to reserve, every game has an engine. Although great gameplay is by far the most important point to make a great game, graphics and sound are the most important suppliment. Game technology is even more: ItÂ´s not only what you see and hear, it also plays a major role for the gameplay itself. A good example is a physics engine - itÂ´s invisible, but it can make the gameplay better through a more interactive world. And yes, maybe more realistic, but thatÂ´s not really the point - if you ever shot at a barrel you know it doesnÂ´t move even an inch (and it also doesnÂ´t explode, even if itÂ´s filled with green slime). Instead the bullet flies straight though it. By the way, they also fly though car doors, so never try to hide there like in a Hollywood movie..
Where else can the engine directly effect the gameplay experience? Here at some examples:
Speed: If a game runs totally smooth it makes more fun that if it has a very low framerate.
Precision: If you click somewhere, you want to go there - not near by. This may also include basic pathfinding (donÂ´t run against the tree and get stuck).
Collision: I donÂ´t want to name a certain games here, but collison with solid objects seems to have gone out of fashion... not really a good direction.
So, although there are good games with weak technology (and very bad ones with good), I guess everybody would agree that good technology would have made them even better. However, we should never forget that game technology only supports the gameplay - and never should be the game itself.
As a young and creative team, we don't have to wonder what our audience wants, because we are our audience. If we like the game we are making - especially if, after several months of playing it, we are not bored to death - the game is clearly going to be a winner.