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The difference between RPG, Action-Adventure, and ARPG - and why Skyrim, and Witcher 3 aren't RPGs

Discussion in 'General RPG Discussion' started by Delicieuxz, Oct 8, 2020.

  1. Delicieuxz Educated

    Delicieuxz
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    This isn't a topic that lends itself to a couple of paragraphs. But if that's all you want, then this is the tl;dr version:

    Let's look at what the creators of the RPG genre say an RPG is:
    https://thetrove.is/Books/Dungeons & Dragons/4th Edition/Essentials/Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms.pdf

    D&D co-creator, Gary Gygax, also stated that a game which doesn't have interactive/collaborative storytelling, but instead tells a set story, isn't an RPG.

    So: D&D invented the RPG genre, and an RPG is a storytelling game with form and structure, with robust gameplay and endless possibilities.

    The endless storytelling possibilities are the essence of what makes a game an RPG, and the way they're implemented in an RPG is via the interactivity between the players and the GM (And in video games, the function of a GM is simulated with scripts), with the GM dynamically reacting to and narrating the outcomes to player actions: Player's choose their actions in an RPG and then the GM describes the outcomes of their actions.

    An RPG is, at its core, "collaborative storytelling" between the player(s) and the GM. That choice/consequence-interactivity-based collaborative storytelling is the outcome of what's called Player Agency. Therefore, an RPG is a game with a focus on player agency.

    That's QED right away. But to understand why, you'll have to read the exploration and reasoning of the topic that's below.



    Now for the full version:

    The term RPG comes from the pen-and-paper games where a human serves as a Game Master (also referred to as the Dungeon Master or something else, depending on the game being played) and creates situations for other people playing as characters in the story, with the choices and unique thoughts and input of the players in the story are an integral part of the story that ultimately manifests. That happens from the human game master playing-off of the players' choices by creating outcomes and new scenarios in response to them. This creates a very dynamic and unpredictable game experience where the players have an essential role to play in the game and story that emerges. And that player-role is the "role" being referred to in the term Role-Playing Game, and the dynamic between player choices and actions and game master-directed outcomes is also what is called Player Agency.

    Role-playing game - Wikipedia
    "Both authors and major publishers of tabletop role-playing games consider them to be a form of interactive and collaborative storytelling."

    "Interactivity is the crucial difference between role-playing games and traditional fiction."

    "The GM describes the game world and its inhabitants. The other players describe the intended actions of their characters, and the GM describes the outcomes."

    What is Player Agency and what is it good for?
    "From a game design perspective, Player Agency is the player's ability to impact the story through the game design or gameplay"

    Player Agency, Critical States, and Games as Formal Systems
    "player agency describes the ability of a player to interact meaningfully with game world. More than simple action/feedback interactivity, agency refers to knowing actions taken by the player that result in significant changes within the world."

    Dungeons & Dragons: The Importance of Player Agency
    "Player agency is fairly easy to explain, but a little harder to implement... In addition, an important aspect of player agency is the notion that the decisions made by the player will have direct consequences within the game world... Lastly, player agency is maintained when the players have enough prior information to deduce the possible outcomes and consequences for a particular course of action. This allows the player to make a judgment call based on who their character is and how they would respond."


    In video games, the human game master is replaced with scripted possible reactions to situations, and also complex world rules which can result in unplanned situations emerging, and in quests taking a variety of paths and turning-out in different ways, and how they turn-out having influences on other parts of the game world.

    One example of well-implemented player agency in a video game is in Gothic II, when the player needs to get into Khorinis. There are many ways to accomplish the goal, and depending on how the player does it, there can be different impacts on the game world.

    This video shows 6 different ways, but two of them are exploits and there are an additional 3 non-exploit methods that this video doesn't show:



    The player can also become employed by a local farmer and receive farmhand clothes which allows them entrance into the city.

    I think there's also another way to scale the city wall to the left of the drawbridge.

    And if the player runs around the city, jumps off a cliff into the ocean, and swims around to the docks at the back of the city, the game grants the player 500 XP and also acknowledges the player's choice with some dialogue from a character who sees the player coming out of the water.

    If the player chooses to accept the city pass from the travelling merchant outside the city, they'll be asked to perform a dirty favour for the merchant later on. And if the player doesn't perform that deed for the merchant, the merchant will give the player a bad reputation among the other merchants. And aside from doing the deed, the player can also rat-out the merchant to the town guard, sending the merchant to prison for a while - but he will get out eventually and get his revenge. The player can kill the merchant while they're locked in their jail cell, and that will prevent the merchant from ultimately getting what they wanted the player to do for them.

    All that inter-connectivity between player choices and dynamic game-world reactivity is a superb implementation of player agency in a video game.


    Moving on, when a game lacks that player agency aspect which makes an RPG an RPG, then that game isn't an RPG. When games that otherwise would be RPGs remove that aspect to instead focus on exploration and combat, they are Action(combat)-Adventure(exploration) games. Having an inventory, stats, character building, or even combat is an aside to whether a game is an RPG or not - although, those things can contribute a lot of complexity and possibility to an RPG experience.

    That's why Skyrim and Witcher 3, which remove the player agency and streamline questing by using Quest Markers and Quest Directives to always tell the player where to go and what to do in order to fulfill hard-scripted quest narratives, are not RPGs but are Action-Adventure games.



    A simple but reliable rule to follow is this: If a game puts its questing on-rails by issuing them with Quest Directives and spelling their solutions out with Quest Markers, then it isn't an RPG - and then it can't be an RPG because Quest Directives and Quest Markers by, and large, pre-empt the possibility of a game emphasizing player agency enough that its defining quality falls into the RPG category. The specific difference between an Action-Adventure game and an RPG is the notable presence and emphasis on player agency.

    But there's no requirement that a publisher labels their game correctly and publishers label their games according to what will market them to the broadest audience and bring-in the most sales. So, marketed game labels are regularly at odds with the reality of what a game is. In other words, a publisher claiming something doesn't mean it's true*. *See: 'Loot boxes are "surprise mechanics" and not gambling' (EA), 'paid mods aren't paid mods' (Bethesda), 'a subscription isn't a subscription' (Ubisoft)

    A typical real-time RPG that has the player agency removed from it becomes an Action-Adventure game like Oblivion, Fallout 3 and 4, Skyrim, Witcher 3, and Assassin's Creed games.



    Because lots of people don't really know where the terms came from, they make best-guesses at what the terms stand-for. And when they see RPGs commonly having stats, character building, and inventory systems, they can presume that's the common denominator between RPG games and so any game with those systems becomes an RPG to them.

    Those systems aren't themselves the essence of what makes an RPG, but they were used as a means to support the goal of collaborative and interactive storytelling by invoking player choices and actions, and having those choices and actions evaluate against game world stats to see what the outcomes would be - creating collaborative storytelling.

    Some people have come to associate the supportive elements as being the essence itself - and this is due to the 'looks like' effect: People who didn't know what "RPG" means play a bunch of games called "RPG" and then make a personal assessment of what the term means based on what they see as common associations across the games. And in that process, they can miss the purpose those elements were there to serve. But those elements I just talked about are supportive elements and not the essence of the term.

    And the same thing has happened with people calling games which aren't ARPGs ARPGs. I've recently seen it claimed that an ARPG is any RPG (using a definition of RPG that isn't what RPG means, no less) with a real-time combat system. But an RPG with a real-time combat system is simply an RPG with a real-time combat system, as opposed to an RPG with a RTwP combat system, or an RPG with a turn-based combat system, or an RPG with no combat system. I've also heard multiple times someone claim that an RPG is simply a game where you play the role of a character in a story - which describes every FPS in existence, not to mention most character-based games of all genres.



    When it comes to ARPGs, they're firstly Action games with a focus on combat similar to hack-n-slash games.

    Back when the ARPG term was created for Diablo (and before it was retroactively applied to a lot of earlier games), those systems - stats, character building, inventory - were mostly exclusive to RPGs. But, today, they're present in lots of different genres. Those systems aren't what make an RPG, and an RPG can even not have any of those systems (like Choose Your Own Adventure books). But those systems have traditionally been most familiar to RPGs and have been a big part of the pen-and-paper RPG experience where complex dynamics of real-life were simulated by stats.

    Because Action-centric ARPGs included some systems commonly associated with RPGs, they were called Action-RPGs. So, ARPGs aren't RPGs with Action-based combat systems (which some people take to mean real-time combat). Instead, they're Action games with some traditionally RPG-associated systems to add some additional depth and character progression to them. Some of their gameplay elements 'look like' things you'd see in RPGs without the games containing the essence that makes a game an actual RPG.



    Sometimes people make an argument of 'the meanings of terms evolve over time'. But changing ARPG from meaning an 'Action game with some RPG-style systems' to meaning 'an RPG with real-time combat (as opposed to an RPG with RTwP, TB, or no combat system)' isn't an evolution, it's a stark devolution - and one that leaves Action games with RPG-style systems orphaned from a genre title, while making the term ARPG not refer to anything in specific and so not being a useful label. And the whole purpose of having terms and words is for them to define something as much as possible, so that using them accomplishes some mental work for the people's conceptualization.

    And changing the meaning of RPG from meaning a game where player agency is essential to the gameplay experience to meaning a game with stats is likewise a sore devolution of the term and imparts a drastic lowering of complexity and depth in the games which get called RPG. An RPG isn't supposed to be a bland, generic, paint-by-numbers experience where you simply do as you're told and bash everything along the way, but that's what many games that are being called RPGs by the big-budget studios making them are. All that's being done there is taking away a useful title to turn it into a too-vague-to-be meaningful one, while then also being absent a title to describe what RPG actually exists to describe. There's a net loss of conceptual and useful value there.

    So, an argument of 'the meanings of terms evolve over time' argument doesn't apply here. What is actually being done is that people ignorant of the meanings and origins of terms are acting out of assumptions based on a 'looks like' mentality and are lowering the bar with their determinations of what the terms must mean based on a simplistic 'looks like' assumption.



    A game genre doesn't aim to describe every last element contained within a game, but aims to describe the most notable and stand-out characteristic of the experience for the player - even though sometimes people lose sight of a genre's meaning, or create a genre-label out of ambiguity (Souls-Like, for example).

    - First-Person Shooter describes a game played from the first-person perspective where the player shoots stuff.

    - Strategy describes a game where the primary gameplay element is strategising.

    - RPG describes a game where the player themselves, with their unique choices and behaviour, is an essential component of the narrative that plays-out - and because an RPG have to account for various possibilities and outcomes, it is one of the most complex type of games to create, and also one of the most immersive and deep to experience. RPGs can have character-building, but they also can not have character-building. RPGs can have stats, but they can also not have stats. RPGs can have any kind of combat system, but they can also not have a combat system.

    - Action-Adventure describes RPG-similar games where, rather than relying on player agency, the questing is streamlined and put on-rails so that the player doesn't have to deal with information and can instead focus on a simpler experience of combat and exploration. Having a few boolean choices in them, especially when those choices are presented in scripted dialog sequences, isn't sufficient to make an Action-Adventure game count as an RPG because that utmost basic (and primitive by RPG standards) kind of choice still isn't the, or even a, leading experience of the gameplay. An Action-Adventure game can be said to be simply a typical RPG with real-time combat, but without the focus on player agency. If a game has the elements of an Action-Adventure game but with the additional emphasis on player agency that makes for an RPG, then it's just an RPG.

    - Action-RPG describes an Action-centric game that added some complexity from systems that are commonly associated (though much less exclusively so today than when the term was created) with RPGs, like stats and character building.



    I think that it's important to use the terms accurately because by not doing so and letting them be used for anything results in game developers perpetually lowering the bar in the type of games they make, and it also results in gamers perpetually lowering the bar of their expectations for what quality of game design they should be expecting when they buy a game of a certain genre, most of all one that's labelled as an RPG.

    Nowadays, publishers label their generic Action-Adventure games as RPGs and then pat themselves on the back while having accomplished none of the experiential creativity or complexity that is required for a game to meet the requirements of an RPG experience. And because gamers now often expect an RPG to mean nothing more than having stats and bashing stuff while following quest markers, game developers largely aren't reaching for anything higher than that. The misuse of the term RPG has devalued its meaning and lowered expectations from gamers as well as the ambitions of developers and publishers.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2020
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  2. octavius Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

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    Does how a game is classified affect enjoyment?
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2020
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  3. Ol' Willy Arcane Zionist Agent

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    :excellent:
     
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  4. Butter Arcane

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    Wizardry isn't an RPG, eh?

    :updatedmytxt:
     
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  5. Ol' Willy Arcane Zionist Agent

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    Wizardry has no player agency?
     
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  6. Butter Arcane

    Butter
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    Nothing like the Gothic 2 example. You descend the dungeon killing monsters and then you kill Werdna. If character building counts as player agency, then that makes Witcher 3 and Skyrim RPGs again.
     
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  7. Machocruz Arcane

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    We were using the term Action-RPG in the early 80s
     
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  8. just Learned

    just
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    i will never read what you just wrote but i agree
     
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  9. Unreal Savant

    Unreal
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    So Gothic is an RPG but not an ARPG even though it is an action game? The Elder Scrolls games aren't ARPGs even though they have a kind of player agency in them being fantasy sandboxes (I know, it is all generic and amounts to nothing, but)?

    What is an RPG?
     
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  10. Stormcrowfleet Arcane

    Stormcrowfleet
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    I love reading about definitions of RPGs because they never work so I'll probably read this in the future lol.

    That being said, you start off saying RPGs come from D&D but that's already a contentious point. What we see as tabletop RPGs nowadays have less to do with the original D&D than with, for example, Braunstein which predates it. Blackmoor and OD&D had a specific objective of play which was lost in time, like tears in the rain.
     
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  11. Yosharian Magister

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    I mean I don't disagree with the general concept but I don't think you need to write a novel to explain it. It's very simple really, in decades past many games developers were also PnP RPG players/developers and that informed their work, nowadays that's not the case. That's why RPGs are no longer what they used to be. That RPG heritage is gone.

    Developers' work these days is more likely to be influenced by Twitter than it is by a game of D&D.
     
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  12. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

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    You can theoretically beeline to the bottom level and win if you get really lucky. The game doesn't force you into a strictly linear progression of A -> B -> C -> D. The dungeon itself allows open freeform exploration within the constraints of its relatively small size.
     
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  13. bec de corbin Educated

    bec de corbin
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    If we take that view then Skyrim is also an RPG because you can skip a ton of it if you want.
     
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  14. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

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    Skyrim is harmed in its RPG-ness by the things it does have which Wizardry does not have: extensive handholding in the form of a quest compass which will make the player go on autopilot most of the time, extremely linear dungeon design (99% of dungeons in Skyrim are donut-shaped: you begin at one point which leads you through a linear curving line to the final room, which is in some way connected to the entrance so you don't even have to backtrack to get out), a pretty high degree of level scaling. These features remove player agency and instead just give you an illusion of agency (you can go ANYWHERE at ANY TIME!!).
     
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  15. bec de corbin Educated

    bec de corbin
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    Look, I don't like Skyrim very much but I always think it's funny how people try to construct these contrived definitions to explain why Game I Like is an RPG but every Game I Dislike is not an RPG. Maybe a game can be a role-playing game and still be bad? No, impossible
     
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  16. Delicieuxz Educated

    Delicieuxz
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    Could you give some more info about that? What did you use it to describe, and where do you think the term came from?

    I've understood the term to have been retroactively applied to games which fit the mould created by Diablo - an Action-centric game with some elements traditionally associated with (but, in modern times, not intrinsic and specific to) RPGs added for some additional depth.

    The moment Diablo - and the action-RPG genre - were born

    What Happened to the Action RPG?
    "Of course, even then, the notion of Diablo-as-pure-RPG left some people with a stomachache. And so the world arrived at a compromise by giving Diablo its own genre: The action RPG... today, the term "action RPG" brings to mind Diablo and its descendants almost exclusively: Loot-driven games powered by randomization and the mouse-clicking power of the human index finger, such as Titan Quest and Torchlight"

    @ 28:23


    David Brevik thinks the Diablo team created the genre.
     
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  17. luj1 You're all shills

    luj1
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    Well, no. RPGs were born when people began giving stories to figurines in wargaming. Not the other way around.

    No, it isn't. The "core" is the mechanical combat layer. Storytelling is built upon that foundation, it's not the foundation itself.
     
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  18. Sobchak Educated Patron

    Sobchak
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    [​IMG]
     
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  19. Delicieuxz Educated

    Delicieuxz
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    Not according to the genre-coiners. If the genre was firstly about the combat, it would be named accordingly. But it was named after the story aspect.

    To you, the combat aspect might be the most important, but the etymological concept behind the genre is story-first. As such, combat isn't even necessary to have in an RPG.


    Edited in later: Meanwhile, Gary Gygax stated that interactive storytelling is essential for a game to be an RPG:

     
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  20. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

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    [​IMG]
     
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  21. wahrk Learned

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    Every RPG has to have some kind of mechanics where a player will use his character’s skills to overcome obstacles. It may not explicitly be combat in the sense of killing monsters in a dungeon, but the core is still gameplay.
     
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  22. luj1 You're all shills

    luj1
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    Mike Mearls, Bill Slavicsek, Rodney Thompson aren't the genre-coiners. They weren't even alive when it was invented.

    You have researched this poorly. And since you're so fond of etymology and authority, have it from the actual genre-coiner:

     
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  23. Rabbity_Thing Educated

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    No, it ain't. Mechanics is there to support storytelling and it is a necessary component, but it isn't "the core". It is meant to give a quantitative aspect to gameplay, as well as qualitative aspect provided by widely understood storytelling. It grounds the player character in the game world, giving him a sense of his position in it by describing him and other agents with statistics that operate within a certain framework. Real-world stories also play out in accordance to a ruleset, be it rules of a natural world or society. Likewise RPG mechanics put player character in a context, without which we simply wouldn't do.

    The beauty of an RPG is supposed to be that if you dislike something you can change it. That's the whole damn point. You can't change nothing in how quest play out in Skyrim or in how the story unfolds. You've got no ROLE to PLAY in the GAME. Everything is simply projected onto you.

    I'd like to shake your hand. The combatfags just won't get it.
     
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  24. Lady Error █▓▒░ ░▒▓█ Patron

    Lady Error
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    It's simple really:

    Real Time combat means it is not an RPG, because it is about relying on your twitch reflexes (action game) instead of just the stats of the characters (RPG).
     
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  25. DalekFlay Arcane Patron

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    Pure examples of genre are largely dead and hybrids rule the industry. Everyone here freaks out when I mention that Witcher 3 and Assassin's Creed Odyssey are the same game, but it's true. The only difference is story and setting. How different is Fallout 4 from Far Cry 3 really? Not very.

    I'd still call RtwP games like Pillars pure RPGs though, because the real-time system is really just automatically advancing turns and since you can pause anytime any "action reflexes" requirement is extremely minor.
     
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