Computer Role Playing Games and
How Most Aren't
January 20, 1998
Note: MUDs, MUSHes, MOOs and other on-line RPGs are not covered in this
rant. The reason is quite simple. Shadow Sprite is merely conveying
his thoughts to the recent experiment of RPGnet reviewing CRPGs and most
to all of the on-line games most likely won't be take part within the
I'll admit it. I was against RPGnet adding a review section for
computer-based RPGs. Its not that I'm against allowing reviewers to get
nifty demo copies of games - hell, I want some too! My problem lies in
the fact that an extremely large percentage (99.899% is a pretty large
quantity!) of CRPGs simply aren't role-playing games!
There actually seem to be two kinds of CRPGs; the adventure game, in
which the player solves problems and normally has limited interaction
between various characters; and the standard CRPG, in which the player
creates a character or characters and walks them through numerous
Computer adventure games (or eye-candy/mouse-clickers as one of my
friends puts it) like "Phantasmagoria", "Myst", "Zork Nemesis", and "Sam
and Max Hit the Road" are good examples of the puzzle solving qualities
that role-playing games present us with. The puzzles provided range
from pathetically easy (rarely) to intensively challenging (common) to
insanely difficult/stupidly impossible (not as rare as it should be) and
normally only require an item that is located elsewhere in the game.
...And that item is also hidden in a puzzle! The puzzles normally only
have one answer as well, not allowing for any additional creativity on
the side of the player. How I love thwarting some of the GM's toughest
puzzles simply because my character carries the "handy-man's secret
weapon", duct tape (thank you, Red Greene Show)! These adventure games
usually deal with dialogue as well within the item hunt. However, the
conversations that computer games present us with can be a bit lacking.
Even the games that allow you to type in your statement don't allow for
the fulfillment that pen and paper RPGs provide. An Example:
GM "As you approach the townsman he quivers in fear, unsure of what
you're about to do next."
Player "I narrow my eyes menacingly and jerk my head towards the empty
GM "The man flees, leaving only a small yellow puddle where he was
Player laughs insanely.
Wasn't that nice? Not necessarily the player's actions (although they
were fun!), but the simple interaction between the player and a nameless
Player "Bartender, tell me about Holy Grail"
Computer "Bartender doesn't know anything about Holy Grail!"
Player "Bartender, tell me about King Arthur"
Computer "King Arthur and his nights are famous for the quest to find
the Holy Grail."
Player screams ineffectually at the monitor "Where's the ROLE-play? I
want to hit this jerk!"
To make matters worse, adventure games offer little to no chance to
improve your character throughout gameplay and even less chance of
Standard CRPGs, like "Might and Magic", "Wizardry", "Ultima", and any of
the AD&D computer games, on the other hand, provide plenty of
opportunity to improve your character, provided you live through the
barrage of enemies presented to you. CRPGs are, for the most part,
huge, semi-linear dungeon crawls. They offer little need to up any
skills that don't deal in combat (outside of magic users who may also
need to identify items). If the character(s) aren't fighting a monster
or two, then they're on their way to. The puzzle solving is either
non-existent or so pathetic it shouldn't have been included and once
more are the standard item scavenger hunt (You know, kill a monster,
find a clue that leads you to another monster to kill who has another
Even worse, the dialogue within a CRPG is either a
pre-generated speech by a shoddy voice actor or so dry it almost seems
monotone when read! A perfect example of the lack of perfection is
Bethesda's "Elder Scrolls" games, there was a host of NPCs and yet they
all had the same reactions to my character. Despite the fact that I
created a character with good looks and a high personality attribute I
was treated the same between a baker and a prostitute! To make matters
worse, my thieving misshapen lizard-man was treated the same as my
previous character! On top of all these problems the story line or
campaign hook is paper-thin and as weak and full of holes as delico baby
RPGs for Console systems aren't much better. Sure, the story-lines are
much more gripping and the graphics and commands easier and more
pleasing to the eye, but I always wonder why no-one ever gets mad when
my characters walk into a habited house and walk out with every takeable
belonging! I always imagine that after the game ends and the credits
roll seeing my characters hauled off to jail for stealing everyone's
stuff - despite the fact that they were using it to save the universe,
But, all of these games I play. Why? Because they are fun, and some of
them can keep me going without food for weeks (Final Fantasy is my
ultimate diet plan). I simply object to the word role-playing being
tacked onto the game title to make a buck, or because no one expects
more. I know none of the pen and paper RPGs I've played have simply
been an item hunt or a slugfest, the simple fact that there's
player/character interaction keeps it from sinking that low!
The point is, until character interaction and true interactivities with
the environment become available within the game the title of RPG is a
misnomer that we should rebel against.
On a happier note, there does seem to be one game out there that fits
the description of a role-playing game for the computer: Interplay's
newest game, Fallout. Originally going to use Steve Jackson Games'
GURPS engine (imagine the character generation!) Interplay instead
created their own system known as SPECIAL. Not only does the game
combine the best elements of adventure games (puzzle solving and
character interaction) and CRPGs (level building & combat), the
designers of Fallout allowed the character to be able to change his
attitudes and mannerisms; and better yet, the NPCs remember how they
were treated and act accordingly! This game is the first step in an
evolution towards true Computer-based RPGs and I can only hope that
other companies take notice and follow Interplay's lead. ...But add
multiplayer capabilities! :)
Feedback encouraged to firstname.lastname@example.org!