What is an RPG???

Jun 18, 2001

The Bottom Line I know what I'm talkin about...otherwise, I wouldn't have wasted time typing this much about my opinion...I would but that's a different story....just READ!!

Simply a role-playing game. Meaning that no less than half the games ever released titled or labeled as RPG's aren't RPG"S at all. A prime example being what are labeled "console RPG's"....examples are Zelda and the whole Final Fantasy series. These are not roleplaying games. They are adventure games...but the characters have skills. That is what seems to be defining an RPG these days....if a game has skills to manipulate, then its an RPG or it has RPG elements.
What truly defines a RPG as such? The ability to role-play...or simply play the role of your character, as if it were you. The most easy and easiest to manifest in a game is communicating and interacting with the world around you. Console rpg's have this to an extent, but only to the extent that the character can talk to certain people and listen to what the person has to say...Diablo is a prime example of a game that has been wrongly and obviously ignorantly labeled as an RPG...like many console RPG's. The ability to carry on a dialogue with other characters within a game, and have the ability say what is on your mind or something close enough rarely comes in console RPG's. On consoles, you simply walk up to another character and hit a button, an the other character begins rambling on as if he was making a speech to a mute audience. In RPG's like Fallout (1 & 2), Baldur's Gate (1 & 2), and Planescape: Torment...you have the ability to walk to just about any NPC (non-player character) and start a conversation with them, albeit one which limits you to certain comments/questions/statements you can choose from. Usually these choices range from three general possibilites, 1.positive - 2.neutral - or 3.negative. For example, you could be asking a question, and have these three choices to choose from...1."Hi there, do you know where I can find this person? I really need your help."....2."Just out of curiousity, do you know this person?"....3."Tell me everything you know about this person, or pay with your life.". You could also be answering an NPC's question..."Could you please help me?"...1."Of course!"...2."Maybe. I'll think about it."....3."Hell no!". Of course RPG's nowadays have a much greater variety in choices mixing other variables into the choices...A. lawful - B.neutral - C.chaotic.

Here's an example:
NPC - "Hi, you new here?"
[you] - 1. "Yes..."
2. "that's none of you business"
3. "No...I've been here for ages"

1. NPC - "I have to cut through the small talk and get right down to business, you look like a mercenary type...I have a problem on my hands right now, can you help me?"
[you] - 1. "I guess...yes I can."
2. "Maybe, what do I get in return?"
3. "I'm sorry, I can't help you."

1. NPC - "Well there is this bum, walking in front of my casino. He's been running business away from here. I just need you to get rid of him, I don't care how."
[you] - 1A. "I won't kill him, but I'll do it."
1C. "I love getting my hands dirty, he's as good as dead."
2B. "If there's a nice sum of drugs to be rewarded, I might."
3A. "No I won't get involved in your murderous affairs."
3B. "No can do, goodbye."
3C. "Nah, I think I'll just get rid of you!"

2B. NPC - "Yes I have a whole bunch of 'Jet' in the basement, that I don't want....So, are ya in?" - he's afraid of the authorities...
[you] - 1C. "Ya here that lungs? A whole bunch of 'Jet'! Yes 'we'll' take the job."
2C. "'Jet' eats it, I want some 'Psycho's' and any 'buffs', and then I'll consider it."
3B. "Looks like you need that 'Jet' more than me, 'weasy'...I'm outta here."
3C. "It's nice to know that...I'll be takin your Jet and leaving, thank you."

2C. NPC "Sorry, it's all I have...well I have cash, and some girls that can give ya some attention if ya know what I mean."
[you] - 1A. "I guess I could use some more moneys..."
1C. "Yes I sure could use some attention!"
2B. "What do you mean by attention?"
2C. "On second thought, I could use some Jet...but I also want some money, and a couple of your girls' time, otherwise, I can't help."
3A. "Prostitution and 'Jet' are illegal here, your gonna go on a trip to the sheriff's."
3B. "Don't need any attention, or money for that matter, goodbye."


this could go on for even longer at the writers' and programmers' discretion and whether they went to that detail of all those choices and all the patience of the NPC. Of course, the dialogue could even be more diverse and longer...Planescape: Torment seems to be the only game to date to use such extensive dialogue...at times there were 12 or more choices - hell, that game no doubt had more dialogue than movies...including documentaries! Fallout 2 and Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 have pretty extensive and responsive dialogue and choices...even more so than what I had done above. Sometimes the variety of answers are there simply for variety, other times they actually effect gameplay and reactions from the one you are "conversing" with.

But dialogue isn't what makes an RPG....adventure games like all those released by Lucasarts (Full Throttle, the Monkey Island series, and Grim Fandango immediately come to mind).

The ability to solve a problem or create one any way you want also defines RPG's. So combat is neccesary for those who like to fight to solve problems....but fighting is also there because most people don't have the attention span to talk their way through a 200 hour game.

Typically what comes second most important is the character...in a stat, skill, and physical form. Of course if the character doesn't have the ability to change stats, skills, and even maybe the physical appearance of the character among other things, could decide whether it is an RPG or not. But in some cases, like Planescape: Torment, the lack of malleability of your character (your stuck with the official title "Nameless One" until you the very end, you remain a male, you can't alter your clothing or clothing color - although it's extensive dialogue often lets you lie about your name..."Adahn" and possibly others) doesn't keep it from being an RPG...it does let you develop your character's stats and profession by learning from certain NPC's in the game.

The best RPG's made for pc's and every other platform, is Black Isle. That is all they make...top notch RPG's. Whatever they do is how all other's are judged...every time a new game is released by them, new rules are made, higher standards are set according to the new game they released. They constantly make better and are pioneering the RPG future. The best examples of RPG's are Black Isle's masterpieces.

What is an RPG??

Anything Black Isle has sold, Fallout, and just about any MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) - like Asheron's Call or Anarchy Online

What an RPG is not!

Diablo (1 & 2), "console RPG's" left and right - Zelda, Mario RPG, Final Fantasy series, Septerra Core, and the like

Can't help to have biases and such, but that is my definition of what makes an RPG. I define my opinion based on where these RPG's came from and where they should still draw inspiration...table-top, pen and paper, roleplaying..with dice and such.


Update: 6-19-01

After reading several other posts in this section, I noticed something. People are bringing up such things as Hit Point and Mana or Magic Points. These are in all games. Quake has Hit Points for every creature and for you, we just get a number of our's and not every monster and such.

This is part of the confusion that people fall for when labeling a game as an RPG. Any game in which you kill opponent's and are liable to dying yourself...has Hit Points! Any first person shooter, any strategy game, and well obviously RPG's. Hit Points are essentially nothing when it comes to deciding whether a game is an RPG or not...As I have just listed, action and strategy games use hit points as well.

Also some people believe, there has to be certain classes in a game to make it an RPG...like a primarily a thief/rogue, warrior/fighter, or wizard/mage. This is not true. But typically, skills define what a character is as far as "profession" or class or whatever you wish to call it. Combat skills, thieving skills, charisma skills, and magic skills are the most dominant. Games like Fallout allowed players to completely play as they wished. Typically players are restricted to a class with specific and probably restrictive barriers on skills, stats, and other abilities. In Fallout (1 & 2), you could have a character that was good at only one thing, or one that was a jack of all trades....and although class based games tend to use the most popular boundries, they enforce strict boundries limiting players from being a true fighter/thief. In BG for example a Fighter/Thief can use thieving skills, but only when he is wearing light armor; he also cannot use everthing a fight normally can. In a skill-based system like Fallout and the upcoming Arcanum or Torn, a character can concentrate solely on combative skills as well as thieving or stealth skills, no restrictions, no extra barriers, no new rules to abide. This of course is a debate between class-based and skill-based systems...I just got carried away. But defined classes don't make RPG's either. Look at a hotly growing trend in the FPS market....games which let you choose a class - the Half-Life mods Team Fortress Classic and Firearms spring to mind. This doesn't make the class system totally unrelated to RPG's, of course not...but it doesn't make a game an RPG. For example, Firearms is a FPS with realistic and RPG elements...RPG elements because of the classes to choose from, the skills to choose and change, the weapons to choose from, and the ability to create something totally original; now look at Deus Ex, at first look it is an FPS with RPG elements - character stats, inventory, experience and such...but these elements allow the game to be a FPS, what makes Deus Ex a flat-out RPG is the ability to speak with characters and provide your own questions, comments, answers, and such. This proves that dialogue is nearly the most important thing in defining a game as an RPG, dialogue coupled with character development makes a game an RPG, straight up.

I also read an opinion that stated gamer's getting obsessed with their character. This can be true to an extent, but its just as true for players in Half-Life or Age of Empires. Most people basically get "addicted", and its easily because...if you keep playing you will get some sort of reward, whether its "physical" like a weapon or item, or simply Experience Points which lead to the next character level, which in turn leads to increasing skills, gaining new ones, and such. The reward factor is arguably the greatest of all games. Keep playing Quake 3 and what do you get? - new weapons, more kills and gaming experience, and the ability to go to the next challenge and next level. RPG's offer all of these things, but on top of that they offer what I had previously listed (weapons/items/skills, experience and increase in character level and skill). But that still doesn't make it an RPG. For example, System Shock 2...a brilliant horror FPS game has RPG elements but it is hld back from being an RPG for one main reason...the lack of character interaction. True your chacater takes commands from someone, but you never truly get to reject those commands. Much like in Diablo 1 & 2 and all Final Fantasy games, you can listen to what someone has to say, but you never can say what you want to them (in game, of course...you COULD talk to the screen if you wanted to...). This lack of ability to have your character actively interact with other characters and the lack of the ability create some varied reactions from them with your own dialogue and actions keeps a game from being an RPG.

RPG's also tend to be victim of the assumption that RPG's don't have good graphics. When Fallout came out, it's graphics were ahead of anything out there...visually not technologically. But soon it grainy backgrounds became somewhat unattrative. When Baldur's Gate came out, it proved once again that 2D environments could easily be more atmospheric, ambient, and more beautiful than any 3D environment created for games. Torment, Icewind Dale, and Baldur's Gate 2 once again raised the bar. The lush handpainted backgrounds were very pleasing to the eye...and still are. To this day there has been near no 3D games that have such lush and beautiful environments. Unreal and Heavy Metal: FAKK2 are exceptions.

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