TAHR and Lori followed up on the discussion of adventure vs. role-playing games we started in Update #8, and we thought many of you would be interesting in the conversation.
In case you haven't played our Quest for Glory games, and would like to know more about the types of games Lori and I make, PC Gamer posted an article today about Quest for Glory IV that may give you more context: http://www.pcgamer.com/2012/11/04/reinstall-quest-for-glory-iv/
Role-Playing - Adventure, RPG, and Tabletop Style
To me, Role Playing Games are about problems, and Adventure Games are about puzzles (in the very specific way those two terms are defined in the PC Gamer article).
Why? Because in fact, Role Playing Games are NOT about Role Playing, and Adventure Games are ALL about Role Playing.
In a tabletop Dungeons & Dragons game, I am an elf - an elf fancied from my imagination - not a human playing the part of Legolas and trying to guess what Legolas would do in a situation. I’m not, as on a movie set, an actor learning a script and pretending to be an elf while he delivers his pre-written lines.
In Sins of the Fathers, this IS where I actually play a role, the role of Gabriel Knight. The ONLY difference with a movie is that the director doesn’t give me the script, I must guess it (what will you as Gabriel do?), otherwise this would be a fiction, not an Interactive Fiction (and therefore not a game).
So Adventure Games are Interactive Fictions, where you have to guess the script. The more well written the script is, the more entertaining the game is. You’ve said that Day of The Tentacle was one of your favorite adventure games; well, imagine how great it would be as an animated comedy movie, or Grim Fandango as an animated film noir.
Role Playing Games are Simulated Worlds, where you can live a second life. But even the greatest RPG sessions would not necessarily make great movies, mostly because they would not be structured enough or strong enough in terms of storytelling (just like true stories have to be romanticized before making to the big screen).
What makes great movies/Adventure Games are not only the problems the characters have to face, but morevover the great solutions the script writers/game designers have invented : how will Marty McFLy/Bernard Bernoulli go back to their own time ? The question is a good start, but without a great answer, it would be totally uninteresting to watch.
And there is a big issue with the “Simulated World” concept. While a good Pen & Paper RPG Game Master will have no problem to satisfy all your desires and turn them into an adventure with some twists and climaxes without you knowing it, a computer just CAN’T. Elder Scrolls games can be great fun, but only if you accept the fact that almost EVERY problems are solved through combat tactics. The world is simulated through the perspective of a fighter.
This explains why I’m interested in the Hero-U project - because while simulating a world like a Pen & Paper RPG Game Master does is impossible with a computer program (even with the multi-millions dollar budgets Bethesda Softworks grant for their games), mixing mechanics from Adventure Games and Computer RPGs would still be a GREAT experience, especially if you try to do more than “just” including stats and combats to a classic Adventure Game (which is a good start but sill a Adventure Game, not an RPG).
To me, the best Computer RPG someone could possibly program would be one that replaces the problems (really fun to solve in P&P RPGs but impossible to be told properly by an artificial intelligence, other than finding the best solution to slay everything that stands in your way) with the puzzles of an Adventure Game, assuming that those puzzles would have 3 or 4 different solutions, and that ALL those different solutions would reach the quality of a good movie in terms of storytelling.
To paraphrase you, succeeding in this task will be a new definition of “hard”. I’m aware that Hero-U won’t necessarily match with my very specific definition of “the Best Computer RPG”, however, your project have all my support
Lori Responds on the Role-Playing Side
Nice post, TAHR. I’d like to elevate this out of the comments ghetto. I think its well-worth getting others to read and comment upon. We’re going to use this as the starting point for our next Update.
I’ve always been a role-player. As you say when you are playing tabletop games, you are the Elf. Whenever I write a character for a game, I AM that character. Likewise, I tend to project personality into every game I play.
I would argue that some RPGs are all about role-playing. Star Wars: the Old Republic really goes out of its way to give your character depth, motivation, and relationships in the game. There is a storyline that is centered on your character’s life rather than just upon the “Save the Galaxy” or “Conquer the Galaxy” (depending upon which side you are playing).
Actually, I would love to see “Grim Fandango” as an animated movie. I really enjoyed the “Beetlejuice” cartoon of by-gone days. But I didn’t enjoy the “Grim Fandango” game – The puzzles were too convoluted or obscure for me to solve without a hint book.
I agree totally with you about your comments about Games and Movies. Great Games do not necessarily make Great Movies. Monkey Island would be a fun movie. Wizardry would not. It makes about as much sense to make a movie from an RPG as it does from a boardgame like Battleship. Oh wait, they're doing that. :-)
I did not begin the design for Hero-U by asking what interesting monsters are hidden under the castle or what nifty magic item can we give Shawn. I wanted to know who Shawn was, why did he come to the school, and what was going to happen to him. Every person he meets in this game will be part of the story in some way. They all have their own back-stories and goals. Shawn can aid them or ignore them. It won’t ruin the game if Shawn is an absolute rotter who selfishly pursues his own agenda. It will just be a richer game if Shawn interacts with everyone and tries to make good grades, friends, and find a lover.
It’s not my job to tell the player how he should play Shawn. This is a Role-playing game in the true sense.
Corey Weighs In On Conversation
Believable conversation is one of the hardest things to put in a game. One measure of successful artificial intelligence is the "Turing Test" – If the player talks to two individuals remotely, and one is a real person and the other an AI program, can the player reliably tell them apart? This is a hard problem, and not one we're going to suddenly solve in Hero-U.
Film conversations work because they are entirely scripted. The writer knows exactly what she wants to accomplish in each exchange, and carefully crafts what each person says. We've all seen computer games that use this approach – Sometimes they have good stories, but they aren't good games. Players crave choice.
Classic Sierra and LucasArts adventures mostly used dialogue menus. The game presented you with a choice of dialogue options, then gave you the other characters' responses. Sometimes there were puzzles or important clues hidden within the dialogue tree. In order to be less frustrating, most games allowed you to try every possible line of dialogue until you got the important one.
That was better than previous games, in which your only option was to "talk to" a character, and they always gave the same response. But it's nothing like a real conversation. Real people don't patiently play along while you ask them, "What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?" Unless maybe you're on a first date and you're buying.
In Quest for Glory, we multiplied our work (and hopefully added to the players' fun) by adding "cases" to dialogue based on the game state. If you met a person for the first time, they had one set of responses. If you came back later, they would have another. If you rescued them from a burning house, later conversations would focus on that connection between the two of you.
We are using an even more subtle conversation system in Hero-U. You will have several choices of things to say, each of which leads to a conversation. The difference is that it doesn't go back to the starting point. Your choice determines where the conversation leads, and you can't act as though the words were never said.
In addition, the state of your relationship with the other character will sometimes affect the choices you have available. It will definitely affect the other character's reaction.
We are, of course, insane – This approach will multiply the already-huge amount of dialogue Lori wrote for the last few Quest for Glory games. But she's willing to try, and I expect I'll help out between my other design tasks. Our goal is to create believable conversations, while still keeping the player in control. Your dialogue choices will matter much more than in a classic adventure game, because everything you say can and will be used against you.
Conversation and character relationships matter very much to Lori and me. You could say that, for her, they are the most important part of any of our games. We promise that you will have some fun and meaningful discussions when you play the game.
And puns. Good conversations are their own reward, but there's always room for some punishment.