PCRPGs: Man the Lifeboats!

24 Aug 2004

The Few, the Proud, the Niche

There’s no denying it, I belong to a very vocal and impassioned group of gamers; the PCRPG (PC Role Playing Game) gamer. I belong to a group of gamers who love to create a character from scratch, adjusting and tweaking said character’s attributes, abilities, skills, etc. for hours on end before I venture my little avatar into the game world. I belong to a group who enjoys playing a quality CRPG more than once because I want to experience all avenues of character development and story. I also belong to a group of gamers who, according to many doomsayers in gaming journalism and development, say that PC games, and PCRPG’s specifically, are a dying breed. “Console games are the wave of the future, and the future is here,” they say. Now, I will not argue that console games are the growing gaming platform of choice for a large portion of the gaming populace, but I will argue that PC games, especially PCRPG’s, are not a dying breed but are here to stay.


“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome.”
- Matthew Arnold


The voices of doom for the PCRPG have sung before in the past. Back before 1996, one would have to search far and wide to find a PCRPG that was new. The days of Ultima and the Dungeons & Dragons Gold Box games were gone. Nintendo and Sony Playstation were going strong, and PC games mainly consisted of flight sims and action games. Then something happened. Diablo, from Blizzard Entertainment, was released and sold not only to PCRPG gamers, but also action gamers and anyone who enjoyed an easy to play and fun dungeon romp. True, Diablo was not a hard-core PCRPG, but that did not matter. What mattered was that the masses enjoyed Diablo and its high sales reopened the PCRPG market. PCRPG’s were not dead and the PC once again proved to be a viable and profitable gaming platform.

Quietly, yet hot on the heals of a reborn PCRPG market came another game that would prove that PCRPG’s could not only be fun, but also open-ended, thought provoking, and provide a pretty accurate model for displaying consequences for one’s actions. Fallout took gamers out of the dungeons of old and slapped them into a subtly campy, 1950’s interpretation of a post-apocalyptic future where the player was tasked with a basic endeavor – survival. But it was not only his survival he had to worry about, but the survival of his fellow vault dwellers. Moral choices were strewn throughout the wasteland and the player could tackle quests in pretty much any way they saw fit. Fallout was a true role-playing game and fans of the genre could not have been more pleased.

However, despite Fallout’s critical acclaim and growing, passionate fan base, it was another game released in 1998 that slammed the idea home that PCRPG’s were here to stay. That title was Baldur’s Gate. BioWare managed to create a fun and engaging Dungeons and Dragons experience for the PC gaming public, and it illustrated to game developers that PCRPG’s could, and did, sell well and that there was a hungry consumer base who longed for big, in-depth PCRPG’s.

But now it’s 2004, and the same folks who decreed the death of PC gaming and PCRPG’s back in the mid 1990’s are repeating themselves today. Consoles are the big “it” factor in today’s gaming market, no denying that. But to say PC games are dead, especially PCRPG’s, well, that’s just plain short sighted.


Somebody’s been hopping the fence, again.

One big clue that PCRPG’s are not dead is the increased depth and complexity of recently released console RPG’s. Case in point; Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic from BioWare. True, no hard-core gamer is ever going to confuse the depth of game play of SW: KOTOR with the depth of Fallout or Baldur’s Gate, but there is no denying that SW: KOTOR’s open-endedness, character creation, and story are heavily influenced by PCRPG development. It is this type of crossover development that helps to reinforce the PC’s viability as a gaming platform.

Now this next example is going to seem out of left field, but bear with me. This next game, released on the PS2, not only lets the player create their own character, stats, attributes, and even look, but also allows them to go down either the good or evil path, create relationships with NPC’s (Non-Player Characters), and develop their character in an in-depth storyline that branches in a few different directions. Sounds like an RPG, doesn’t it? Even a PCRPG. What is this “RPG?” Believe it or not, it is Smack Down: Bring on the Pain. I’ll pause until the laughing and verbal abuse subsides…

Smack Down: Bring on the Pain has a lot of the elements that makes for a good RPG, no matter what the platform. Like I said, it allows the player to completely create their own wrestling avatar, choose a path of either good or evil, and complete quests given by NPC’s to further the storyline. Call it a fighting game or action game if you like, but at its core, Smack Down is an RPG – an RPG that got a lot of influence, whether on the surface or not, from PCRPG’s. And the more people who are exposed to this type of play-style, the more likely it is to stir gamers to further explore the deeper RPG experiences.

But how is this going to help maintain the PC as a viable gaming platform? In the broad picture, games like the above help to bring in more gamers. When these gamers are exposed to the deeper intricacies of RPG game play, and if they enjoy it, then they are more likely to pursue similar gaming experiences. This may eventually lead them to PCRPG’s, or it might just make them more demanding for deeper console RPG’s. In either case, it makes the demand for RPG’s greater on both platforms.