Gamasutra brings us an overview of the keynote speech given by former Interplay CEO Brian Fargo at last week's GDC China event. In it, Brian talked about the definition of an RPG, staying true to a game's vision, and the processes a team goes through while creating a role-playing title. A snip:
"Character identification and creation, that's certainly a hallmark of an RPG," says Fargo. But this makes it more difficult on the writers. "When it's a character creation game, we don't know anything about you from a writing standpoint."
The other tactic is to define the character, and build the game against that, "which provides a better writing environment, in my opinion," he added. These days though, players really want to create their own character, which is "a different writing exercise, and it seems like a subtle thing, but it's a very big deal. The hardcore players demand that sort of thing."
Character progression is also important. Fargo personally doesn't like when enemies level up with you. "I think the idea of your characters getting stronger, and things that were a problem before no longer being a problem gives you a sense of feeling good," he says.
An RPG also needs deep cause and effect, which helps with immersion. In The Bard's Tale, for example, early on you can be nice to a dog, or be mean to it. If you're nice to the dog, it follows you, and there are scenes that happen 10 or 20 hours in that have to do with the dog. If you were mean to it, you'll never see that content. On a more micro level, you need to make players feel the effect of a new weapon, every time they get one.
RPGs also need a robust conflict system - combat, stealth, and so on. "You have to know that this is where they're going to spend 90% of their time," says Fargo. "And they have to use their brain during this part of it. If they're just clicking, clicking, clicking and falling asleep while they're doing it, you're going to lose their attention for that part of it."
To really make players feel good, you should fool them into feeling like they've figured out their own way of doing things. "We think we've done a good job when people think they're cheating us," he adds. Finally, an RPG needs a strong world sense, because most games actually have most of the above elements. In Skyrim, for example, the world is massively huge, which helps players to get the sense that there's something greater than them at work.
I like a lot of what Brian has to say, but I think he's kidding himself if he's comparing the Snowblind Engine-powered The Bard's Tale and Hunted: The Demon's Forge to any of the RPGs he helped bring into existence at Interplay. It's time to go back to your roots, Brian.