To Play or Not to Play: Electronic RPGs
I hate electronic RPGs. I know that I'm somewhat old fashioned, but I grew up on roleplaying games that used pen, paper, books and dice. Games where people could use fake accents and props, tell jokes and say and do stupid things during the game. Games where the story was tailored to the players and their characters, where the dialog was spontaneous and no one, not even the GM, knew what would happen next. So what would it take to make an electronic RPG that's worth playing?
I know that a lot of you will send posts telling me to try EverQuest or World of Warcraft or KOTOR II or Final Fantasy XI (see Disillusioned with MMORPGS for more on FFXI --Editor) or some other game. Some of you will tell me to try MMORPGs because they allow you to do whatever you want.
I have yet to find an electronic roleplaying game that:
If I want my mage to use a broadsword... then I should be allowed to.
- Isn't level based. I abhor level based games. I know it'd be too much to be able to custom design a character with a classless point-based system like GURPS. Instead of choosing a fighter, thief, cleric, mage, or something else, why can't I just assign points for advantages, stats and skills? If I want a mage, then I'll put points into being able to cast magic, spells, and intelligence. If I want my mage to use a broadsword, shield, and a spear, and join some mercs, then I should be allowed to.
- Allows you to completely customize your character. In most games, once you get past the attributes and the character's name you're pretty much stuck with what the designers give you. I know, I'm asking an awful lot to want to be able to custom design my character's looks like I can in Tiger Woods' Golf. Instead of making an elf and having to choose one of eight elf faces (with maybe an option to change the hair color), why can't I start with a basic elven face and tweak it to look like I want it to? What about the elf's body, clothes, haircut, jewelry, weight, height, weapons, tattoos, piercings, etc.?
- Lets the character do what they want while still following a linear storyline. I'd like to have the option of playing an innkeeper or merchant or something similar while playing in a world with some cataclysmic war going on. Can you imagine trying to play an innkeeper in Falme during the Seanchen occupation (Robert Jordan) or a merchant in Icewind Dale during the Crystal Shard Invasion (R. A. Salvatore)? I'd be insane to expect an epic online campaign with a true storyline like Dragonlance, the Wheel of Time, or Star Wars, but I do.
- Has an AI that's so good that a player cannot differentiate between the AI and another player. If I want an AI that can perform as well as a human player would, then I think that I'd have to sell my soul to get it. Otherwise, it's not gonna happen.
- Doesn't Monty Haul magical items and money. I've actually heard of people paying REAL money to buy magical items in MMORPGs. That's just stupid.
- Doesn't reward characters for killing other characters, but doesn't make it impossible to do so. If 4, above, is effective, the player wouldn't know anyway. Honestly, how many times have you heard of players killing other players to get their magical items or get more experience? I know of games where you can't even kill another player because that type of playing is so out of control that they put blocks in to stop it. How petty, immature, and pointless would it be to go around killing off other players just for their stuff? Grow up, it's just a game.
One of the only games that really comes close to these standards would be Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) and its sequel, KOTOR II. KOTOR lets the player customize the character's stats, skills, and force powers, which is cool. KOTOR has a great storyline with lots of opportunity to do whatever the player wants while eventually forcing the player/character to choose between good and evil, which is also cool. But the player only has eight premade faces to choose for their character's appearance (almost all of them are ugly), and only three classes to choose from, which isn't cool. It also has NPCs that all look the same within the different racial variations, very uncool.
Why is it so hard to make electronic RPGs that would be worth playing?
Why is it so hard to make electronic RPGs that would be worth playing? The basic tools are already a reality. The hardest part would be the AI. An AI that would be able to handle millions of people interacting in a fantasy world, each person doing whatever they want, is a daunting task. But it is a possibility. It has already been accomplished on a somewhat limited basis with the MMORPGs that already in existence.
Creating a vibrant, realistic world would be the most time-consuming and labor-intensive part of the creation process. Actually, if the game designers used some of the old school world designers from the early RPGs then they'd be pretty set up. The same teams that dreamed up worlds like Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Cyberpunk, White Wolf, Mystara, and the Underdark would easily be able to make up a believable world to interact with. After all, they've been doing so professionally for over twenty years already.
The easiest part would be to populate the world. Just use the players for almost everything. The U.S. Army has a free MMORPG where every single character that you meet is played by a real person. The only thing AI does is keep track of the characters, missions, and environments. The game is called America's Army and can be found through the link above or picked up at the nearest Army recruiter's Office.
If the Army can do something this advanced, then why can't anybody else? Why should you pay twenty to fifty dollars a month to play a second rate pointless game? For that kind of money I'll stay with my pen and paper games, thank you very much.
Imagine a game where you never know who's being played by an AI or another player. A game where there is an epic story (perhaps a war) going on, and the characters can do whatever they want, choose which side to work for and how, or choose to avoid the war for as long as possible by plying a trade (legal or otherwise) in a far off city. A game where characters don't kill other characters to get experience or magical items because there are no levels and magical items aren't massively powerful or common.
Maybe if electronic RPGs were set at a higher standard then I'd play them. Maybe, just maybe, someone will wake up one day and realize that as long as people are willing to pay for inferior products, then the companies that put out those products will have no reason to improve them.
Of course, maybe it's just me...
"Until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore,
you will not know the terror of being forever lost at sea."