Computer games reviews and ramblings on games and gaming, from a gamer, roleplayer and LARPer.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What is a CRPG? Part 4

Would you like to run along a mountain path, through the hardy evergreen forest, hearing the wind hiss around the spiny leaves, reach the cliff edge, take the spit second decision: do I face what's chasing me, or jump and hope I hit the river and survive the fall?

Or would you like a copy of Excel, because you can have that if you want.

The big problem with CRPGs is that they grew from Tabletop -or Pen and Paper, if you prefer- RPGs, which need to use highly visible stats to resolve challenges and conflicts. Because the first CRPGs simply ported the numbercrunching and plusones from the tabletop to the screen, an obsession has ingrained itself in the inds of some CRPG players that those numbers are the essence of roleplaying games.

The thing is, the beauty of computer gaming is that it can take all the stuff that we need to do by hand to create the game experience on the tabletop, and hide it away from us. Yes stat progression is good, but do we have to see it? No, not any more, we certainly don’t have to obsess over it. What we need to see is the world, and our effect on it. One of my favourite Oblivion mods is one that makes all levelling happen automatically, feeding off the already organic, practice based system the Elder Scrolls games use. I never look at my skills page anymore

For a CRPG to be good it does not have to have an exhaustive stat manipulation screen, it has to have either a solid, well presented narrative where the player's choices matter (or don't matter, but in a dramatic fashion, but this is a musing which will have to become another post) or enough freedom for emergeant narrative to grow from the gameplay, or a good combination of both. Add to that a well imagined setting...

Actually, about setting: even a well presented fantasy soup is fine, but can someone please give me a good fantasy RPG without the words 'elf', 'dwarf' or 'orc'. I mean, you can still have the willowy magic users (eg. Feyron, willowkin, imagii?), stocky racial crafters (Hearth clan? Axe lords?) and hairy brutes who hate everything (RGPCodexers!), but at least call them something different. The elder Scrolls, for example, would be much improved by sticking to the '$mer' nomenclature and dropping the bog standard names.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Guest Review: Alpha Protocol, courtesy of Innokenti

Man, I love Alpha Protocol so much. After completing DE:HR:IT:QA I felt a desire only to go back to Alpha Protocol and play around some more. Obsidian toiled long and hard to produce a game with so much variety of character and interaction - they thought about as many situations as they reasonably good and tried to make sure as many of them were referenced as possible by the characters in the game. Where you go first, what you do, how you look, how you complete missions - so much of it (even the stuff that's not really relevant to the plot or progress) is picked up in conversation (and in how some missions occur).

It makes the game world feel alive. It makes you feel loved as a gamer. It's such a seemingly simple thing. Yes, you have the grander decision that change world outcomes - we've come to expect that, and it's there. But that's not what make you feel invested in the world - it's all those little things, and Alpha Protocol's decision to reward everything you do. Not to make it 'easy' or to laud the player unnecessarily, but to confirm that mechanically, they are not prejudicing a particular approach - there is no right way to play it, and the developers aren't just saying that, they're making sure it's reinforced. Kill lots of people? Earn some perks. Avoid everyone without raising an alarm? Earn some perks. Be an utter dick to everyone you meet? Earn some perks. Be courteous and professional? Earn some perks. AND, more importantly, do a combination of those? EARN SOME PERKS (valid middle-ground option you say? Woweee).

And everyone has their own agenda and preferences. And it's your job to pick it up and act accordingly - ignore what people want to hear or have you do and go your own way, pissing some people off and ingratiating others. Be a dick to everyone you meet, getting on their nerves intensely - be still rewarded for it AND get some of the game's best lines to boot. Pick and choose to be a friend to all - great.

And I don't really have a problem with the 'action' bit of it either. The animations might not all be swanky, and there are a few graphical problems, but none of them really affect the game.

So there. Also, Steven Heck is one of the most memorable characters in any game ever. And SIE is one of the most disturbing (and it's great that the devs have put in little things like Mike having a little smile when SIE is saying outrageous and offensive things to your handler who you hate...)