A role-playing video game (RPG) is a computer or video game where the player controls one or several characters, and achieves victory by completing a series of quests. A key feature of the genre is that characters grow in power and abilities, and characters are typically designed by the player. Players explore a game world, while solving puzzles and engaging in tactical combat.
These games usually have a highly developed story and setting, which is divided into a number of quests. Players control one or several characters by issuing commands, which is performed by the character at an effectiveness determined by that character's numeric attributes. These attributes increase each time a character gains a level, and a character's level goes up each time the player accumulates a certain amount of experience.
Role-playing video games borrow their genre terminology, settings and game mechanics found in early role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. However, computers do not yet have the power to simulate nonplayer characters with the skill of a human game master. Thus, role-playing video games borrow more of the core mechanics from early role-playing games without as much of the role-playing activity and character freedom.
A role-playing game is a computer or video game where the player controls one or several characters, and achieves victory by completing a series of quests. A key feature of the genre is that characters grow in power and abilities, and characters are typically designed by the player. Players explore a game world, while solving puzzles and engaging in tactical combat. RPGs rarely challenge a player's physical coordination, with the exception of action role-playing games.
Relationship to other genres
Unlike action games, RPGs seldom test a player's physical skill. Combat is typically a tactical challenge rather than a physical one, and games involve other non-action gameplay such as choosing dialog options, inventory management, or buying and selling items.
Although RPGs share some combat rules with wargames, RPGs are about a small group of individual characters. Wargames tend to have large groups of identical units, as well as non-humanoid units such as tanks and airplanes. Role-playing games don't normally allow the player to produce more units. However, the Heroes of Might and Magic series crosses these genres by combining individual heros with large amounts of troops in large battles.
RPGs rival adventure games in terms of their rich storylines, in contrast to genres that do not rely upon storytelling such as sports games or puzzle games. Both genres also feature highly detailed characters, and a great deal of exploration. However, adventure games usually have a well-defined character, whereas RPGs allow the player to design their characters. Adventure games usually focus on one character, whereas RPGs often feature an entire party. RPGs also feature a combat system, which adventure games usually lack. Whereas adventure games may focus on the personal or psychological growth of characters, RPGs emphasize a complex eternal economy where characters are defined by increasing numerical attributes. Arguably, role-playing games such as the Final Fantasy series could be considered a hybrid of RPG and adventure game, because of their vivid stories and highly personal characters.
Gameplay elements strongly associated with this genre, such as statistical character development, have been widely adapted to other video game genres. For example, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, an action game, uses resource statistics (abbreviated as "stats") to define a wide range of attributes including stamina, weapon proficiency, driving, lung capacity, and muscle tone, and uses numerous cutscenes and quests to advance the story. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, a real-time strategy game, features heroes that can complete quests, obtain new equipment, and "learn" new abilities as they advance in level.
Story and setting
The premise of most-roleplaying games tasks the player with saving the world, or whichever level of society is threatened. There are often twists and turns as the story progresses, such as the surprise appearance of estranged relatives, or enemies who become friends or vice versa. The game world tends to be set in a fantasy or science fiction universe, which allows players to do things they cannot do in real life and helps players suspend their disbelief about the rapid character growth. To a lesser extent, settings closer to the present day or near future are possible.
A strong story often provides half the entertainment in the game. Because these games have strong storylines, they can often make effective use of recorded dialog and voiceover narration. Players of these games tend to appreciate long cut scenes more than players of faster action games. While most games advance the plot when the player defeats an enemy or completes a level, role-playing games often progress the plot based on other important decisions. For example, a player may make the decision to join a guild, thus triggering a progression in the storyline that is usually irreversible. New elements in the story may also be triggered by mere arrival in an area, rather than completing a specific challenge. The plot is usually divided so that each game location is an opportunity to reveal a new chapter in the story.
Whereas non-electronic role-playing games have a human gamemaster who can dynamically react to a player's choices, role-playing video games are confined to a smaller set of actions and do not yet have the power to simulate nonplayer characters with the skill of a human game master. Thus, role-playing video games borrow more of the core mechanics from such games without as much of the role-playing activity. Characterization in video games is limited to conversations with non-player characters using a dialog tree, although multiplayeronline role-playing games are a notable exception where more role-play is possible. Saying the right things to the right non-player characters will elicit useful information for the player, and may even result in other rewards such as experience.
Exploration and quests
Exploring the world is an important aspect of all RPGs. Players will walk through, talking to non-player characters, picking up objects, and avoiding traps. Some games such as NetHack or Diablo randomize the structure of individual levels, increasing the game's variety and replayability. Role-playing games where players complete quests by exploring randomly-generated dungeons are sometimes called roguelikes, named after the 1980 computer game Rogue.
The game's story is often mapped onto exploration, where each chapter of the story is mapped onto a different location. Unlike other linear games, RPGs usually allow players to return to previously visited locations. Usually, there is nothing left to do there, although some locations change throughout the story and offer the player new things to do in response. Players must acquire enough power to overcome a major challenge in order to progress to the next area, and this structure can be compared to the boss characters at the end of levels in action games.
Whereas the player must complete a linear sequence of specific quests to complete the game, RPGs often allow the player to seek out optional side-quests. These quests are typically found by talking to a non-player character, and there is no penalty for abandoning or ignoring these quests other than a missed opportunity. There is usually a reward for completing a side-quest, although quests in some games such as Arcanum or Geneforge can limit or enable certain choices later in the game. Quests may involve defeating one or many enemies, rescuing a non-player character, item fetch quests, or locational puzzles such as mysteriously locked doors.
Items and inventory
Players can find loot throughout the game world and collect it, such as clothing, weapons, and armor. Players can trade items for gold and better requirement. Trade takes place in a specialized trading while interacting with certain friendly non-player characters, such as shopkeepers. Purchased items go into the player's inventory. Some games turn inventory management into a logistical challenge by limiting the size of the player's inventory, thus forcing the player to decide what they must carry at the time. This can be done by limiting the maximum weight that a player can carry, or by employing a system of arranging items in a virtual space.
Character actions and abilities
Most of the actions in an RPG are performed indirectly, with the player selecting an action and the character performing it by their own accord. Success at that action depends on the character's numeric attributes. Role-playing video games often simulate die-rolling mechanics from non-electronic role-playing games, to determine success or failure. As a character's attributes improve, their chances of succeding at a particular action will increase.
Many role-playing games allow players to play as an evil character. Although robbing and murdering indiscriminately may make it easier to get money, there are usually consequences in that other characters will become uncooperative or even hostile towards the player. Thus, these games allow players to make moral choices, but forces players to live with the consequences of their actions. Games often let the player control an entire party of characters. However, if winning is contingent upon the survival of a single character, then that character effectively becomes the player's avatar.
Although some single-player role-playing games give the player an avatar that is largely predefined for the sake of telling a specific story, many role-playing games make use of a character creation screen. This allows players to choose their character's sex, their race or species, and their character class. Although many of theses traits are cosmetic, there are functional aspects as well. Character classes will have different abilities and strengths. Common classes include fighters, spellcasters, thieves with stealth abilities, and clerics with healing abilities. Characters will also have a range of physical attributes such as dexterity and strength, which affect a player's performance in combat. Mental attributes such as intelligence may affect a player's ability to perform and learn spells, while social attributes such as charisma may limit the player's choices while conversing with non-player characters. These attributes usually borrow heavily the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset.
Role-playing games frequently make use of magical powers, or equivelents such as psychic powers or advanced technology. These abilities are confined to specific characters such as mages, spellcasters, or magic-users. In games where the player controls multiple characters, these magic-users usually complement the physical strength of other classes. Magic can be used as an attack or defense, or to temporarily change an enemy or ally's attributes. While some games allow players to gradually consume a spell, as ammunition is consumed by a gun, most games offer players a finite amount of mana which can be spent on any spell. Mana is restored by resting, or by consuming potions. Characters can also gain other non-magical skills, which stay with the character as long as he lives.
Experience and levels
Although the characterization of the game's avatar will develop through storytelling, characters may also become more functionally powerful by gaining new skills, weapons, and magic. This creates a positive-feedback cycle that is central to most role-playing games. The player grows in power, allowing them to overcome more difficult challenges, and gain even more power. This is part of the appeal of the genre, where players experience growing from an ordinary person into a superhero with amazing powers. Whereas other games give the player these powers immediately, the player in a role-playing game will choose their powers and skills as they gain experience.
Role-playing games usually measure progress by counting experience points and character levels. Experience is usually earned by defeating enemies in combat, with some games offering experience for completing certain quests or conversations. Experience becomes a form of score, and accumulating a certain amount of experience will cause the character's level to go up. This is called "levelling up", and gives the player an opportunity to raise one or more of his character's attributes. Many RPGs allow players to choose how to improve their character, by allocating a finite number of points into the attributes of their choice. Gaining experience will also unlock new magic spells for characters that use magic.
Some role-playing games also give the player specific skill points, which can be used to unlock a new skill or improve an existing one. This may sometimes be implemented as a skill tree. As with the technology trees seen in strategy video games, learning a particular skill in the tree will unlock more powerful skills deeper in the tree.
Three different systems of rewarding the player characters for solving the tasks in the game can be set apart: the experience system (also known as the "level-based" system) the training system (also known as the "skill-based" system) and the skill-point system (also known as "level-free" system)
The experience system system, by far the most common, was inherited from traditional role-playing games and emphasizes receiving "experience points" (often abbreviated "XP" or "exp") by winning battles, performing class-specific activities, and completing quests. Once a certain amount of experience is gained, the character advances a level, at which point he may increase his skills and abilities.
The training system is similar to the way the Basic Role-Playing system works. The first computer game to use this was Dungeon Master, and emphasizes developing the character's skills by using them - meaning that if a character wields a sword for some time, he or she will become proficient with it. This system was later used in the The Elder Scrolls series, as well as the Dungeon Siege series.
Finally, in the skill-point system (as used in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines for example) the character is rewarded with "skill points" for completing quests, which then can be directly used to "buy" skills and/or attributes, without having to wait until the next "level up".
Older games often separated combat into its own mode of gameplay, distinct from exploring the game world. More recent games tend to maintain a consistent perspective for exploration and combat. Some games, especially earlier console games, generate battles from random encounters. But most RPGs also use scripted, persistent moderns to some degree, if only for boss monsters. Combat options typically involve positioning characters, selecting which enemy to attack, and exercising special skills such as casting spells.
In a classical turn-based system, only one character may act at a time; all other characters remain still, with a few exceptions that may involve the use of special abilities. The order in which the characters act is usually dependent on their attributes, such as speed or agility. This system rewards strategic planning more than quickness. It also points to the fact that realism in games is a means to the end of immersion in the game world, not an end in itself. A turn-based system makes it possible, for example, to run within range of an opponent and kill him before he gets a chance to act, or duck out from behind hard cover, fire, and retreat back without an opponent being able to fire, which are of course both impossibilities. However, tactical possibilities have been created by this unreality that did not exist before; the player determines whether the loss of immersion in the reality of the game is worth the satisfaction gained from the development of the tactic and its successful execution. Fallout has been praised as being "the shining example of a good turn-based Combat System[sic]".
Real-time combat can import features from action games, creating a hybrid action RPG game genre. But other RPG battle systems such as the Final Fantasy battle systems have imported real-time choices without emphasizing coordination or reflexes. Other systems combine real-time combat with the ability to pause the game and issue orders to all characters under his/her control; when the game is unpaused, all characters follow the orders they were given. This "real-time with pause" system (RTwP) has been particularly popular in games designed by BioWare. The most famous RTwP engine is the Infinity Engine. Other names for "real-time with pause" include "active pause", "semi real-time" and "smart pause".
Early Ultima games featured a semi real-time system: they were strictly turn-based, but if the player waited more than a second or so to issue a command, the game would automatically issue a pass command, allowing the monsters to take a turn while the PCs did nothing. Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel is another game which used this system.
There is a further subdivision by the structure of the battle system; in many early games, such as Wizardry, monsters and the party are arrayed into ranks, and can only attack enemies in the front rank with melee weapons. Other games, such as most of the Ultima series, employed duplicates of the miniatures combat system traditionally used in the early role-playing games. Representations of the player characters and monsters would move around an arena modeled after the surrounding terrain, attacking any enemies that are sufficiently near.
Interface and graphics
Players typically navigate the game world from a first or third-person perspective in 3D RPGs. However, an isometric or aerial top-down perspective is common in party-based RPGs, in order to give the player a clear view of their entire party. Role-playing games require the player to manage a large amount of information, and frequently make use of a windowed interface. For example, spell-casting characters will often have a menu of spells they can use. On the PC, players typically use the mouse to click on icons and menu options, while console games duplicate this functionality with the game controller. Older games often revealed calculations of the game as seen in Dungeons and Dragons games, although more recent games have removed this information to improve immersion.
Though sharing fundamental premises, there are regional and cultural patterns to conventions in and design of RPGs, the main demarcation lines are based on geography (between Western and Eastern styles) and platform (between computer and console games) where Western games tend to have darker stories and older characters, and focus more on roaming freedom and less on linear story than their Eastern counterparts.
Role-playing video games are divided:
- By platform
- By genre
- Tactical role-playing games
- Action role-playing games
- Massively multiplayer online role-playing games
Role-playing video games owe their foundations to role-playing games, which also allows players to experience a gradual growth in abilities as they completed different quests. The role-playing video game genre began in the mid-1970s, as an offshoot of early university mainframe text-based RPGs on PDP-10 and Unix-based computers, such as Dungeon, pedit5 and dnd. In 1980, a very popular dungeon crawler, Rogue was released. Featuring ASCII graphics where the setting, monsters and items were represented by letters and a deep system of gameplay, it inspired a whole genre ("roguelikes") of similar clones. RPGs continued to be influenced by Dungeons and Dragons. Starting in 1988 with Pool of Radiance, SSI produced a series of "Gold Box" CRPGs based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules. These games featured a first-person display for movement, combined with an overhead tactical display for combat.
After the success of console role-playing games such as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, the role-playing genre eventually diverged into two distinct sub-genres: computer role-playing games and console role-playing games. This is due to cultural differences which arose due to RPGs being produced primarily for personal computers in the Western world and primarily for games consoles in Japan.
The first RPGs offered strictly a single player experience. The popularity of multiplayer modes in these games rose sharply during the early to mid 1990s, with games such as Secret of Mana and Diablo. With the advent of the internet, multiplayer games have grown into massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI.
- ↑ 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24 1.25 1.26 1.27 1.28 1.29 1.30 1.31 1.32 1.33 1.34 1.35 1.36 Rollings, Andrew; Ernest Adams (2006). Fundamentals of Game Design. Prentice Hall. http://wps.prenhall.com/bp_gamedev_1/54/14053/3597646.cw/index.html.
- ↑ Parish, Jeremy. "The Essential 50 Part 12 -- Rogue". 1UP. Retrieved on 2009-03-01.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Babovic, Branislav (2000). "Combat Systems in RPG Games" (HTML). ActionTrip. Retrieved on 2007-12-02.