on Sep 27, 2007
Yesterday I commented that I was having trouble figuring out what made an RPG “great”. Then I realized that an easy way to answer this question is to just look at the major RPG titles that have come out in the last few years. By looking at recent A-list titles, it’s pretty easy to see what makes RPGs great and which features are most important for success:
1. The game must have awesome cutting-edge graphics and cater directly to computers made in the last two years. If your game doesn’t have a bunch of crap with bump-textured pixelshader bling mapping, it’s not an RPG. RPGs are defined by how far out on the bleeding graphical edge they are.
2. The game should have a few choices, but not too many. These choices should be clearly clearly defined between good and evil, such as “save orphanage” vs “burn down orphange”. Don’t confuse the player with grey areas, unintended consequences, or outcomes more complex than the accumulation of “good” and “evil” points.
3. The game should have
multipletwo endings. One of which should be fuzzy kittens “good” and the other should be chaotic jackass “evil”.
4. The game should have challenging combat. People play RPG games because they like a solid challenge that takes many attempts to overcome, even for veteran players. Make sure people can’t overcome these obstacles by gaining strength elsewhere in the game or finding a non-combat solution, as that would be cheating. If you aren’t kicking the player back to the loading screen once in a while, then your RPG sucks.
5. The game must have good boss fights. A good boss fight is one where the player fights a single enemy for a very long time while drinking lots of health potions. It doesn’t matter if the boss makes sense or not, or if they are even fair. If you need to introduce a twelve foot tall human with 5,000 hit points and endlessly respawning minions, then so be it, because good RPGs have good bosses. The boss should also egg the player on by repeating a few taunts over and over during the fight.
6. The game should have as many plot-driven doors as possible. Players love to go on lengthy sidequests unrelated to the central plot so they can fetch keys to open otherwise normal doors.
7. There must be a romance subplot where the player can win the affections of a hot young chick. It doesnt matter if they are playing as an 87 year old wizard or a surly orc, the romance subplot in the game should be focused on a single attractive young female. If you allow the player to choose their gender, then make sure the game is fair to female players by allowing them to seduce the hot chick as well.
8. There Should Be A Bigass Sword. People love games where they quest for a big honkin’ sword. It doesn’t matter if they are playing as a wizard or a rogue or would normally have no use for a sword. If you want a good RPG, then the player needs to be sent to get a sword the size of a telephone pole.
9. The game should have a middle-ages fantasy setting, because RPG games have wizards and dragons. Don’t confuse people with non-RPG settings like outer space, a cyberpunk dystopia, or a modern city. You need to package your RPG game in an RPG setting. And speaking of packaging: The game needs great box art. And by “great” I mean it has a half-naked woman.
10. If the plot seems a little thin, spice it up by putting some crap in there about destiny and prophesy or somesuch.
If you follow these ten steps, you’re sure to have a stellar RPG on your hands. (But hype it up before launch just to make sure!) If your game sells poorly, it doesn’t mean your game sucks. It just means your game was so awesome that people decided to pirate it.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.