Before I put the time into designing a game I want to have a clear set of rules or guidelines I can use to see if the game design will live up to my expectations.
I intend to use this system to review a number of games so I can extract design best principles from them.
Some of My Favourite Role Playing Games
The best way to start this process was for me to think what my favourite games were before deciding why they were my favourites.
My favourite games tend to be western-style CRPGs that are computer only (not console) and therefore have a complexity, style and intelligence about them that console games tend not to have.
Here’s a list of the games that are top of mind in this category:
- Wizardry 6-8
- Daggerfall & Morrowind
- Betrayal at Krondor
- Might & Magic 3
- Eye of the Beholder 1-2
- Gold Box Series (ie. Champions of Krynn, Pool of Radiance)
- Baldur’s Gate Trilogy / Icewind Dale
- Neverwinter Nights 2
- Divinity 2
- Darksun 1
The next two groups are not rpgs exactly, but they do have enough rpg elements that I want to consider them.
Strategy Games with RPG Elements
Turn based strategy games are at the top of the difficulty and challenge in terms of gameplay and intelligence required.
Generally I only dabble in them except for a handful of games that have at least some character or roleplaying elements:
- Master of Magic – my favourite game ever
- Star Wars: Rebellion
- Empire at War / Forces of Corruption
- Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes
Besides strategy the
Adventure Games with RPG Elements
Only one series has ever done a half-decent job of combining the classic adventure genre with roleplaying elements and that is Quest for Glory.
- Quest for Glory 1-5 (Hero’s Quest) series
As such is stands alone, sui generis.
Eastern RPGs (JRPGS)
I’m not really into jrpgs but I did like them occasionally when I was younger if I didn’t have a good game at the time to play on PC.
They had simpler systems than their Western counterparts, emphasized story, generally forced you to take premade characters and seemed to appeal to younger people.
Here is a rather varied list of some of the jrpgs I enjoyed:
- Breath of Fire 1,2,3
- Final Fantasy 1,4,5,6
- Saga Frontier
- Chrono Trigger
- Secret of Mana
- Star Ocean 2
Now that I’ve listed some of my favourites that have at least some relation to the kind of games I want to make and review I needed to see if there are any commonalities.
My First Attempt at a CRPG Review System
Based on the above list I tried to come up with some common elements between the games that made me like them.
My first attempt includes the following eight elements:
- CRPG System: The most important element, does it have lots of detail?, how complex?, does it have a mix of roleplaying & powergaming elements for different playing styles?
- Gameplay: How challenging is the game?, Are there choices and tradeoffs?, Does knowledge of the game & system make a difference in playing?
- Fun Factor: Did I enjoy myself?, Did the various elements of the game work together?
- Re-playability: Did I even finish the game?, how many times did I play it?, would I want to replay it again?
- User Interface: Player should not notice, minimizes clicks & key-presses, (inventory, exploration, combat)
- Story: How good is the manual at setting the mood for the game?, is there a great in-game back-story?, classic 5 elements of story (theme, setting, plot, conflict, characters), how do the story and gameplay work together to improve the experience?
- Moddable: How much can players modify the game to suit their own needs?, provide maximum value for hard earned money spent
- Graphics, Sound & Music: Are the graphics a distraction?, does the sound and music improve the experience or take away from it?
Not bad for a first start, but after coming up with this list I wanted do a little bit of research to see if I missed anything.
My next step was to see how other people have reviewed computer role playing games.
Other Rating & Review Systems
The CRPG addict is a bloke going by the online name of Chester Bolingbroke. He calls it an online only name but I’m guessing it’s his real name, he just doesn’t want to admit it.
He runs a really great blog where we does playthroughs of older RPGs and then rates them. I highly recommend you read it, especially to get a handle on a large number of older CRPGs you may never have heard of.
Chester calls his rating system GIMLET which stands for Gameworld Innovation, Merriment, Likeability & Engagement Test.
The ten factors he uses to rate the games he plays are:
- Gameworld: unique, has own history, chracters fit it, decisions affect gameplay, has innovation
- Character Creation & Development:
- NPC Interaction: talking advances plot, flexibility of dialog choices, learn about gameworld, have relationships – friend/romance
- Encounters & Foes: unique, well described, different behaviours, scripted random encounters, monsters respawn (grinding)
- Magic & Combat: lots of options, tactical combat, roleplaying opportunities, balanced
- Equipment: variety, easy evaluation of new equipment, interesting descriptions, partly random, create or customize items
- Economy: money is never useless, interesting purchases, monetary rewards for quests
- Quests: has a main quest with different outcomes based on choices player makes, has side quests, roleplaying opportunities
- Graphics, Sound, Interface: graphics not bad, fun & realistic sound effects, spoken dialog well acted, intuitive controls
- Gameplay: non-linnear, replayable, challenge level, good story pacing
Lora’s Roleplaying Game Reviews
There is a nice site by Laura Redish that reviews a number of popular CRPGs.
Laura uses an eight point review system:
- Plot and Quests
- Puzzles and Mental Challenges
- Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.)
- Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.)
- Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc)
- Other notes
There are a number of common elements between Laura’s system and the ones discussed by both Chester Bolingbroke and myself.
It is interesting the she has puzzles and mental challenges as a separate item. This shows that everyone prioritizes different elements.
I have long had a distrust of game magazines. The reviews they tend to give games by larger publishers are much higher than I believe they deserve.
Since Computer Gaming World shut down a number of years ago I hadn’t looked at a game magazine until I did this research. Having said that I thought it was helpful to at least look at a couple of reviews by “professional reviewers” to see if there was anything I could learn from them.
I skipped the first ten or so I found, the people at those unnamed magazines don’t even know how to do anything closely relating a “proper” review that a gamer would find helpful.
Of the current magazines PC Gamer seems to be one of the longest surviving ones that is at least semi-reputable.
I have also not heard as much about them ramming as much politically correct messaging down gamers’ throats.
I am basing the research here on their review of Wasteland 2.
They only give a final numeric rating out of 5, which seems to be common these days. This is not all that helpful since an aggregate number is useless in terms of telling how good the gameplay is versus the graphics.
A big problem the reviewer had was that the game was too complex… so the reviewer and I probably don’t have a lot in common in terms of games we like.
They did mention that some of the skills were useless, so that was useful feedback. If you are going to include a skill, make sure it gets used in the game.
As I feared there was nothing to learn from modern games journalism, the hobbyist sites listed above game far more helpful reviews.
Now that I have looked at three other review sites (I didn’t include other ones that didn’t add anything new to the conversation), I need to see if I can distil any lessons learned from them or see if I need to make improvements to my rating system.
My ‘Final’ Review System
… is the system I started with above with extra weighting on the CRPG System and Gameplay elements. While the first two sites by the CRPG Addict and Laura Redish both had good review systems I still preferred the one I came up with. But both those sites made great points that I will want to consider in the various categories in my system.
Yes, that was rather anti-climactic. At least in reviewing a number of other reviewers I feel more confident with the system I made.
Here is the final out of 100 (a nice round number) point system I will be using:
I considered making story worth more but with CRPG games. At least some of the story should be created by the player. Or the player should utilize sandbox-style elements within the game if possible.
What do you think? Did I get it right?
Are there any other sites or guidelines I should have considered or did my first attempt achieve game review perfection?