The thought counts

I am still in some level of debate on this, Alex Hearn published an article last August (at https://www.theguardian.com/games/2019/aug/20/from-cyberpunk-2077-to-the-outer-worlds-are-role-playing-games-getting-too-predictable) and I happened to re-read the story this morning. The main hitter was ‘are role-playing games getting too predictable?‘ I believe it is a valid train of thought to have, yet in this situation is it the game, or the gamer that bears the guilt? As we see the first paragraph we are confronted with: “Not only is it directed by Fallout creators Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, it shares a lot of DNA with Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas – a spin-off with a reputation as the best in the series“, you see there are two trains of thought, the first (not the most embraced one) is that the game was designed by a ‘one pump chump‘, you see a one trick pony is too harsh here. The second is the one I embrace, it is set on two principles.

  1. Relation
  2. Online cheat guides

The relation factor is how you relate to it all, It is easy in the Elder Scrolls, or Fallout, these are plain drives concepts and for the longest time, we go along with it. Even as we are offered options, Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 still try to guide you, yet the reality is that you can go wherever you want ignoring the first stage altogether. The Elder Scrolls 4 (Oblivion) gave you a clear option after you get out of the sewers, The Elder scrolls 5 (Skyrim) did so a lot less, but left the door open to explore. In that beginning we get the option to grow and either you start staging the story, or the game leaves you a little in the dark. In a lot of cases you are a little in the dark, this is seen in Witcher 3, you can go in any direction, yet if you avoid all the missions in the first stage, your character tends to be too feeble to get around, and you die a lot. Until you grow skills you tend to be on your own, now we can see that the first village is an introduction (like the sewers of Oblivion), and yes after that you can explore and decide the way you want and that makes Witcher 3 an amazing game. In that same setting we see Horizon Zero Dawn, it is storydriven, but you can explore your heart out, merely consider that too far away, without proper upgrades your life does not tend to make it for a long time. Still, the origin story that Guerilla Games released is as awesome as any RPG that was EVER released.

It is in that stage we need to see a game like the Outer Worlds, there is a larger stage of introduction and it tends to make the gamer fumble a bit, that is the foundation of RPG, you have to feel your way into any RPG game. Yes, New Vegas was amazing and the stage is still among the very best, but there we get it, when we start exploring, we need to realise that the enemies a little further ahead can make short work of you really fast if the beginning is absent of exploring. Still, New Vegas did one thing better than all others, you have a good and a bad you and some cases can only begotten when you decide on the bad you. It gets to be even better as the third option (Caesar’s Legion) comes into play. It was an RPG founded on replayability, making it one of the very best.

The second stage is another matter, those who rely on online hint/cheat guides. They all go the same direction and it is clear that there are thousands of them (all claiming to have done the path without help), as such the foundation of ‘are role-playing games getting too predictable?‘ becomes slightly less reliable. And for the most, the story is partially that simple and partially not so simple. That part is revealed in Horizon Zero Dawn, the story is so overwhelming that it pushes you from stage to stage, it really was one hell of a trip. The cut movies over the entire game add up to almost 6 hours, almost 6 hours of story and information and some parts are not that small, the story truly is everything and it pushes the player in a direction and not on a path, Guerilla games really outdid most designers. In opposition we see Fallout 3, which had moment, not a story that pushes you and it pushes you more towards places. The article then gives you the Cyberpunk 2077 line with “But the fundamental skeleton the games are built on is so constricting that, given an hour to show off everything they could be, both developers independently converged on a near-identical script“, I personally am not convinced that this is so, in the first there was a quote “open world feature to their upcoming RPG. Players are given the freedom to explore the fictional Night City, take on the side quests that they want to, and be a part of the world that CD Projekt Red has developed“, in the second there is the option to be a Netrunner (hacker), techie (a badgetteer) or Solo (Assassin and direct action). The class you select will influence to some degree the way you play, or the way you play will push you into a class. It changes the way you overcome missions and locations and this changes the game (not the main story). As such did the game become too predictable? 

Well that is still out in the open, yet predictability is often depending on lack of choice, CD Projekt Red (Witcher series, Cyberpunk 2077) has never had that, and overall neither did Bethesda (Oblivion, Skyrim, Fallout). Yet it is the way WE play that gives the impression of lack of choice. In the Verge we are given “Obsidian Entertainment’s new role-playing shooter The Outer Worlds, I met a man miserably playing a corporate mascot, his head semi-permanently enclosed in a large, ghoulish moon mask. I spoke to him for several turns, hoping there was something I could do to help. But if there was a way to improve his life, he never suggested it, and I never found it“, as such I never met the man (or played the game) but if we consider that we can help, ignore or optionally kill him, is that a lack of the game, or a lack of the player? You see that is the foundation of RPG, the gamer decides and that is where I oppose Alex Hearn’s statement (not his point of view) ‘are role-playing games getting too predictable?

I believe that the statement is a little out in the open. The makers of New Vegas had an amazing setting (especially after Fallout 3), from one mission you decide whether you go to ‘The House Always Wins 1‘, ‘Render Unto Caesar‘, or ‘Wild Card: Change in Management‘, Obsidian created a phase where we are confronted with a level of brilliance and definitely an opposition of predictability. But Alex is not entirely incorrect, we might agree that there is a good and a bad choice (each with their options) but not much more. the Fable series tend to have them too, as did Mass Effect, but the last one is less RPG set. Yet how many genuinely found the 4th option in Mass Effect 3? I see all the people nod ‘yes’ but in the end, they learned of that options like me, in a YouTube video. Only a few actually found them by their own choices, it tends  to oppose ‘too predictable’. And then we get to a beautiful line in The Verge: “by the end of the game, you’re still one of the most important people in the world“, it shows the largest flaw in RPG, the truth of the matter is that you never mattered, that truth is often pushed out of the RPG, you are merely flock people, you either suck up to the needy as a newcomer, or you decide on what someone larger and more powerful needed and you are the fixer, you are almost never yourself, the person you want to become, the RPG left that out of the equation as it is close to impossible to program too and it does not make an RPG ‘Too Predictable’, it merely makes an RPG ‘less unpredictable’ those two are not the same, not by a long shot.

However, the words of Alex Hearn are still in me and we see that view emphasized in Forbes (at https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2019/10/23/the-outer-worlds-review-roundup-heres-what-critics-are-saying-about-obsidians-new-space-rpg/#2350c4927d34) where we see: “The Outer Worlds, we were promised the kind of RPG we know and love. And that’s exactly what we’re getting, a familiar experience in a new setting” it is the stage of ‘the kind of RPG we know and love‘, and ‘a familiar experience‘, which basically gives Alex the power of his words, an RPG might be many things, but when it is a new title, those two are the foundation of predictability, the question becomes, if that is what the gamer wants and searches, is it the game maker adjusting its view on commerce that is wrong? Is predictability a dangerous part? I believe it is, but is it any less an RPG? That part was not in debate, yet from my side, when I play a different RPG, I need a different stance. Put Elder Scrolls against Witcher and you get that, in either direction, put Elder Scrolls next to fallout and we see it less. Even as the story and the graphics change, we are not the in the stage of countering predictability, we are in a stage of gaming in a different hall, yet doing the same dance and that is where RPG’s tend to fall short (a little) and that is why I loved Horizon Zero Dawn. Even in my own design, as I drew up Elder Scrolls: Restoration and Watchdogs: Refuge, I continued on the franchise as they already had it, new elements, yes, but the setting remained in part the same, so as such am I enabling repetition and as such predictability? I believe that if we move away from “by the end of the game, you’re still one of the most important people in the world“, we can start that the premise, and predictability (to a certain extent) goes out the window. 

He also gives us “every now and again, a game comes along which shows that innovation can happen without putting people off and revives a genre in the process“, yes that is the part I can agree and align with, there were parts in Skyrim that went beyond Oblivion and id just that. Yet what is also a consideration is that both opened the field by allowing everything to be done and it took the replayability away to some extent, as such in Elder Scrolls: Restoration I went back (allegedly) to Morrowind (which I never played) and left a barricade in place, as such not all classes could be done at the same time, a student of one could not join another path. In addition, the end of the mission often would result in the loss of location and a transfer to other places. One cannot be in University all the time, you are replaced as you are merely a student in one. that path lowers predictability to certain levels, even more so as I set the stage where choices were abundant, but limits choices later on. Without going towards a Red wings match in a Blackhawks Jersey (which tends to get you killed). Yet these settings give a much larger joy towards replayability.

RPGs forgot about the stage of limitation. As we are set in a game, we want to do it all, we ourselves become predictable, not the game (although the game did allow for it).

In Watch Dogs: Refuge I decided to set gender and language as barriers, the stage of pushing for time to drink and eat (in Watch Dogs one and two) I merely did weeks of actions on one fruit drink, so how is it I survived? An RPG should take that into account and make food and sleep an essential. You could try to get through a week on red bull without sleep, but you end to look like the zombies in university (in the 3 weeks before final exam). We took options away as debilitating factors, yet when you consider that Okinawa is a cuisine haven (as is most of Japan) making that a factor as overlooked. I reintroduced the option with an optional achievement or two, considering that one should never go for the stressful places loaded on Cheesecake, you get the idea that a lack of food and sleep can be a debilitating factor, we merely programmed that part away, but is an RPG not about the stage of a whole day, not merely the part you crave for (battle and mayhem)?

So why Japan? Well most gamers of Watch Dogs are non-Japanese, so pushing you into a place where you cannot read or comprehend anything sets you in a much larger stage, when we  get everything in english, we see what we need to, yet what happens when language becomes an actual hurdle? We forget that, did we not? for those who are still in the dark, try watching Passion of the Christ without subtitles. When Aramaic and Latin are your only companions, you either get smart (real fast) or you tend to forfeit your life. Italians (Romans) were really not to be too discriminating to people who did not speak their language (they were all considered slaves).

To set the stage where we counter the RPG in ways we forgot, I still wonder if that is because of the hand holding that the RPG maker is willing to make, or the side where we are just too shabby a player of RPG. I am not certain where it goes, but there are plenty of indicators that both are factors, as such we might consider that RPG games are too predictable, yet I remain in a stage where the makers became too enabling. 

It is merely a point of view and whether it is gaming limitation or predictability, it is a setting that are two faces of the same coin. I am still unwilling to say that Alex Hearn right, but he makes a fair point, even though he seemingly forgets that part of the predictability is the gamer him or her self. 

 

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