May I Ask of You Directions, Sir?

I’ve been trying to play some CRPGs.

Key word: trying.

Christ. I just gotta enter this alien mindset. Just gotta remember, “This was made during a time when you couldn’t check the e-mail from your toaster, Nonused. Get ahold of yourself.” But I can’t, me! It’s so goddamn crazy! Well, ok, not that crazy. It’s just—I’m spoiled. I guess.

E-Toaster

More often than not, in modern videogames (specifically RPGs), you get a quest, open a map, and there’s a pretty piece of geometry that says, “Go here, stupid.” If not that, it’s usually a clear path (I call it the funnel) to your destination, linear or quasi-linear. Makes it pretty clear what you gotta do. Go to the dot, kill that guy and you get your jink. Or, if you’re feeling extra saucy, you could use your silver tongue to get something off him and THEN get your jink on. I feel this is a modern RPG quest at its essence, and these old-school CRPGs have thrown that shit out the window. And with a sink!

But first, I’d like to clarify what games I was playing that got me into this thought process. For you, lovely reader! No, seriously, I adore you for who you are. And your curves, but that’s second to your winning personality.

The original Fallout, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, and Planescape: Torment. Those are the big three that got me into this fun little mess. Got ‘em from GOG.com. If you haven’t heard of it, take a look, and read your bibles, fellow videogame player.

Obviously (or not so obviously), I got hooked when Fallout became free. Played it for about half an hour. It’s just—I really like voice acting, guys. It adds so much to a character-driven game like an RPG. Again, I’m spoiled. Sue me. I will law your ass. Actually, please don’t sue me. There’s a reason I got Fallout for free. Remember, you’re lovely for who you are. Don’t let them take that away from you.

But I was still intrigued. I really liked the feel of the combat, if that makes sense. Loved V.A.T.S. in FO3, and since that was the focus in the original, it was a match made in—well, not quite heaven. So, like—the pearly gates. It was a match made at the pearly gates. And I liked some of the adventury bits of it. I played a sly devil named Harrison Ford and, on my way to the first village, I ran into a pack of asshole scorpions. Mr. Ford’s keen wit was no match for five stingers to the face. Real shame. What good’s persuasion if I can’t circumvent the REAL issues? But the combat was genuinely terrifying with those scorpions. The SPRITES were scary to look at. And when they cornered poor Mr. Ford at the bottom of the screen—I don’t wanna think about it. It’s too much.

So, you're telling me you HAVEN'T left the vault?

The game had piqued my interest, however, and I scoured the internet for a game with a more modern feel. Arcanum sounded perfect. Troika? Never heard of ‘em, but a couple of guys who made Fallout made this. It might be the best game ever. 2001? You couldn’t get more modern if you tried.

Man, guys. MAN. This game. I want to love it. It has orcs in suits working as bodyguards for rich gnomes. My half-elf was the most dapper son of a bitch I’ve seen in a long time (not as dapper as you, though). It’s like a math equation with my name in it. But everything within the awesome aesthetics is so fucking ugly. Actually, the aesthetics themselves can be pretty disgusting. I know graphics aren’t everything in a videogame, but—2001! Half-Life looked better than this! I look at my character model, and he looks nothing like the portrait I so carefully selected! Actually, the character creator is pretty awesome. You should try it some time.

The combat was pretty bad too. But that wasn’t what really turned me off this game. It was the lack of direction. The lack of handholding. Or, maybe handholding is the wrong word. Lack of—conveyance? I didn’t know what the fuck I was supposed to do! I didn’t know who had quests and who didn’t. I didn’t have a fun little exclamation mark to say, “Hey! Talk to this fucker so I may be free!” He pines for the fjords. I had to talk to everybody and everyTHING to obtain a grasp of what objectives were available to me. No assets really guided me any direction But, then I wondered, “Is that wrong?”

That’s the question that kept nagging at my brain. Still is. But regarding Arcanum, it doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve pretty much given up on that game since those side quests that aren’t immediately apparent are pretty much imperative to your progression through the main quest line. So when I ran into a legion of zombies in P. Schulyer and Sons, completely under leveled, I threw up the birds.

FUCK. YOU.

But that question was still in my head when I decided to buy Planescape a few weeks later. “1999? Oh shit. Mathematically, it couldn’t possibly be as good as Arcanum,” I say. “You shut the fuck up,” says Internet. “You love it.”

I do. I do kinda love it.

It amazes me that this game is two years older than Arcanum and has better production values all around. The voice acting, the animations, the writing. THE WORLD. God, the world. I don’t think I know how to describe it. No, wait. Yes I do. It’s what fantasy should be. Not fucking dragons and trolls and elves and dwarves and magic and bullshit. I mean, it has some of that. But it tries to stray away from that samey formula. It tries to make its own world and atmosphere instead of utilizing clichés that appeal to—y’know what, I don’t even know who high fantasy is supposed to appeal to anymore.

But that’s not the focus of this—thing. No. It’s that lack of direction that I’m so curious about. Planescape, so far, has hit the nail on the head I’ve felt. Not once has there been a maniacal piece of punctuation highlighting the critical path. No funnels. Just a town that I navigate through loading screens. But I am still given a sense of direction. “Go northwest to the moratorium,” says crazy death lady. “Get your jink on.” The map contains thumbnails expressing which building is which. I never truly get lost. But I am not explicitly told where to go for a quest through a map or quest log.

All hail!

Case in point. Fork quest. I can’t remember the guy’s name. Let’s call him Nigel. Nigel’s crazy and getting his jink on in an inn. Innkeeper wants him out. Me, being the good-looking Samaritan that I am, offer to help. I go up to Nigel asking him politely to leave. He says, “Fuck you, gimme my fork! Find my fork and I’ll leave!” And then he van Gogh’s it up.

Now, a couple of you lovelies still reading this (why are you still reading this?) unfamiliar with Planescape may be saying, “Sure, seems reasonable. Go get his fork, Nonused!” But wait dear reader! That’s not so simple! Not by 1999 conventions!

I have no idea where to look. Crazy doesn’t give me directions to his fork. There’s no helpful funnel or bread crumbs to tell me where to go. This man is being unreasonable, so I get unreasonable. I’m all like, “Don’t make me fight you,” and he’s all like, “(Rasberry).” So I killed him. I killed him because I had no idea where to look for his fork.

But that makes sense, right? Normally, I’m all good and shit in my RPGs. Always willing to go out of my way to help because I can. Because I’d usually be doing the same shit if I was evil anyways. And the critical path is clearly displayed in front of me. It really isn’t that much of an issue to act as the ideal character. But, in this Planescape situation, it is completely. All because of a lack of navigation. It’s not the game’s fault though. Why would crazy give me a map to his fork? He doesn’t even know where it is! But I really wanted to rest at the inn (innkeeper would let me rest or free if I got rid of Nigel). Incorporating my solution, however, was not to the benefit of anybody. Well, that’s not true. I slept like a baby. But innkeeper technically hired a killer to be rid of crazy. That’s fucked up.

And for what? FOR WHAT?

And this specific situation got me thinking about the use of navigation and direction within videogames. How the correct implementation of conveyance could completely negate any excuse they’d have for existing. Well, I could be wrong. Actually, I’m most likely wrong. I’m thinking in terms of RPGs, don’t really have my head set anywhere else. I just thought that this whole situation was crazy, in terms of design and choice. I didn’t have to kill him. I didn’t even have to do the quest. But, y’know, free bed. And it’s all ‘cause the developer decided not to show me where that fork was. Crazy.

But, in general, I guess what I’m getting at is this: do you like the “direction” (tip your waitress) player direction in videogames is going? With the exclamation points and shit? Or do you think that it might be a byproduct of lazy design? Or maybe you think everything’s hunky-dory and that RPGs (or anything , really) have never had it better? Or maybe something ELSE (gasp)? Please, jot down your own thoughts!

P.S.: Don’t sue me.

9 Comments
10 Comments
Posted by Nonused

I’ve been trying to play some CRPGs.

Key word: trying.

Christ. I just gotta enter this alien mindset. Just gotta remember, “This was made during a time when you couldn’t check the e-mail from your toaster, Nonused. Get ahold of yourself.” But I can’t, me! It’s so goddamn crazy! Well, ok, not that crazy. It’s just—I’m spoiled. I guess.

E-Toaster

More often than not, in modern videogames (specifically RPGs), you get a quest, open a map, and there’s a pretty piece of geometry that says, “Go here, stupid.” If not that, it’s usually a clear path (I call it the funnel) to your destination, linear or quasi-linear. Makes it pretty clear what you gotta do. Go to the dot, kill that guy and you get your jink. Or, if you’re feeling extra saucy, you could use your silver tongue to get something off him and THEN get your jink on. I feel this is a modern RPG quest at its essence, and these old-school CRPGs have thrown that shit out the window. And with a sink!

But first, I’d like to clarify what games I was playing that got me into this thought process. For you, lovely reader! No, seriously, I adore you for who you are. And your curves, but that’s second to your winning personality.

The original Fallout, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, and Planescape: Torment. Those are the big three that got me into this fun little mess. Got ‘em from GOG.com. If you haven’t heard of it, take a look, and read your bibles, fellow videogame player.

Obviously (or not so obviously), I got hooked when Fallout became free. Played it for about half an hour. It’s just—I really like voice acting, guys. It adds so much to a character-driven game like an RPG. Again, I’m spoiled. Sue me. I will law your ass. Actually, please don’t sue me. There’s a reason I got Fallout for free. Remember, you’re lovely for who you are. Don’t let them take that away from you.

But I was still intrigued. I really liked the feel of the combat, if that makes sense. Loved V.A.T.S. in FO3, and since that was the focus in the original, it was a match made in—well, not quite heaven. So, like—the pearly gates. It was a match made at the pearly gates. And I liked some of the adventury bits of it. I played a sly devil named Harrison Ford and, on my way to the first village, I ran into a pack of asshole scorpions. Mr. Ford’s keen wit was no match for five stingers to the face. Real shame. What good’s persuasion if I can’t circumvent the REAL issues? But the combat was genuinely terrifying with those scorpions. The SPRITES were scary to look at. And when they cornered poor Mr. Ford at the bottom of the screen—I don’t wanna think about it. It’s too much.

So, you're telling me you HAVEN'T left the vault?

The game had piqued my interest, however, and I scoured the internet for a game with a more modern feel. Arcanum sounded perfect. Troika? Never heard of ‘em, but a couple of guys who made Fallout made this. It might be the best game ever. 2001? You couldn’t get more modern if you tried.

Man, guys. MAN. This game. I want to love it. It has orcs in suits working as bodyguards for rich gnomes. My half-elf was the most dapper son of a bitch I’ve seen in a long time (not as dapper as you, though). It’s like a math equation with my name in it. But everything within the awesome aesthetics is so fucking ugly. Actually, the aesthetics themselves can be pretty disgusting. I know graphics aren’t everything in a videogame, but—2001! Half-Life looked better than this! I look at my character model, and he looks nothing like the portrait I so carefully selected! Actually, the character creator is pretty awesome. You should try it some time.

The combat was pretty bad too. But that wasn’t what really turned me off this game. It was the lack of direction. The lack of handholding. Or, maybe handholding is the wrong word. Lack of—conveyance? I didn’t know what the fuck I was supposed to do! I didn’t know who had quests and who didn’t. I didn’t have a fun little exclamation mark to say, “Hey! Talk to this fucker so I may be free!” He pines for the fjords. I had to talk to everybody and everyTHING to obtain a grasp of what objectives were available to me. No assets really guided me any direction But, then I wondered, “Is that wrong?”

That’s the question that kept nagging at my brain. Still is. But regarding Arcanum, it doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve pretty much given up on that game since those side quests that aren’t immediately apparent are pretty much imperative to your progression through the main quest line. So when I ran into a legion of zombies in P. Schulyer and Sons, completely under leveled, I threw up the birds.

FUCK. YOU.

But that question was still in my head when I decided to buy Planescape a few weeks later. “1999? Oh shit. Mathematically, it couldn’t possibly be as good as Arcanum,” I say. “You shut the fuck up,” says Internet. “You love it.”

I do. I do kinda love it.

It amazes me that this game is two years older than Arcanum and has better production values all around. The voice acting, the animations, the writing. THE WORLD. God, the world. I don’t think I know how to describe it. No, wait. Yes I do. It’s what fantasy should be. Not fucking dragons and trolls and elves and dwarves and magic and bullshit. I mean, it has some of that. But it tries to stray away from that samey formula. It tries to make its own world and atmosphere instead of utilizing clichés that appeal to—y’know what, I don’t even know who high fantasy is supposed to appeal to anymore.

But that’s not the focus of this—thing. No. It’s that lack of direction that I’m so curious about. Planescape, so far, has hit the nail on the head I’ve felt. Not once has there been a maniacal piece of punctuation highlighting the critical path. No funnels. Just a town that I navigate through loading screens. But I am still given a sense of direction. “Go northwest to the moratorium,” says crazy death lady. “Get your jink on.” The map contains thumbnails expressing which building is which. I never truly get lost. But I am not explicitly told where to go for a quest through a map or quest log.

All hail!

Case in point. Fork quest. I can’t remember the guy’s name. Let’s call him Nigel. Nigel’s crazy and getting his jink on in an inn. Innkeeper wants him out. Me, being the good-looking Samaritan that I am, offer to help. I go up to Nigel asking him politely to leave. He says, “Fuck you, gimme my fork! Find my fork and I’ll leave!” And then he van Gogh’s it up.

Now, a couple of you lovelies still reading this (why are you still reading this?) unfamiliar with Planescape may be saying, “Sure, seems reasonable. Go get his fork, Nonused!” But wait dear reader! That’s not so simple! Not by 1999 conventions!

I have no idea where to look. Crazy doesn’t give me directions to his fork. There’s no helpful funnel or bread crumbs to tell me where to go. This man is being unreasonable, so I get unreasonable. I’m all like, “Don’t make me fight you,” and he’s all like, “(Rasberry).” So I killed him. I killed him because I had no idea where to look for his fork.

But that makes sense, right? Normally, I’m all good and shit in my RPGs. Always willing to go out of my way to help because I can. Because I’d usually be doing the same shit if I was evil anyways. And the critical path is clearly displayed in front of me. It really isn’t that much of an issue to act as the ideal character. But, in this Planescape situation, it is completely. All because of a lack of navigation. It’s not the game’s fault though. Why would crazy give me a map to his fork? He doesn’t even know where it is! But I really wanted to rest at the inn (innkeeper would let me rest or free if I got rid of Nigel). Incorporating my solution, however, was not to the benefit of anybody. Well, that’s not true. I slept like a baby. But innkeeper technically hired a killer to be rid of crazy. That’s fucked up.

And for what? FOR WHAT?

And this specific situation got me thinking about the use of navigation and direction within videogames. How the correct implementation of conveyance could completely negate any excuse they’d have for existing. Well, I could be wrong. Actually, I’m most likely wrong. I’m thinking in terms of RPGs, don’t really have my head set anywhere else. I just thought that this whole situation was crazy, in terms of design and choice. I didn’t have to kill him. I didn’t even have to do the quest. But, y’know, free bed. And it’s all ‘cause the developer decided not to show me where that fork was. Crazy.

But, in general, I guess what I’m getting at is this: do you like the “direction” (tip your waitress) player direction in videogames is going? With the exclamation points and shit? Or do you think that it might be a byproduct of lazy design? Or maybe you think everything’s hunky-dory and that RPGs (or anything , really) have never had it better? Or maybe something ELSE (gasp)? Please, jot down your own thoughts!

P.S.: Don’t sue me.

Posted by Skald

Classic RPGs are fucked up. It's a reflection on their audience, or the times or something; the people who played them wanted long games, featuring novel-esque stories and Dungeons and Dragons-y tropes.

If you're having trouble playing them, I can offer you nothing but my sympathy. Going back and playing these games, most of which I've never played or heard of before, is difficult. They're good games, but our perception of them has been distorted by nostalgia. Modern games, like Mass Effect 2, might be shorter than say, Neverwinter Nights, but Mass Effect 2 has consistency. Something's always blowing up, characters are always being developed. In Neverwinter Nights, sometimes you just walk, or fight minions.

That doesn't mean these games are bad, of course. It just means you have to go in with a different mindset, and adjusted expectations. Overall, I'd say the stories can be more enjoyable, and the experience, especially in games like Temple of Elemental Evil, can be a fine throwback to the tabletop game that inspired it. Just don't pick up a Gold Box game and expect Skyrim, because you simply won't get it.

Oh, and good post.

Posted by Animasta

I'm with ya, it's hard to play those games now.

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

Fallout is a hard fucking game, and so are other CRPG's. True story.

You should discuss your adventure with another user currently going through the game last I heard, Claude.

Posted by Nonused

This point rings true. Pacing can benefit exponentially through clear direction. But isn't it kinda cool? The fact that, due to there not being a clear path to my objective, I killed a man because of his nonsense? I feel that, in a game like DA or the MEs that I would always go out and be good just because it was so easy. I would probably have to investigate dumpsters to find this man's utensil, and I wasn't having that.

I ain't saying that an old CRPG like Planescape is better than more recent games like ME. I can barely play it. I'm just wondering if maybe the something was lost in translation. If the design of navigation has changed for the worse. If maybe we should revert to older systems with modern knowledge. A game like Dark Souls does that, but I feel it goes off the deep end.

I wish there was more of a story to tell. Poor Mr. Ford. His charms meant nothing!

Maybe I'll get back into it, but it is much harder for me to play Fallout rather than Planescape. Those little bits of VA make it worth it. And I've played a good deal of FO3, so the world doesn't really intrigue me anymore.

Posted by Nonused

Oh, and I meant to thank you for the compliment. Thanks for reading!

Edited by SirOptimusPrime

I think it's just that RPG players have shifted from the classic sense of the genre - tabletop games, omnipotent and harsh storytelling, and LOTS OF LONG WINDED COMBAT - to almost adventure game style. If I could I would shout at the top of my lungs, through the internet, what people are not used to anymore is the group of 5 wights or (insert non-Orc/Gnoll/Goblin monster) that you have to plow through over and over and over again.

The "artifacts" of older CRPG's are literally the amount of swaddling developers are doing with players. Most notably, being "lost" is just an issue of players being able to skip mountains of text/dialogue and still know what the fuck is going on. Play Baldur's Gate and try that shit. Enjoy your journal saying "I should probably go to Blah, blah, blah for blah" then proceed to ignore the actual travel required, and make absolutely stupid decisions and have your party turn against itself. People call it a better kind of game design, but for the most part it is simply a lack of character and world development.

Take a look at Dark Souls. Sure, the gameplay is "punishing" or whatever, but the lack of direct "Go here, dummy" allows for millions of people to discover things and become so entrenched within the universe that needing a quest log or a map is needless. That in turn allows for unique world development, which is a fantastic by-product. An argument for side-quests could be made, but a side-quest system more akin to Deus Ex: Human Revolution (not a metric fuckton, but a handful of very character specific events) is a lot more beneficial to the player and doesn't create the Dragon Age 2/KoA: Reckoning debacle.

In short, I really feel that game design is more flawed nowadays due to the expansion of audience, but that's something we unfortunately have to expect. Games probably won't be like the Forgotten Realms games or the Gold Box games or Wizardry again, but we can look back on the decisions made there as not just "stupid mistakes made by old men who didn't have THE TECHNOLOGY" but rather as a wealth of design decisions made by successful developers not respective to time. There's a reason people call some of those games timeless; because they executed on a design so well that understanding of the game didn't require the crutch of "!" and fancy "go that-a-way" geometry.

EDIT: just read Tim_the_Corsair's post, and I have to say every mention of BG here is to BG1 and not 2 for the same reasons he stated

Online
Posted by Tim_the_Corsair
@Skald

Classic RPGs are fucked up. It's a reflection on their audience, or the times or something; the people who played them wanted long games, featuring novel-esque stories and Dungeons and Dragons-y tropes.

If you're having trouble playing them, I can offer you nothing but my sympathy. Going back and playing these games, most of which I've never played or heard of before, is difficult. They're good games, but our perception of them has been distorted by nostalgia. Modern games, like Mass Effect 2, might be shorter than say, Neverwinter Nights, but Mass Effect 2 has consistency. Something's always blowing up, characters are always being developed. In Neverwinter Nights, sometimes you just walk, or fight minions.

That doesn't mean these games are bad, of course. It just means you have to go in with a different mindset, and adjusted expectations. Overall, I'd say the stories can be more enjoyable, and the experience, especially in games like Temple of Elemental Evil, can be a fine throwback to the tabletop game that inspired it. Just don't pick up a Gold Box game and expect Skyrim, because you simply won't get it.

Oh, and good post.

Of all the games you picked to compare it to, you chose NWN?

Lol, it was lambasted by just about everyone for its lacklustre story and mechanics that strayed too far from what has made the Baldur's Gate series good (this is the campaign specifically I am talking about) in an effort to streamline or whatever it was they were trying to do.

The expansions rectified this, especially Underdark, but that game was lauded as a toolset more than as a game.

Baldur's Gate (2 more than 1), however still holds up very well in both appearance and gameplay (barring the character models anyway). It was an example of a great journal and map system, where interpretation of clues and directions was required (the gnoll enclave is located in the ruins west of the forest), but with the added bonus of adding quest markers where it was appropriate to do so.

Consistency is never an issue, as there is always a wealth of things to do and see, and they often differ wildly but rarely on quality. ME2 may be a plate of great moments, but BG2 (and similar) is a veritable smorgasbord.

While Planescape may have been more original and interesting from a story perspective, I do think BG2 is the better overall game, and is a far more cohesive, polished experience.
Posted by Sergiy

I don't know, I simply enjoy the older type of RPG, let's say Torment here:

I'm thrown into this world I know absolutely nothing about, the main character has amnesia, both me and TNO are clueless of what's going on.

We are not guided by any arrows telling us "Over here dumbass!" we have to put some effort into investigation and think where is the most beneficial

place to look for the answers we seek, then suddently after hours of exploration, investigation and dialogue things start clicking into place,

it's a most satisfying feeling.

The original Mass Effect had attempted this at one perticular mission (Noveria I think it was), after that it's just a shootout the whole time. Mass Effect 2 and 3 are just shooters, even though I was very immersed and enjoyed the story a lot, looking back at it, it just does not seem all that great, not to mention the bloody endind, but that is a topic for another time.

In terms of characters and dialogue older RPGs just gave you more choice and had more consequences, your character could be shaped very well, built through attributes, some of your companions would respect your strengh, others your wisdom, your ability to win arguments... etc. Not to mention Torment has got some of the most interesting characters in an RPG, I dare not spoil them for you, so just buy and play the game.

When it comes to Mass Effect, what have we got... Gun skills, and combat abilities. The ability to be paragon or ranegade. It's paragon or ranegade, if you're not one or the other or both the game will never allow you to use the "win argument/solve situation" button! This significantly limits your choices, to "I'm having a ranegade playthough, so ill kill this guys even though i dont want to, the game is making you take a choice you dont want to.

Let's interact with companions, yes, they are well written and are great characters, some of which you get to shape in a way... In the original Mass Effect they nailed it, in the 2nd it went back to that "win argument/solve situation button".

I have come to dislike the fact that the game tells me exactly what to do next, in the form of arrows or corridors, I like being able to move around freely, do my investigation, not be limited to a corridor and get a bloody arrow telling me to face the right way. Let me filter my own information, In Planescape you had a journal where all the seemingly important stuff was liisted next to the time and date you discovered it, as well as specific quest objectives you were told - Compare those two, and there you go, you may have a clue what to do next.

Posted by killacam

It seems there's a much greater sense of accomplishment and, for lack of a better word, magic, when you actually DO stumble upon that elusive object (in your case, a fork) when its whereabouts isn't spelled out for you. Though you're completing quests much less often than when in the open arms of, say, Skyrim, there's just a greater meaning when you complete a quest that includes more than following a marker and returning, and though it may be hard to readjust yourself from the spoiled ways of modern RPG's, the overly-streamlined and -stimulatory nature of a-quest-a-minute may not be such a good thing after all.