So, I started working on my tactical role playing game (T-RPG) prototype again last week (read all about it on Facebook) and, since I can't sleep tonight, started to think about why I keep going back to this idea over and over again. Every time I decide to go back into programming for fun at home, the very first thing I start is that good old Shining T-RPG (from the games that served as inspiration the Shining Force series)
I mean that's not such a weird choice considering that the vast majority of what I play is fighting games and T-RPGs (about an even split between the two). So naturally, if I am to start something, it's bound to be one or the other. And I guess, there's something to be said for how much easier it is to write a T-RPG than a fighting game, especially considering that I'm not the best person in the world to create all the animation artwork required for a fighting game (and I've experienced during my time in school, how much worse I can be at 3D animation)
But more importantly (to me anyway), I started asking myself what it was in a T-RPG that appealed so much to me because, quite frankly, I'm about as terrible a strategist as you can find. And then I had an epiphany, T-RPG are not about strategy, they're about tactics.
Now, I can hear a gigantic "DUH" coming, I mean, that's what the T stands for. It's in the name of the very genre for this type of game so I must be pretty obtuse to only realize it now, but only recently did I have to think so much about the difference between strategic thinking and tactical thinking.
What I like about these games is the tactical aspect of figuring out how to get out of the predicament that the characters are in. Usually it's as simple as "beat all the monsters without dying" with variations coming from who to use to do the beating and what to do to prevent the dying. I would actually call out a game that I feel didn't get enough credit for what it did at the time: Vandal Hearts. What Vandal Hearts does so well, is giving each mission its own unique challenge. When most T-RPGs could be summarized with the statement above, Vandal Hearts offered scenarios like "reach the front of the train before they detach the wagons", "prevent the patrol from escaping", "destroy the mechanism before your friend falls in the lava pool"... Unfortunately for the game, it also decided to go with a more adult setting for the story which makes it harder for me to get attached to the characters, but I definitely can appreciate the thought and care that went into mission design.
What I don't like is the strategic aspect of "do I make this choice now that will impact what I do 10 steps down the line". For instance, I hate games where I have to split my troops (RTS) or I usually end up playing them because I like the setting but play them very defensively and remain stressed all the way through. And I guess, that's probably why turn based games like BloodBowl have so much appeal to me. I only need to care about the "now", and not about the "then".
When I think about what my ideal T-RPG game would be, I keep going back to a couple of visions.
One is a team of characters on an altar in the middle of a cemetery surrounded by hordes of skeletons, the other one is a single character attempting to escape from his village being burnt to the ground by enemy troops. What's appealing in those visions is the idea that how you get out of the predicament is very different from what you usually do in a T-RPG. There is no way you can destroy all these skeletons and there is no way you can take on the army that's destroying the village. In both cases you need to find other ways of winning, be it punching your way through the skeletons (ever typed skeletonGs? I do that all the time) and keeping your entire group together to protect the weaker members of your group, or sneaking out of the village avoiding conflict at all cost. My futuristic equivalent of these visions would be the group of space marines retreating back to their shuttle pod, dragging their wounded with them, blasting away at the horde of tyranids on their trail.
And when you use that as your driving vision, you start to realize that a lot of things you do in T-RPGs don't matter. I honestly don't care about buying weapons, levelling up or opening treasure chests. I don't care about talking to townfolks (for those who know me, that's probably not surprising) and I certainly don't care about watching long cut scenes (Dragon Quest VIII being a notable exception, though I enjoyed that game more for the journey than the tactical aspect of it, and besides it's not a T-RPG, so, there...).
What I do care about however is the team selection. I do care about who I'm taking for this scenario to maximize my chances at completing it. I do care about optimizing the tactical resolution of the challenge (what can I say, I'm an engineer) And that's where a lot of T-RPGs fall short, by introducing levelling up and making it almost impossible to have a wide selection of suitable characters for any scenario. You have your preferred group and within a few fights, all the other characters are so vastly out-levelled that you can no longer use them in battle (without going back through numerous fights just to level them up).
So, there... that's my grand plan for a T-RPG. Scenarios with unique challenges and a strong emphasis on how you assemble your team. Everything else is fluff that I don't care about or gets in the way. I guess I do care about the opportunity to draw all kinds of weird monsters and heroic characters too, but that's just bonus
Got some ideas going around my brain right now that I needed to get out of there to be able to sleep. I vaguely contemplated posting them on Facebook but quickly realized that they would be far too long to post there. And then I remembered about my blog that I have not updated in a very long while and thought it would make for an appropriate location for braindumps.
Since these ideas have to do with game design, it is a lot easier for me to write them in english, my apologies to any french reader who may still be reading this blog (though I doubt anybody even remembers that it exists ) I have created a new category called "Game Design", so readers can at least filter this category out when reading the blog.