Yesterday I looked at the pitfalls of abstract (and moving) goalposts when talking about great RPGs. But I want to riff off of that previous post to be a little more constructive about what I think can lead to a great RPG.
I said: “I just don’t know why they’re RPGs, what that is, or what makes them great other than being really enjoyable experiences.” Lets ignore the issue of what an “RPG” is. Enjoyable experiences — I don’t know why I find certain activities in games more enjoyable than others, but I do. I have a solid set of preferences when it comes to games, a set of things that I enjoy more than other things. If you want to go about building an RPG that some people will consider great, then you need to look at the sorts of experiences people enjoy.
It goes without saying that you probably want: An amazing storyline, superb writing, memorable characters, a world whose mood fits that of your storyline, and music that will convey and evoke the emotions of your game. Lets just say that these are some of the most important aspects of a game, but I’m skipping over that. Any one of these elements can make or break a game on its own, but I want to talk a bit about gameplay.
Chances are, if there’s a game that’s considered great by a group of people then it’s gameplay is hitting multiple areas of enjoyment for people. So looking at games that are already considered great is an excellent starting point. You might also want to use Bartle’s taxonomy of four player types as a guideline for targeting player groups. Simply listening to what players want is probably your single greatest resource in making a great game.
It’s not quite as simple as that, though. The trick is sifting through the dreck of “What I want because it will benefit my character in this specific circumstance,” and “What I want because it would be kewl!” to find out ways that you can create new gameplay that hits the areas of enjoyment you’re targeting. And then you’ve got to look two steps forward to see how this gameplay element will affect your game, what it can interact with, and how that interaction will affect your game.
Easier said than done, that’s for sure. But if you’re an RPG fan or seasoned developer, if you’ve got a good sense of what your target players want, then you can probably innovate in some really clever ways. Make no mistake: Even though doing research into player types, targeting the desires of specific player types, and expanding on those desires may seem systematic, when it comes time to actually create your game, it’s all art. A game that is considered great is going to innovate in multiple areas and it’s going to do things in a way that might not be expected, but is internally consistent. There’s no way to quantify what’s going to make it great, you just need that fortuitous note of doing all the right things in the right way at the right time — But with a smart research and design process you may be able to narrow things down enough that you can greatly increase your chances of that happening.