Op/Ed: Six Things RPGs Need To Fix


I spent last night playing one of the most hyped games in a long time, Dragon Age: Origins.  I was super excited for this one.  But after watching my arm melt through a wall, and hearing my character say, “And so I shall” for the hundredth time, I found myself yelling at the screen.  I've been a fan of RPG's my entire life...all the way back to Dungeons & Dragons.  I have a jar full of 20-sided dice that would make a Dungeon Master weep with happiness.  My jokes all involve RPG's.  'Look at the new shoes I just bought!  They're +1 Swiftness!'  Or, 'Look how pretty that distant mountain is.  No pop-up or fog!'.  I read the background books, I have dragon pictures on my wall and I play World of Warcraft so much that I actually went out and bought a stuffed Murloc.  Why yes, I have been called a geek once or twice. 

But after throwing my controller carefully to the left of my TV...again, I came up with a list of things that need to change about RPG's.  Please understand that this is all said with lots of love, and a tiny bit of obsession.  Think of this as gentle scolding.  And feel free to send us your own issues with the games.  We'll take the best ones and do an update for you.  Hey, how are the designers going to know if we don't tell them?

“Oh look!  My feet just melted into the stairs!  Trippy!”

This was forgivable in the last generation of games.  But at this point, my feet shouldn't melt into the stairs.  Especially in cut scenes.  In last night's adventure, I watched a dwarf cross his arms and his hand went through his arm!  In another game, I gave my character a ponytail.  (Yeah, I'm one of those people.  My character has to look like me.)  In a cut scene, as she's having a nightmare, she turns her head from side to side and her ponytail goes through the pillow!  I've had long hair my entire life and I'm pretty darn sure my hair has never melted through anything.  Arms reaching through walls into the next room, legs right through the middle of my griffin as I fly over Azeroth...come on!   I can play with people all over the world.  I can customize everything from the shape of a chin to the length of my nose hair.  I should be able to pick up a cup without it looking like I'm a guest on Ghost Whisperer.

“I can turn my enemies into giant blocks of ice, but I can't step over that hedge?”

This made sense years ago, before open environments.  But in 2010, there is no reason I should be corralled and kept on a specific path.  It's not that I mind a little direction.  Who remembers playing The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and wishing for a GPS?  But if you must block me in, can we at least be realistic about it?  I'm fairly sure my level 14 warrior could climb a 4 foot rock or step over a fence that isn't high enough to keep out the chickens that seem to populate every RPG.  Here's an idea.  Draw a wall.  A mountain.  A pond filled with mutant carp.  If you're going to make games realistic enough to include jobs, I should be able to hop over a flower.

“You want a new mace, young warrior?  Get a job!”

When I play games, I want to kill things, buy cooler and shinier armor and break apart crime syndicates.  I do not want to work for a living, buy houses or have children.  I admit, doing quests and receiving money for them could actually be considered gainful employment, but I'm talking about job jobs.  Things like “keep chopping logs and when you finally get really good at it, you can go out and do my quest” type jobs.  (Anyone remember the forklift in Shenmue back in the day?)  And seriously, in-game sex in Fable II requires me to buy condoms so I don't have kids?  And if I mess up...a brood of virtual children I have to take care of?  Um, video games are pastimes.  I've got the whole job/decision-to-procreate/mortgage-stress-filled responsibility covered in real life, thanks. 

“Wanna join me in my tent?  No?  What if I gave you a present?”

Oh, don't think I'm going to complain about in-game sex.  In fact, I think it's admirable that most games are giving every sort of relationship the same weight and legitimacy.  I just don't think it should be such a project. Again, this is a game.  Do I need to obsess over whether or not I'm giving the right gift, making the right face or responding to a million questions in exactly the right way?  (Dragon Age's Alistair is so touchy...)  I do that enough in real life.  And I'm pretty certain that a virgin templar propositioned by a pretty blond elf would not require just the right presents and deep chats about his feelings before getting busy.

“I shall smite thee!  I shall smite thee!  No, really, I shall smite thee!”

Ah, the battle cry!  A phrase to strike fear into thine enemies...and drive me absolutely fire bat crazy.  I'm fighting giant hordes of monsters over and over (unless it's one of those super-dialogue-heavy games) and hearing the same phrase over and over again...well, I'm surprised the dancing poisonous mushrooms don't flee out of boredom.  I admire (or mock) the voiceover work the first five or six times I hear it, but by the fortieth battle, I want a character suicide option.  Same goes for NPC's.  If someone yelled out, “Oh no, I hope the giant monster beasties don't get me!” every time I passed them in real life, I'd probably start taking a different route.

“My wares are the finest in the land, created by magical elves in little purple hats from the...stop me if you've heard this one before.”

I know quite a few game designers.  I know how much work/blood, sweat and tears/spouses-who-forget-your-name it takes to create a new world.  (And I hope they don't all take out hits on me after reading this.)  But please, I'm begging you, let me skip the cut scenes!  If your giant spider boss is really well done, it's going to take me a couple of tries to vanquish him.  I really don't need to see the fight intro where he magically talks and tells me why I suck five or six times.  And for Link's sake, let me skip the intro dialogue all the vendors seem to have.  I worked in a store and I know how much vendors love to chat, but I've heard it a thousand times!  Until I've gained enough experience points to manufacture my own health potions, I'm going to have to keep coming back.  So shut up and show me those fancy new mithril gauntlets you just got in.

There are more, I know.  Endless dialogue, spending hours on customization, fire bats...sorry.   Personal issue.  And like I said, we'd love to hear yours.  And now back to the game.

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