Evening Reading: The Bioware Definition of RPG

By Garnett Lee, Jan 25, 2010 5:00pm PST Throughout the weekend while playing Mass Effect 2 I kept thinking back to a series of conversations I had with the doctors and Casey Hudson while I was at Bioware checking out the game a couple months ago. At the time, even after only the demo areas I'd played it was apparent to me that they were challenging the conventional definition of what constitutes an RPG. So I asked them how they defined the genre. With Mass Effect 2 coming out tomorrow to provide reference, I thought this would be a good time to share their point of view.

Casey Hudson served as the project director on Mass Effect 2 and I think as you play it you'll really be able to see what he's talking about in action. Hudson's gut response to the question was that we tend to pigeonhole games based off some game to which we then compare every subsequent one of that type. To Bioware he said, "the high level idea of what an RPG is, is not rooted in a reference game." He then gave three founding elements for their definition:

  • Story plays a central role, and the player's involvement as the character can change the outcome of that story.
  • Combat is more considered than a pure action game and incorporates tactical concepts.
  • The player's character grows over the course of the game developing skills, abilities, etc.

When I later sat down with doctors Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka, they reiterated these points and offered a little additional color on the subject. Story is, they said, "the mirror that reflects your actions." With combat they then try to create the "chill down the back of the neck" experienced as an explorer of new worlds. And character progression is the equivalent of the classic literary hero's journey. They also see a fourth defining element emerging in social interaction between players outside the traditional definition of the game space.

From my experience playing a considerable amount of Mass Effect 2 over the weekend I think it will be very interesting to see how people respond to their design approach. I'm not through the game so I won't have a review coming but I will post some in-depth impressions from the first 25 hours or so of the game.

Here's a few things from today on the Shack to tide you over until then:

Oh, and a quick update because we have stuff to give away. Want a Sacred 2 BattleMat mouse pad? Start/get in the thread to that effect and we'll pick 40 winners to send one out to.

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  • lol - so the last few months i've been inquiring about external hdd's for my sister-in-law who's hanging out in the Dominican Republic with the Peace Corps. Well it turns out that her existing laptop (an older dell something) is taking a shit. From the sounds of it, the HDD is toast.

    What's the new hotness for netbooks? I haven't looked at a laptop, let alone a netbook in years. Typical usage would be storing pics / music, blogging, and general web surfing. We might send it loaded with TV shows or movies that she's missed for the last 14 months, but if it can't handle it, no worries. Would one of those cheap little Dell netbooks suffice? Shit's like 300 bucks and looks pretty on paper, but I don't know wtf about these new notebook cpus.