Project Eagle Rock – Research and Design: 3rd Person Action Games and the increasing use of RPG elements.
The game I plan to design is going to be a 3rd person action/adventure game, with heavy RPG elements included. For this reason, I have spent quite a lot of time looking at the two genres I am planning to straddle in my game design. 3rd person Action Game/Shooter and RPG’s.
While I have played and studied some of the standout games in each genre (Uncharted, God of War, Mafia II, Red Dead Redemption for Action Games, Dragon Age, Fallout: New Vegas for RPG’s), I have paid special attention to games that seem to blur the lines between the genres, such as Mass Effect 1 and 2, Rise of the Argonauts and The Witcher. Those are all RPG’s, but they have such a strong focus on real time action gameplay, that they would basically be Action Games if you removed the story and dialogue focused sections of the game.
There has been a trend of action games including RPG elements for a long time, usually for character progression purposes, so the player not only feels like he is getting more powerful as the game goes on, but that he has a hand in the development of his character by being able to progress along a skill tree. A good example of this is Devil May Cry, which allowed players to spend Orbs earned by defeating enemies to level up their chosen weapon and unlock new moves. But for the longest time, seeing “RPG elements” on the back of a game box meant just that, and only that. Every game that included any sort of character leveling/progression feature would boast RPG elements. The idea of RPG style progression in action games was formed, but then stagnated as the industry only copied it but didn’t really evolve the concept for many years until around 2006 with The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, and in 2007, when Bioshock and Mass Effect came out.
This started a trend in recent years where the Action and RPG genres evolve once more, much due to the new more powerful technology in current generation hardware. As games become more like film, with more focus on story and direction, they slowly start moving towards RPG’s, which were really the only heavily story focused games in the past.
As a result we are seeing more and more examples of RPG staples being introduced to action games, such as player choice. In terms of possible actions, Go left or right [Gears of War], kill or spare an enemy[Grand Theft Auto 4] save the hostage or not [Army of Two: The 40th Day]. Let’s call these Action Choice.
This element can be introduced in addition to the now typical character progression system or separately.
The Action Choice is more of an action game twist to the classic RPG Conversation Choice system, in which the player gets to choose how to respond when NPC characters interact with you, which will often lead to what is effectively an an Action Choice [Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout 3] .
At the same time, in the last 3 years or so, there has been a trend for RPG games to move towards Action games in terms of their gameplay, as they focus more on real time action than the more passive turn based combat of years past.
Some RPG’s like Mass Effect 2 for example, have managed to include such a good real time combat system that they are essentially blurring the line between the Action Game and RPG genres.
In any case, I’m on this rant about genre blurring because that is the objective of the game I am designing. It is essentially a 3rd person action game, focused on environment traversal and hand to hand combat, but it will feature a heavy emphasis on story and character interaction (both Action Choice and Conversation Choice) as well as a Character Progression system where the main character learns new skills and evolves his powers over the course of the game.
As for the Character Progression system, it is going to be a combination of levelling up a skill tree and gaining key abilities [Zelda, Metroid].
I love the Zelda type progression where there are places you can’t go, or things you can’t do, until you get the hookshot or the boomerang after completing a dungeon. Progression in the game will be much like this, in that there are certain missions you are not able to complete until you have defeated a boss and earned a new ability.
You will be able to traverse an overworld and access missions in the order you choose. It’ will not be a sandbox game, but a certain times in the game, it will open up and you willl explore various hub worlds where you interact with people and pick up missions. The missions themselves will be instanced linear scripted events. This mission based structure is where the key abilities come in, as they provide necessary choke points to access certain missions which will move the overall story forward and transition to time frame changes or location changes.
More to come as I gather my thoughts on the design of the game. I have the framework of my design document set up, but haven’t filled in the particulars yet. So I am doumenting my thoughts here for the time being.