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Deep Thoughts
March 5, 2004

I was surprised by the number of editorials in my inbox. For some reason I thought I had fewer than I really did. We've got five great pieces today on topics ranging from how video games influenced people's lives to different types of gamers. I sincerely thank all the writers for their patience with me as of late, and updates should become more frequent now (as long as I keep getting submissions.)

As for this week's question, here it is: with games such as Final Fantasy X-2 putting females as the main characters in their titles, how do you feel about females' roles in video games? Are we making progress in a predominantly male industry, or simply pandering to the hormonal urges of those males? Is the industry trying to attract more females to the genre? Are they doing it in the right way? That should be enough material to get you readers writing.



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This Week's Question: Where do you see the MMO genre going from here?
 
 
The Meaning

Games are, of course, a touchy subject, some people say they damage the psyche of our blossoming youth; but I have to disagree. Throughout my fourteen years of being able to understand games and hold a controller I have been playing. I have seen the drastic evolution from the tried and true NES, to the new generation like the PS2, and one thing has never changed, if anything it has improved: Video games make fine vocabulary builders.

Yes, they really do, especially in RPGs. What do you spend a good portion of your time doing in an RPG? Reading! If you notice a word you do not understand, you simply look it up or ask your parents. This results in a wide vocabulary. This has helped me realize a love of writing and reading.

Games are also capable of teaching about history, I learned most of what I know about European Geography due to the Genesis game, “Uncharted Waters.” This also introduced my seven-year-old mind to the concept of economics, no matter how simple the game presented it. “Operation Europe” was my first real look at World War II besides black and white pictures. It presented the war from a strategic and tactical standpoint and allowed for control of such famous men as: George Patton and Irwin Rommel, even including little blurbs about their lives. And, as I said above, RPGs have contributed to my vocabulary while providing countless hours of entertainment. (Realistic) First person shooters can be used to train soldiers for war, and for the average person can be used to improve hand-eye coordination and keep the mind sharp and alert.

Games are an art form as well. When a friend of mine decided to devote his life to the art world, some of his first (and best) serious drawings were of video game characters, specifically the characters from the “Shining Force” series and “Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete.” At the same time, music in video games is becoming better and better, making for a whole new genre of music.

I think I have been impacted more by video games than by any one thing (excluding my parents.) I have made close friends through the love of video games, learned and gained much knowledge, and been entertained for years.

The way I see it, video games, if given the proper care in development, can improve our society (not degrade it as many seem to believe.) Games which can be used as a educational tools have been released for years, and as I have proven, even games designed to provide entertainment can teach you much if you let them. Games like “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” can teach you about new things such as foreign, ancient cultures while presenting a rich story, and everyone likes a good story.

- Phillip Moffett

Damian:

Nice work David! It’s nice to hear that a younger member of the community can see video games as more than just simple diversions. The complexity and reality of today’s games have been shown to enable people to learn skills and react better under pressure. However, even the old school games such as Uncharted Waters: New Horizons (I learned a lot from Koei games too) and the various Carmen Sandiego titles have proven to increase a person’s knowledge base. As an educator and a gamer, I’ve known the importance of games as a learning tool for quite some time. Heck, I even wrote my Master’s thesis on the subject. Might we soon see video games in a more prominent position in the classroom? I hope the answer is yes. Until then, keep taking it upon yourselves to learn as much as possible from video games.

 
Media Portrayals

"So the question is, “have video games (and RPGs in particular) made a positive impact in your life or the lives of people you know?"

The answer is quite simply, yes. If they didn't make a positive impact, I wouldn't be such a fan today. Games quench many of mankind's natural desires. One of them is the thirst for a challenge. In the ancient Roman times, there was a coliseum to test the strength of men and to entertain the audiences. In the early 20th century, World War I resulted from not having anything better to do (objection – ed.) In today's world, videogames have taken that place. Many people pop their favorite game in simply for the challenge. It gives them something to do. It lets you vent your emotions. This is a really positive reason in itself. Instead of testing strength of the body through battle and death, the strength of the mind is tested. We don't need a coliseum to create challenges for us: games can fulfill that desire.

Another desire addressed by video games is the desire to explore. Ever since the world was colonized, we've had to turn to space for new frontiers. With videogames, the basic citizen now has the ability to see new worlds, without the real dangers of dying or getting hurt. Imagination now creates worlds, and since games are so realistic today, the sky is the limit! RPGs are leading in this department, since RPG worlds are so big! They have their own governments, religions, towns, countries, wars, political affairs, and areas! It's a whole new world! This is what I love so much about RPGs: the feeling you have as you go through it. It's like you're looking through the main character's eyes, which touches on another thing that RPGs should really convey; living another life, exploring that person’s world... trust me, it's fun.

Probably the most important way that games have impacted my life positively is just the sheer fun of them. They have brought a (fairly) new medium of creativity, art, literature, and most of all, entertainment. Games aren't just for loners, but in fact they are an expression of creativity and art. They are the most complex forms of art, since they contain many of the other forms. This isn't something that should just be appreciated by loners, but by families and friends together.

Speaking of which, games are crawling out of the shadow of being pinned on the "loners". Massively Multiplayer and basic Multiplayer are growing in games as the main consoles now have Ethernet adapters sold with them. Phantasy Star, Final Fantasy XII, and Socom are some examples. You aren't really a "loner" if you are interacting with other people, are you? This is about as good as actually spending time with that person, except you have a right to blow their *pixelated* head off.

Even if you're not using a connection to play against people from afar, there are party-based games released for the sole purpose of bringing people together (Crash Bash, Sonic Shuffle, and the Mario Party series comes to mind.) These games are sheer crap without someone to play them with. Once you have a group of friends to play against, the game becomes infinitely more intriguing. Some great times with my friends were spent playing these games, and you can't say that loners are the type who'd put these games to use, can you?

Friends are people who share interests. Games have actually helped me make a bulk of my friends. It's a similar interest such as collecting, sports, or movies. I like to introduce people to RPGs myself. I am a self-proclaimed "RPG Missionary". This spreading has even caused me to make more friends by adding people to this particular interest.

Without videogames, I think I'd be even worse off. Games (RPGs in particular, of course) challenge my mind, let me escape, and are fun! Videogames help the mind achieve higher thinking, which is already enough of an advantage. Life is mostly boring: live someone else's! Also, friends are more fun when you can enjoy each other's company and destroy each other at the same time. Games are helpful and fun for all your friends!

- Necron

Damian:

Great job answer the question, Necron. Games which bring people together are so valuable in today’s society. At the same time, however, we walk a fine line between drawing together and splitting apart, as the internet allows adversarial or cooperative play without the individuals having to be physically brought together. This uneasy tension can allow the “loner” to remain alone while at the same time getting his social “fix.” The unhappy result, however, is that the loner doesn’t learn any real social skills, and instead can become even less socially adept.

Still, your point about RPGs is excellent, as they allow mankind to redirect competitive energies away from real-life hostilities towards safer, more productive goals. I’ve always believed that the human spirit needs challenge and strife, and that we can choose how we go about experiencing them. Video games do just that, and are fun too.

 
The Decay of Old-school RPGs

We have all heard the whining of today’s younger gamers when they try to play an old school RPG: “the graphics suck,” or, “the battles are too slow,” and the infamous, “this game was only redone for purposes of nostalgia in ‘old gamers.’” I am sure that many of us - who were around at the time many of today’s flagship series were first dipping their feet in the game market lake - would tend to disagree with these seemingly biased opinions.

However, after carefully considering this topic myself, I feel differently. RPGs from earlier generations are indeed dated, not only in terms of graphics but also gameplay.

The first, and definitely most obvious, is dated graphics. Let’s face it, the SNES was far from capable of creating beautifully-rendered environments like those seen in today’s consoles. Hardware limitation does not merit bashing, but the problem that many young gamers see in these games of yesteryear do not come in until these games are “remade” for the latest generation of consoles. For example, SquareSoft (now Square-Enix) has released a few collection bundles, each featuring two of their classic titles. These games may have looked superb at the time of release, such as was the case with Chrono Trigger, but compared to the highly detailed, three-dimensional character models seen today, the character sprites of older games seem bland and unimaginative. Sadly, I can see how this could be a turnoff to anyone who has not yet experienced these classics. Why play a game that looks like it belongs on a cell phone with an LCD screen? The reason is obvious: the gameplay.

I am proud to say that I was able to experience games such as Breath of Fire II and Lufia II during their days in the sun, but these games have not aged well. Early RPGs mainly contained strictly turn-based battle systems. In this style of gameplay, you choose the actions all of your characters will take and watch the battle play out with your characters performing the assigned action, and then the enemy doing the same. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. To make these battles more challenging and entertaining, developers would sometimes make encounter rates so high that your character would only take a few steps before entering another battle. Another idea to make these battles better was to create enemies that were nearly too much for your characters at their current levels. This, in turn, required you to “power-level” characters so they would stand a chance against fiends such as giant, killer bees (Phantasy Star anyone?)

Luckily, one game company implemented a different style of combat early on, that company being SquareSoft with their widely popular ATB (Active Time Based) battle system. This added faster gameplay and unique new challenges for the thirsty gamer who wanted something more than the seemingly pen-and-paper style gameplay of turn-based battle systems. Even Final Fantasy IV, in which you still had to power-level, has aged much better than the likes of the regular old turn-based games.

Some may say that Final Fantasy VII was what got Square in the mainstream market. While it was this game that brought RPGs into mainstream gaming, it was its long time predecessor, Final Fantasy IV, that made this game possible. The only reason I am mentioning this is due to the wild popularity the series has seen in recent years, popularity which Square does not totally owe to Final Fantasy VII, but to Final Fantasy IV as well.

I am now going to look at a few recently-released RPGs that were and were not successful due to their battle systems.

Xenosaga - So we have a modified turn-based gameplay engine in which players use combo attacks and boosts to damage enemies. The premise sounds fun, but it turned out horribly. First of all, it seemingly takes five minutes to kill regular enemies due to having to sit and watch each character in your party attack three times, (and the same attacks over and over again to boot!) This makes the battles long and mundane. Second, enemies can counter boost three or more times in a row and deal massive damage, which is a throwback to the old, insanely strong enemies of days gone by. This could also put you on the defensive during boss battles so that you only dare to attack once every three turns, making battles even more tedious.

Lastly, we have the fact that the game is sixty-plus hours long. Sorry Monolith Soft, you may have story going for you, but you need to work on the battle system so that people do not get angry while playing for those sixty hours.

Knights of the Old Republic - Once again we have a somewhat modified turn-based engine, this time with lightsabers and Jedi. Here is where this game soared above the competition. The battles are turn-based but move so quickly that they feel real-time. These fast-paced battles make you think on your feet and get you excited, making them so much more fun than the usual, bland turn-based systems. Besides, watching lightsabers dance around on screen is always a treat. Good job BioWare, keep up the good work.

Golden Sun: The Lost Age – Wow, this is a huge throwback to old-school RPGs. You choose all of your characters’ actions and watch the battles play out as they used to in turn-based games. The thing that made Golden Sun so wildly popular among GBA fans is that the battles are, once again, fast-paced. No waiting for spell casting, characters don’t take their sweet time attacking, and the overblown particle effects make it fun to watch. The only complaint I have about this battle system is that the characters are apparently too stupid to attack something else when their original target has been destroyed. Camelot, I want more please.

Final Fantasy X - Okay, so it is not as recent, but still a good example nonetheless. Yet again, we have a modified turn-based battle system in which your characters’ turns depend on their speed. Instead of having to choose all the actions right off the bat, you get to choose them individually. So the battles do move faster than the norm, but there is still a problem. Many enemies you face are either way too easy or extremely hard. This is a huge problem as gamers are not going to be ready for some of the latter enemies and power-sphere-leveling will begin. SquareSoft, why did you turn away from the tried-and-true ATB? I would much rather play this game’s sequel with its light-hearted story, than this waste of time.

I think it is obvious what needs to be done in order to keep gamers satisfied in this day and age. Game developers, you can use turn-based systems, but please do something that can keep our interest for more than ten hours.

The last thing that I am going to cover is story. Many old-school RPGs did not really have much to their stories other than, “You’re the heroes, go save the world.” While this was not much of a problem back then, it is an issue now. Mainly, I am trying to refer to the recent remakes of Final Fantasy I and II for PlayStation. The graphics have been updated and new stuff has been added; well pin a rose on that nose, it’s Final Fantasy so it must have a good story right? Wrong again. There is hardly any development in the plotlines for these games, which is complete and utter nonsense. Square, next time you do a remake you should pull your head out and do it correctly.

The perfect example of a well-done remake was just released for the GameBoy Advance, that being Metroid Zero Mission. Now, Metroid may not be an RPG, but one look at the difference between Zero Mission and Metroid and you can easily see that this is how a remake should be done. I commend all the companies that are actually putting effort into their remakes, instead of slapping a sticker on the cover that says, “New Computer Generated Cutscenes!” Please, kids, name does not make the game.

You really cannot blame these older games for ageing, it happens. They are still just as classic and revolutionary as they once were, but with all the powerful technology and different twists on the turn-based combat system, these games are not getting the attention they deserve. I truly believe that many of these games need to be remade correctly so that the younger generation of gamers can enjoy what brought about their favorite games today.

- Jimmy Neel

Damian:

Ah, the call of nostalgia. It sings to the ear like a terpsichorean melody to those of us who feel our childhoods were too short, and our adulthoods too long. Flowery prose aside, Mr. Neel brings up a good point regarding remakes. Nostalgia is all well and good, but for us to truly entreat others to enjoy the splendor we, ourselves, have experienced, we must have remakes which keep up with the times. Older games were great, not just because they established a genre, but because they did things that, at the time, were bold, daring, and innovative. For a remake to hold true to its origins, it needs to push those same boundaries and not rest on its laurels. And that’s what I think of that.

 
Role Types

With the splitting of the RPG genre comes many different approaches to each title. Certain games are played one way, while others are played in a totally different manner (and then there are those of us who simply play every game in the same manner because we just like it that way.) There are also games such as Star Wars: KoTOR or Deus Ex: Invisible War, which can be beaten a hundred ways by a hundred people. After some thought, I compiled the following 15 basic gaming personalities.

Cheesecake


A Cheesecake player goes for the rich and creamy story first and foremost. The characters matter, of course, but even if the characters themselves suck, at least they are in a good story. Gameplay isn’t a gigantic deal either, as long as the tale is deep and well written.

Knight


A warrior who loves the battles and battle system more than anything else, this type of player levels up early and often, making sure to properly school any and all enemies. This person also never runs from a battle unless the enemy is just plain pathetic. Death is no option for a Knight.

Sprinter


The Sprinter goes through the game as fast as humanly possible, no matter how long it is. This character uses defense and skills as no other player type does, manipulating fights like mad. The management of gear and healing items is impressive with this type, who can finish a game at a lower level than most anyone else.

Analyst


The Analyst uses positive and negative status effects as they were meant to be used in order to manipulate fights. Unlike the Sprinter, though, an Analyst never rushes and will study a strong enemy’s patterns and weaknesses until a hole in a defense is recognized and fully understood.

Cheat


We all know what this type implies: cheats and codes. A Cheat has a list of books and websites he can go to for a list of awesome codes or secrets hidden in programming to make the game easier.

Nuke


Plays for 8-10 hours a day, maybe more. A Nuke – referring to the “radiation” a TV or monitor gives off – will level up in chunks in order to get through the story a bit better. This is kind of a combination of a Knight and a Cheesecake, but with much longer stints with the game.

Searcher


A Searcher looks for every item, side quest, character, and boss in a game. This type will spend ridiculous amounts of time not advancing the story just to find something rare. This gamer also uses multiple saves to find what all the different responses to a choice may lead to, and is most likely to play the whole game over again for more info and choices.

Appraiser


Animation, textures, art direction, interface, graphics, costumes, sound, and dialogue are just a few of the things an Appraiser obsesses over. A player like this constantly compares the current game to a host of previously played titles. Game reviewers are thrown into this class when working if they weren’t already in it.

Gourmet


A Gourmet likes to have an all-around well made game to spend time with and is the most general type of role-player. Gameplay, storyline, and presentation must come together to form a good experience or else the game isn’t entirely worth the time. Game reviewers can also be considered Gourmets.

Buyer


This type buys figurines, soundtracks, and tons of other merchandise from his favorite RPGs and possibly knows tons of stuff about the developers themselves. A smart purchase is always a concern, so this person may be reading tons of reviews to make sure they won’t waste their money on a piece of hyped-up dog log.

A$$hat


This is that jerk most of you know who sometimes begs to be put into a party just to crap all over the experience. This person player-kills, speaks in numb3r5, and is generally a bully who picks on newbs. He or she never helps others, but a lot of times sucks and needs constant back-up. Oh, and item and money stealing is apparently funny as heck to this jerk. Nobody likes an A$$hat, except maybe others of the kind.

Immersed


This person can either be kind of fun or a complete waste of time to try and befriend. This person role-plays in the game, speaks (or types) like his character looks, and doesn’t come out of character. A good example of this is Piros from the .hack series.

Twinker


If you have ever met someone as a newb in an MMORPG who just handed you a bunch of powerful stuff to help you along, you’ve met a Twinker. This gamer is usually at a good level and often goes hunting for potent weapons and armor just to give the stuff away. Let us all give a hearty salute to all the Twinkers out there helping newbies have a bit more fun with their shiny, new, and utterly hardcore gear.

Online Knight


This is the MMOG offshoot of a typical Knight. This person explores every dungeon possible to be able to get to that next level. The Online Knight is always a great team member to have as a trump card and loves to be thought of that way. Online Mage Knights are a derivative of this type consisting of powerful mages who vary in specialty depending on character class.

Gilligan


This is the Holy Grail of player characters in an MMORPG. The Gilligan is helpful, friendly, and respectful. He or she also has manners and, incidentally, your back. This person also happens to be proficient with the game since others are always inviting them along. Defends the weak, heals the sick, and supports the strong. Truly a little buddy to all.

I’m sure there are more types out there, especially in the MMORPG worlds, but this list just about covers the basics. Not all of these are RPG-exclusive types, but this genre is the most diversified, so almost all of us should find what type we are in this compilation of gaming personalities. I am a Gourmet Nuke, by the way.

- Michael V.

Damian:

Thank you for that excellent listing of gamer types. It’s fun to classify people you know, and this chart is quite comprehensive. My question is, what classification gets the most “market share?” In other words, which gamer type is dominant in the world of RPGs? I’d have to guess that, at least among my friends, most are Appraisers, ferreting out all the goods and bads of the title. Then there are the communities of A$$hats, as Michael calls them, and I’ve had friends who play that role quite well. But overall, I’d guess that most gamers are either Knights or Cheesecakes. What say you, community?

 
The Future of RPGs

When I think of an RPG, the words "Role-Playing Game" don't pop into my head because, like many other people, these stories of fantasy and adventure have a much deeper, much greater meaning. They are stories, much like novels. You could almost say they are "interactive books." These stories are fun, deeply-touching, fantastic extremes of the imagination from the minds and dreams of people all around the world who are gamers, just like us.

If, when you turn on a game, the first thing that you think of is how good or how bad the graphics are, then maybe you should reconsider your reason for playing the game in the first place. Ok, sure, graphics are an important part of the game, but as any classic gamer will tell you, the truly important aspect is how the game “feels.” Almost all of the new-generation games that I have come to play recently have been fancy, fun, and even eye candy, but somehow they were lacking in heart and emotion.

I don't know if modern video game companies are just out to make money, but in many cases it almost seems that way. Take the Square/Enix merger, for example; why would two successful video game companies merge into one? Is it because of money, or because two really good artistic teams melted into one would make one really, really good artistic team? Wait a second, I thought diversity was important when it comes to art. I guess neither Square nor Enix got the memo!

Maybe video game companies were struggling a little bit, at first, with the new fancy graphics, trying out a bunch of demo games, such as "The Bouncer." But now we are at a point where every company has had a chance to strut their stuff and show off what they can do (graphics-wise), so I think now is a good time for them to show us some real art.

- Nolan Smits

Damian:

The future of RPGs is a big question, especially since, unlike many other genres, RPGs seem to be sticking around on the console market. With a big names like Square-Enix dominating the market currently, I see the RPG market going one of two ways; either RPGs will reach higher levels of quality, or the status quo will drag RPGs down to the same level fighting games occupy today. The merger itself parallels these omens; Square, a company whose flagship series is known for experimentation and Enix, a company whose flagship series is known for maintaining and almost oppressive status quo. Both are capable of great innovation or great repetition, and only time will tell how the market plays out.



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