A computer role-playing game (CRPG) is a broad video game genre originally developed for personal computers and other home computers. While technically not a separate genre, and sharing the same defining characteristics as console RPGs (also confusingly referred to as CRPGs) there are nonetheless general tendencies that make them distinct from RPGs on other platforms. The earliest CRPGs were inspired by early role-playing games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, and attempted to provide a similar play experience.
Despite a spectrum of features and game styles, there are some elements common to the CRPG genre. Perhaps the most salient is that of the avatar, with its quantized stats that typically evolve over the course of the game, and take the place of the gamer's own skill in determining game outcomes. Another common element in CRPGs is a well-developed fictional setting.
Gameplay elements strongly associated with CRPGs, such as statistical character development, have been widely adapted to other video game genres. For example, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, an action game, uses resource statistics (abbreviated as "stats") to define a wide range of attributes including stamina, weapon proficiency, driving, lung capacity, and muscle tone, and uses numerous cutscenes and quests to advance the story. Warcraft III, a real-time strategy game, features heroes that can complete quests, obtain new equipment, and learn new abilities as they advance in level. Some players might say that what separates these from games traditionally termed CRPGs is the inclusion of material not normally considered part of CRPGs, more than the absence of content which often is. However, many CRPG fans would say that the exclusion of these games from the genre stems from a lack of decision in character advancement, one of the key aspects in most CRPGs.
CRPGs are originally derived from traditional role-playing games, especially Dungeons & Dragons, and use both the settings and game mechanics found in such games. The stories featured usually involve a group of characters (a party) who have joined forces in order to accomplish a mission or "quest". Along the way, the adventurers must face a great number of challenges and enemies (usually monsters inspired by fantasy, and, to a lesser extent, science fiction and classic mythology).
Characters have a variety of attributes such as hit points. These attributes are traditionally displayed to the player on a status screen as a numeric value, instead of a simpler abstract graphical representation, such as the bars and meters favored by video games in general.
Players are allowed to choose how they want to improve their character's (or party's) performance in terms of attributes, skills, special abilities, and equipment. These improvements are given as rewards for overcoming challenges and achieving goals. The conditions that need to be met in order to earn these rewards may vary; some games are focused on defeating enemies, while others emphasize completion of the quests. The amount of freedom players are given when choosing what to improve also varies by game; some allow highly detailed and specialized customizations (known as "builds"), while others automate the process almost entirely. In many games, players are allowed to name and create the concept of their characters, as opposed to playing the role of a pre-defined protagonist. When creating a character from scratch, players might be able to choose their race. Players choose a character class or profession that defines the focus of their training in different aptitudes such as weapons mastery, social skills, spell-casting, and stealth. Some games allow characters to advance in more than one of these professions, but this usually carries some form of disadvantage in order to maintain game balance. Some games also allow the player to choose a "background" or "vignette" that defines the history of the character, prior to gameplay.
Three different systems of rewarding the player characters for solving the tasks in the game can be set apart: the experience system (also known as the "level-based" system) the training system (also known as the "skill-based" system) and the skill-point system (also known as "level-free" system)
The experience system system, by far the most common, was inherited from traditional role-playing games and emphasizes receiving "experience points" (often abbreviated "XP") by winning battles, performing class-specific activities, and completing quests. Once a certain amount of experience is gained, the character advances a level, at which point he may increase his skills and abilities.
The training system is similar to the way the Basic Role-Playing system works. It was first used in CRPGs in Dungeon Master, and emphasizes developing the character's skills by using them - meaning that if a character wields a sword for some time, he or she will become proficient with it. This system was later used in the The Elder Scrolls series, as well as the Dungeon Siege series.
Finally, in the skill-point system (as used in Vampire: Bloodlines for example) the character is rewarded with "skill points" for completing quests, which then can be directly used to "buy" skills and/or attributes, without having to wait until the next "level up".
All character development systems have their advantages and disadvantages. The experience system allows more flexibility and fairness in rewarding the completed tasks, but is generally unrealistic, since it is, for example, theoretically possible to develop a character's warrior skills without ever actually using them in game. The same applies to the skill-point system with the difference that the player is only rewarded for completing the quest, so a non-violent diplomatic solution may be as rewarding as one involving combat or using skills like sneaking or lockpicking. The training system does not imply any reward for the completed quests, except a material one, assuming that the character trained his or her skills while working towards the set goals. However, such systems tend to over-simplification (as seen in Dungeon Siege or Oblivion) and are often considered a step away from classical CRPGs towards the action RPG genre, because there is no way to reward the player for trying an alternative path, a diplomatic solution would be even less rewarding than a violent one, because no skills are trained.
In most computer role-playing games, character advancement does not affect the characterization of the player character. Planescape: Torment and Fallout both stand as notable exceptions to this trend for their inclusion of complex quest structures and NPC behaviors that were altered depending on the player's choices, with Torment taking into account the player's predilection for order or chaos and Fallout introducing reputation-based traits such as "Protector of the Wastes", "Child Killer" or "Gigolo." Other D&D-based games (including the Baldur's Gate and Knights of the Old Republic series) also offered many opportunities to shape the player's character, changing the nature of the game and its NPC reactions.
There is a marked tendency for CRPGs to be set in a fictional high fantasy world, likely the result of cautious investment in new genres by the computer gaming industry, although there are numerous exceptions. Whereas traditional role-playing games have since diversified, fewer CRPGs feature elements from space opera, post-apocalyptic, alien and other science fiction themes. Few take place in historical or modern settings. Several notable exceptions to this trend are Arcanum (steampunk), Bloodlines ("gothic punk"), Starflight (science fiction), Darklands (a blend of medieval German history and legend), Mount & Blade (medieval Europe with no fantasy or magic), Star Wars Galaxies (space opera) and Fallout (post-apocalyptic).
An important characteristic of a CRPG is freedom of movement. Most CRPGs allow the player to travel where he wants, putting few or no restrictions of where the player can go, locked doors not withstanding. This makes exploration an important element to all CRPGs.
Characters in CRPGs often travel long distances or navigate through complex and maze-like locations in order to accomplish their goals; thus, many use a system of maps to help the player navigate through the game's overworld and various areas accessible therein.
Since Akalabeth, these games feature characters moving on one or more maps. When the player-character in that game entered a dungeon or city, the view was often changed from a map view to a player view. This representation was also used by many console RPGs including the first nine Final Fantasy titles. But since Bard's Tale II, many CRPGS now feature a player view also in travels showing fully developed and complex landscapes, and only show the map to help the player. Ultima 6 and Ultima 7, on the other hand, used a "map" view (with a narrow field of vision) even in the dungeons. This system was also used in many console RPGs, such as the first seven Dragon Quest games.
Some games feature maps that must be viewed on their own separate screen, while others feature an automap that is always visible during normal gameplay. These maps commonly keep track of a character's current location and important destinations. Although these maps generally make navigation easier for the player, some games limit the visibility of the map intentionally to provide additional challenge or more realism.
Computer role-playing games, more so than any other genre, are famous for having long and involved quests. In particular, many of the most famous and well-regarded CRPGs such as Fallout contain multiple quest solutions and nonlinear gameplay through branching plots and often multiple endings. Different character builds may approach quests differently, using diplomacy, violence, subterfuge, bribery, or a variety of other methods, often driven by character as opposed to player skill. Many quests in CRPGs are optional, allowing for freedom of choice in defining a character's goals and intentions. In some CRPGs, such as Planescape: Torment, choosing one path over another may have moral implications, potentially changing the alignment of the player. In some other CRPGs, such as Arcanum or Geneforge, a set of quests may be mutually exclusive with another set, forcing the player to come to a decision on the possible long term effects. Such quests often affect the player's standing with a particular faction which may help or hinder the player. Thus the player's choices can have profound consequences later in the game.
Template:Further Almost every CRPG features combat as one of the main challenges to the player. A good portion of these games is spent avoiding, preparing for, or carrying out fights. Combat is usually carried out in either turn-based or real-time mode.
In a classical turn-based system, only one character may act at a time; all other characters remain still, with a few exceptions that may involve the use of special abilities. The order in which the characters act is usually dependent on their attributes, such as speed or agility. This system rewards strategic planning more than quickness. It also points to the fact that realism in games is a means to the end of immersion in the game world, not an end in itself. A turn-based system makes it possible, for example, to run within range of an opponent and kill him before he gets a chance to act, or duck out from behind hard cover, fire, and retreat back without an opponent being able to fire, which are of course both impossibilities. However, tactical possibilities have been created by this unreality that did not exist before; the player determines whether the loss of immersion in the reality of the game is worth the satisfaction gained from the development of the tactic and its successful execution. Fallout has been praised as being "the shining example of a good turn-based Combat System[sic]".
In real-time mode, there are no turn restrictions and characters may act at any time. Action tends to be more frenetic though sometimes difficult to control. An example of a CRPG featuring real-time combat is Diablo. Many real-time CRPGs are classified as action RPGs.
A variant of this mode called "real-time with pause" allows the player to pause the game and issue orders to all characters under his/her control; when the game is unpaused, all characters follow the orders they were given. This system, abbreviated as RTwP, has been particularly popular in games designed by Bioware. The most famous RTwP engine is the Infinity Engine. A similar system can be found in the Final Fantasy series; time can be set to flow normally, or flow up until the start of the Player Characters' next available actions, or paused. When set to normal, it is identical to live action, with emphasis on quick decisions. Set to wait, it effectively has an autopause, and strategies can be contemplated. Other names for "real-time with pause" include "active pause", "semi real-time" and "smart pause".
Early Ultima games featured a semi real-time system: they were strictly turn-based, but if the player waited more than a second or so to issue a command, the game would automatically issue a pass command, allowing the monsters to take a turn while the PCs did nothing. Fallout Tactics is another game which used this system.
There is a further subdivision by the structure of the battle system; in many early games, such as Wizardry, monsters and the party are arrayed into ranks, and can only attack enemies in the front rank with melee weapons. Other games, such as most of the Ultima series, employed duplicates of the miniatures combat system traditionally used in pen-and-paper games. Here, icons representing the players and monsters would move around an arena modeled after the surrounding terrain, attacking any enemies that are sufficiently near.
History and chronologyEdit
- Main article: History of computer role-playing games
Role-playing video games began in 1975 as an offshoot of early university mainframe computer text RPGs on PDP-10 and Unix-based computers, starting with Dungeon and graphical RPGs on the PLATO system, pedit5 and dnd, themselves inspired by traditional role-playing games. Other influences during this period were text adventures, Multiple-User Dungeons (MUDs) and roguelike games. Some of the first graphical CRPGs after pedit5 and dnd, were orthanc, avathar (later renamed avatar), oubliette, baradur, emprise, [[bnd[[, sorcery, moria, and dndworld, all of which were developed and became widely popular on the PLATO system during the latter 1970s, in large part due to PLATO's speed, fast graphics, nationwide network of terminals, and large number of players with access to those terminals. These were followed by (but did not always lead directly to) games on other platforms, such as Akalabeth (1980) (which gave rise to the well-known Ultima series), Wizardry, and Dungeons of Daggorath.
These early Ultima and Wizardry games are perhaps the largest influence on the later console RPG games that are now popular. Many innovations of Ultima III: Exodus (1983) eventually became standards of almost all RPGs in both the console market (if somewhat simplified to fit the gamepad) and the personal computer market. Later Dungeon Master (1987) introduced realtime gameplay and several user-interface innovations, such as direct manipulation of objects and the environment with the mouse, to first-person CRPGs.
Because traditional role-playing games predate them, computer RPGs were given the abbreviation “CRPG” as they increased in popularity to avoid confusing the two. In Japan, however, video game RPGs became widely popular first, so the term “RPG” (in the Latin alphabet) is used for them primarily, while the original versions are given the retronym “PRPG”. Outside Japan, console RPGs are frequently referred to as “JRPGs”, and computer RPGs are sometimes referred to as Western role-playing games (WRPGs).
CRPGs which mainly feature complex, squad-based combat systems are known as Tactical RPGs, and may be abbreviated as “TRPGs”. Some prefer to call them “Strategic RPGs”, thus they may also be referred to as “SRPGs” instead. Tactical RPGs feature a strong emphasis on tactical combat, usually turn-based. This subgenre borders with Real-time tactics and Turn-based tactics, and some games are considered to belong to both the CRPG and Tactics genres, or be a hybrid between them. Jagged Alliance and Silent Storm are famous Turn-based tactics games that are also classified as part of the tactical RPG genre.
Many games commonly referred to as CRPGs, such as Diablo II or Dungeon Siege, are often described more specifically as Action RPGs. This subgenre tends to be faster-paced, more skill intensive and focused on combat, while lacking developed plot and dialogue. Sometimes Action RPGs are also referred to as hack and slashers.
Games that take significant elements from CRPGs and other genres, but don't have a genre name like "Action RPG" yet, are usually referred to as "hybrids." For instance, System Shock 2 and Deus Ex are two famous FPS/RPG hybrids. Warlord's Battlecry and Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars are RPG/RTS hybrids. Other games, such as Space Rangers 2: Rise of the Dominators, have so many different genres mixed together (i.e. CRPG, RTS, Elite-style trading simulation, TBS, text adventure, shoot 'em up) that they defy any meaningful singular characterization. These games are usually simply referred to as multi-genre.
Furthermore, any CRPG developed by an amateur developer is usually referred to as an Indie ("Independent") role-playing game. Popular Indie role-playing games include Avernum and Geneforge. Indie role-playing games are not a distinct subgenre but their small budgets usually have a dramatic effect on the game design.
Differences between PC RPGs and Console RPGsEdit
- Main article: Cultural differences in role-playing video games
Due to cultural differences between developer companies, historically different inspirations and origins, distinct target audiences, and hardware with dissimilar capabilities, two main trends or "families" of computer and console RPGs exist. Each follows a certain pattern in terms of art style, storyline, and game mechanics.
- Jason D. Anderson
- Chris Avellone
- Leonard Boyarsky
- David W. Bradley
- Timothy Cain
- Brian Fargo
- Richard Garriott
- Stieg Hedlund
- Julian Lefay
- Jeff Vogel
- James Ohlen
- Josh Sawyer
- Chris Taylor
- Ray Muzyka
- Greg Zeschuk
- Adventure game
- Tactical role-playing game
- Console role-playing game
- Turn-based strategy
- RPG Maker
- Simulation game
- Cultural differences in computer and console role-playing games
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