When it came to writing my first post for the blog, I wracked my brain trying to think of something useful to write about that was a bit different from my usual stuff. I’m a RPG gamer at heart, but I didn’t want to write about RPG Design, because I already have a place for that.
But inevitably, when thinking about games in other genres I’ve been playing recently, I came back to one thing: RPG Mechanics, specifically experience and purchasing of new perks from some sort of tree, are present in all of them anyway. So why are RPG Mechanics so ubiquitous in game design? How can you use RPG Mechanics in your design? After a bit of thinking, I’ve come up with three primary uses.
1. RPG Mechanics As Tutorial
The first game I thought of with this was a recent action game that I’ve become completely enamored with, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.
Shadow of Mordor has two separate currencies for buying up upgrades. First you have Experience, which is spent on character abilities, and then you have Mirian, a form of rare currency in the lore, to upgrade your weapons. The character abilities are also locked into tiers, which unlock based on the amount of Power you have obtained, which is earned through interacting with the centerpiece mechanic of the game, the Nemesis System.
On top of this, there are some character abilities that are only unlocked at certain points of the story.
All of this together creates a great learning curve for the controls of the game. With all the different actions you can take in the game, on top of all your standard moves, there are four different finishers, several new ways to use your bow strikes, branding enemies, new ways to stealth kill enemies… If you had everything from the start, it would be incredibly overwhelming.
Using RPG Mechanics lets you introduce each piece at a slow pace throughout the game. In the beginning, I have access to the basics. I can shoot my bow. I can attack. I can counter. I can dodge. I can stun. I get to master a basic set of commands first. Then, when I earn enough experience/mirian/etc. I can buy a shiny new ability. Then I get to incorporate that ability into my repertoire and master it before I get another, rinse, repeat.
In the end, I’m using a wide array of abilities, and because I learned each of them individually, it never overloaded me, and I found myself using all of them. In a lot of games that give you a tons of abilities up front, I tend to find myself using the ones that I identify as effective first, and then rarely branching out into the other abilities.
2. RPG Mechanics As Story Support
Another thing I thought about was the idea of the character growing in strength in relation to the story. My example for this will be the FPS game Far Cry 3.
Now, first, let me say that I’m not one of those people who is going to debate story vs gameplay. I think in some games story is super important, while in other games gameplay is super important. But in some of the best games I’ve ever played, they were both good, and they SUPPORTED each other.
And Far Cry 3 is one of those games. Far Cry 3 is the story of Jason Brody, an American trust fund kid who was out partying in the islands off of southeast Asia with his friends when they fell into a horrible situation. They were all kidnapped by slavers on set of remote islands, and only Jason managed to break free.
Faced with this, Jason proceeds to do master more and more skills to take down the slavers and rescue his friends.
And this reflects in the gameplay. As you play through the game, the Jason of the story gets more skilled, while the Jason of the gameplay also gets more skilled through earned experience and buying new abilities. There is no segregation of story and gameplay, they are the same character.
It works because the RPG Mechanics have a very similar design as the story. Its about a zero to awesome progression. Though, admittedly, Jason has a step up on the average person, having learned to shoot from his brother, and being into a lot of sports such as rock climbing, skydiving, and other physically demanding hobbies, so he starts a bit higher than zero.
The gameplay works to enhance the immersion of the story. And the story helps to enhance the immersion of the gameplay. All games should work towards that ideal.
3. RPG Mechanics As Character Customization
The final use I’ve seen a lot is admittedly, one of the most common uses in actual RPGs as well. RPG Mechanics give the character the ability to make their character theirs. The games I thought of with this, though it is more of a true hybrid rather than a game stealing a few RPG Mechanics, is the Borderlands series.
At the beginning of the game, you can pick one of 4-6 characters to play through the game with. And each one is strikingly different, even though they work on the same core of rechargeable shield, shoot guns, don’t die.
Each character gets a unique action skill, but it doesn’t really stop there. They also each have 3 different trees to put skill points in as they level up, and each tree can create a character that is completely different. I played an Anarchy Gaige for a long time, and then respecced her into the Little Big Trouble tree… and I felt like I had to relearn the entire game. I couldn’t rely on overwhelming firepower and ricochets anymore, I had to evolve my play around a completely different strategy.
Being able to build my character how I wanted to. With my abilities, my weapons, my equipment, meant that my character is not like anyone else’s character. It adds both a personal feeling to the game, as well as a lot of replayability to see the other ways the game can play.
What do you think of the use of RPG Mechanics in other genres? Can you think of some other ways that RPG Mechanics are used to enhance non-RPG games? What do you think of the ways I see them used? Let us hear about it in the comments below.