I knew right away I wanted to make an RPG. A classic, JRPG-esque homage inspired by the products of the 90s.
I’ve got a couple of proto-games floating around in various stages of documentation and prototyping, some of which are RPGs, some simulations, and then a few other various cross-genred bastardizations. So while I could have grabbed one of these and started running with it, instead I kept thinking about a new idea – what if there was an RPG about RPGs – sorta like a meta-RPG, to use the overly-exhausted phrase? An RPG that both celebrated the best of the genre and exposed the ridiculous stereotypes, tired redundancy, and giant holes in logic that decorate and plague the space. Cool idea, I proudly told myself, and set down to work.
Well, that’s clearly not happening.
I don’t believe that any *single* person could pull a tour de farce of that magnitude with due dignity, respect, clarity, vision, and methodicalness required of the treatment…..so yeah. Not going to try. I do though want to explore some more minor bits of the genre that have begun to consistently bug me over the years, and try to cover those more completely, rather than in some kind of industry-enlightening, god-rays-producing seminal work. I’ll leave that to Molyneux*.
So, in incredibly vague and rambling narrative, here are some of the things I do hope to explore/poke-fun at in the super-not-so-secret-no-name-rpg:
Ok, this isn’t just a problem with RPGs, I freely admit, but it’s one that annoys me nonetheless. Seriously, it’s like every made-up nation in the world is only populated by a pasty-face pale xenophobic people. Even the games coming out of Asia….most of those people look white to me too. Last I checked, I think Caucasians are like only 25% of the world population (I could be way off, thanks internet), so why in the hell are they like 99.5% of every video game population? Yes, I’m personally white, and yes, it drives me bat shit insane that game worlds aren’t more diverse. Diversity is a whole ‘nother can of worms I can rant about for a good long while, so I’ll just stop here before fully mounting that soap box. Perhaps I will in a later installment.
So needless to say I’m trying my best to have a pretty diverse cast of characters and cultures represented. And at the same time not fall back on tired and offensive stereotypes (here’s looking at you Barrett Wallace…and Sazh Katzroy for good measure). Right now I’ve got 9 – 10 player party characters planned, and I’m trying my hardest to make them span a range of ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and personalities. The game takes place over 2 countries and a couple of random city-states: these people definitely aren’t all from the same boring-ass bread basket. And it’s a made-up world,….so why use IRL cultural stereotypes that can be kinda offensive? Why even bother having tons of different characters if they’re not all bringing something different to the table – gameplay changes, backgrounds, experiences, personal goals? The list could go on. One of the strengths of the RPG genre is how many players forge stronger emotional ties to the characters and imprint themselves deeper into the story. But that’s all a bit difficult if you can’t find a single character to identify and empathize with.
If your choices for party members are either White Guy Number One or White Guy Number 47, just save yourself the headache and art cost and just make Universal White Guy. Speaking of ‘guy‘..
OMG there are lady gamers?! And we don’t always like playing bald meat-head dudes?! WHA?! Yeah, big surprise there. I’m personally shocked.
Besides the obvious “just make more female party members to play” that fails to happen, it also bugs me that so many of the towns and stuff seem to be overly populated by males. From guards to shopkeeps to the random people walking around town, a lot of games seem to have a male/female ratio of 75/25%. Now, I’m no scientist, but I don’t think that’s quite a sustainable gender split. Yeah, and all you ‘but it takes more art assets blah blah blah”….you already made the female assets for the 25%. Your content people just didn’t use them. For me, it’s kinda immersion-breaking when I realize all the guards of every nation are dudes, all the armor and weapon shopkeeps are dudes, the apothecary guys are dudes, and the only lady NPCs run the inns. Come on… a lot of us play games to escape from this crap in reality, we don’t need to be reminded of the glass ceiling and gender inequality during our entertainment too.
(With all that bitching, Ni No Kuni’s probably done the best I’ve ever seen and I will be unabashedly using that as a model to strive towards. Just another reason if you haven’t played that game yet, you are wasting your life).
So while I did do some gender counting for the party PCs and main important NPCs to make them as even as possible and occupy a wide range of skills and jobs, I’m also trying out something else that may totally completely fail. Odds are completely fail, but I’m doing it anyway. As I am only a team of one and can realistically only do so much, I can only have one main PC to control and not go the double duty pick-a-girl-or-guy and change everything based on that. Instead, I’m making the most gender-ambiguous thing I can draw and giving him/her the most gender-bender name I can find, and writing all his/her text as gender-neutral as possible. Currently it’s “Kris”, but Nameberry.com tells me of tons of other unisex names like Taylor, Rowan, …and a slew of other horrible ones. So yeah…. going for something that’s pretty gender-neutral/ambiguous rather than say an effeminate male, which I’m hoping is not what it devolves into. The hope is that it helps players imprint onto the PC and build stronger emotional bonds, and not alienate anyone immediately based on look, play, or feel. Time and iteration will tell.
Rampant Unemployment in an Unsustainable Economy
Another personal pet peeve of mine is what the hell do all these people do to make a living and support a family? As far as I can tell, only 5 or so people in any given town are ever doing any actual economy-boosting job, and everyone else just spends their days loitering and complaining, hoping random strangers will fix their problems. In today’s age of rising unemployment, threats of recessions, and students incapable of finding jobs with their degrees, this seems …well…too close to home. Way to go and reach out to the youth – “Yep, the world’s just as crappy as you thought it was, why bother trying? Just sit back and let someone else fix stuff, it’ll all work out.” It’s like all people in any given RPG have no concept of motivation, all suffer from broken legs, and boast a chronic inability to talk to another human being. Yeah, yeah, gameplay-give-the-player-something-to-do. You can still do that and create more believable NPCs. Every town doesn’t have to the be equivalent of a welfare state populated by 2 year olds who are physically incapable of taking care of themselves. Running to the bakery down the street to fetch a man’s bread because he’s too lazy to do it himself is boring and obnoxious. Helping that same guy instead open his own bakery that offers competitive prices, participate in good-natured advertorial mudslingig against the other baker, and then getting lifetime discounts is much more interesting (IMHO).
Some games even go so far as to call the classes you give party PCs “Jobs”. Really? Please, explain to me what Blue Mage does in his off-time when he’s not just rampantly killing the fauna outside the town? ‘Cause eventually all the monsters are gonna be gone, and then where does your skill set leave you? I never see any Blue Mage Consulting Firms or Warrior Cookies R Us – it’s like every job regardless of name or theme is only good at one thing – wholesale mass murder. Woot economies based on the monetization of violence!
Yeah yeah yeah, it’s a game, and combat’s fun. I get it. But what about all the other actual jobs that are out there? If violence is so intrinsic to these worlds to survive, how are the Grocers, the General Managers, the Desk Clerks surviving? Do they never venture outside their homes lest they be slaughtered at the whim of a merciless level 5 Bunny Rabbit?
So while I do plan on having some of the more popular ‘jobs’ in my own class system (Mercenaries, Monks, Color-Coded-Mages-For-Your-Convenience…you get the picture), I’ll also be supporting such whimsical choices as Financial Adviser, Career Politician, and Manager if you so choose to have a more white-collar-y party. (Spoiler: the Financial Advisers make fantastic thieves).
Yes, there is a B.A. in English Job. And yes, he can’t find a full time position anywhere. You’re welcome, parents.
Commie Party Bastards
And along those lines – what the hell is wrong with all these people? It’s like Joseph Campbell is their Messiah and the Hero’s Journey a holy pilgrimage any NPC with working legs aspires to complete. All these characters are always so altruistic and self-sacrificing….hell, it makes me feel lazy as %*()^. Where are the self-serving bastards and the “I’m just in it for the money” coat-tail-riders? The ones who don’t always believe smacking the dragon with the sword is the only response to the problem? The PCs who demand their fair share of the loot and aren’t content to live on this crazy commie hippy commune we call a Party. I dunno…if I were risking my butt to Save The World (TM) , I think I’d want some form of compensation along the way. Especially if it wasn’t even my quest to begin with and I got involved only because they main PC stole my bike.
One of the things I love most about pen and paper RPGs is shifting party dynamics and having to work through differing morals, worth ethics, and loot distribution negotiations over the course of a campaign. I am fully aware that this kind of fluid system isn’t exactly replicable in a digital setting (although mad props to Bioware for coming pretty damn close in a few instances), I do fully intend to poke fun at it. A lot. Healer-lady is tired of always saving your slow-moving butt and wants her payment. Now.
Your Princess is in Another Castle
And my favorite trope – Important Female Gets Abducted. Non-Important Male Must Find Her And Save World.
Seriously, you’re not even trying anymore, are you?
Without going too much into the finer plot details (spoilers and also cause…you know, they might change), yes, I start out with your Princess getting kidnapped by the evil Sky Pirate, at least, that’s what all the government-owned news outlets are reporting. And yes, the PCs jump at the chance to make some extra money if they can find her (regardless of the fact that they have zero training in detective work or tracking – hey, it’s all about motivation, not skill). And yes, it goes horribly off the rails after that.
So, that’s probably enough for now. I’m still keying in the last of the job data into xml (Ugh soooo sick of data entry) and finalizing some profile sketches for all the PCs and NPCs. I think pics and short character bios are gonna be next.
*Sorry, had to take the cheap jab ’cause I’m a horrible person. Dungeon Keeper is still one of the best things ever to grace my PC.