Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Towards A Casual RPG (Part 2)

[Game Design] [RPG]

This is the continuation of my earlier post, Towards A Casual RPG. The question under discussion is:

What would it take to create a tabletop-style roleplaying game (RPG) which would appeal to a mass-market casual audience?

I had a lot of great feedback on the last post. This time around, I'm going to talk about what makes a good casual videogame, as a preliminary to discussing how that might be applied to a tabletop-style RPG. This just comes from my reading on the many sites that routinely discuss casual gaming; feel free to correct or add if you have additional experience or reading in the area!

I should say that when I'm talking casual games, what I'm think of are short-span games like Tetris or Bejewelled or Dance Dance Revolution, and games with a long span but short sessions and low complexity like Animal Crossing, Nintendogs or Puzzle Pirates. I'd be willing to accept arguments for the LucasArts point-and-click games as casual games (at least in some respects), or the core Pokemon games (which seem to have succeeded in this market despite disobeying a lot of the rules below).

I'm not talking about World of Warcraft - while a lot of people cite WoW as a "casual-friendly game", that's just by comparison to the weltering complexity of other MMOGs. A game that requires a continuous three-hour or more session in groups of five people for completion of an early-game goal is NOT a casual-friendly game.

So here's my list.

Jargon-free: The game and the game elements can be described without resorting to technical terms, particular names made up for the game, esoteric notations, or references to other games.

One-button design: A casual game should use as few different inputs as possible; the ideal casual game would allow all play to be accomplished through presses of a single button.

Inclusive aesthetic: The aesthetic of the game must be inclusive of first time players; it should not promise punishing levels of challenge, or gruesome death for failure, and should as far as possible be designed in bright colours, using large and legible fonts, and with an uncluttered interface.

Small play sessions: A casual game is not something people should need to schedule time for - it's something they can fit in between other engagements. No single play session should commit the player to more than a few minutes, although the player may be able to opt to continue playing indefinitely. Nevertheless, a player can exit from the game at a moment's notice.

Easy re-entry: A player can play the game, leave it for months, and return to the game without any disconnect. If the game has continuing goals, the nature of those goals and the status of progression towards them is available to the player at a glance. Likewise, the remainder of the state of play can be discerned in seconds.

Multiple redundant cueing: Signals from the game should be conveyed in multiple ways - through the use of colour, sound, and/or text. This not only makes the game more acessible to those with visual or hearing impairments, or with older or non-standard hardware, but means it is more likely to deliver information in a way that the player understands intuitively.

Inflated numbers: I've seen at least one comment that suggests it's best to add a "zero" to the end of all your numbers that you show players for casual games. For example, 1000 is better than 100. I'm not sure of the necessary truth of this or whether it translates well to RPGs, but it's worth mentioning.

Clearly marked options: Important options should be clearly marked, easy to locate, and have titles that clearly describe the function and properties of the option in plain English. Options should be confined to relevant choices and not present the user with more than (say) three possibilities for any setting.

Easy to access: The game needs to have as few barriers as possible between the decision to play and the act of playing. This means ideally the game has no install or auto installs, plays in a browser, plays on a console, is plug and play hardware, has no save games or almost instant save-loading, has few loading screens, and doesn't make you sit through a lot of developer credits before you see "Push Start to Begin". That is to say, it features low or no setup time.

This is really what I've been thinking about insofar as a casual RPG. Feel free to discuss what I've missed out, and how you think these could be applied to an RPG. Next time around, I'll be talking about what features I think a casual RPG would have to have to succeed, and maybe some games that have come close in the past.


Duncan said...

I think that the biggest challenge will be creating the single mechanic that will be able to resolve all (or most) of the possible conflict situations. That would basically cover Jargon-free and One-button design.

As a side note, I wonder how close the Munchkin cardgames come to your definition of casual RPG.

Word of the Day: olqxisjg (in a very odd font)

GregT said...

Well, Mind's Eye Theatre used rock/paper/scissors, which seemed to work for it, and then had some qualifications about how many rounds you went and so forth based on your stats. For various reasons I'd prefer to not use that particular route, and of course there were a lot of OTHER things wrong with Mind's Eye, but it's still a pretty good example.

I also like the idea of a token-exchange system. You have X tokens; if you want to win a dispute, you just have to be willing to spend more tokens than the other guy. It's not about who's better, it's about who wants it more.

Munchkin, for all its RPG trappings, is really just a card game. An RPG needs to allow the player to be capable of identifying with their character, and needs to be capable of generating meaningful narrative, neither of which Munchkin delivers. I can think of plenty of decent casual games - it's the casual ROLEPLAYING game bit that's tricky.