Computer role playing game

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Screenshot of the isometric RPG Tales of Trolls & Treasures

Computer role-playing game ( . English role-playing video game , (computer) role-playing game , (C) RPG ) refers to a genre of computer games , whose roots mainly in the pen - & - paper role-playing games are, of which basic processes and Game mechanics are adopted. The main difference between pen & paper role-playing games and computer role-playing games is that the game master's tasks are performed by the computer. As a result, the action of computer role-playing games moves in much narrower paths, which are specified by the game developer.


Computer role-playing games are characterized by a mostly complex action in an imagined or adapted world of various cultural, social and temporal backgrounds, which is called the game world or background world , and which exert an influence on the decisions of the player. The player usually creates one or more player characters (PC), equips them with skills and equipment and develops them further through experience gained in the course of the game , so that the skills and other play values ​​of the PC are improved. During the course of the game - depending on the direction of the game to varying degrees - you have to fight battles and solve tasks that are often called " quests ". By deliberately suspending disbelief , the player can deliberately immerse himself in the fictional world and gain background knowledge about it, which gives this type of computer game a specific atmosphere that helps the player to identify with the characters he controls.

The more or less extensive set of rules, according to which the success and failure of actions is decided, remains more or less hidden depending on the game. Where in conventional pen - & - paper role-playing game dice as random generators are used computer role-playing games set software random number and enter either the results of simulated dice rolls out, or they merely indicate the success or failure of an attempted action. The effects of player decisions and random effects in specific situations are determined and communicated by the program so that it takes on the main task of a human game master. A pen & paper set of rules that is often used as the basis of the game mechanics in computer role-playing games is that of the most popular role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) in its various editions. For example, the PC role-playing game series Baldur's Gate, like its successor Neverwinter Nights, uses both the game world " Forgotten Realms " and the rules of the second edition of D&D ("Advanced Dungeons and Dragons"). However, many computer role-playing games also use their own rule systems or their own game worlds.

See also: Multi User Dungeon (MUD), Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), Action role-playing game (ARPG), computer game , chat role-playing game

Historical development

The oldest surviving computer role-playing game: dnd (1974)

Computer role-playing games emerged in the mid-1970s. They were inspired by the existing pen & paper role-playing games. At that time, large universities were the only institutions that had (main) computers with limited access , so that it was mainly students who developed the first games. Based on simple adventures , early versions of simple computer role-playing games were created, the first of which are no longer preserved today due to the very restrictive deletion policies of many universities (storage space was something precious and games on computers were considered a waste of computing time). The earliest documented more games are Pedit5 , a very simple combat and treasure collecting game, dnd and Dungeon , which was also the first game to a visual representation of dungeons ( " Dungeons used"), moving through which one is.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Rogue, a very successful game for Unix- based systems, came up with many innovations. It was completely visualized (if only with the help of ASCII characters) and controlled and offered randomly generated dungeons, as well as an enormous amount of different equipment, although at the same time it was very balanced. One year later, Ultima and Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, two games came onto the market that influenced the development of computer role-playing games for many years. The simple handling and, from today's point of view, primitive representation of both the environment and the opponent, as well as the turn-based tactical combat system, soon became a quasi-standard, which many games still follow to this day.

The next major leap in development came in the late 1980s, when Dungeon Master, a game that was visually very advanced for the time, was released, which also offered real-time combat and interaction with the environment. The rise of console role-playing games in Japan began a little earlier with the release of Dragonquest , which was heavily based on the models of computer role-playing games from the early 1980s. In 1988, Pool of Radiance was released, a game that took a different path of further development. Here the player could move his characters strategically in a limited environment, which copied the tabletop style of many RPG rounds.

Since the 1980s, so-called multi-user dungeons have been developing on the Internet , which have also spread in German-speaking countries since the 1990s and are still widespread. A server provides a game environment in pure text form and the players log into the server via Telnet and can play together there. With Scepter of Goth , one of the first commercial online role-playing games emerged.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Neverwinter Nights began integrating several players into a large, graphically designed online game world, where they could play with and against each other. This form of computer role-playing games, the MMORPGs , later became a significant market segment. In 1992, Ultima Underworld was the first comprehensive role-playing game to be completely set in a real 3D environment. With Diablo in 1996, the genre of action role-playing games became a dominant aspect within computer role-playing games, and at the same time it became an alternative to MMORPGs in terms of the interplay of several players.

After the computer role-playing game had often been declared dead in the mid-1990s and other, new game concepts tied the players to themselves, Baldur's Gate succeeded in a revival of the genre in 1998. With modern aesthetics and a strong emphasis on the narrated story, as well as massive interaction in their own group, the understanding of role-playing games was expanded by many players, and the developers rethinked with regard to game content and presentation.

In 2002, Neverwinter Nights (not identical to the game of the same name mentioned above) and Morrowind appeared , which, in addition to the graphics, were particularly noticeable because of their extensive editor. This enabled the community to partially change the game mechanics with so-called mods , but also to create new content with its own action and insert it into the game.

The current trend in computer role-playing games is, on the one hand, cross-platform games, which is often at the expense of usability and narrative style, and, on the other hand, merging with other genres, especially strategy games , adventure games and simulations .

Milestones in the field of computer role play (in chronological order)

Screenshot of Legend of Grimrock (2012), a Dungeon Master- style computer role-playing game. With a first- person perspective , real-time and grid-based game mechanics , it belongs to the role-playing sub-genre of the dungeon crawler:
left-center: view into the dungeon-like play area, to see a mushroom-like opponent behind a portcullis,
right: control area for the character group
on the bottom right : Icon representation of the character group, the objects that can be used and held in the hand for each character, red bar displays the state of health, blue the state of energy
in the middle right: Inventory of a character with an open alchemy set on the left, a healing potion is brewed
on the top right: Displays the equipment and properties worn on the body, one of the characters.
  • dnd and pedit5 (1974/75) - oldest surviving computer role-playing games, already with graphics
  • Dungeon (1976–1978) - first role-playing game with line-of-sight graphics (mostly text-based), first mainframe role-playing game
  • Rogue (1980) - first role-playing game with randomly generated worlds
  • Ultima (1981) - the model for many later role-playing games
  • Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (1981) - model for many later role-playing games
  • Hack (1982) - Rogue-like role-playing game with ASCII characters
  • The Bard's Tale (1985) - graphical standard in the representation of surroundings
  • Dungeon Master (1987) - Introduction of real-time elements and environmental interaction
  • Pool of Radiance (1988) - Tabletop-style representation of battles
  • Neverwinter Nights (AOL) (1991) - first MMORPG
  • Ultima Underworld (1992) - for the first time real 3D graphics
  • Diablo (1996) - Triggered the boom in action role-playing games
  • Baldur's Gate (1998) - role model for storytelling RPGs in a modern presentation
  • Planescape: Torment (1999) - Computer role-playing as an art form
  • World of Warcraft (2004) - most successful MMORPG to date

The game character (Avatar)

As is known from pen & paper role-playing games, a player controls one or more characters in a computer role-playing game. If the game figure can be designed largely freely and thus above all represents a representation of the player in the role-playing world, it is also referred to as an avatar . However, if it is a character with an existing personality profile and a certain role in the story of the game (often in the single player mode), one speaks more of a player character . In the early days of computer game development, there were often several controllable figures, so that specific identification was left out. This is due to the fact that role-playing rounds usually have several players in addition to the game master, and the interaction between the players themselves makes up a large part of the game. In computer role-playing games, however, this interaction did not take place until much later, so that at the beginning you often only controlled several randomly associated characters that showed a certain synergy with each other (group of players or also called party).

Depending on the type of game, the avatar is directed directly and either displayed in the field of vision itself ( third-person perspective ), or you can see the game environment through the eyes of the character (first -person perspective ). There is also a representation in which the entire group is steered and the character in charge of the game is only at the top. In most role-playing games, it is common for the player's characters to have a large number of different values, which are listed in specially designed overview screens. Typical here are, for example, physical attributes such as strength, endurance, intelligence, life energy , but also experience and training-based properties and skills such as handling certain weapons, manual skills or existing knowledge in various areas. These values ​​depend on the one hand on the set of rules used in the respective game and on the other hand on the personal decisions of the player.

Because in most computer role-playing games, the player himself decides how his avatar should be made up. At the beginning of the game he makes a decision about basic properties that will last throughout the game. Depending on the game, these decisions include the name and appearance of the avatar, its gender, its race, its role-playing class, the distribution of the main attributes, the learning of special skills or the determination of certain special features. The only restrictions are the set of rules used.

Over time, the avatar gains experience through various actions that the player performs. In a playful way, this is often implemented in such a way that the character rises to a level represented by a numerical value (also called level). During this ascent, the player usually has the opportunity again to make decisions about the further development of his character (s), to specialize or diversify them. Alternatively, there are systems in which the development of properties is trained directly through their increased application. This means that, for example, the character's ability to handle a sword increases when they use the sword in combat.

Aging and the resulting loss of skills is usually ignored in computer role play. There are very few examples, such as Darklands , in which characters get weaker with age and their skills shift, which can even lead to the natural death of the character.

In addition to development through experience, there is another important aspect in computer role-playing, namely that of equipment. The player ensures that the avatar he controls is supplied with various items of equipment that strengthen him or improve his performance. This equipment is often limited to certain key positions, which are shown on an additional screen (sometimes also pictorially). Depending on the game, the scope of equipment ranges from the weapons and armor used in the game to capes, rings, necklaces, talismans, magic and handicraft ingredients to flair objects that have no playful purpose, but are only intended to strengthen the narrative aspect.

The equipment itself can be purchased in a number of ways. Dealers often offer a basic range that allows initial equipment. If the means of payment used is an actively used control factor in the game world (i.e. it is not possible to easily access large amounts of in-game means of payment), retailers can also offer higher-quality equipment at high costs without disturbing the game balance. Another source of equipment are NPCs , which can offer various types of rewards for completing basic tasks. In addition, it is often possible to get new equipment by defeating opponents or by finding and opening chests or other containers, whereby the severity of the fight or the location of the chest often has an influence on the quality of the equipment found.

Game environment and interaction

Example of turn-based combat from an isometric perspective . The fields correspond to movement points and are similar to those of the pen & paper role-playing games. Used e.g. B. in the game The Black Eye .
The 2D RPG Blades of Exile

Due to the many different possible scenarios (implementations of books, fairy tales, myths and legends, possible future scenarios, alternative realities) that a computer role-playing game can have, there is no reliable statement about the representation of such a game. The most widespread models are on the one hand the view from above of the game world in direct top-down form or in an isometric view and on the other hand a 3D environment that can be drawn real or only in 3D. The development is currently moving in the direction of the latter representation. Movement in the game environment takes place according to the player's free will, limited only by barriers artificially created by the game. As the game progresses, there are sometimes opportunities to cross or skip already known play areas more quickly (for example, through riding or flight offers, teleportation or the offer of a new home town).

The advantage of a view from a distance is the great overview by the player and the simple representation of large numbers of figures, and there are few difficulties in placing objects, because often only one level has to be considered. The disadvantage is a certain distance to the game environment, as you do not perceive it from the first person perspective. The first person perspective offers the advantage of direct gaming experience and thus better possible identification with the game character, as well as more realistic display options in the game world itself. However, the lack of clarity and lack of group control in such environments are also a disadvantage.

Interaction with the game world often only takes place by means of so-called points of interest (these are objects that offer the player interaction options). The most obvious form are NPCs, i.e. figures that move statically or slightly interactively in the game world and represent contact persons for the player. They often only have a very limited ability to react (standard sentences that are independent of the course of the game). If the characters are relevant to the game, they can also provide information on further game objectives, give the player orders or trade with him. Objects that appear in the game world and that allow the player to influence are less obvious. This can be, for example, containers such as chests, barrels or boxes, access options or triggers for mechanisms such as levers, buttons or step plates or things that are not perceptible at first glance as an interaction object such as books on bookshelves, random stones, Furnishings such as chairs or beds and similar things.

Tasks and arguments

So-called quests , the tasks for the player, take up a large part of role-playing games . In addition to the goal of the game (sometimes not known at the beginning), which is often referred to as the main quest, you can receive a variety of smaller tasks, the side quests, from NPCs or through other offers, which are often not necessary to achieve the goal of the game, but Facilitate the way there by offering rewards in the form of in-game currency, equipment, or useful information, or advancing or clarifying the story told in the role-playing game.

These tasks are often relatively simple in nature. Particularly popular are fetching (get me X copies of them) and bringing tasks (deliver the object Y to person Z), killing tasks more targeted (defeat the villain XY) and untargeted (kill so many wolves) nature, conquest tasks (take possession of the castle ) and defense tasks (protect me while I'm doing something). How concretely the tasks are formulated depends heavily on the role-playing game; the complexity of the tasks, which consist of several steps and may require additional research, is also a decision of the game designer.

As part of these assignments, you are often involved in arguments with other characters. Most games only offer combat as an option to resolve the conflict, even if various solutions are possible in the classic pen & paper role-playing game. A fight in an RPG is fought either in real time or in a turn-based battle. In early games, the positioning of one's own playing pieces played no role, it was an abstract 'we against them' representation that dispensed with subtleties beyond the choice of actions of the characters. More modern games take the positioning into account, which is also due to the now often three-dimensional environment.

Turn-based battles are based on a fixed principle. Each figure, both your own and that of the opponent, has its turn according to a predetermined sequence (often determined by playful attributes) and may perform one or sometimes several actions (e.g. a movement, an attack, the use of an object) . This is either implemented immediately or collected and carried out in a collecting action after the decision of the last figure. In games in which movement on a battlefield in turn-based battles is possible, this is often displayed with a grid in order to be able to implement the natural limitation of the range of movement in a round. The time between actions can vary depending on the game, there are also games where a round system is used, but the player does not perceive it as such (for example Baldur's Gate or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic ), or where this is combined with real-time elements (the Active Battle System in Final Fantasy, for example).

Real-time battles can be represented in very different ways. Links with the reaction speed of the player are particularly popular, which is implemented, for example, in such a way that the player triggers the various actions of his character with a mouse click or key press while the events around them continue. Another modern form are more complex combat simulations, in which, for example, you lead the sword arm of your avatar directly and try to defeat your opponent through tactical decisions using various possible combat techniques.

In most cases, the battles are supplemented by additional abilities of the characters, such as magic (which enables the casting of all kinds of spells, which can range from direct damage or healing to influencing opponents or themselves to changing the environment), alchemy (the production and use of useful and dangerous potions) or pseudoscientific skills such as telekinesis, which have different names and effects depending on the game world.

Cultural differences

Due to cultural differences between the developer companies, different sources of inspiration of historical and mythological nature and other target groups, an imaginary separation of role-playing games was made for a long time. Among other things, differences in presentation and action, but also complexity and operation were pointed out. Since these early classifications were also to a certain extent hardware-dependent, which spread differently in individual countries, there is often an analogy to the platform used on which the respective game runs.

One therefore often speaks of western role-playing games or computer role-playing games and the eastern role-playing game or console role-playing game.

Nowadays, however, the former distinguishing features are often blurred due to cross-platform development and changes in game development and presentation in general, so that the assignment to one of the two main directions should only be understood as a focus, or one completely refrains from further categorize.

Eastern (console) role-playing games

Games in this genre are often referred to as Japanese role-playing games, Japanese RPGs or, for short, JRPGs , as this genre originated in Japan in the 1980s and 1990s . Today the region of origin is larger and mainly includes South Korea , China and Hong Kong . Depending on the country of origin, there is a slightly different style in the design of the games. The preferred platform are game consoles , which are controlled via the gamepad or similar input devices.

The graphics of Eastern role-playing games are often cartoon-like or implemented in a manga style . Often a mixture of early Far Eastern myths and legends, European representation and East Asian character design is used. The focus of these games is mainly on telling a story and on the representation and development of the main characters that the player controls. A guided running through the game is often preferred to a non-linear environment. A more detailed consideration of important non-player characters , both tend to be good as well as more negative, is within the scope of the play action and cutscenes usual, which often takes place a balanced presentation with explanations of actions from the perspective of each person concerned. The linear course of the game is often compensated by the possibility of different character choices and the resulting changes in the goal and course of the game.

Character development is largely automated, with the player making more basic decisions, mainly about equipment and armament. The game systems used are quite similar to each other, but are often redesigned for a new game. A linear progressive statistic is preferred as the basis for the game-mechanical representation of the characters and all game-internal control mechanisms are hidden from the player.

Usually the player sees the game world from a bird's eye view. In many modern Eastern role-playing games, however, the game world is also often depicted from a third-person perspective. Fights are carried out tactically and turn-based in a special view . Here the player selects the actions from a list which his characters should perform in the respective combat round.

Historically, a large part of Eastern role-playing games is based on the ports of Wizardry and Ultima , which both had great success, especially in Japan, and whose basic features can be found in most successful games. In the early days, Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy stand out, both games that are heavily based on western models, but introduce new elements in game operation and display, and have been very successful for a long time. Technological innovations such as larger storage media in the form of CDs added a trend towards extensive cutscenes and elaborate graphics. On the other hand, traditional role-playing elements were mixed with mechanisms from other genres, which, among other things, produced Pokémon , but also gave genres such as strategic role-playing game an enormous role in Asia.

Some examples of popular Eastern role-playing games:

Western (computer) role-playing games

The region of origin of this type of role-playing game is mainly America and Europe. The preferred platform is the PC ; control is usually via mouse and keyboard. The presentation is mostly realistic and comparatively sober and is in a fantasy scenario that often depicts a world inspired by the Middle Ages . The basis for this are primarily plot lines borrowed from well-known pen & paper role-playing games or background stories designed directly for the game itself. The focus of these games is often less on telling the backstory than on steering the avatar itself and its interaction with the environment. There is often a tendency towards a certain non-linearity that is only limited by "natural" obstacles (strength of opponents, access restrictions, time limits). Supporting characters and NPCs usually have little individuality and only fill generic roles in their respective environment. In addition, the typical scenarios of Western role-playing games are mostly woven into a larger framework, so that typical "The hero saves the whole world" stories, as are typical for Eastern games, rarely occur.

Character development and the decisions that go with it often take up a large part of the game. The player is often given complete freedom of action within the framework of the game mechanics and the character restrictions, depending on how he wants to develop and design his avatar. On the other hand, the development is much slower than in Eastern games, which results in more rare but more extensive development decisions. The game systems are often borrowed from older pen & paper role-playing games and are used across multiple games. In doing so, the player can in part also see how the decisions that influence the course of the game are made by displaying dice results and the like if desired.

The roots of western role-playing games lie in early adventures on university computers. Both the basic features of the display and the operation have their origin there. In addition, there is a strong influence of MUDs , which ensured the interaction aspect. The Wizardry and Ultima series were also important early sources of inspiration , although later offshoots with elements from other genres also led to influential games such as Dungeon Master or Ultima Underworld .

Some examples of popular western role-playing games:


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