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Three Moves Ahead Episode 30 — Role Playing and Strategy Games

September 16th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 18 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Ever wonder what would happen to a show where Tom Chick didn’t show up to ask annoying questions? This is the answer.

PCGamer’s role playing game authority Desslock sits in with the remaining panelists to talk about how RPGs and strategy games overlap. Where is character advancement more important than story? Does Dominions 3 count as an RPG? It’s a low key and low energy discussion with only a little bit of nagging to Julian to get his turn in.

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18 Comments so far ↓

  • Steeds

    Ooh, this should be interesting! And while I love Tom’s insight and contributions, his absence means that someone else may get to finish a sentence here and there.

  • Jim H. Moreno

    Great discussion, gentlemen. Always love to hear fellow gamers talk about all those old RP games near & dear to my heart. Here’s one you guys missed, and may even want to play yourselves: Baptism of Fire: World War Two Role Play. I’ll link you to our review (http://www.armchairgeneral.com/baptism-of-fire-world-war-two-role-play-rpg-game-review.htm), and to the game’s website (http://www.blackclawgames.com/bcg2/). Thanks for the excellent netcast!

    Jim M.

  • Ligan

    I think we needed Tom on this one to mention some of those RTS+RPG games like Dragonshard and Spellforce. Which I don’t think were mentioned in the discussion. I was also a little curious as to when RTS started getting that mix of RPG-ness; I always thought Warcraft III kind of popularized this as far as having heroes with stats, levels, equipment, etc, but I haven’t played enough RTSs to say. Maybe it was actually Warlords Battlecry or something.

    Also, what about King’s Bounty: The Legend?

  • Dectilon

    Well… Roleplaying IS a substansial part of playing Dominions 3. In multiplayer at least. Diplomacy is absolutely necessary to do well, and since it’s done “by envoy” it’s become customary to roleplay your threats, bribes and suggestions as if spoken by the leader of your race.

  • spelk

    Despite the lack of ‘The Chick’, the ‘cast went well enough, although there were rather more pregnant pauses than we normally have, but you know, it gives the listener some thinking time then, and it would be at these points in the Gamers With Jobs podcast that they play some ambient soothing music. I’m not sure the Godzilla rap is going to cut the mustard on that front ;)

    I was excited to learn that this ‘cast was about RPG and Strategy gaming, because I’m primarily an RPG gamer, who likes to think he can dabble in Strategic games at times. So Desslock was dropping all the right RPG names to keep me satiated. Although there were a notable few omissions, that I thought would fit the RPG/Strategy hybrid mould, namely the Spellforce series, an RTS/RPG melding that takes it a bit farther down the RPG road than Warcraft III did. I’d also like to chip in with Timegate studios Kohan series of RTS/RPG hybrids that really did take the more higher level of strategic control of constructed companies and notions of supply.

    There are some fairly recent smaller titles such as Depths of Peril[1] and Hinterland[2] that combine action RPG with more strategic elements. In Depth of Peril you are recruiting and building a warband of men and assaulting or allying with rival warbands. In Hinterland, you’re almost playing a city builder, where your resources are gathered through forays into the wilderness, culling the monsters action RPG style and bringing the loot back to furnish your town and hire more people to staff it, defend it and to come along questing with you in your adventure party.

    Another omission, which for me is one of the stand out titles of last year, is Mass Effect. A Tactical third person shooter, with party combat mechanics, and a solid RPG story, setting and character progression. It also ticks the boxes of Desslock’s personalisation of your character, in that you can build whatever character you want visually, however there is a strong narrative that you are channeled through, still leaving the tactical and more strategic decisions up to you. Some RPG’s give you total freedom with character personalisation and you are free to roam the world about you, examples being MMO’s in general, Oblivion, Two Worlds, Fallout 3, but often you’re given an interesting character, and you are allowed to play around within the confines of their abilities, such as The Witcher and Mass Effect to some extent.

    Since most RPG’s have a tactical element to their combat, then you might be able to broadly state that most RPG’s will have a strategic bent. Any character development that is designed to counter a particular type of danger, will require strategic choices and compromises to be made.

    I’d also like to throw in the mix an example of a strategic shooter with RPG customisation mechanics, again Timegate Studio’s recently released Section 8. The game is almost a hybrid of class orientated team based shooter with an RTS deployment angle. The classes are built from the building blocks in the game, such as weapons carried, special loadouts (with explosives, repairing tools, or counter measures to other game mechanics, such as sensors, or anti-airbourne guns), and passive modules that act as armour & shield boosters, or run speed, or damage done, delays on detection etc. This blend of RPG-like class building, sits in very well with roles played out on the battlefield, in order to capture territory, and to complete a variety of team generated missions and events. Every troop class can also buy deployables, such as repair stations, sensor arrays, gun and missile turrets, anti-air turrets, as well as melee orientated heavy armour, or heavy vehicle as the 4 man tank. These deployables require an element of tactical savvy, to place them in the environment to construct killzones and chokepoints, safe areas, and block enemy troops from burning in from their orbital dropship. I hold this up as a prime example of a three way hybrid that works very well on a tactical and strategic level, but also includes the RPG customisation of your troop, along with class based team work with your fellow players and tops it off with action from the first person shooting genre. So, Section 8 is a Strategy/RPG/Shooter hybrid.

    Looking forward to Tom’s return, next week.

    [1] http://www.soldak.com/Depths-of-Peril/Overview.html
    [2] http://www.hinterland-game.com/

  • Gor

    Really enjoy this podcast but the whole discussion of the proper definition of rpg is one of the most pointless possible.

    If what we want is non diffuse definitions of roleplaying ,strategy and adventure we should see them all as part of the enjoyment you can get out of games and not in reality proper genres.

    Any way you try to invent rules defining a proper roleplaying game gives you a long list of exceptions from the rules

  • Paul

    Just dropping by to say that the entire podcast I was waiting for you guys to mention SpellForce, but it seems other comments already have pointed this out.

    Tom-less, but still interesting. A little editing couldn’t hurt, though Troy. Some of those pauses were quite long.

  • Desslock

    Spellforce and King’s Bounty were definitely notable omissions that I can’t believe I forgot to mention. Sorry about the babbling – Bruce and I were operating on about 3 hours sleep between Toronto Film Festival shindigs.

  • Animesh

    Would “Mount & Blade” count as a strategy-RPG combination?

  • Ginger Yellow

    Kind of weird that, having spent an entire episode explaining how the Sims is a strategy game, it didn’t come up in this conversation at all. It seems to fit Desslock’s criteria for an RPG perfectly.

    Also a bit disappointed that there was no mention of Valkyria Chronicles, although I suppose it would fall foul of his anti-JRPG stance. And, to be fair, you don’t have a great deal of choice in what you do with your character beyond the timing of upgrades.

  • Desslock

    Yeah, I’d put Valkyria Chronicles in the “adventure-strategy” category, like Fire Emblem. There’s a story, and there’s units that develop, but there’s no personalized roleplaying.

    I’m not really anti-JRPG, btw -they’re the same type of game as tabletop or traditional PC RPGs, and accordingly they don’t appeal to me – but I don’t have anything against them any more than I do “driving games”, which also don’t interest me, or graphical adventure games (even great ones) like Grim Fandango.

    There are some games that aren’t RPGs that I think have more RPG depth than many games that bear that label, such as Star Control 2 and GTA: San Andreas, STALKER — I think those are better RPGs than any JRPG I’ve ever played, because although they lack character development (arguably SC2 has that even, through ship development), they offer more opportunities to “do what you want,how you want, when you want” and roleplay a personalized alterego in a manner of your own choosing.

  • Desslock

    oops, typo – meant to say “I’m not really anti-JRPG, btw -they’re JUST NOT the same type of game as tabletop or traditional PC RPGs, and accordingly they don’t appeal to me”

  • DavyRam

    While I’m no big JRPG fan I can’t help but feel insisting they aren’t “real” RPGs every time they come up is a little pedantic. When people talk about computer RPGs they’re going to mean “game with a story where you level up” regardless of if there’s any meaningful roleplaying in it, much in the same way nobody would quibble with calling indie games like Aveyond a JRPG even though they’re not Japanese, or refusing to call disgaea a strategy game game because its tactical in scale. Try to fight every etymological battle is a quick way to drive both yourself and those around you to madness.

    One thing that comes up with these kinds of games is “can you have a one-man strategy game?”. This particularly comes up with bioware rpgs. There is no doubt that Baldurs Gate has a strategic element. You have total control over a six man force, you decide who they attack first, what spells they use on who, who does the tanking role, etc. Come to something like kotor where (my memory may be playing tricks on me here) you have less direct control over your party members and the AI does most of the fighting. You now have less control over where your resources, in the form of the parties’ efforts, go, does that make the game less strategic? Then you have NWN 1 (shudder) where you have no control over your sole and NPC, and then the Witcher, which is entirely an action game in its combat. At what point, if any, do we stop claiming these RPGs have a strategic element?

  • Scott R. Krol

    I’m surprised in a discussion on strategy/RPGs that the most excellent Knights of the Chalice did not come up. Pure retro goodness, pretty much nothing but strategic (technically tactical I suppose) combat using tweaked OGL mechanics.

    Twilight: 2000 was actually GDW, not TSR. There was also a computer game you can find on abandonware sites and recently Twilight: 2013 was released. 2013 is a different publisher naturally since GDW does not exist anymore but is basically Twilight: 2000 reworked to fit in with recent history (e.g. going from the Cold War to today’s terror threat) and I believe entirely different mechanics.

    Twilight: 2000 had a terrible combat system (actually, most of the game was terrible for a number of reasons, most of which boil down to it seemed like no one actually playtested it to see if all the math and formulas actually provided logical results). Small arms combat was pretty much simply rolling a % to hit and then rolling damage. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was for some reason they went from a quick and easy system for man on man combat to an extremely annoying system for vehicular combat. If you’re shooting at a vehicle you’d figure out penetration, angle, what systems were then damaged, et cetera.

    That was all 1st edition. From what I understand 2nd edition threw out/reworked a lot of things folks complained about and overall made the system much more streamlined but I’ve never played 2nd. It may actually be better.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Oh, forgot to talk about Aces & Eights before hitting submit.

    Someone mentioned Boot Hill. Aces & Eights from Kenzer, besides being an absolutely gorgeous looking book (make sure you get the leatherbound edition) the combat system is very detailed orientated. The neat thing is you use a plastic overlay to truly pick out where you’re trying to shoot your opponent. If you’re not interested in doing a RPG they also sell Showdown, which is just the combat rules so you can create your own Wild West tactical/RPG scenarios.

    Before Aces and Eights there was a RPG called Millennium’s End (Chamleon Eclectic) that used a similar concept for combat with players using a clear overlay on target silhouettes.

  • Sören Höglund

    Well, on the one hand, it’s sort of nice to have an episode with a lot less “I’m sorry, you go ahead. – No, I’m finished”. On the other hand Tom’s girlish enthusiasm does give the proceedings a lot more energy.

  • Thomas Kiley

    I agree with Ginger Yellow, the Sims meets the create a character, guide it though a story but make the decisions criteria perfectly. I would more readily challenge the strategy aspect of it than the RPG element.

    Also, as you touched on, “role playing” isn’t a very helpful term literally as most games you play a role, be it a commander of a foot soldier.

    I also wonder where you draw the line between strategy game and strategic gameplay. For example, in Halo (on harder difficulties at least) there is a certain amount of strategy in planning your attack, but it isn’t a strategy game. Surely it is where the focus lies, and therefore Fallout 3 is not a hybrid because there is not very much focus on the strategy at all. A hybrid surely needs approximately a 50:50 split.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Oh, can’t believe I failed to mention my boss’ RPG/strategy game, 101st Airborne in Normandy.
    You can still find it around.