Monday Musings: Shooting For The Future

Apparently the future of shooters is RPGs. Or says Cliff Bleszinski. And it seems like Bioware's Ray Muzyka agrees with him. Have they both gone mad?

Bleszinski's comment stemmed from his praise of Ken Levine, the creative mind behind BioShock, in an interview with Develop. He was impressed, not just with BioShock as a game, but with how Levine managed to disguise an RPG as a first-person shooter in order to enable a strange, unconventional game to sell millions of copies.

The Epic man went on to highlight the work of designers Harvey Smith (Deus Ex, Invisible War) and Randy Pitchford (Borderlands, Brothers In Arms) and declare that the future of shooters is RPGs. Later in the interview, when quizzed on where the Gears of War series might go next, he returns to that statement... but without further elaboration.

What does Bleszinski mean? It's not entirely clear, save to say he views BioShock as an exemplar of this genre hybridisation.

Muzyka's comments do offer slightly more insight, as he told Wired:

“Genres are almost a vestige of the past,” said Muzyka. “In a way, a lot of the best shooters are RPGs as well, because they allow you to have progression, exploration, combat or conflict, and a story.”

OK, so things are now starting to take shape. I think what both developers mean is that various elements of role-playing games are bleeding deeper into other genres. They're looking at what other developers are doing across various genres and appropriating the best bits for their own use.

The thing is, RPG elements have been infecting shooters for years. (Or is it the other way around?) At launch in 1994, System Shock was - hilariously, in hindsight - damned for being a clunky clone of Doom, with its complex interface and inventory system and its emphasis on cautious exploration over trigger-happy fragfest. In reality it was a prescient vision of a gaming utopia free from the burdens of genre demarcation.

Deus Ex perfected the crossover, marrying stats-based character progression, functional stealth mechanics, meaningful dialogue options and a multitude of possible mission paths. Yet you could still play it as a shooter, even if it wasn't necessarily the best straight shooter you could play.

Muzyka told Wired he believes the defintion of an RPG to be "broad". But if he thinks it means having a strong story or letting the playing explore or having them choose some ability upgrades, he's wrong. An RPG is more than that; an RPG is focused on enabling players to decide the role they want to play. It's about choices: where to go, what to do, who to be?

The success of Call of Duty as an online multiplayer game has much to do with its co-opting of an RPG-style experience system. It encourages continued play by offering a clear path to obvious rewards. It doesn't make it an RPG though it does introduce elements of an RPG. Every new shooter needs a similar XP and class system to stand a chance of building an online community.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a shooter operating within the structure of an RPG. Fallout 3 has much in common with Deus Ex, aside from substituting the latter's linear mission structure for an explorable open world. Even Far Cry 2, while not conferring any kind of character advancement, lets you explore its world and tackle encounters at your own pace - both elements more at home in an RPG than a typical shooter.

Upcoming games like Borderlands, Mass Effect 2, Brink, Rage, Halo 3: ODST, Modern Warfare 2, BioShock 2, to name a few of the more high profile ones, are no longer quite so readily compartmentalised as strictly a shooter or an RPG. Rather, they all exist at some unspecified point on a fluid spectrum between the two labels.

So, sure, the future of shooters may well be RPGs. But also, isn't the future of RPGs looking like it's going to be shooters?

What do you think about the cross-pollination of the shooter and RPG genres? What are these hybrid games gaining and losing? And what are your favourite examples?


Comments

    I think it's a brilliant direction for "Shooters" to head for. It gives the games so much more depth and variety to the gameplay and breathes new life and replayability to the game.

    One of my favourite game is Mass Effect, a great example of a RPG FPS type game and I can't wait for Mass Effect 2 where they have refined and mixed these 2 genres together so freakin well.

    For me a game designer wants to have an addictive quality to its product. RPG elements provide that addiction through simply unlocking items and driving the player to making minor tweaks to the players character. The latest call of duty games do this perfectly. One also only has to look at the success of "Team Fortress" after its unlock/tweaking additions made it into the game.

    Mass Effect 1 would have been so much better if they'd scrapped most of the combat and made the dialogue more in depth. I don't want another freaking shooter.

    I read an article at Touche, Bitches! about a similar topic the other day. It argues that there isn't much between the two categories anyway.

    A good read -- http://www.touchebitches.com/2009/06/rethinking-categories-rpg-vs-rp-style.html

    I don't disagree with them, but honestly saying that Bioshock was an RPG is doing a disservice to RPGs, because it really isn't.

    Additionally the shooter / RPG hybrid hasn't, in my opinion, significantly advanced since Deus Ex. Lots have tried it, but it's still the top dog in that arena.

    @ttxy I also read that article at Touche, Bitches. It actually compliments this one quite nicely. Also recommend the BioShock retrospective at Critical Distance.

    For me the trappings of an RPG is the roleplaying. If you can't make any meaningful decisions, it doesn't matter how much it's dressed up, it's not an RPG.
    You can add inventory, xp, whatever the hell you like. If you aren't making decisions and shaping your character you're not roleplaying at all. You're just collecting loot and leveling.
    Fallout 3 is probably the best of the RPG to shooter conversions.
    Shooter to RPG? Probably Stalker. Maybe GTA ? *shrug*

    Nice pieace David.

    Doesn't the question of where games head really depend on the consumer. The games which sell will ultimately be the ones that get made.

    While I don't understand why, some gamers don't like the wide open spaces and self directed gameplay of open world RPG type games. The time investment in open world games is much greater than the pick up and play style of corridor shooters.

    Having said that, the games that you mention above have contributed more to the shooter than most other games that I can think of recently. But have they contributed in the same way to the RPG genre?

    @NegativeZero I don't think they are saying that BioShock is an RPG. I think the argument is that the categories need to be re-thought. In other words, it takes RPG elements. I guess at some level, they argue it could be classified as an RPG, but that isn't the upshot of the article.

    But with regard to your statement, I don't see how calling BioShock an RPG does a disservice.

    It hurts competitive multiplayer FPS.

    Adding RPG elements to an FPS takes a lot of skill out of FPS games, and in many cases, is simply a cheap tactic to make the game more addictive instead of improving the core mechanics. I am talking here about multiplayer FPS only, not singleplayer, in which it is a fantastic addition.

    One of the primary requirements of a competitive FPS game is that it should be a test of the player's skill and not a function of how much time they have spent grinding XP. When competing with an opponent in a test of skill, both players should start with a clean slate and equal stats/abilities. Persistent RPG elements that modifiy game mechanics only warp the otherwise even playing field.

    However, most developers do not really care about the hardcore/competitive multiplayer community, as the focus shifts further towards the casual gamer audience, who primarily focus on single player/co-op with mates.

      I agree. TF2 was great fun until I had to start grinding to get unlocks. It's still fun, but I feel like I am missing out without having those guns.

      But yeah like most people say, they are really just taking some of the systems that RPGs tend to use and putting them in Shooters. You can have RPGs without leveling systems and equipment upgrades, and those things do not make a shooter into an RPG.

      I don't agree with your reference to "hardcore" gamers being those that play competitively online and all other gamers are "casual" gamers.

      I think this is a very narrow view of what makes a gamer. Not all hardcore gamers play competitively nor do they need to.

        a '/' implies AND/OR

        > I think this is a very narrow view of what makes a gamer

        My entire comment was about competitive multiplayer FPS gamers, and I made no attempt to belittle other gamers. Neither did I attempt to define some sort of taxonomy of 'hardcore vs casual'. When I said 'hardcore', I meant 'competitive', and in hindsight I should not have used the word 'hardcore'.

    The thing is RPGs don't have to be about giving control over stats or exploration, they can simply be about giving control over the story your characters personality, whether shooter or not those are the kind of RPGs I like. First person shooting is a good addition to RPGs becuase usually they employ a stats based hooting system (which is what turned me of KOTR), Oblivion can technically be called an RPG shooter if you choose to use magic or archery. Basically it give better immersion and flow to game play by giving you more direct control over combat rather than a kind of dice rolling system or turn based combat. I just hope that they only take the fun game play and not the awful-non-existent storyline (Gears of War) from shooters.

    Ill also add to the comment about COD 4's RPG leveling system, I think Killzone 2 added to that by adding a Class system ontop of the Leveling system. It wasnt, by far, the first FPS to have a class system but I think it gave it an extra reason to level up.

    I'd be all for it if it didn't sound like rpgs are going the way of the point and click adventure game.

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