Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Computer RPGs vs The Other Kind

  • More disagreeing going on. Adam says "CRPG's are better than tabletop RPG's". Tough room for that take. but here we go:

  • Zak

  • Hey Adam

  • Adam

  • Hey Zak

  • Zak

  • So I was going to say TTRPGs were better than CRPGs because TTRPGs involve other people more BUT then I realized the exact same argument could be raised against reading books. And reading books is great.

  • So then I started thinking about the idea of niches, like, of all those three things I'd probably rather play a ttrpg any day of the week, but realistically that can't always happen and when you're alone on the bus, books fill that niche better than a lot of things. So then the question for me is: Is there a situation in the world when the crpg is ideal? Probably, yeah. But: Better? Really?

  • Your turn.

  • Adam

  • A good start! I also had a similar thought, that it's the people that make a difference. But if you consider multiplayer CRPG's such as World of Warcraft, then you are playing with other people.

  • As for CRPG's being a better experience, I would say that they are a step up from a linear activity, such as reading a book, because you are interacting with the game and the game's story. Presuming it has one. A well-crafted CRPG can be like reading a choose your own adventure, but better because you can have random factors involved. Plus a more visual and audio experience.

  • A CRPG is also a finished product, with a very tight constraint on what activities and actions are possible. This is of course the nature of computers; they can only do what they are designed to do. If something happens the designer/engineer didn't expect, which is called "emergent behavior" at times, it's actually a bug. The fact it may have a favorable outcome is irrelevant. A lot of proceduerally generated games, dating back to Rogue and it's successor Nethack, to current games like Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft, and No Man's Sky, look great but if you play them long enough you can see the constraints and the limits of what it can do.

  • So why are limits good? Because they let you test and ensure the given product works and works well. You can write a battle test simulator and run your CRPG engine through tens of thousands of battles and test every permutation. I actually found with my CRPG work that statistics was probably one of the most overlooked and sorely needed mathematical skills, because you want to ensure that game challenges are balanced and well spread out. Even with a year of manual testing I still didn't find everything, but with statistical models I could feel reasonably confident that it was playable and not too difficult.

  • With a TTRPG, you can certainly do things NO computer ever could do. No computer could ever off-the-cuff decide to just say "+2 to the roll". At the same time, though, a computer could take into account many hundreds of more factors and formulas than is possible in a table top game. All of the complex combat rules that AD&D 1st edition proposed like weapon speed, armor and weapon types having different AC values contextually, etc. could be easily done with a computer. In some ways, looking at older TTRPG's such as Rolemaster with the thousand different charts, a lot of game designers of the early era dreamed of such a system.

  • Zak

  • All of those mathematical factors seem less important to me than: graphics, music, the quiet of interacting with a story alone. And those are the things that I'd weigh against the fun of interacting with other people in a ttrpg.

  • "But if you consider multiplayer CRPG's such as World of Warcraft, then you are playing with other people."--yeah but absolutely not  in the same way. Like, they aren't generally in the room and it's more fun if they're in the room.
  • -
  • A 2-4 person CRPG that you play splitscreen, that I can see competing with a TTRPG in the same niche.
  • (This looks great)

  • Adam

  • Funny enough, in the early 80's the first CRPG my brother and I played was Tunnels of Doom, which was a party dungeon crawl type game. And we'd take turns moving each character around, just both sitting at the computer at the same time. You don't see that happen these days anymore.

  • Zak

  • Realm of Impossibility was a 2-player crawler. I suppose Gauntlet was like that, too.

  • The closest I can think to a modern 4-player RPG is Mario Party and--honestly--sometimes that is as fun as a TTRPG. 

  • Adam

  • Cooperative play being a key, I think. Competitive play is just another "me verses them" type game, less interesting.

  • Zak

  • I dont mind competitive, I just like having friends in the room.

  • Adam

  • Had not heard of Realm of Impossibility before, very cool, gotta check that one out.

  • Zak

  • I like a party, but I also like books.

  • But given a choice: isolated fun is, like, less rare. You're always going to have time to be alone with a game or a book, you won't always be able to get a bunch of friends over for a game.

  • Adam

  • So you feel the crux of what makes TTRPG's more fun is that you participate with other people.

  • And that the fact it's not easy to get people together, even if a pandemic wasn't going on, makes it a rarer form of fun.

  • Zak

  • I think that's basically the size of it.

  • Adam

  • So maybe that's the big difference. I like TTRPGs but I like that I can play a CRPG without other people more. It may just come down to a preference for entertainment.

  • My brother is the opposite. He likes CRPGs but he has run TTRPGs weekly since he was a teenager.

  • Part of it for me is when TTRPGs are bad, they are really bad. Killer or egotistical DMs, selfish players who want the game to revolve around them... people can be both the best and worst part of the experience.

  • Where a computer, well, it can be boring and badly written or buggy, but you can turn it off and do something else without hurting feelings or causing drama.

  • Zak

  • That honestly just sounds like you saying you can't find a group's worth of people that you like.

  • Adam

  • True. It may be that the preference of a computer over people is basically a failure to find a good gaming group. Or just an introvert's philosophy. A person can hurt you but with a computer it's not personal.

  • For the record I do play in two TTRPGs a week. One my good friend runs, Runequest for the last 3 years but we are doing Traveller (Mongoose) for a bit. And my brothers game, 5E for a long while but we switched to GURPS 4th for a lark yesterday. We played a LOT of GURPS in the 90s

  • So I got gaming groups. I just still like CRPGs more. Which I suppose is a commentary on the quality of my gaming groups.

  • Zak

  • Well in those games do you experience "Killer or egotistical DMs, selfish players who want the game to revolve around them."?

  • Adam

  • I do not. DMs are good, players are not selfish. I enjoy the sessions but I would burn more hours on Skyrim in a sitting than I would in one of the tabletop sessions.

  • Zak

  • Ok, so, cropping out all those problems then: Does that mean you'd -rather- play Skyrim? Or is that just how the logistics turn out?

  • Adam

  • Hmmm... well given that tabletop RPGs are, as said, not on demand and require timing and organization, whereas you can play a CRPG anytime, I think it is a case that the entertainment that is harder to do is worth doing over the one that is doable anytime.

  • With the caveat that the tabletop game is up to scratch. If it's boring or frustrating and feels like a waste of time to participate in, that can change things.

  • Zak

  • Let's simplify the scenario:
  • Let's say we're both professional ttrpg playtesters working for a fantastically diverse and laid-back game company. Our orders are "Play any of our many trpg games you want, whenever you want, we'll pay your friends to play with you--but this is a fixed salary no matter how much playing you do. If you notice anything: great, tell us, but no rush, no need to fill out any forms."

  • So, the idea here is: you and your friends can tabletop all you want with no logistical difficulties and no time-management problems. In this world, I assume we would probably also want to be alone with a game sometimes and not do this work (we're on salary, so more work =/= more pay). But how often?

  • Personally, if I could always play a tabletop game when I wanted I might check out a CRPG once a year.

  • Adam

  • Hmmm...

  • Zak

  • also, for the sake of argument, let's say the CRPG is ALSO part of the job--just to make it simple

  • Adam

  • Ah so either qualifies for the paid feedback?

  • Zak

  • Yeah. You live in a game paradise. Logistics are not a thing, you want a game you got one.

  • Adam

  • I would probably be like 65/35 CRPG/TTRPG in that scenario. And that is partly because I am at heart a software engineer. I do that for a living and when I was a kid I wanted to write computer games for a living. I wouldn't want to exclude TTRPGs because they do have value. Both as a social thing and because I recognize you can do things with them no computer can do.

  • And diversity is critical to learning. More often that not the best inspirations for things come from areas that aren't commonly explored.

  • Like reading a different genre of books for ideas to write a story in a divergent genre. It's the only way to break out of tropes and overused ideas.

  • Zak

  • All that makes sense: you're saying you're a software engineer so the CRPG is inherently going to make you want to, at the minimum, spend more time with the CRPG than the TTRPG just because of your interests. I think that it's fair to say that, yes, for you, CRPGs are more interesting, or could be.

  • I can't dispute that.

  • Adam

  • Exactly. When I first saw a CRPG I wanted to know how they drew those graphics, how they made a story engine that could support multiple paths, how they managed a complex battle system, and so forth.

  • Mind you, I envy the artist who can draw with their hand the image in their brain. My own drawing skills are laughably juvenile. I had a high school art teacher tell me my brushstroked signature looked like a 1st graders.

  • Given as a lefty my handwriting was always horrid, it's no wonder I gravitated towards a keyboard. Which doesn't judge or care how you write or draw.

  • Zak

  • I often think it'd be nice to know how to make a computer game.

  • Adam

  • It is a challenge to be sure but one that is not impossible for anyone. People are are so intimidated by computers (and math) they think they can't do it. One of the reasons as a software engineer I make six figures a year. I am always honestly surprised by that.
  • And like drawing, it's all about practice. You just need to do a lot of it until you get good at it.

  • And as for math, algebra and sets & logic are the only real requirements. Calculus helps, mainly the idea "You can make your own formulas, you don't have to rely on other people's stuff" is the biggest takeaway.

  • Zak

  • Well I don't have the time. But I'm glad some people do.

  • Adam

  • Fair enough. I for one wish I could draw something that doesn't look like a child's scrawl. Maybe after retirement I'll have the time to practice.


Simon Tsevelev said...

There are, of course, advantages in both. In CRPGs you get the art, the music, the whole shebang all prepacked for you, and you don't need to share the pizza with it. If you're not a person who likes to hang out with people (like myself), the advantages of CRPG are impressive.
That said, playing "Panic in Cobra City" is fun, but I'm pretty sure it's better to play D&D with porn stars.

Benjamin Cusack said...

Roguelikes, real roguelikes, have tons of emergent properties.
Stuff like shiren, stone soup, Moira, dwarf fortress, and others all have as much complexity of mechanical input from a strictly rule-based perspective.
So it is not the rules that make a proper rpg stronger, but rather the absence.
In a crpg, you can only use rules.
This makes them inherently worse if your metric is complexity and depth.
As you two discussed though, mechanics were not the only quality you measured the standard to.

Adamantyr said...

Also, if you want to check out Tunnels of Doom, it's available for free in the Classic99 emulator.

For 1982, it's a pretty impressive 3D exploration / 2D turn based tactical combat game with randomly generated dungeons and levels. Definitely a piece of CRPG history.

CastlesMadeofSand said...

CRPGs over TTRPGs is madness unless you don’t like hanging out with people.
In dnd, I’m a baker-turned-level-one-thief with personal character motivations and 3 possessed goats to my name and while adventuring, if I’m just creative enough, I can find a way to utilise my character’s past in baking (and/or goats) to save my life from certain death against a red dragon or something. When comparing two types of role-playing games I feel that the one with which the act of role-playing itself is more meaningful makes it the ‘better’ one.
Add to this that you can use real-world logic as the base language with which you collaboratively problem-solve instead of the game’s move-set and finding clever/skillful uses thereof in a video game (when playing multiplayer, this becomes ‘combos’)

Adamantyr said...


No disagreement with that. TTRPGs can be dynamic and creative in ways most computers can't do.

Or is it just a technical challenge to figure out? That's what my software engineer brain does, it says "Well let's look at this... maybe that's solvable."

If you look at TTRPG products like Central Casting, it's totally possible to categorize backgrounds, traits, character motivations in ways that with machine learning you could have a computer provide options and plots based upon your input. Maybe not perfectly but maybe good enough.

Kyle T said...


This sounds like something Caves of Qud is starting to approach.

Adamantyr said...

I hadn't heard of Caves of Qud before. They're very clearly inspired by Dwarf Fortress! Another one like it is Legerdemain.

I really need to play all of these... more Dwarf Fortress as well. One of my favorite reviews of DF was by Greg Costikyan, who said it's almost a game from an alternate universe where computers never developed graphics past an 80-column text screen.

McCabre said...

Long article and I started skimming fast which is kinda dick but if you have PS4 you can play divinity 2 with split/shared screen and it's pretty straightforward classic rpg

Possibly in the discussion but you can have different kinds of stories with the inherent commitment to ending the campaign by crpg designers and inability of one player to hijack the game/narrative/tone or whatever the way power personalities tend to

Losing "the other people in the room" is a nice opportunity for less assertive friends of mine who tend to get overwhelmed or overpowered when the loud ones get too excited

I'm a loud one so it's fine for me but even then sometimes I get tired

Zak Sabbath said...


Well playing without other people in the room might allow the shy introvert to interface with the game more--but that's not always what they want. A lotof time the quiet ones still want to hang out.

Jim R said...

Part of the problem is that for some large fraction of the playerbase pre-Eternal September (just about), any type of RPG was not primarily a social experience, or was degraded by the social experience (either because the person had poor social skills or had interests in the game that were at odds with the social aspects of the game, like self-centered powergaming).

So CRPGs served to take them out of the TTRPG market, but some fraction of games on the market didn't really adjust to this reality. They still provided a ton of tools that were centered around antisocial/social-agnostic gaming styles.

(Arguably, the whole Storygame movement was a (very broken) attempt to address this dynamic that petered out because lots of the people involved were more into the social meta layer of their own insular and incestuous community than they were into actually designing or playing games. You know the score there.)

One of the reason I keep coming back to D&D is that it stands right at the intersection of those two styles, and provides more support for a social gaming experience if you're willing/able to apply yourself to bending it in that direction.

(See also; the mountainclimber's distinction between 'type I' (fun now) and 'type II' (not fun now, fun in retrospect) fun. Some people are just very focused on their type II fun.)

Zak Sabbath said...

@Jim R

I think StoryGamers are totally blind to social anything--they consistently assume writing the rules properly will guarantee a specific experience.

Jim R said...

Well, yeah, I'm being charitable; I tend to exclude grossly stupid behavior or nonsense assumptions just because you can't say a lot productively about them, and because I'm more interested in the idea I think is productive to argue about (that post-CRPG TTRPGs have to become *more* social to remain relevant).

But I basically agree with that take, yes.

Nerzenjäger said...

There's an AI somewhere on the web--your google-fu will help you--that already reacts quite impressively to your input like a Game Master would. Tried it before they slightly restricted the access for bandwidth reasons, but it was very impressive. It felt like a text adventure without pre-scripting and that can interpret all, not just limited, input.

Fredrick Rourk said...

Zak have you played D&D in VR Chat yet?
How about in RecRoom?

We can make a whole Gaming House with a gaming table and chairs. If need be we can switch the world to a dungeon or whatever setting. It could turn into a mix of table top and live action.

Zak Sabbath said...


I have not

ᶘ ᵒ㉨ᵒᶅ Rusty James said...

I worked at Texas Instruments lmao

Arfarf said...

It's one of the major reasons why I absolutely prefer to prioritize playing D&D with new folk that haven't picked up bad habits from ivory tower design TTRPGs. It's also a weird genetic legacy in a game like 5e, and despite (good, but misdirected) metagame effort to stop gatekeeping, it's fundamentally at odds with its WOTC lineage.