Dreams from Another World

Dev Theory 1: What makes an RPG and why doesn't Littlebigplanet have more of them?

Rate this Entry

Its taken me a long time to define RPG. What the heck is it? I mean we hear it all the time in new projects, released projects and dozens of levels with the abbreviation of role playing game everywhere and I cant help but feel, we as a gaming community have forgotten the definition of RPG. Take a moment and ask yourself, "what makes a game an RPG?"

Some would say, "oh all RPGs have level up systems!". Well Call of Duty has a level up system-heck it even has a skill system, stats and customization would would come to expect from an RPG, yet we all still universally define it as an action title.

Then it hit me. Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Perhaps we cant define game genre's the same way we can say movies. If you think about it, Call of Duty and Mass Effect for instance, both have level up mechanics, gun play as the combat and a story line, yet we plug these games in two completely different genres.

Its because games are defined by their combination of game elements. We cant use a single game element to define RPGs. If we did, Fallout or Mass Effect would be categorized as action titles. Or Call of Duty and Devil May Cry would be RPG genres.

The question then becomes, well what game elements separate say Call of Duty, from the Elder Scrolls. What game elements do RPGs generally have?

Most would say, RPGs have stories and a bunch of cutscenes, but in actuality, RPGs are really identified by their gameplay mechanics, and the wieght of which those mechanics are the driving force of the game.

Here are the general unspoken rules of RPGs:

An RPG has a certain weight of story, and the user influenced development of the world and characters. Notice story is a broad term. I dont mean cutscenes. Thats a another topic entirely. An RPG could have no cutscenes and tell a great story. Development is also a loose term. MOST RPGs have a progression system for the characters. The player is directly involved with the progression of the character, but others do this through their worlds.

Lets picture this. Think about it. Why isnt Zelda an RPG? It has a story and it has development of the world and characters. What one element would turn Zelda into an RPG?

Thats easy: level ups. If Zelda added level ups or some kind of user influenced development system, it would increase the weight of which character progression is important to the gameplay experience. In our eyes, we would see the game as RPG. What if we didnt add a level system but severely increase the amount of interaction Link could have with the world and characters. Dues Ex style anyone? Yes, we would see the game as RPG. Zelda, while a great game, doesnt have enough focus on these mechanics for us to categorize it as an RPG. This is why most of us say, well Zelda is..kinda RPG. It just doesnt have enough.

So to summarize, we identify games not by thier style, but by the combination and weight of those game elements.. An RPG has a certain weight of story and user influenced character development(this includes progression usually)/world. To little of either of these can easily change the genre of the game. However RPGs as we have come to know, very creatively push the bounds of this definition, yet in the back of our minds, its really that simple.

After all that, why doesnt LBP have more RPGs? Because it takes a long time to create these combination of elements. Platformers or action games dont have to create the same elements of RPGs. And we usually pick the toughest kind. Action RPGs, which using our new criteria in defining RPG genres, are games with more dominant action elements, but still have a certain weight of recognizable RPG elements.

So yea, get a team dudes. RPGs most likely will not be completed if you go solo. We have to big of imaginations to realistically include all the elements we want. We know if we dont include the right elements, we wouldn't see the game as RPG. Yet a lot of the community doesn't like team building and thats where game development has been for some time now.

We also dont know the definition. Its not literally Role Playing Game. Technically in every game we play a role of a character or world. Its the combination of elements that we use to define RPGs. So yes, the house RPGs in LBP are not RPGs if they dont include the elements I mentioned. Most of these are simply simulators or social hubs-which may be another topic of their own.

Later dudes- thats just me blabbering again. Now go out there and make a real RPG. Remember this, too little story and progression is always bad for defining an RPG, but never too much.

Updated 11-10-2015 at 03:18 AM by Rpg Maker



  1. CuriousSack's Avatar
    Thanks a lot for these thoughts, I can only agree with you!