GDC 07: 360 developers on the future of RPGs

Sakaguchi, Molyneux, and Muzyka discuss the past, present, and future of role-playing games at Microsoft GDC warm-up event.

While Blue Dragon, Fable 2, and Mass Effect are three strikingly distinct games in style, setting, and execution, they are all considered role-playing games. Microsoft today gathered the men behind these games--Mistwalker's Hironobu Sakaguchi, Lionhead Studios' Peter Molyneux, and BioWare's Ray Muzyka, respectively--to discuss "The Evolution of RPG Development" in a 40-minute panel moderated by GameHead host Geoff Keighley.

With the lines between RPGs and other genres becoming increasingly muddied, Keighley asked each member of the panel what makes a game an RPG. Muyzka broke down the BioWare approach to RPGs as a game resting on four activity pillars: great stories and characters, a sense of exploration and awe, addictive character progression, and combat that evokes feelings like fear--all of which feed into one another.

In just one of many moments of mutual admiration that dotted the panel, Molyneux said he agreed with absolutely everything Muzyka said, adding that he was "completely, 100 percent correct." However, Molyneux's definition of a role-playing game focused less on the mechanics and more on the tone of the game.

"For me, it comes back to this one simple phrase," Molyneux said. "'Role-playing game.' You are playing a role. What I want to experiment with is to say, 'What should it feel like to be a hero? To start off as nothing and end up being a hero? That is an emotional journey you're going through, and that's my real focus."

Speaking through a translator, Sakaguchi said what he is trying to accomplish with his RPGs is "to tell a great storyline and [offer] characters and a world view that players can relate to." He also brought up a sense of exploration and accomplishment as key factors for RPGs.

All three developers brought up telling a story and creating an emotional connection with the player as primary goals, but their approaches to achieve those goals differ in a number of key areas. Sakaguchi's Blue Dragon is a traditional Japanese RPG with turn-based combat, but the developer said he is working on a few other projects (Cry On for the Xbox 360 as well as a pair of unannounced RPGs) that were "based on new, different ideas," suggesting he will be venturing outside of the turn-based realm in the future.

Molyneux said Lionhead committed to real-time combat with Fable simply because the team felt it made for a more immersive experience. Muzyka, meanwhile, said Mass Effect and previous BioWare titles have crafted a flexible merger of turn-based and real-time combat in order to accommodate the individual player's tastes.

Following up on that subject, Keighley asked the developers what the future holds for customizable characters and other player-controlled gameplay experiences. Sakaguchi admitted such customization was fun and expects the trend to continue, but he expressed little interest in using it in his own games. He said that movies can tell great stories and reflect a creator's worldview specifically because their characters and story are set in stone.

Molyneux and Muzyka were both warmer to the idea of player customization and characters that evolve uniquely for each gamer, but the two diverged on the idea of branching storylines. Molyneux said he likes the idea, but had a good deal of concern that players would always worry they had made the wrong choice or missed something because of the path they took through the game. Muzyka countered that it was instead a good thing if two players had several different paths through a game, since that would make them feel as if their choices actually mattered and would make the game more replayable.

Keighley's last question to the panel centered on the incorporation of online multiplayer gameplay into the RPG genre. Sakaguchi said he was fond of the idea, noting his work on Final Fantasy XI, and then said he hoped to do another one with the approval of Microsoft Game Studios Genreal Manager Shane Kim. With Kim watching the panel from the back of the room, Sakaguchi had the opportunity to put him on the spot.

"Please Shane, I want to make it," Sakaguchi said in English.

"Whatever you want," Kim responded as the audience laughed.

Ever the opportunist, Molyneux followed suit, asking, "Could I do one as well, Shane?"

One more "whatever you want" later, Molyneux said he found the potential of online role-playing games enormously exciting and "would love to talk about that in great, enormous detail, but I have been gagged by lots of people."

Muzyka also weighed in on the issue, giving a little insight into a future BioWare offering.

"We're very excited [about] where massively multiplayer games are going, because the story that develops between players--the social interaction--is a different kind of story, something you can't achieve in a single-player game. So what if you fused the concepts that great RPGs have built in terms of a great storyline and the emotional impact on players, and you put that into an MMO? That's what we're building at BioWare Austin."

During a short Q&A session following the main panel, the participants were asked if they thought there was a place for modern-day RPGs that dealt with more intimate (mundane, some would say) issues than the ordinary fare. Muzyka downplayed the idea, calling RPGs "aspirational fantasies," saying players wanted to be anything but mundane, a hero or an antihero.

"Either way, you want to be someone you can't be in real life, I think," Muzyka said, adding, "For me the exciting thing is to be able to do things I can't do every day."

Molyneux similarly stressed the player's need to feel important or to be a hero, but noted that it was possible to set that sort of story in today's world. He referenced an idea for a game he calls Dmitri--which he said he can't talk about--which is based on the premise of being a hero in today's world. Molyneux also pointed to TV shows like 24 and Lost as possible models of contemporary stories featuring larger-than-life heroes.

Sakaguchi diverged from his fellow panelists on the issue of more mundane RPGs, saying he'd spent the last decade kicking around an idea for such a game. The hypothetical game involved a schoolboy's attempts to get back together with his ex-girlfriend, but Sakaguchi said "it's pretty tough." When pressed for an explanation of why it's so tough, Sakaguchi and his translator huddled for nearly a minute before emerging with a terse, "We'll do it someday."

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Discussion

167 comments
amhero15
amhero15

I liked the Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf, but it's rated M. I just wished that these companies would create games that everyone can play, not exclusively for the twenty-year olds sitting in their rooms with nothing better to do.

ghettokid15
ghettokid15

They all have there strenghts in creating different ttypes of rpg. I think one day they will come to together and make the ultimate rpg that the world has every seen.

can0of0cheese
can0of0cheese

I miss Nwn1 and Diablo 2 and Icewind dale 2, those where the days. Kotor was alright too i guess and what happened to Bards tale? Not to mention Morrowind, Oblivion may have the looks but it's so plain that it's simply isn't worth it without at least 30 mods. Nwn 2 has so many buggs and all the chars look fugly. Well at least heroes five is playable.

oraledeaki
oraledeaki

I think Sakaguchi has made some of the greatest rpg ever.... but he should really reconsider to keep using that old old turn based stile.... i mean.. it´s good but we´ve seen too much of that for the last 10 or 15 years... so Sakaguchi MOVE ON¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡

eric7233
eric7233

If oblivion had random and turn based battles it would not be anywhere near being at its current statis of greatest role playing game in mankinds history. Alot of rpgs are in a fantasy setting but for a game to suddenly throw you into a battle where 4 monsters appear out of thin air that werent there before ..that just throws me way out of the world i may or may not have been immersed in 10 seconds ago. If im a guy wandering around and some bad guys approach me i should see them coming( if they are approching form the front) and decide i want to attack them or attempt to run if the situation calls for it..etc....

Julesmaester
Julesmaester

RPGS are evolving. Fast. That may mean that some elements get lost in the progress but change is good especially for reaching to a wider audience

majestikk
majestikk

3 different RPG's with 3 different styles, all I'll be looking forward to playing, however Mass Effect I'm the most giddy about. Well let's not forget about the 4th style of RPG, which is Oblivion (one of my faves) RPG's will never die out. We still have the classics like Zelda and the FF franchise.

jmartinez1983
jmartinez1983

This discussion was very interesting, you really got to see some very different ideas about RPGs that are all perfectly viable. Personally, I've grown very fond of BioWare's RPGs, thoroughly enjoying KOTOR and NWN, and salivating at the videos of Mass Effect. To me, the biggest deal about RPGs lately has been the ability to forge your own adventure, so I'd say I'm moving away from the traditional JRPG, though by far FFVI remains my favorite RPG of all time. Before you could forge your own unique adventure it was all about the most compelling and engaging story, that's why FFVI was so great, you get into that game and you actually feel attached to your characters, like Terra and Setzer, even though you can't change their fate. In a game like Mass Effect you can make decisions and that makes things even better as you might actually feel bad for doing certaint things. Like in KOTOR I know I had a few bad feelings when as a DJ I'd steal or cheat someone, amazing to get that kind of reaction from a game indeed. Keep up the good work guys!

FelodinQuard
FelodinQuard

From what ragincoley86 said is true,a lot of japanese rpgs have stayed away from the factor of role, but many west rpgs are lack of something else:the good story and the fellowship of a party. Elements that they are also critical in Dungeons & Dragons the source of role playing

FelodinQuard
FelodinQuard

Some people dosnt seem to understand again WHO SAID ABOUT ACTION RPGS i dont like action rpgs much for the same reason you mentioned, because i like strategy and the ability to control a party of charachters, have you played FFXII? its not turn based and it has very strategic combat

Silicon_Noob
Silicon_Noob

Action rpgs are fun and make grinding fairly painless, but with more and more rpgs taking this road I really hope were not going to see an end to turn based rpgs because nothing beats comin' up gainst a huge boss and having to devise a careful strategy to beat them, as opposed to the button mashing of action rpgs.

FelodinQuard
FelodinQuard

ffgamer87 who said that we want rpg genre to become action?what the people want is rpgs with real time battle systems, for example FF xii is not an action rpg because you simply giving commands through any character with some customized automatic help, rpg genre doesnt intend to be action all the way (from a japanese perspective), it just tryng to envolve and look more realistic. If you are closed mind and you dont like this, then you are very unlucky because unfortunatly Sacaguchi the turn based hardcore, just stated that he plans some fresh new ideas for the future

ragincoley86
ragincoley86

ffgamer87 actually FF games have travled away from what TRUE rpgs are suppose to mean. Nowadays people think turn based rpgs are "traditional" well in all actuality these games stay away from the "r" in rpg. You use to be able to pick your roles in D&D and games like that. This is where the tern rpg comes from.

ffgamer87
ffgamer87

Those comments about turn-based rpgs are totally whack! i mean thats messed up, all of u are basically dissing the final fantasy games that were incredible in their time and even now!! So u all are tellin me u didnt enjoy the previous FF like 7, 8 and 9? Now, those are the RPG's that showed true magic, those games are True RPG's. Action-rpgs are good, but thats gettin to be in every RPG game now because they trying to replace turn-based RPGs and doesnt have they same feel to it. If u like action so much in an RPG game, JUST PLAY ACTION GAMES, DUH! I believe that once u got into the pace of the game, people will enjoy the turn-based gameplay, its still true u can have strategies in a turn-based game, u just gotta be a patient gamer (which i suspect most of u aren't) Alot of u guys sed that the random battles were 'annoying', i guess the reason for that is ur characters would be to weak so u cant make it across a field safely (wimps) and its harder to run from a random battle that than in an action rpg game :) Turn-based battles tend to get boring, but so do the other types of battle, so not much of an argument there. In the end, i wanna see more games like final fantasy 1 - 9, they were are the true definition of what RPG's should be like, and modern RPG's is a bunch of crap, if u wanna play real life, get the heck outta ur room and go outside!!!!!Why the hell would u wanna play out the stress of real life in a game, u play a game to get away from all of it! (unless ur twisted in the head) i hope a game company look at this and understand there are still hardcore and old-school gamers who hope for these kind of RPG games and make them. whew! thats a load of my mind...

UrbanMessiah
UrbanMessiah

No more linear gameplay, more character customization and no more turn based combat is the way of the future for RPGs. Linear stories with pre-made characters and turn based fighting was OK for lesser generation systems because that was all they were really capable of way back then. But with these monster consoles like the 360 and PS3, and even the Wii to some extent, the import style games in the old FF vein from Square simply just don't cut it any more. RPG makers, feel free to tell me a story, but don't lock me down with it! Let me experience it and enjoy it more by giving me some freedom to do things MY way! -=x

diesil
diesil

id buy any game off the same people that made KOTOR

BOSSMAN_2004
BOSSMAN_2004

MASS EFFECT looks AWSOME and I'm def. going to buy it the day it comes out!

Hoopin4thelove
Hoopin4thelove

BrazenFlame you are so right. turnbased games make me fal asleep, and also all3 of em are right. id love to see a super project by all 3 of em sponsored by MS

BrazenFlame
BrazenFlame

KILL TURN BASED COMBAT Moleyneux is right real time makes for a more immersive experience.. Turn based makes it feel more like the player is an audience to the game rather than that they are involved in the game. i want to see KOTOR with fable combat and yes modern day rpg = sweet but i still like fantasy and magic and that stuff and also i like cool swords

FelodinQuard
FelodinQuard

Finally Sacaguchi you understand, after you saw the progress in FF XIII or Shirokishi and after Blue dragon approved failure, you desided to make something new and get away from the turn based, well i ll bet you do this because unfortunately you have a good composer at your side

ShirkDawg
ShirkDawg

I think a modern RPG could be great depending on what they use as the setting. I prefer fantasy generally but I like fresh stuff like Earthbound once in awhile.

Katosepe321
Katosepe321

hmm... I love fantasy RPG's but i'm curious, too, about what a modern day RPG would be like. The TV show heroes perhaps??? obviously not that exact story but something along those lines would be pretty cool.

RtX_311
RtX_311

I luv it that there getting the idea that people want RPG's set in more modern times...dont get me wrong i luv Fable and am faithfully awaiting Fable 2..but sumthing a lil bit more modern will set RPG's off in Aus....

Cabose420
Cabose420

i hope Fable 2 is longer and more custamizable than the first, and a better story as well.

vanhalendlrband
vanhalendlrband

Turn based, can't wait for Blue Dragon. I want more and more and more, i want hundreds of turn based RPG's for 360 wooooooohoooooooooooooo i'm goin insane that they're even having discussions like this for the 360, i think they're finally getting the clue about RPG's and system survival, espescially in Japan.

yukine
yukine

I agree, awesome interview.

ElectrolightSH
ElectrolightSH

I hope Fable 2 is open ended like Oblivion and not so linier.

thewesman
thewesman

Great Interview. I have been looking forward to these three games for a long time now. Something they didn't cover was the future of 360's new features such as downloadable content and achievements. I noticed online play was also kindof brushed aside. They want to make online games, but ones that are nothing like what they make now?....strange....I would think they would want to stick with what has already made them all rich...

gamist
gamist

Sounds like MS is thinking like a gamer. Keep up the good work. Now how about putting an end to the lazy red eye of death.

leapfrog91
leapfrog91

Great read. I would say with each of these offerings as well as ES, the 360 will have covered pretty much all bases for _types_ of console RPGs.

MoldOnHold
MoldOnHold

Good read....I tended to agree with Muzyka the most.

TTDog
TTDog

Action based RPG's are the way to go, so you don't get the frustration of running along an empty and clear pathway and find yourself thrown into a battle situation because the game thinks you need a fight. More Oblivion and KOTOR than Final Fantasy.

xxpyromonkeyxx
xxpyromonkeyxx

i would kill for a good MMORPG on a console, especially for the xbox 360

TomokiHimi175
TomokiHimi175

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Mikazukinoyaiba
Mikazukinoyaiba

Wow.. The 360 has FAR too many shooters/racing/fighting games and that really alienates who it can appeal towards. If Microsoft wants to borrow or win over as many of it's competition's gamers as possible it needs to appeal towards a larger variety of gamers and not just the "hardcore" and "casuals". Especially now that the PS3 is so vulnerable, I wnat M$ to be on the top. If Microsoft continues to work and get more genres on their system, more "fun" "creative" and great story-oriented games I will defintelly purchase the console with NO regrets whatsoever. They got my interest, now they need to win me and other consumers over.

azeos
azeos

SeraphimRequiem, in fable there was one set story, you could go through it however you wanted but it's only one story.

fritigoerd
fritigoerd

RPGs are evolving at last...... I want to see more Oblivion type rpgs , but in more modern times , like the soon to be realesed STALKER , FPS with more rpg stuff would be nice. Or a WWII FPS with the freedom of rpgs , tough it would be hard to make coherently.

evilmonkey_clou
evilmonkey_clou

Nice, now i want a sequel to planescape:torment even more because that was like the rpg's they were describing. plus it used death as a puzzle solving tool, which no game has done since or before. Live on torment, live on in these games like you

SeraphimRequiem
SeraphimRequiem

"Molyneux said he likes the idea, but had a good deal of concern that players would always worry they had made the wrong choice or missed something because of the path they took through the game" Ummm... wasn't that sort of the point behind fable? Where every choice had some effect on the world. Why not expand on that? Great interview, though.

Lord_Mantis
Lord_Mantis

This is one of the better stories I've read in a long time.

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

They better not rush the rpgs. i've been waiting forever for them to come out. i don't mind waiting 6 months if it will be of great quality

argune
argune

verygood interview. its always nice to see what these guys think, their so creative and passionate about their work.

humptygrumpty
humptygrumpty

looking forward to these games, that was a pretty good interview aswell

Genuma
Genuma

Fable 2 alone is making me buy a 360. The other two are just a bonus.