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Joshua Reid

Sweat bespeckles my brow, my palms quiver, my heart rattles in its cage. I can barely hold the latest issue of my school paper as my incredulous eyes scan the headline once more.

"SEED grows in esteem." Could this be? Could a fantasy really corporealize before my eyes?! I read on . . .

"The program, Student-managed Endowment for Educational Development . . . " I hit reality with a sickening thud. What a let down, similar to the time when I asked Sally Wuschter to the prom, who said, "Of course I will . . . in your wildest dreams." Ah. Terrible. Maybe I'm too involved with this entire RPG thing. A person says, "What do you think of that cloud?" and I respond, "He's a punk--doesn't deserve all those women." I'm mixing RPGs with reality, which is about as healthy as mixing Everclear with . . . well anything really.

Realism And RPGs

I feel that more realism is a bad thing. I feel that the player should feel as though he/she is acting the part of the hero/heroine. This stems from the fact that console RPGs were birthed from the paper and pencil kind (thought they've made great strides since then). When you add too much realism into the game it's more like the player is controlling a character in a story instead of playing as themselves in a fantasy world. I understand that many people may not want the same thing from a game, but that's what really immerses me into a story. A corollary to this is the fact that I am an American-Indian... Cherokee to be specific. I also like to name the main character in a game as myself, Kami. Now, with this trend of getting more elaborate with character design, it's becoming less fun to do this. I mean, really, I look nothing like Cloud. He's blond and Caucasian, I have dark hair and skin. I'm not bringing up issues of racism, I don't think that what the developers meant by it anyway (I mean, hey! The Japanese aren't white with blond hair either), but how many people of non-African descent would name Barret after themselves? Anyway... I can't recall the name of the game anymore (It may have been on the commodore 64) but one RPG that I played let you switch heads, bodies, arms, hair, weapons, and so forth in order to allow the player to customize the look of the character to some extent. I think that it would be great if game developers would reinstate this option. At least let us change the hair color.

-Kami

Joshua: I think the customizable main character would be a great idea! Notice that PC games like Daggerfall have already opted for that approach. It seems that the more story-centric, linear plots, like FF, specialize in specific character design and therefore minimize the feel of playing a role--you are, like Kami says, merely controlling a predeveloped person through a preconceived plot. Non-linear attempts like Ultima Online and Daggerfall allow more leeway on the appearance of a character and their actions, and therefore the role-playing scene is more faithfully represented. FF games have definitely become interactive movies, while Might and Magic and others wish to recreate the old D&D flexibility and mentality. Again, I support both approaches: The book and movie feel of PE is just as welcome as the rampant freedom of Daggerfall. As long as each style, the RPG realm will continue to remain fresh and harmonic. I think the games Kami seeks for appear on the PC. Square is more concerned with their Cinematic RPG approach, and tailoring their material for a specific Japanese audience, and their track record has always been one of tight stories and specific character designs. This is a symptom of all console games, where commanding personalities (Lara Croft) drive the sales much like celebrities. The faceless, soulless characters who require you to fill their empty spots invariably appear in the PC field, where the sales are not as dependent on spotlighted characters.

A Look At Linearity

I must disagree with your comments concerning linearity. A good, well developed story CAN be implemented without infringing on non linearity. Unfortunately, most people have a less broad definition of linearity. For a RPG, linearity occurs when the same problem yields the same solution bringing the player to the same result. Although the widely accepted definition of non linearity means that the player does not need to tackle the same situation at the same time. But this definition yields to my previous definition: problem, solution, result -- they are all the same. My definition of non linearity is the player encounters a problem. The player has many different options, but can only choose one. The result may be the same, but can be completely different. This in turn affects the next problem and the possible outcomes. These definitions of non linearity are difficult to overcome. One decision could completely alter the story path. Unfortunately, the need for the appropriate changes for the possible choices is difficult. A story needs to be able to dynamically change as the game progresses. This is similar to how a book may change if the author decided that he/she wanted this event to occur differently. The story and characters will still be able to be just as good as if no change had occurred. It is unlikely for the my proposed situations to occur. It is a [female dog] to have a story for every case in which the player can make a decision. This process would take numerous years in the development phase. It would have a disproportional game size to memory size. All these factors and more make a non profitable situation and, thus has yet to be seen.

-The Red Scare

Joshua:

I like your definition of non-linearity--essentially an issue of choice. Have you noticed the sometimes pitiful attempts by developers to create an illusion of non-linearity?

Dude: So will you come with me to the blah blah?

You: 1. NO 2. YES [pick no]

Dude: Aw come on . . .

You 1. NO 2. YES [pick no]

Dude: Please, Iām begging you.

You 1. NO 2. YES [pick no]

Dude: Well hereās a Gengi Glove. You know you want to.

You: Okay okay.

Developers are not so obvious now, but hey still try to make you feel like you have a choice and then you end up in the same spot.

The issue of non-linearity versus linearity parallels the distinctions between interactive story and "true" RPGing in the previous letter. A blatantly linear game like FFVII wants to show you its specific story, while a non-linear version like Fallout lets you do your thing. The bugs in Daggerfall could be directly attributed to allowing the player too much freedom--there was no way the designers could anticipate everything a player would try to do. And, like Red Scare pointed out, itās not profitable enough to expend years of design time creating a non-linear game with a strong story. I would love to see the best of both worlds--An interactive story that can take many different paths that I choose. In fact, not to reveal too much, thatās some of the concept behind the RPG Iām designing.

MP In FFVIII?

One question me and my friends have been going back and forth about, in FFVIII demo, there was the draw system and there was no MP. Do you know if in the final version the draw system will totally replace the MP system, or if they will incorporate both into the game? Thanks a bunch.

~Ness~

Joshua:I believe Square created the draw system to simplify the battle system and to add some spice to the fighting flavor, so I think MP would be a needless redundancy and end up muddling the gameplay. Your MP, essentially, is the number of spells youāve collected. Thatās how it looks right now.

Presentation

I've been around RPGs for a while. Started w/ Dragon Warrior and worked my way up to the likes now of Parasite Eve, TOD, and Xenogears. Often, perhaps too often, the argument between 2-D and 3-D graphics comes up, usually put together with the "old/new" argument, and now I feel it is my turn to talk about it. First off, we must confront the ever-continuing change which is present in the video game industry. As we know, technology moves on faster than your credit card will clear when you're buying that next-generation-soon-to-be-outdated machine. So, as companies continue to press forward technologically, we naturally expect them to press forward graphically as well. However, as it has been stated before, graphics are not the most important part of an RPG. HOWEVER, good graphics, just like good music, good FMV, good dialogue, etc. can enhance the gameplay experience. But does that mean that FFII or FFIII are inferior games because they don't have the graphics of FFVII? On the contrary, many gamers believe that other crucial factors in fact made FFII and III more fun than VII. Rather than the importance being on 2-D or 3-D graphics, the key word is PRESENTATION. Both styles can be extremely effective at presenting the game, so long as they're done right. Because of the technological advances, presentation style has gone up by leaps and bounds, while (sadly) our capability of thinking up good stories and characters who will captivate us has not. On that note, every game has it's share of developed and not-so-developed characters; the key is for there to be more developed characters than undeveloped. But most importantly, the game must have characters who we care about. It is this small, but significant emotional attachment which truly gives us the RPG experience that we all hope for: one where you truly join the characters on their quest. Sure, I turn back to my SNES and play old RPGs. Sure, some of my newer RPGs are played once or twice, then shelved. But, I have a feeling that the best is yet to come.

-Daniel Hamamura

Joshua:I also have that feeling Daniel. But Iām also scared as well. Shadow Madnessāā Keg Robot and shameless FFVII rip-off isnāt really confirming my optimism.

Scattered Thoughts:

Here's a small article about Crono Trigger 2, rumored to be in developement.

Bryann pointed me to this site, containing a tantalizing piece of the Lufia III puzzle. The site claims this highly anticipated game will enterian U.S. audiences 4th Quarter 1999..

I've seen three instances of "42": One in a commercial, once as a footnote in my college textbook, and most recently the time I'm looking at right now (6:42 p.m.). Scary.

Phillip has the following to say: I wanted to let you know about 'Project Majestic Mix.' It's a tribute to Nobou Uematsu that Stephen Kennedy is arranging and composing. I just happened to stumble upon it not too long ago but I've gotten to know Stephen quite well and I really admire his work and what he stands for.

I hope you check out some samples to it, its really cool, especially the 'FFVI Rachel Song.' Stephen has captured the essence of Final Fantasy, given it his own twist and made some exciting tunes! http://zodiacbrave.simplenet.com/index2.html

Delita Hyral has seen FFIV on the Playstation and points us to a URL that explains the differences between SNES and PSX versions.

-Joshua Reid, off to drown his sorrows. :)

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