Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lessons Learned

So I just beat Knights of the Old Republic. I mean seriously, something like 20 minutes ago as of the time I started typing, I finished Knights of the Old Republic. Yep, I just beat an eight year old game, which is about 25 years in Computer Time.

Anyway, the point is, it's a very, very well done game. It was never boring, many of the characters were actually interesting, and it makes some impressive efforts investigating the good/evil dichotomy. I've written down a number of the things that made the story so compelling and the game so fun to play, which I will share with you now, and descriptions on how to adapt these things for tabletoppin':

  • Upgrades, upgrades, upgrades: Through the use of workbenches, the main character can upgrade certain special items. This means that instead of going out on quests to replace your Lightsaber +1 with a Lightsaber +2, you can use items gained from quests (scopes, armor reinforcement) to improve some of the unique items you already have. In my Deadlands game, I've used this idea once already to give the posse a telescopic scope for one of their rifles. It could be used for special ammunition, gems to place in a sword's pommel, or "trauma plates" on wears under armor. The whole point of this upgrade system is that the items are interchangeable between the gear most of the party carries.
  • Quests give you items, not gold: I appreciated that you mostly undertook quests for unique items or favors instead of gold/credits.
  • Frenemies: Even people who oppose you want things from you. Only the villains want only to stand in your way.
  • The Sith are all dicks: This is an important note that I hadn't thought about. Many times, there's a push to make villains sympathetic or identifiable somehow. For instance, in Inglourious Basterds, the Nazi soldiers usually come across as a lot more likable than the heroes. Not so with KOTOR, where all of the Sith, from their despicable leader Darth Malek to the lowest footsoldier are all just fucking awful people who kick babies and kittens and never show any remorse for their actions. The Republic and even the Jedi Council are portrayed as fallible and human, which makes them all the more interesting to work for.
  • Most of the PCs have cool sidequests based on their backstories: This is, of course, a staple of roleplaying games, and I think it's well-executed here. Almost every time you level up, your comrades reveal something about themselves, and if you talk to them often enough you eventually unlock their side quests. It's a great way to take advantage of their disparate personalities and skills.
Inspiration can be found everywhere - if you ever have an emotional reaction to a video game, piece of music, novel, comic book, or any other piece of art, take a moment to think about why that is and then use your findings to better your game.


Sitting Duck said...

Though not quite as old, I've been sporadically been working on beating Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones since it came out in 2005. Currently I'm stymied by the Lagou Ruins, which is a real tough one.

An interesting point regarding villains. While a bad guy's justification for their motives is all well and good for adding depth, too often it's not handled properly.

Theron said...

Yeah, I have been thinking that there should be a distinction between Bad Guys and Villains. Bad Guys are regular people in awful, desperate circumstances; they have motivation and human weaknesses and maybe the players and PCs can feel bad about murdering them. Alternatively, they can feel great about talking to them and working together. Darth Vader and Dr. Hellstromme are Bad Guys.

Villains are Godawful assholes who only want to Do Bad Things. It's not enough that your PCs hate the villain, the players should hate them too. Villains want power (Emperor Palpatine), money/decadence (Jabba the Hutt), or the destruction of all life (Raven), or they work for dark and powerful foes without remorse (Boba Fett, Rev. Grimme). The key here is that Villains want things directly opposed to what the party wants (such as "to continue being alive") and pursue their goals ruthlessly, effectively, and without compassion or humanity; if the players ever sympathize with the villain then they're either disturbed or you're doing it wrong.