Rolston: RPGs reaching a boon period, still a market for structurally sound high fantasy epics

Saturday, 3rd December 2011 22:59 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Ken Rolston, lead game designer at Big Huge Games, has said he feels RPGs are reaching “a boon period”, but because there’s still plenty of variety on the market at the moment, the genre isn’t tired just yet.

Speaking in and interview with IndustryGamers, Rolston said in the future, we may look back on this period differently and feel it needed “some revolutions” and “changes”.

“There are so many different products and they’re all so good, that I have a feeling that sometime in the not too distant future people will be able to look back and say, that was the time when we realized we needed some revolutions and we needed some changes and then maybe the genre will reconceive itself again. But right now, you cannot complain about the variety and quality of stuff.

“Even in the second and third tier stuff – which I will not be foolish enough to try to characterize things by first, second, and third tier – I’m seeing a lot of quality in things that would’ve been considered B movies in another world. And I don’t know that there are that many RPG fans who are suffering daily because they’re not getting enough games released. I think there are still plenty of fans who would buy a lot more games if they could. They would like us to make more and make them faster than on a three-year cycle, but I think nonetheless, that they’re getting good quality games on a pretty regular basis.”

Rolston also doesn’t feel RPG fans are tired of high fantasy fare, because there are “structural reasons for it,” as wrappers put around science fiction and shooters “are less forgiving.”

“It’s because one of the conventions of fantasy, high fantasy, is that you can heal and that you have a very durable character,” he explained. “And that makes for good software and a good software experience. And it turns out that the narrative wrappers that you put around science fiction games or shooter games are less forgiving in that sense. So it turns out that epic fantasy just is the right narrative wrapper for the kind of experience that we have.

“And there’s the fact that Tolkien’s party, that Fellowship of The Ring model, we’re all comfortable with that. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think [it's] right to say that a lot of the treatments can be shop worn and generic and tiresome, but I think at times, like the Western genre, it tended to wear out its welcome by lacking novelty. There would be a period of time when the genre of the Western would turn out something that had some variety. [The animated movie] Rango, for example – a great Western. A profoundly gifted homage to Westerns. So you may see mashups.

“I still think they have real power. I think it’s partly because the archetypes have great power. So I have not personally felt any pressure to abandon high fantasy as a open world role playing game narrative and I don’t foresee one in the future and I certainly am not seeing any outside the genre that I found likely to create new genres of the same scale as fantasy genre. And I think there’s plenty of room for what we call boutique games, boutique role playing games, but they will not have the same kind of mass market.”

Rolston, who previous worked as lead on both Morrowind and Oblivion, is currently working on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and it’s MMO for 38 Studios. The former is slated for a February release on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, while the later still hasn’t been given a date.



  1. burrsalem

    Quick correction: Big HUGE Games, not Big HEAD Games.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Stephany Nunneley

    I would make a joke about where my mind was at the time….. but sadly, it’s not that way at all. Thanks for the head’s up. I thought it sounded wrong. /facepalm

    #2 3 years ago
  3. DarkElfa

    Yeah baby, bring on all the RPG’s that can be brought!

    #3 3 years ago
  4. GwynbleiddiuM

    But, there are actually not many truly RPG titles anymore. Striped out, Adventure/Action games with a mild choice of dialogues and side quests are hardly RPG IMO. Still, I’m not totally ungrateful, at least I have some games to play. Where are thou O’Divine Divinities, Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gates and Icewind Dales, where are thou. Miss those days greatly.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Erthazus

    @4, agree with everything you just said.
    this year you can look forward to Witcher II which is really something oldschool and special and next year if everything will be alright we can all look forward for RISEN 2: Dark Waters by Pyranha bytes.


    #5 3 years ago
  6. Phoenixblight


    I find your term of what a RPG is funny. Its not about micromanaging your character’s stats, abilities or all your players. Those games were built with a different mindset which was keeping their fanbase not so much about broadening it.
    Now that video games are very much integrated into our society the philosophy for these developers is to broaden the audience in order to make up the cost of development. If you want those type of games you will have to get with a group of friends and play table top RPGs or just stick with playing those games.
    I very much enjoy most of modern RPGs especially since they are aimed at someone like me who only has so much time to play a week because of life and I don’t have time to play a games for 8 hours a day and grind for 5 hours in order to get to the good parts. Thats not what a game should be about. I already work why would I work in a game?

    #6 3 years ago
  7. DSB

    I remember reading about this before. You can add RPG elements to pretty much anything, from a mundane action game, over an RTS, to a text adventure. It doesn’t make it an RPG, ultimately it risks spelling the end of actual roleplaying games, which were always about a lot more than simply just moving points around, gameplay be damned.

    Fair enough if that’s what the people want, but sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken. It takes a bit more than that.

    I don’t see adding RPG elements to any game as a bad thing, it’s a great mechanic, but it’s not rarely that it’s used simply so it can be put on the back of the box. The whole value of that system is in letting people define their own playing style.

    I don’t think it would be a good trade if the RPG “features” somehow ended up killing the genre that made them in the first place.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. OrbitMonkey

    ^ Agreed. Stat management does not a RPG make. You could argue that the multiplayer in BF3 multiplayer is RPG lite. 3 roles to play, stuff to unlock… But is it?

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Phoenixblight

    @8 Same can be said about COD and its multiplayer with how you level up weapons and you have to grind in order to get the best upgrade, weapons or perks.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. OrbitMonkey

    @9 I was actually thinking of CoD when I started the post, but then I remembered the class system in BF3, which seems to blur the boundaries a bit more…

    #10 3 years ago
  11. GwynbleiddiuM

    @7 Exactly, I wont deny that I had so much fun with so-called RPG games that only are RPG in name not the mechanics, but as you said it wont change the fact that they’re not as RPG in the core as they have the claim in the title.

    @6 I pretty much enjoyed most of them too (aside from obvious screw jobs like Dragon Age II) but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re not RPG. I enjoyed Mass Effect games, the first one actually could be called RPG, the same I can’t say about the 2nd one, I’m not saying doing these things are bad or great, I’m saying Role-Playing Game used to mean something else not what we have today. But since every genre expanding to something more than lets just say, an adventure, or a FPS game or whatever and borrow features that was commonly used for RPG games a few years back, that doesn’t make them RPG.

    Weathering down elements like stats and stat management or standings and all sort of other shits is something, the complete removal of them is just kills it pretty much in my book. It’s a hybrid genre that you can find a bit of something from every popular genres.

    These sort of moves leads to games like Skyrim and Dues Ex: HR and so on, highly enjoyable, great fun, but also there is so much imba and OP developments, which defies the standards of RPG genre. I decided to stop calling them RPG games a long time ago but I didn’t stop enjoying them as well.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. Phoenixblight


    I actually don’t even classify games anymore because like you said the lines are beginning to blur and each game is taking elements from other genres and games. For example Bioshock it plays like a FPS but it uses some mechanics that would be considered RPG and also uses adventure game mechanics. I can understand why people used to use these terms to find what game they like but now a days I don’t see them as useful. If I read a games back and it interests me, I will buy or at the very least rent but I don’t look to see what genre it is.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Ireland Michael

    > Want to indulge for hundreds of hours in a hardcore RPG
    > Buy Disgaea 4
    > ???
    > Profit!

    #13 3 years ago
  14. Phoenixblight


    That or any of the Shin Megami Tensei games will about do it.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. GwynbleiddiuM

    @13 never was a jRPG fan, never liked how those games plays, never liked the music and absolutely hated the artistic angles in character and lore design as well as their stories. :P

    In fact I have no idea why people love them so much, I played some FF games, also some of Shin Megami Tensei’s and couple of others around the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 ear. Not my thing. :D

    #15 3 years ago

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