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

By Stephany Nunneley
3 December 2011 22:59 GMT

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.

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