RPGs can become much more “radical” but hardcore players are “resistant to change”, says Obsidian

By Matt Martin, Saturday, 21 April 2018 08:10 GMT

Josh Sawyer, design director at Pillars of Eternity and Fallout: New Vegas developer Obsidian, would like to see the RPG genre evolve radically beyond its current state.

Stats and combat systems shouldn’t define the role-playing game, said Sawyer, although he admitted he has been complicit in creating games that stick to an accepted template.

“The hardcore RPG audience is very traditional,” said Sawyer at Reboot Develop this week, discussing the evolution of genres.

“Fans tend to skew towards the more hardcore cases and they tend to be fairly resistant to change. I don’t want to paint too broad of a stroke there but RPGs can be a lot more than we have done with them so far. There’s much more than we can do and its much more radical.

“I’m also contributing to the problem,” he added. “Pillars of Eternity 1 and 2 are very traditional role playing games. But the genre can go in a number of different directions it’s just a matter of framing the project size and things that meet up in the same place.”

For Sawyer, role-playing games are defined by the player’s ability to alter the storyline of the game through his or her actions, rather than the amount of stat tweaking or hit points a player delivers in combat.

“So many games use RPG elements, stat progression and characteristics that are defined by those in RPGs. I start to question about whether that is the heart and soul of what a role-playing game is about,” he said.

“The way that I work on role-playing games, they tend to be more about playing a character that has a range of personalities and a way of going through a story that changes that story in a very significant way. The amount to which things like statistics or combat systems interact with that, really can be much more fluid.

He pointed to Bethesda’s success with Fallout and The Elder Scrolls games as examples of a developer taking role-playing games in a different direction.

“The traditionalists probably get angry about this stuff, but Bethesda’s RPGs are very different from isometric RPGs.

“They’re much more action orientated, much more focused on the immersive experience. That shows there’s more room for RPGs to grow than just to be what they were 20 years ago. It’s really a matter of finding an audience that matches up with that,” he added.

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