Monday, March 2, 2015

Classing up turn-based games, part 1: When classifications go bad

at 6:00 PM

Is a turn-based game *really* what you think it is? Take this quiz to find out!

Intro to a real-time classification problem

It's a thing where I define terms in a way to clarify gameplay paradigms and set up logical comparisons between like games. I've had the real-time / turn-based distinction on the mind recently as I've been playing Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Age Origins, both games with some kind of traditional turn-based RPG core that plays out autonomously. I discussed in my last piece how these two combat systems work; if you're unfamiliar with them you might want to start there

In the present games discourse, identifiers tend to be either meaninglessly high-level ("open-world", "WRPG", "action game") or prescriptively low-level ("RTwPaSC", "GTA with hovercrafts", "FHwDGaDs"). The problem with this type of classification-by-convention is obvious - it's marketing, not taxonomy. The point is to sell an idea with as concise a package as possible, not to present meaningful analysis of specifically what's in that package. It's predicated on advertising to either A.) predetermined tastes or B.) complete obliviousness. 

Do I understand that when someone calls something a "JRPG" they probably mean "linear as fuck"? Sure. Do I throw around "WRPG" as a synonym for "piece of shit"? Who doesn't? But if we want to be taken seriously like the Kotakus and the TheBlaze.coms of the world, we need more precise terminology.  Final Fantasy XII is definitely a JRPG and Dragon Age Origins is definitely a WRPG, but that just tells us where the games were made and that they have been accepted by the RPG community. At the same time I'm aware no acronym or neologism or taxonomy class or even a backcronym (?) can fully describe and differentiate the content of two like 80-hour experiences. They are compound games with a lot of moving parts.

Luckily there's a whole fuck of a lot of categorization middle ground there. We can talk about how both games use analog sticks or characters or HP meters or how they both have combat and magicwizards and at least one elf. Games are constructed and experienced piecewise (at the very lowest level just because that's how computers and brains work) so the most meaningful comparisons, and thus the most meaningful classifications, are always going to be piecewise.

Join us 

next time in Part 2 where we get our hands dirty and tackle defining the terms "turn-based", "real-time", "action", and "the tactics". You can wear gloves if you don't want to get your hands dirty though. Kid gloves, that is.

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