GDC 2007: Live blogging the Microsoft RPG panel

There’s a relatively small and yet very important panel about to start that Microsoft is hosting and Geoff Keighley is running that will take a look at RPGs and their impact and place in the world. Since only a small number of gaming outlets are even allowed in this thing, I thought I’d share the experience with the people of Destructoid. So, hit the jump, hit refresh and enjoy a hot steaming cup of live blogging … Summa style.


4:30: People are still streaming in and I’ve got a whole lotta 1UP guys in front of me. And, fellas, Colette is sitting right next to me. Holla!

4:33: Mic check, mic check. Major Nelson is here and Peter Molyneux just walked in. 

4:36: Things are just about now getting started. Geoff Keighley is runnin’ the panel which is made up of Peter Molyneux, Sakaguchi (Mystwalker, Lost Odyssey) and Dr. Ray Muzyka (Knights of the Old Republic, BioWare).

4:38: Evolution of RPGs? Molyneux says RPGs are the first games he loved to play — Wizardy on the Apple. Lost his first girlfriend with Wizardry. Graphcis are a significant change, but the structure is still there and they are still recognizable. Says there are opportunities for change.

Muzyka: Other genres are incorporating elements of RPGs so it’s hard to define RPGs nowadays. Says entire industry is incorporating RPG elements. 

4:40: Keighley: Are all games gonna be RPGs, what becomes of genre?

Muzyka: Definition is increasingly broad. Merging elements of other games into our RPGs just like others are putting RPG elements into theirs. Striving for the best. Story and character is what BioWare focuses on. Want combat that make you feel emotions such as fear. Want people to be very eager for new weapons, areas to explore, etc. We’re defining RPGs based on the basic principles. Exciting for us to see RPG definition broadening. Reaching new consumers.

Molyneux: Agrees with Muzyka. To him, comes back to “role playing games.” You are playing a role. It’s exciting to try and capture what it feels like to be a hero. To start as nothing and be a hero. That is the journey. That is my real focus. That is the differential for me, from an RPG and a boxing game. I want you to feel like a hero, significant. Want you to really really feel that in Fable 2. Want that emotional engagement.  

Sakaguchi: Story is really important. Want to tell a great storyline. Want characters and environment players can relate to, that’s what he wanted with Final Fantasy story. Want sense of exploration, accomplishment. 

4:45: Keighley: Turn based vs real time? What direction are we going in?

Sakaguchi: Crucial is detail. With respect to Blue Dragon, it’s turn based but there are strategic elements. There are real-time elements. I’m currently working on an action-RPG title Crion (sp?) for Xbox 360. Instead of one single direction, there needs to be a variety of ways to play and be immersed.

Molyneux: There is space for both. I love the fact that you can sit back with turn based. We thought hard about whether or not Fable should be turn based. Went with action to have a sense of being immersed. I think it gives you a different flavor than action.

Muzyka: Key is telling story. No right or wrong way to do that. For Mass Effect, want to combine both sides. Can play as real time, more action, more mass market, but it has the depth as well. Has squad command and can also assign specific orders while in pause mode. It’s difficult to do that and you’re appealing to different audiences, but it’s worth it for the fans. Everyone definition of RPGs are different. 

4:50: Keighley: Customizing RPGs, and linear vs open ended.

Sakaguchi: Focus is to tell a great story. Same with making a movie. Character customization is fun.

Molyneux: Thinking about this a lot — not specific to Fable 2. There’s customization and then there’s evolution. I’m getting a bit bored with customizing just one character — especially at the start when you’re new to the world. Would like to build customization in game. Bored of set up screens with changing hair and eyes. Would like to build that into gameplay. Want to continue evolving that character through customization choices made. It’s all about your engagement. If I can convince you that those are you things that you’ve chosen, then customization as evolution is interesting. Need to go a step further.

Muzyka: Want to have choices. Want player to believe they are making big choices that impact games. Non-linear narrative is very hard to create. We have great writers that are masters of that. Have to have consequences to choices and that’s part of the evolution. Want different endings and building those things in Mass Effect.

Molyneux: Stoyline branches excite me. One snag, however. Have to be careful to not allow people to believe they’ve taken the wrong choice. Have to be very careful and realize that it’s important that you and I can talk about the same moments. Branching is a tough thing because of that.

Muzyka: Replayability also important. Payoff is if it’s your own unique story, just like life. Don’t want same path. I love non-linearity. Want things to be impactful, emotional.

4:57: How do you balance non-linearity?

Muzyka: It’s very hard to do and you have to pay a price to do that. But, it’s for the greater good and difficult. Want players to feel they are making choices with consequences.

Molyneux: I really don’t want to do multiple branching. The problem is, for me, is that I’m insecure enough to believe I will take the wrong path. It worries me that I’m going to be missing something.

4:58: Keighly: Multiplayer and online. How do you see multiplayer playing a role in the future of RPGs?

Sakaguchi: Fond of multiplayer and online connectivity. This is where I see growth, especially with FFXI. Hoping he can talk with Shane (Microsoft) and create an online game. Talking to Shane: Please Shane. 

Molyneux: Can I do one too, Shane? For the first time, consoles are connected and really connected. You’re finding that people are leaving consoles connected all the time and there’s a real opportunity there for that. If any genre was good for that, it’d be RPGs. The idea that you can show off and work with and meet with people is super exciting. I’d love to talk about that in enormous detail, but I’ve been gagged and can’t. The home of real RPGs tends to be on consoles and only recently they are really connected. There’s a lot of stuff and technology to work out and it’s scary. You have to ask yourself if you’re making an RPG or MMORPG or is there a middle ground. There are a lot of reasons why you haven’t seen a real evolution of this. There is a revolution coming.

Muzyka: I haven’t been gagged. We’re really excited where MMOs are going because of the different stories. What if you could fuse classic RPG stories and impact and put that into an MMO. That’s what we’re building at BioWare Austin. MMOs are pushing the envelope that you can’t do in single player games and it goes both ways. They are both very important and you can pursue a middle ground like in Neverwinter Nights. I think the social interactions between players allow you to tell stories of a different kind.

5:04: Keighley opens the floor to questions.

Some woman I don’t know: Why can’t several people in a party online work on a linear story?

Muzyka: You’re right, it hasn’t been done in a massive way. There are some missing ingrediants and it should be done.

5:06: Some emo dude: Is there a place for reality-based RPGs that allow you to choose dinner set on date and having a relationship with actual people in an actual world? Instead of epic, more normal and mundane.

Muzkya: One of the cool things about RPGs is it’s aspirational. You don’t want to be mundane. You want to be something great, not something you can be in real life. It can change with setting or gameplay. You want to be someone you can’t be in real life. For me, it’s exciting to do things I can’t do everyday.

Molyneux: Interesting. Let’s talk about it in Fable. Is chatting to girls mundane? Is having relationships mundane? Thinking about a game called Dimitri (sp?). Here’s the idea: Could you be a hero in today’s world? 24, Heroes, Lost, they are all set in today’s world, and James Bond. That fascinates me. If we want to be the hero, where is the starting point? Yeah, we could focus on the mundane and experience washing up or level 3 of make up, we could do that. Or, do we focus on the dramatic? What’s fascinating about this is: If I could say to you, if this room explodes, what would you do? That is fascinating and that is great gameplay. There could be mundane, real world, but that is tough because people experience average things different. In fantasy, you can brush over specific detail. 

Sakaguchi: Very interested in this. Been exploring this for ten years. Talked to Square Enix about it and explored those ideas. Thought of game about a boy who is trying to establish something with an ex girlfriend and school. Wants to explore this, but it’s very tough.

Keighley: Why is it so tough?

Sakaguchi: We’ll do it someday.

–There was a lot of translation going on and that’s all that was said. Molyneux says, “all that?!?”

Dude: Isn’t that what Shenmue tried to do?

Sakaguchi: I don’t think so.

–That’s it folks, hope you enjoyed it. Colette will be doing a post a little later on her impressions of the panel, since she humps RPGs daily. I love em, but frankly she’s much more well-versed in them, so watch out for that.  

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Robert Summa
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