I recently discovered Kim Justice’s YouTube channel about video game history, starting with this video on legendary publisher Psygnosis, and quickly ended up watching this epic, 4-part, Peter Molyneux series:
One thing stuck out for me: Molyneux’s obsession with creating “_living worlds_”, i.e. games where you’re free to do many things (plant trees, build a house, have kids) and choose many paths (be good, be evil, choose this or that in each situation), and all the while witnessing the consequences of such acts. He’s not the only one trying to do this in video games, but he’s probably the one who tried it the most – or at least talked about trying it the most.
Technically speaking, this is a potentially fascinating problem. Will video game RPGs have to implement advanced AI and machine learning techniques for the game to truly react to your actions? Maybe. Hey, who knows, maybe Fallout 9 will be where the first sentient computer program emerges, after some guy in North Carolina has played it for 7 hours straight or something. But I’m wondering – is that even the point? Should video game designers strive for this kind of “perfect” sandbox experience? Or are they just working in the wrong medium?
There’s already a type of game where you’re free to do whatever you want, and the game world reacts accordingly – not only in a logical or plausible way, but also a narratively interesting way: tabletop, pen & paper RPGs… or, you know, just “RPGs”, as we called them back in the day1. If you’re writing a comic book while covering all pages with descriptions and inner monologues, maybe you should be writing a novel instead… and if you’re struggling to make a video game where you can do whatever you want, maybe you should be writing RPG books?
Damn you video games RPGs – especially JRPGs, who have close to zero “RP” in their “G”. ↩