I'm a big fan of RPGs. Obviously I really enjoy strategy games too, but it's the RPG where I have a desire to make games myself. I've largely had a frustration with the story and mechanics of most RPGs. There are a few I have yet to play that I think sound more along the lines of what I'd like to do: Fallout 2, Arcanum, and Planescape.
I'm a fiction writer amongst other things, and I study both philosophy and narrative theory.
There's a distinct lack of great characters in RPGS. In literature of course there is good and bad depending on your taste, but you can see the influence of Socrates, Descartes, Newton, Einstein, Galileo, Napoleon, and all of these fascinating individuals throughout history in many characters. In games most characters seem to be what would come directly from the mind of a 13-year-old boy. The brute, the businessman, the strong woman who's still feminine, the wizard, the king, and so on. Pretty much all of them are stereotypes and caricatures even in the better games.
I loved Morrowind. I thought the atmosphere was fantastic despite the abundance of sandstorms. I really enjoyed that monsters didn't scale with your level so you started out as a pathetic weakling and ended up strong. I also liked that the world didn't feel like it revolved around you at all. Guilds had feuds, and you could be kicked out of one or the other because of them. There was only one method of transportation, and other than that you could get lost. I just felt like nobody cared what I was doing (until the end obviously), and I liked that. Exploring the mountains and accidentally sliding into a den of thieves twice my level. Doing a quest to find a lost gem, getting the reward money, and then killing them for the gem anyway. All of that stuff was fun and made it feel like a bit of a real world.
I felt that they ruined all of that in Oblivion. None of the guilds affected each other anymore. The world was obviously structured so that you could do anything you wanted to without much trouble. They added the fast-travel system which killed any sense of exploration. They turned what felt like a living world (or close to it) in Morrowind into the RPG equivalent of whack-a-mole (get quest, fast travel to location, fast travel to other location, fast travel back). I haven't played Skyrim yet because I need a new computer first.
Dragon Age was fun for a little bit. I have an issue with any RPG where the focus becomes killing monsters. Dragon Age was mostly just linear maps of monster killing with scattered story. Then it claimed player choice. In any game that claims player choice I always test it on the first run-through by picking all the dialogue options I'm obviously not supposed to. From the beginning they all just led back to the options I was supposed to pick. Even when I could vaguely influence an event it didn't matter. My favorite example was going to visit the Count/Earl or some title like that. He had a village that was going to be overrun by zombies. You could help fight or leave them there to die. So I left them there. Then I came back, and the village was destroyed. I thought maybe this was actually going to be a real decision. You get into the castle, and you can either save his family members or kill both his wife and young son. So I killed them both. The whole thing ends, and he wakes up from the coma he's been in. He's grief-stricken about the loss of everything, says I forgive you, and then gives the same please go kill the dragon for me speech that he would give had you done everything right. No choice.
The Witcher was just a story with choices in between a game. The game was going places and killing things. Then every so often you hit a conversation or something that influenced the story, and that was the story part. The only way they really influenced each other was in where you ended up going. Separation of story and game doesn't count for me as a real RPG.
So what I want, and what I've wanted for a long time now, is a game you can have a real impact on. I don't want a totally open game because I think that defeats the purpose to some extent. If you have too many options then there's no impact anymore. I don't want the game to be linear though. I want it to be so that you start out, and there are genuine different directions you can go. Different choices will end you up in different places doing different things. Everything will center around this major storyline that is happening in the game as well as the setting, but the story isn't happening without you. You're not just a pawn moving from place to place to allow the next scripted event to happen. When you come to the end, it's your fault that it ended that way. Not just in the six different endings summed up in epilogues or ending dialogue, but you actually made choices along the way and watched the story change as a result. I want real characters, developed ethical decisions (not good or evil), and a game that changes to some extent along with the story.
I don't draw particularly well, and I'm not a great programmer. I could use some sort of basic scripting engine, but I'd rather limit the amount of programming I need to do. I also want to limit the amount of visual work I need to do. I really want to be able to focus most of my time on developing story, characters, dialogue, and what happens in the game. I'd like control over RPG game mechanics as well (not things like physics or AI but things like if you have to eat or that shops lock up at
. I was thinking about using Flash and just doing the whole thing top-down using the arrow keys for movement. I thought that would really simplify any visuals and scripting needs so I could focus on other things. I don't really want to use a mod-engine for two reasons. The first is that I want the control over the game mechanics. The second is I would like to be able to sell the final product for a small sum.
So I'm looking for recommendations. This is something that would happen gradually over a decent length of time, but what would you recommend I use to do it? What will minimize visuals and programming to allow me to focus on story and the game itself? I want to create vivid and compelling characters and game world. I don't need them to look that way. I can worry about that if there was ever enough interest to produce something like this with a team. I don't need complex AI either. Ideally some kind of path-finding would be taken care of for me, or I could just simplify it in some way. It shouldn't be too hard in top-down. The only AI would likely be basic things like if someone attacks, engages in conversation, ignores you, and some basic path-finding. I also might even like to add some simple daily routines for people, but I don't know how hard that would be. It's not necessary if it's too difficult. Then there would be basic collisions like walls, trees, and other people. It would be really nice if that sort of thing would be mostly taken care of for me as well. I've never used Flash before so I don't know what it does or if there's another program that does it better. I have used Maya so I'm comfortable with software though. The world as a whole would be mostly different areas and terrains. Perhaps a forest and then villages and cities. Some kind of area transition would probably be necessary. Also I'd like to have the capacity for some changes to the world. For instance if the world starts to become more dangerous (for reasons happening in the story) then people begin to leave town, more guards show up at cities, people start locking doors during the day, etc. Just a good amount of freedom in the way that I can create certain mechanics to vary the game.
Any thoughts on whether top-down in Flash would be a good idea, how complex that would actually be, or if something else might be better would be appreciated. Thanks!