There was so much discussion on my master game listing posting over the last few weeks that I decided to take the time to review the list. I ended up cross-checking it against numerous sources (MobyGames, Wikipedia, GOG, a couple of independent sites) and updating it through the end of 2011. I also tried to nail down the specific release dates for the games. The result was a new, updated Google spreadsheet. I did my best to eliminate MMORPGs with no single-player mode and collections, but a few might have sneaked by.
The list now has 1,155 games. I will not, of course, be playing all of them. A game appears on my list if anyone lists it as an RPG; whether I play it will be determined by whether I think it's an RPG when I reach it.
In one of my earliest "special topics" postings, I asked "What Is a CRPG?" I covered a few definitions from elsewhere on the web and offered some of my own suggestions (many of which helped inform my GIMLET a few weeks later). The various definitions on the web are mostly similar. Three key points that show up repeatedly are:
- That the player "plays a role" does not make the game a "role-playing game." There are plenty of shooters and adventure games in which you "play a role." The "RP" part of "CRPG" doesn't derive so much from the presence of role-playing so much as seeing CRPGs as a direct adaptation of pen-and-paper RPGs.
- Player-driven character development is a key element. As MobyGames's glossary puts it, "a role-playing game can be seen as such when player-controlled characters become stronger because of the player's actions rather than being upgraded automatically as dictated by the storyline."
- Combat is driven by probabilities and statistics rather than player skill or speed with the controller. Granted, some action RPGs include skill and speed as an element, but almost all of them depend at least partly on statistics derived from inventory and attributes.
In a 2007 posting on Armchair Arcade, Matt Barton tackled the question by looking at many games that we call "RPGs" and analyzing them for their common characteristics. He didn't come to a final "definition," but that wasn't really his purpose. Instead, he listed 12 characteristics common to "RPGs" but suggested that a game need not have all of them to fit within the category. This approach informs my own. I'm not looking to establish absolute criteria but rather a set of shared characteristics that a game must have "most of" to appear on my list. In a posting on War in Middle Earth, I distilled my own list down to three items:
1. Inventories not dependent on puzzle-solving. This term confuses some people, but I don't know any other way to say it. Here, I'm contrasting CRPGs to adventure games, which have "inventories," but the items you pick up are meant to be used in some way at a particular location to advance the game. CRPGs, on the other hand, let you load up your inventories with weapons, potions, scrolls, and other items to use whenever you want.
2. Player-driven leveling and development. It's "player-driven" if the player can exercise some choice on how fast to level (e.g., "grinding"), how to improve the character (other than through inventory improvements), or both.
3. Combat based at least partly on probabilities and statistics, as derived from character attributes, as I discussed above.
Game only need have two of these three elements for me to consider it a CRPG. Plenty of games only have two. Galdregon's Domain, which I just finished, didn't have any leveling and development. Wizardry IV did, but it wasn't player-driven. Paladin didn't have any player-controlled inventory. Starflight's combat was all based on your aim and ability to hit the SPACE bar at the right time. But each of these games had the other two.
Aside from the question of whether a game is an RPG, there are a few other reasons I might not play it:
- I can't find it. It's only happened a few times, but sometimes a game simply no longer exists anywhere.
- Technical limitations keep me from playing it. DOSBox has been a god-send, but I worry that when I get into some of the early Windows games, I'll run into a host of tech problems.
- The game is only available in a foreign language, and I can't make heads or tails of it. I tried gamely with Le Maitre des Ames and Tera, but I didn't finish them despite knowing a little French. My list has a lot of Japanese and Chinese games that I have put there optimistically, but I can't say for sure what will happen when I reach them.
That said, I continue to welcome your comments on the master game list, particularly on the following issues:
- A game that I'm missing. I've discovered there are a lot of independent games that don't show up on any of the existing master lists. I welcome their inclusion, but please ensure that they meet two of the three criteria above.
- Games on the list that don't meet two of the above three criteria. I might not delete it immediately just on your say-so, but I'll make a note of it, and if I get multiple comments on the same game, I'll investigate and make a decision.
- Corrections to release dates. This has been a huge pain in the neck. For many of the 1990s games, the original release dates have been lost. The release date I care about is its original platform. If the DOS or Windows version had a different release year, I note it in the adjacent column.
- Your opinions on expansions and DLCs. This has also been a huge pain in the neck. Generally, I have listed them as separate games if they are meant to be played after the main quest and introduce significant new plot material. I have listed them with the original game if they just offer upgrades or side-quests within the main plot. But in doing either, I'm relying on MobyGames's or Wikipedia's descriptions, so it would be good to hear from people who have actually played.
In the future, I might expand the list with other columns such as the publisher and such, but I've been working on it too much lately, so I think I'll leave it as it is for now. Thank you all for your contributions!