The 4th Edition of the seminal pen & paper RPG Dungeons & Dragons has just debuted - but why should game developers care? THQ veteran Tom Smith explains what video games can learn
- or even 'borrow' - from D&D's evolution.
Though deriving ideas is an important skill that game developers need to develop, copying a single interesting enemy or character concept without incorporating their underlying ideas can wreak havoc on a design:
"That enemy may only work in conjunction with that game's style of player attacks, or spawn strategy, or AI. To take well, it is necessary to truly understand the thing to be stolen. Once understood, it's possible to derive the idea rather than just the implementation. Take the soul, not the shell. Then twist the soul to subvert it to the game's vision.
As such, the remainder of this article covers some of the core ideas of 4th edition D&D that are potentially applicable to video games. Some reinforce known best practices, while some point to new design space that could prove fertile for new game ideas.
Either way, borrow carefully. Make sure these ideas fit the game's vision. Play D&D a bit to see how they actually work in practice instead of just taking my word for it. Play some other RPGs to see if they have better ideas to derive form. Don't just grab the outer shell and forsake the rich intellectual goodness inside."
Developers could also benefit from following D&D 4th edition's approach to using focused content, concentrating on details only when they aid the game. For example, since most enemies are only on the screen for a few seconds, they only need enough actions to support that brief time.
"Instead of adding detailed situational AI or extra animations that the player won't notice, focus on the one or two unique things that make that enemy stand out. And make those few things shine for the time the enemy is actually on screen.
What concepts does this enemy teach the player? What will the player remember later? Design around that. If the enemy appears over and over again throughout the game, make sure they do something different every now and then for variety, but don't add details just for detail's sake. Design for fun rather than simulation."
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