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marurun
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What would a great made-for-mobile RPG look like?

by marurun Sat Jan 21, 2017 11:32 pm

I have a thought exercise for us, and I hope you find it interesting enough to throw in your 2 cents. (I promise this isn't for any kind of app project or anything, it really is just a collaborative thought exercise.)

So, I've been thinking about phones and tablets, but especially phones, lately. While there are certainly a number of great RPGs that have been ported to phones, they all feel less than ideal, in part because how we interact with our phones is very different from how we interact with our consoles, computers, and gaming portables. That's probably why match-3 puzzles and various building sims tend to dominate the games landscape.

Why is this? In part it's because a touch screen is our only mode of interaction. On the other hand, the way we use our phones, for constant communication, scheduling, reminders, weather, light browsing, music and podcasts, and, of course, games. All those functions have to co-exist. Traditional games and RPGs demand we devote our entire attention span to them and block out all else, but everything we do on our phones demands we multi-task, jump in and out of apps, check on things, etc... We do everything in little bite-size pieces.

We also pick up and put down our phones. At work we might take a 5 minute phone break to relieve stress. I will often interact with my phone in fits and starts while holding my son. This interaction pattern, 5 minutes on, 15-60 minutes off, is also very common.

In light of this, what would an RPG designed specifically for this functional environment, and a touch-screen interface, look like? I'm not talking about "Hey, what's a good port of an existing RPG?" I'm asking if we tried to take the RPG and re-invent it to inhabit this space natively, what would we keep and what would we toss? What kind of compromises would have to be made? What are some possibilities for innovation? And what might some of the variations that result look like? Play like? Sound like? Did an existing RPG on a smartphone do something that struck you as a model for others?

Here are some other questions to consider: Given that such an RPG will need to be tossed into the background on a moment's notice and therefore can't demand hour-long play sessions, can we... Have a JRPG-style story? Have meaningful combat? What style of combat would that be? Quick? Strategic? Tactical? How would we get around? Dungeon-maze-crawling? Overworld navigation? How do we handle interacting with other characters in the world? How do we keep players from feeling lost and not being able to remember what they were doing? How short can we make moment-to-moment interaction with the game without losing what makes RPGs great?
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Re: What would a great made-for-mobile RPG look like?

by marurun Sat Jan 21, 2017 11:33 pm

This space reserved to collect people's great ideas.
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Re: What would a great made-for-mobile RPG look like?

by marurun Sat Jan 21, 2017 11:34 pm

Here are some of my thoughts:

Touch screen interfaces make immediate control of a character difficult. Nobody likes virtual gamepads. So using a cross of arrow icons to move characters on a map seems like a poor interaction method. That said, tactical movement in battle, like that of the Gold Box games, Tactics Ogre/FF Tactics, Shining series, etc.. would be really easy to replicate. Just highlight the squares or hexes where you character can move or that your character can attack and just touch on the map, and after moving or attacking, choose the next action or option from a menu or command icon ring. But those kinds of battles tend to be long and involved. That doesn't necessarily rule them out, however.

Menu-based systems can work just fine on touch screens, as long as the menu items are large enough to easily select on a large screen (no, using a virtual gamepad to choose menu options sucks and is right out). Icon rings could also work this way, so long as every item is immediately selectable and you don't have to use arrow to rotate the thing.

So character control effectively needs to be indirect and planned.

I also think active/real-time battle systems fit badly with how we interact with our phones. Turn-based, or at least pause-for-interaction, is necessary to ensure easy pick up and put down. You do your thing and then let the AI do its thing.
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Re: What would a great made-for-mobile RPG look like?

by TSTR Sat Jan 21, 2017 11:52 pm

Agreed. Grid based/strategic/tactical movement and turn-based action systems seem like a good fit for the format.

As far as the time constraints, maybe looking at some kind of setup like Half-Minute Hero (not that I've played it, but from what I've read) would be something to look at.
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Re: What would a great made-for-mobile RPG look like?

by MrPopo Sun Jan 22, 2017 1:47 am

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Re: What would a great made-for-mobile RPG look like?

by PresidentLeever Sun Jan 22, 2017 7:58 am

marurun wrote:Here are some other questions to consider: Given that such an RPG will need to be tossed into the background on a moment's notice and therefore can't demand hour-long play sessions, How do we keep players from feeling lost and not being able to remember what they were doing?


Quicksave on exit and make the game keep track of the main script for easy reviewing in a journal/quest log feature. I don't agree that it has to be designed for >1hr sessions though, and I don't see why the rest has to be much different from previous portable games either - you can just go with a turn-based battle system.
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Re: What would a great made-for-mobile RPG look like?

by marurun Sun Jan 22, 2017 1:47 pm

I don't know about you, but I NEVER have an hour of undivided attention to give my phone. Expecting your players to spend hour-long sessions with their undivided attention focused on their phone really limits your potential audience.
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Re: What would a great made-for-mobile RPG look like?

by TSTR Sun Jan 22, 2017 2:10 pm

Play sessions should be able to be completed in 30 minutes or less, especially if the "on-the-go" factor is one to be emphasized.
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Re: What would a great made-for-mobile RPG look like?

by marurun Sun Jan 22, 2017 2:12 pm

Agreed. I would argue being able to play in 10-15 minute bursts would be even better, assuming a game can accommodate.
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Re: What would a great made-for-mobile RPG look like?

by PresidentLeever Sun Jan 22, 2017 5:23 pm

There's room for those bite sized, formulaic and shallow experiences along with more demanding and rewarding ones though, and the mechanics I mentioned (meaning I obviously don't expect you to spend an hour on the game each time you play) would let you quit and pick up any time even though you won't make as much progress from a shorter session.
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