FUME!

A long time ago, back in the days when I was pitching Divine Divinity to UK press, I came up with an acronym that described what I thought was important in computer role playing games. I engaged in this particular mental exercise because I needed something to tell all those journalists I was about to meet, and I knew that there’d be many awkward moments during which we’d have to patiently wait for a reboot of the game after one its many guaranteed crashes.

And so it came to be that my youthful self invented the FUME paradigm, a pattern against which one can evaluate the likelyhood of Swen falling in love with a RPG, or not. If it scores low on the FUME scale, statements you can expect from me include such gems as “it sucks” or “that shouldn’t have been made”.  But if it scores high on the same scale, I’ll keep on talking about it for ever and ever. Ultima VII for instance did pretty well on the FUME scale, as did Fallout 2. I’d love to include a modern RPG here, but sadly there are none that I played that score as highly as those games did.

The danger exists that that last statement makes you think that I’m one of those cynics that thinks all CRPGs are shit, but that wouldn’t be right. On the contrary, I think there have been many breakthroughs over the last decades in CRPG design – the only problem is just that there hasn’t been a single game yet that incorporates everything I want to see in one game, and production constraints over the last couple of yours seem to have blocked the kind of development I’d liked to see. But even if I’m slightly disappointed with the lastest RPG incarnations, I do remain optimistic about the future, because I firmly believe that in the end progress can’t be halted.

So, let’s have a look at what FUME stands for.

Ultima VII  has a pretty high FUME value 

FUME, in short, is my method for measuring the quality of character development a game is going to give me, character development being the feature I care the most about in a RPG. The higher the FUME score, the more I love it and the lower the FUME score, the less likely it is to remain on my hard drive (or even be installed if I judge the FUME potential to be low)

The F in FUME stands for the Freedom of character development available.

Can you make the avatar you want to play? Or are you forced into a particular stereotype conjured by the designers of the game, who for sure will not have thought of your particular fantasy. It’s an important question, because it directly affects how immersed I will be in the game.

Freedom also reflects the degree of linearity present -  you can’t have a very high Freedom value in a linear game. It also stands for the liberty that is given to you to make decisions that have some in-game consequences. If I don’t get to make at least a few decisions that affect at least a few things in your gameworld, chances are you’ll score very low on my Freedom scale with your RPG.

The original Fallouts scored quite high on my Freedom scale whereas (perhaps surprisingly) most Bioware games actually scored quite low for me, even if I did enjoy the Baldur’s Gates & Icewind Dales a lot. Sadly, most RPGs are a far cry from what I’d want to see, but there have been steps in the right direction, so I remain hopeful.

Next up is the U, whichstands for the Universe in which you develop your character.

Is it interesting? Is it diverse? Is it original? Can you have cool and fun adventures in it? Is there sufficient depth? Do you care about the game world? Is it consistent with itself?  Is it the type of universe that is interesting to play in as a starting character, but also as a well-developed hero? And also, is it a place that reflects your actions? Does it change as a result of your heroic deeds? Do you make an impact? If the answer to all or most of these questions is yes, I might be tempted to play the game even if it sucks at all the other levels. I like to explore new universes. They are a projection of the complex mix of cultures that make up a game development team, and there’s often something to be learnt from them.

The M then stands for the Motivation that is given to you to develop your character.

This doesn’t always have to be the main story: Diablo for instance was a game that got its Motivation from item fever and a few cutscenes, rather than from its complex storyline. However, it’s clear that having a good storyline can be instrumental in increasing your desire to explore a game’s universe. When the Universe falls flat (as it often does), it’s very possible that I’ll continue playing if my motivation to discover what comes next is strong enough. In general I find that if both Universe and Motivation score too low, I’m not going to be interested in a game.

An interesting case here is World of Warcraft. I had 2 level 70 characters, a number which is far from impressive for a lot people, but by my standards, considering the amount of free time I have, that’s a number that’s insane. Now, I didn’t play World of Warcraft because I thought it had a good story, or because I was impressed by its universe – I only played it because I was motivated by … the other people playing it. So, anything that motivates you to keep on playing goes I guess, though my personal holy grail will remain a strong storyline that will emotionally impact me.

Finally, E stands for the quality of the Enemies against which you can develop your character.

You can interpret this very broadly. The E would probably better be replaced by an A, as what I really mean is the Antagonist(s) against which develop your character, but FUMA doesn’t sound as sexy.

There has to be some resistance in the game world against which you can grow, be it the bad guys, an ethical problem the importance of which increases over time, the refusal of your avtatar to deal with his personality issues etc… Whatever form a game’s antagonist or antagonists take, you want them to be interesting, varied, original, believable and surprising.

I actually can’t think of any RPG that really impressed me in this department, though entities like SHODAN did manage to at least upset me sufficiently for me to remember it. I think the lack of memorable villains has a lot to do with the narrative limitations our medium still has, but as technology improves, I’m sure that eventually we’ll be able to make a villain that recognizes what your avatar is all about, and then hit it in its weakest spot.

As I said, I haven’t encountered a single game which scores high on all fronts, but I did enjoy many games that score moderately well in at least one aspect, so any game that combines two or even three components of FUME is in my opinion already a pretty succesful RPG. If you want to know why I loved Ultima VII so much, it’s because it scored high on Universe and Motivation, gave me sufficient illusion of Freedom and I at least remember some of its villains.

I wrote this piece because I realized (while writing another piece) that I never really explained here how I quantify concepts and designs at Larian. The process is really quite simple. Anything that gives one of our games a chance of climbing higher on the FUME scale is something I’ll put my weight behind. Anything that lowers our FUME potential, is something for which I’ll have an immediate dislike, even if it’s a well-practiced game mechanic.

Over the years, I learnt that often things get implemented out of compromise, be it for technical, financial, productional, or humane reasons, and not because they fit a certain vision. And sometimes it looks like this is something that’s inescapable. Game production involves the work of a lot of people over a long period of time and it’s impossible to get all the noses aligned in the same direction all the time, so conflicts and the necessary compromises that follow them are very hard to avoid.

Whenever you see something that decreases the FUME-score in one of the games I’m responsible for,  odds are that it’s because of one of those compromises. It is one of my deepest professional desires to one day manage to make a RPG that isn’t subject to those compromises. That’s a very hard thing to do, so I’ll probably be busy for some time, but at least I have a guarantee that I won’t grow bored with my job.

Such reflections aside, I can tell you that Divinity:Original Sin is imho a big step in the right direction, and that is our ambition to make this game the framework on which many a FUME-highscoring RPGs will be built. Whether or not we’ll succeed is something only lady fate knows, but I know it won’t be for lack of trying. Personally I’m in any case starting to believe that compared to our previous endeavours, our latest Divinity game will be the Larian game with the highest FUME score. That feels right to me and it tells me that amidst all the things that don’t go as planned, we are in any case are heading in the right direction.

I’m not sure if anybody else has developed his or her own method for scoring how good a RPG is in their opinion, but I’m really interested in hearing about other systems that exist. Broadcasters do this kind thing routinely for instance to ensure that their TV programming fits with certain values, and it’s not an uncommon thing among many brand managers.

For a RPG developer, little value lists like this are handy tools to give to designers. It allows them to quickly quantify for themselves if an idea fit within a certain vision. So if you know of any, please let me know.

  • John

    Hey Swen, I think your FUME system accurately describes how I’ve been subconsciously judging games for my entire life. If there’s one thing I’d add to it, it would be Detail, but I guess that falls under Universe in most cases. Little things like being able to pick up every single candle or rock that you find, and every object being carefully hand-placed by the developers. That’s what really sucks me into a good RPG and keeps me immersed.

    I think two of my favorite RPGs, Arx Fatalis and Morrowind, would rank pretty high on your scale. Have you played them?

    • LC

      All Elder Scrolls games really suck at U if you ask me….

      • Андрей

        Morrowind? Rly? =/

  • RSGeiger

    For me, Universe needs to have quality music. That is the single top mechanic that helps make an RPG memorable to me.

    • KirilRockswouldntyousay

      I agree and I think this one is in good hands. Divine Divinity had the best soundtrack EVER.

      • Андрей

        Agree. Tnx to Kirill Pokrovsky for this =3

  • David Windrim

    This mirrors lots of my thoughts re: RPGs. Fan Bandwagon Alert: for E, I feel like Planescape: Torment might have the best antagonist I’ve ever seen in a game – your own weakness, good intentions, fear of mortality, etc. It raises the question “What can change the nature of a man?” and – crucially – establishes that there is no definitively right or wrong answer, only measures of how consistent and sincere one is in following the leap of faith involved in saying (for oneself) what the answer is. Or ought to be.

    It probably would score low on F combat-wise (3 classes x 1 build), but the fact that the reason you did anything (selfish prick, misguided idealist) changed the nature of events BEFORE THE GAME BEGAN based on character choices maybe makes up for that. I found U super high (worlds where philosophical beliefs become laws of physics? yes please!) and M compelling.

  • martin

    Arcanum. Game that has it all. I would like to see that judged through the FUME method.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      TBH, I never finished Arcanum so I can’t really judge. My save games became corrupt and the game hadn’t captivated me to the level that I wanted to replay it. Judging by all the positive comments I probably missed out on something.

      • CountBuffon

        That game starts out hard, and eventually gets a lot easier, and then… I don’t know, because I didn’t finish and got a new computer and didn’t copy the saves over. It starts out entirely linear, and some events in the game have a very limited number of solutions that are totally dependent on your first few skill choices. *then* a while later you’re allowed to explore and grind, and by the time you have a feel for the mechanics, you have a full party with three tanks and it’s smooth sailing. It’s the worst difficulty and learning curve I can remember off the top of my head, but this isn’t taken into account by FUME and anyone with the time and inclination can get a lot out of the game.

  • Hiver

    While these features you mentioned are very important, there is a few others i take into consideration too.

    One of the most important is the amount of importance of character skill versus player skill. if the game leans too much into the player skills territory then it is less of an RPG and more of an action game.
    Of course both are used – but the amount is important. Basically, if the player skill can override the boundaries of a character skill – the game is less of an RPG and more of a LARPing, action-adventure simulator.

    Combat system falls into this area since TB system is much more dependent on character skills then player skills.
    TB combat rises the score while any sort of Rt combat lessens it.

    Point of view is another crucial feature. First Person PoV demands a lot of time, resources and money to be spent on graphikZ, while “isometric” PoV doesnt – which means more time money and resources can be spent on the gameplay itself, on mechanics, on quests, on skills… everything thats important for an RPG.
    Additionally FP games demand player skill and real time combat – while isometric games dont.

    Another very important thing is how diverse can the playthrough be depending on the players choices in his character build or a class and everything else in the game, from equipment to dialogue choices.
    From this it follows that games that provide more different styles of gameplay and more different solutions to quests – except the combat – are better RPGs then those who dont.

    A game that offers only combat for its gameplay is a less of an RPG (and more of an Action RPG) then the game which offers other different solutions and gameplay styles depending on the chosen clas or character build.

  • Андрей

    Nice post, Swen. But…what about Planescape: Torment ? =3

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      I enjoyed PST quite a lot, dominantly because of its Universe and its Motivation. As David Windrim pointed out, it also had interested antagonism. What it lacked the most I guess was Freedom – both in the areas of character development and of environment to explore freely. I remember feeling confined at times, but all in all, it scores highly. It’s definitely up there in the top 10.

  • Stabbey

    It seems to me that there is an inherent clash between the “Freedom” and “Motivation” aspects where the story is concerned.

    A game which has a very free, “go wherever, do whatever, whenever” approach has a high freedom, but the motivation which comes from the story necessarily suffers, because “do whatever, whenever” doesn’t usually have a lot of pressure on you to do the main plot – you’re not that motivated. (This can also have a negative effect on the Enemies part as well, where the main quest’s antagonists are concerned.)

    Conversely, a game which has a much more linear and restricted plotline doesn’t let you have so much Freedom, but the tighter focus can really work to give you stronger Motivation (and usually a stronger connection to the main-quest Enemies as well).

    It’s hard to find a good balance between Freedom and Motivation-from-story for those reasons.

    It’s clear that Original Sin will rate high on the Freedom and Universe side, but I remain skeptical that you’ll also be able to make the Motivation(-from-story) aspect and Enemies aspects also rate as high. I’m looking forward to seeing how well the game turns out.

  • Dagon

    Maybe you should try the Gothic serie. The first two episodes could have quite high FUME standard.

    I also agree about Arcanum, high FUME score.

    The only thing which I think is lacking in your FUME classificaiton is the “G” for gameplay (or combat system). A very high FUME rated game could have a very low “G”ameplay value, which could spoil the entire game…

  • Fox

    I’m curious, Swen, have you played Dragon Quest VIII? I feel the same as you about most RPGs lacking memorable antagonists, but DQ8–to my experience–the exception. One of the big antagonists, Marcello, struck me as incredibly well-executed–to the point where I found myself symapthizing far more with him and his goals than the hero. Not sure where a Dragon Quest game would fit on the FUME scale. Freedom is very limited, but the Universe and Motivation I think are both very, very good–certainly the former is. The cel-shading makes the game absolutely gorgeous and Akira Toriyama’s art style is rendered beautifully, and the setting–archetypal though it is–has a truly breathtaking “fairy tale” ambiance (helped in no small part by a fantastic orchestral score).

    ….

    Anyway, in terms of how I evaluate RPGs… I don’t have any rigid criteria or specific fields I examine. In every game, I tend to focus on the depth and consistency of the writing. With RPGs specifically, I look for how much freedom I have to effect the narrative–do dialog choices change conversation content or quest resolutions? Do player actions effect story? Etc.,–and beyond that, I tend to hope for branching narratives (opposed to the modern equivalent of “final scene; pick your ending). Few games really have branching narratives, though–the most recent one I played was Romancing SaGa on the PS2 nearly a decade ago. If you’re not familiar with it, Swen, I’d highly recommend checking it out. It may not be a “good” game, but they did a LOT of very interesting things to create a non-linear, open-world, fully-branching narrative.

    To describe it as succinctly as possible:

    -There were something like 8 player characters–each with his or her own storyline, starting location, and abilities/class/job.
    -The world had a number of “events” related to all of the character storylines AND multiple “world” storylines, that would play out whether the player was present or not. Time “passed” based on travelling between locations–so you could miss out on certain “chapters” of various storylines if you weren’t in the right place at the right time.

    To SPOIL one tiny sliver of the game, one of the characters was a “secret” princess–i.e. she was raised out in the frontier by a foster-parent. She can learn about her past and reconnect with her parents… but only IF she makes it to the capital city AND completes the requisite quest line BEFORE pirates invade the capital and burn it to the ground. Oh, and the pirate leader? He’s one of the 8 protagonists–so you choose 1, and the other 7 still go about and do their own thing.

    It really gave the narrative a LOT of depth and almost unpredictability. They managed to create far more of a living, breathing world than I’ve ever seen in any other game, before or since. It’s definitely worth checking out, I think.

  • Kein Zantezuken

    Hey, Swen, any public info on DC sales?

  • Felipe Pepe

    Does your FUME system leaves “combat system” out of the considerations so that Ultima VII can escape with the highest score? ;)

  • Vyacheslav

    Good post, FUME sounds interesting. A little bit of my thoughts on CRPG game design:
    Storyline is important only stylistically. The core of the game is
    1. test your current skills/weapons/equipment
    2. find better equipment/weapons, level-up you character
    3. test your new skills/weapons/equipment
    So CRPG is really an optimization game with symbols(medieval weapons, stats like strength, agility) people can easily relate to.
    That loop generates the most fun in CRPGs. Everything else is a minigame, icing on the cake.
    Conversations usually are not meaningful, badly written, do not have experimenation builtin like in the core game loop.
    For good conversations I like to read good books.
    Blizzard really gets that core loop. Although Diablo characters are one dimensional, uninteresting and that’s ok.

    So i think CRPG games gained popularity because they can be easily marketed – big open world, you can do anything, even bake bread, or knit stuff. Now compare that to how you would market tetris or a game like space giraffe which is very abstract. CRPGs are male power fantasies, people buy them because of effective marketing and play them because of good core game loop.

    Making CRPGs now is indeed old school. I admire the effort to produce so much content only to provide effective style for the core game loop. That said I backed DOS because I played Divinity(nostalgia factor) and like when people do game design with good intentions:) Also would like you to post more about game design, that’s the most interesting stuff.

  • 509dave16

    Below are my thoughts concerning videogames with a single player campaign(this includes RPGs):

    In every game that has a single player campaign there is some goal. This goal is concerned with addressing a problem in the universe. This problem exists because of how it affects the lands and peoples of the universe. It may also be a problem, because only the right individual(s) may be able to resolve it. You are that individual(s) when you play the game. If the game does not convince you that this problem can only be resolved by you and your growth as a character(party), then why should you be the one resolving it. This issue can arise in a game in which there is no struggle to resolve the problem, meaning those who oppose you are not as difficult to overcome as they should be. You need to feel that as the main character you are crucial to the resolution of the problem due to your ability to address the challenges of the problem. In addition, to feel that there is a problem, you need to feel connected to the lands and peoples of the game. If there is no appreciation, affection, or care concerning those things, then how is there a problem. A problem exists because of its adverse effects, which are seen as such because you care about the things that are affected. Last of all, your progress towards fully resolving the problem should be evident in changes that take place in the lands and the peoples that were affected by the problem. This affirms that what you are doing as the main character is beneficial and that you are making progress. If the above statements can be achieved through the systems of a videogame, then that particular videogame is one that I would truly enjoy.

  • Knightpt

    I’m going to twist this a little and instead of being generalistic i’m going to be very direct and just try to explain as to why Divine Divinity is my favorite RPG of all time. I don’t have a FUME score for you but i do believe that at least in the Freedom part you realy need to be carefull between the right amount of freedom and “questing-on-rails”.

    Divine Divinity had something that i have yet to find in an RPG. A perfect balance between enough freedom to explore and enough feeling that you should go to a place, or at least in that general direction. A feeling of “perhaps you can find more info in that village, but when you get there you need to explore a few possibilities of where to go”.

    For that, mapping is of paramount importance. You need a map system that keeps updating as you explore and a way to have location info marked in your map about new places far away so that you aim for that place. On the way to that general goal you get enough choices of either to go left or right, get sidetracked and leave the path, always with that previous destination creeping in your mind.

    This is realy a no-brainer and a lot of RPGs try to do that but for some reason most fail either by making sidequests realy boring and repetitive and exploration non-rewarding. In Divine Divinity you couldn’t walk more than 30 seconds in a new direction witout finding something interesting and worth checking it out. But, as soon as you got bored of exploring for some reason, you basicaly had a good idea of where to go next. It could lead to a dead-end, but at least you suspected something. Perfect tasty mix.

    On the Universe part, it’s generaly a very good idea to have a big conflict brewing and watching how other races, NPCs, villages, towns react to it. Makes you feel part of the living world. Divine Divinity acomplishes this well due to the race conflicts and open-world fights. Also, it’s realy interesting as to discover pieces of history spread into the world, rewarding your exploration with pieces of information that makes you think “ohhh, now i understand…”. The feeling of bread-crumbing your history and delivering your universe to the player in slow paces is always rewarding, if it’s a well-made lore, ofc.

    A good vilain / antagonist is important. But it’s also important not to know from the start who/what it is. Realy good is that along the way there’s twists and the villains are not what you suspected to be, and then there’s constant “reboots” on your theory making you start “guessing” and exploring to get more clues. This is motivation by plot and by far the most important to me.

    Motivation should be a lot of things. In today’s games you can rely on just one or two motivations – Most players will be bored very soon. Motivation by plot, motivation by exploring new story-arcs as sidequests, motivation of advancing your character with gear, all are perfectly valid, but in Divine Divinity my main motivation was to explore more map so that I could have my next discovery because well, they were fun. A perfect example of this is the Nericon’s garden, in Divine Divinity you can always expect that a garden is not only a garden so you SHOULD go there and have fun and be surprised.

    TLDR: My “Fume” is smart balance between a lot of exploration and a little of gentle hints on the right direction so that we feel “safe” if we are being overwhelmed we can go on tracks a little, an universe that we feel the world around us is alive and doesn’t resolve just around us, and various degrees of motivation to catter to most players and moods – One day i feel like exploring, other day i might want to just kill stuff, players need that freedom in an RPG.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      You know, that’s a pretty good description of the general idea behind FUME. I was in a bit of a rush yesterday so I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted on my blog entry, and forgot to mention the importance of the balance and integration between the different elements. I’m glad you had this feeling when playing Divine Divinity – it’s what was intended and personally I’m still not able to judge what parts worked well and which not.

  • LC

    I think this whole thing is a bit two much stereotyped thinking, establishing a kind of scientific approach where only taste, values, experiences, expactations, emotions and aethetics matter. When I personally review a game I let my gut decide rather than my brain. Video games are at the core no number playing for me, they are a method of enjoyment, fun and entertainment. In my opinion the whole “this is a good RPG and this is not” is seriously misleading because RPG isn’t even a firm definition: every one of us has a slightly different perspective on games with RPG elements. There is no real value in the term RPG so there also is no real value in any approach to categorize or classify or compare these games by simple number games and firm rulesets. Is a game which is more an hybrid between action adventure and RPG (like Witcher 2) a worse game or a worse RPG than for example Fallout? Why? Because you are forced to play with a predefined character?
    Any game is good – not only the games with RPG elements – when all the single parts blend together well and make an overall entertaining experience which pleases the heart (and often also the brain). I don’t care about checklist approches like FUME when reviewing games. I care about the game a whole, coming from the complete game to the very specific point whether the game was good or not and why? Maybe the game had a predefined character? Ok, but how is that handled in the game? Is s/he a well written character? Does it fit to the overall game? Was it enjoyable to play with that character? Stuff like FUME can’t give proper answers here because there is npt enough depth in the basic rulesets. It’s just not sophisticated enough to treat games like they deserve to be treated imo. I know RPG fanatics love to play with numbers but it really doesn’t help anything here, if you ask me… ;)

    • Stabbey

      I have to agree. FUME seems so vague and all-encompassing as to make it nigh-impossible for any game at all to score high in all the areas.

      Not to mention that I thought for a little, and realized that Freedom and the Motivation-from-Story seem to be opposing forces. High freedom means there’s little pressure to give you Motivation to finish the story. Parts of games that give you high Motivation are often made more effective by restricting your freedom.

      Take Divine Divinity, for example:

      -You start out in a village, with only a minor plot hook about an insane mage. Your character has no past. You
      can do a bunch of things, including blowing off the hook and heading for the farmlands. Good freedom, negligible motivation.

      – You meet Zandalor who gives you the first indications of the main plot. Three maps – Ferol, Verdistis, the Dark
      Forest open up, as do the majority of the game’s quests. Excellent Freedom, and the motivation is slightly higher, but still not all that pressing.

      – You head into Stormfist looking for Zandalor, only to discover that you’re not allowed to leave again, and are
      stuck being the duke’s lackey. Your freedom plummets to almost nothing, but your motivation suddenly shoots up high. In fact, the sudden LACK of freedom in a way becomes your primary motivation. The lack of Freedom has you stuck, forced into contact with the Enemy, and you hate those enemies because of your lack of Freedom. That sequence wouldn’t be nearly as memorable or good if you could just walk away. You do get your freedom back eventually, but because you lost it for a while, it increased your motivation permenantly.

      This pattern repeats itself – the loss of freedom increasing motivation. Take the ritual to become the Divine One – after you do that, the freedom that came with the set of three open maps is gone. There’s basically nothing left to do in the last act – however, because there’s nothing else to distract you and divert your focus, and because of the events of the ritual, your motivation is stronger than ever.

      Beyond Divinity is a series of acts with one-way trips.

      Act 1, you have to escape a citadel of torture and death. You have little freedom, but high motivation.
      Act 2, your goal is to… go farther away somehow. This act is quite open, so high freedom and low motivation. The lack of focus promotes freedom, but shuns motivation.

      Act 3 probably has the best balance between freedom and motivation, in that the first 80% is high freedom, but you feel little pressure to keep going. The last 20% has low freedom and much higher pressure and motivation.
      Act 4 is very linear, but has high incentive to keep you going. The freedom is perhaps at the lowest for the entire act, but the motivation and pressure is the strongest, and this ends up being the best act.

      Divinity 2 has a lot of freedom, but it’s when you lose a lot of it after getting the Battle Tower that really boosts your Motivation. You lose your freedom at the end of Ego Draconis, and once in FoV, your freedom is fairly limited to the confines of a single city, but your motivation is really high.

      • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

        I indeed failed to mention the importance of the balance and integration between the different elements. FUME was applied in DD & DKS, but only partially because of all those often lamented compromises and constraints. The idea behind the application of FUME in our games is to take the various gameplay elements it spawns and alternate between them. And the idea behind that is this way we continuously offer the player a list of interesting things to do.

    • http://www.lar.net/ Swen Vincke

      The primary idea behind FUME is to use it as a design pattern, not a rating system. Given a set of features you have to chose between, try to select those that increase your FUME value. It’s not rocket science, but I find that in practical development it’s useful to have a value set to refer to, and this particular set works well for the games we’re trying to make.

  • james

    A good RPG must have:

    Multiplayer! Tabletop Dungeons and Dragons started cRPG. This is what games are all about. Singleplayer is for movies!

    However, regarding D:OS, if I can’t take my guy with me into games I join then I won’t be joining any strangers games. Why would I want to invest time in a hero I’ll never see again? I like the system in Baldurs Gate where the main menu says “pre generate character” and there is an export character button.

    Good combat system! I’ve had a lot of fun with old ADND games like Curse of the Azure Bonds, Deathknights of Krynn, Dark Sun, with tactical turn based combat. I’ve also had a love affair with the action combat in Dark Souls. But I’m not so keen on the “rotation” based combat of MMORPGS where you watch your buttons more than the battles, and Diablo style can be alright, Divdiv was great, but sometimes I find my brain has fallen asleep and I’m not sure why I’m still spamming left-click and not playing something else. Didn’t mind diablo3 but I can’t see myself going back to it.

    Environmental interaction! Firstly, secrets are awesome. Secondly, I’d like to quote Kotaku as they talk about Dark Souls environment.

    “The traps in Sen’s Fortress—the darts, the boulders, the axes—reinforce
    something you knew from the beginning of the game: the very ground you
    walk on is treacherous. This is something you don’t see in, say, BioWare
    RPGs, where the space you walk through is mainly there to pace out the
    encounters. In Dark Souls, you have to pay attention to the
    floor. You can fall off the edges of cliffs, or shimmy along a narrow
    ledge to a treasure. Without going as far as Prince of Persia,
    Sen’s Fortress makes you aware of the physical space you’re in by making
    it treacherous—and it’s treacherous in a different way than the cliffs
    up to Undead Burg, or the shaky platforms of Blighttown, or the
    invisible pathways of the Crystal Cave, or the tree roots of the Great
    Hollow ” -http://kotaku.com/5874599/what-dark-souls-is-really-all-about

    Furthermore, Ultima7 environmental interaction was cool because you could bake bread and stuff, but the combat was awful. Fallout2 was cool cos you could target body locations and had lots of character creation options, but the small party size limited the tactics in the combat. BG and IWD were just plain cool. Planescape was boringly verbose with bad combat. Arcanum was a total bugfest with the worst multiplayer you’ve ever played and overpowered magic and just don’t bother. I agree with you about recent bioware RPGs sucking. They’re all interactive multimedia experiences and not real games! Also, shodan was from systemshock 2. See, I know games!

    I think you need to play Dark Souls. That’s the modern game you want to list which has epic FUME!

    Dark Souls needs to be played online to get the true Souls experience as it has unique multiplayer aspects unseen in any PC game before. It also needs to be played with a control pad. :)

    • jamesagain

      Character progression/generation is so important that I actually took it for granted and forgot to mention it!
      Going back to what I was saying about tabletop…. One might spend hours designing their character! DAYS even!
      In Neverwinter Nights 2 I spend 90% of my time in the game making new character builds and never playing the actual campaign. (game sucked)

      In Dark Souls I’ve replayed the game 10 times over trying new builds each time! (best game since ultima7)

      I did mention Fallout2 having good character generation, same with Baldurs Gate.

      For D:OS to be the best it can be I need to be able to spend 2 hours designing my character then be able to take it over to a friends house to try out in a real game but still be thinking about all the other builds I want to try next. Same as a dungeons and dragons tabletop character sheet!

      • 3rdtimelucky

        I don’t mean to spam, and I know you’re already on top of this, but a good map editor to make my own campaigns is super important too! Always look back to what’s possible in tabletop games and try to have the computer add to that. Ok, good luck!

        • DarkSoulsFan

          Dark Souls failure to include a map editor is one the the biggest disappointments in gaming histroy, wouldn’t you agree?

  • Hiver

    heres the little … infographic i made that presents character skills vs player skill issue in a simple and clear manner.

    [IMG]http://i.imgur.com/v3PEvgf.png[/IMG].

  • Martin Ockovsky

    Swen, I want to be your friend. You are such a great guy.

    I don’t have any strict method, I just go with my guts. For example, I consider Mass Effect to be a good game but not an RPG. It just doesn’t have deep character development so I don’t look at it as RPG. Well, that wasn’t a good example at all:D

    For me, the most important things are:
    1. Free character development. If I want to be a sword wilding orc mage, I should be able to do that, even if orcs are stupid and I will fail every second spell I cast. There should also be many options how to make for example a mage, not just one. And I’m not talking fire VS ice magic. I’m talking low hp + high dmg mage (you will be killing everything just by looking at it, but if bird shits on you, you will die) VS moderate hp + moderate dmg VS tank with some magic abilities.

    2. Consequences and reacting world. New bethesda’s games are fail. You can do whatever you want in Skyrim, win the civil war, save the world, became a Thane of a town. It doesn’t matter, nobody cares what you do, nobody cares who you are. So you can’t role play at all. You don’t feel anything. I’m not saying that the game world has to react to every single thing you do, but if you save a little boy and you meet him later with his mom, she should show her gratitude (if she loves her child) and maybe help you somehow if it’s appropriate. If you stole from a merchant he should not let you in his shop any more, or he should give you higher prices and keep his eye on you the whole time. Etc.

    3. Universe and believable world. Mass Effect did this great in many aspects. I’ve read every single codex entry in the game, I learned about all the races and stuff like that even before I started the game. Because of that I enjoyed the world very much. BioWare worlds are sometimes great sometimes not so much, Bethesda doesn’t care, Obsidian makes great game worlds and I love them because of that. You can’t have huge city in the desert without drinking water and some reliable source of food.

    The thing I miss the most about RPGs is proper fight system. There aren’t many games with good fighting system. That’s what I hate *about* D&D games. I know that’s blasphemy in RPG circles, but it’s the truth at least for me. Waiting for proper dice roll if you are badlucker like me is just boring and infuriating. I don’t like to look at two characters missing each other for 2 minutes.

    I will be working on my coding skills so one day you will take me to Larian so I could learn amazing stuff from you. And maybe we could be friends! (I know it looks retarded, I don’t care)

  • Alcatraz

    I’m a bit missing the reason why it’s called RPGs in the first place :( You know, “role-playing game”. Because that’s what matters the most for me. To be there. To feel what my character feels. To see the world with his/her eyes. And to see what decisions he/she make in situations. Because I don’t know.

    Freedom is the most important. My character cannot decide if he/she is struck down and limited by worlds/choice barriers. This really matters.

    Stats and character development are just means. Putting numbers and rules on top of role-playing so it’s also “a game”. With winning/loosing conditions (and not just theater). Strategy and tactics. But it’s less important. If I play good RP I don’t care much about number. I don’t care about powerbuilds. I usually put points in skills/feats my character used a most during that last level. And then see how it works. It’s easy to play inet builds good for ARPG. But it’s fun to play one handed warrior. or mute wizard. Just because of it. If I have tendency to watch my points hardly (damn you Oblivion) I as player consider it a bit failure. Good thing my character won’t know.

    In good universe any character fits better so.. yes. Partially. I’ve noticed that if it is free enough I made my own universe (on my own or with my friends) just well and let my character live in it. So this one doesn’t need to be perfect from design. Just not too much limiting.

    Enemies.. are just like stats. Means for games focused on story and given winning/loosing conditions instead of freedom. If I have truly choice I remain peaceful. At least in direct way (I support others with what they think they need to fight “evil” :) ) Ultima Online is good in this.

    Motivation.. I can’t care less. Motivation is result of all the previous. If game need extra motivations system (XP hunt, item grind) I (player) enjoy it a bit for a while. But it won’t last long to get bored from repetitions. Never got how could someone play WOW or similar for 3 years. If it’s free if I can choose and have at least some tools I can change the world with (OR have friends around) it’s all motivation I need. To create my own unscripted stories. Because I will enjoy my character doing his/her own stuff and see the choices made.

    This all kept me very long in paper RPGs and UO + NWN1 multiplayer on light and HCRP worlds.

    And Skyrim is ultimate fail to it. Being openworld helps. But nothing make you feel you are there, doing something.. even small. After your pass it everything remains just the same. Wanted to do things.. but I couldn’t. If it had not dragons.. and decent ones.. but I’m not sure where it fails on FUME.

    Anyway.. I’m looking for D:OS for being original and humorous. Have co-op. And I hope for responding world. And variable solutions of quests. So different character can use different approach. And Dragons ;)

  • John Glassmyer

    Now I’m curious what you think about Fallout: New Vegas (if you’ve played it), because I think that I would have scored it highly in these areas.

    I think that Obsidian did a much better job of tuning the Universe and Enemy in FNV than Bethesda did with the same engine in Fallout 3.

    There are several meaningful choices to make, especially in the later segment of the game that spirals toward the ending; i.e. you get to choose which factions win/live and which ones to crush. Much of the game world is open to you from the beginning, though you are suggested to follow a certain path through it. I would score Freedom highly too.

    As for Motivation, the first bulk of the main story line is a quest to find out why you ended up where you did in the beginning, and to meet the mysterious ruler of Las Vegas, and in the latter part of the story you’ve made up your mind about who the good guys are and who the evil villains are and you work (across several separate quests) to make these guys win and those guys lose.

    And the music was great, too. (Edit to add: Why didn’t you mention the music of the game? : )

    • Андрей

      NV rly good. But i think it’s FUME rating lower than rating of Fallout 2 (:

  • Андрей

    Btw, i translated this post for russian fans =3
    http://suvitruf.ru/2013/10/30/3334/

  • André du Plessis

    I haven’t really thought it through as carefully as you have. When playing RPGs I just love the fact that my character develops and difficult struggles becomes easier as he/they become more powerful. If there is not much freedom it can lead to a sense of no accomplishment, as everyone play it almost the same way. I still remember the awe I had playing my first RPG game on my Commodore 64 – Bard’s Tale 3.
    Suddenly I was pushed into a world where I had 6 to 7 characters to develop, each with their own strengths. Some freedom was allowed, so you could end up in areas that was to difficult – but that only motivated to leave the area till later and finish other areas first.
    What I also loved was the riddles and dungeons one had to map out. Boss battles were difficult and they had minions. If I remember correctly you would have a boss monster with over a 100 minions before him. You could defeat him by having wizards and bard blasting ice cones etc at the hordes of minions and the thief creeping up on the boss monster each round until he could get a backstab in (the warrior was fairly useless here).
    The sense of accomplishment is great when you survived a fight like that and you had to go to town immediately afterwards for healing and levelling up. The mapping part was also great fun.
    After saying all that I also have time issues (having kids and being a business programmer – my two furthest Wow characters are level 23 and 39 :) For example wouldn’t consider a game anymore without automapping and handling multiple characters are intimidating as I’d rather jump in and play. I find the Divine Divinity games a brilliant example of what I like and contains also these elements (as mentioned previously) and is of the few games I will play through these days (especially RPG related). That is why jumped at the chance to help fund the kickstarter for Original Sin. The reason I like something like Wow is that I get a sense of permanent progress with characters (stored in the cloud) and I don’t have to think too much after a days work. I see it as a kind of solitaire type of game, the general population are willing to play solitaire whereas my zone out game would be Wow. I’ll be looking into Ultima 7 and Fallout 2 now after your recommendation.

  • Stabbey

    “If you were the winter king, where would you lock up the fire prince and his forbidden love, the water nymph?”

    Hmmm… Well, it sounds like the Winter King does not want them to be together. So assuming he wants to keep them as separate as possible, the water nymph should be imprisoned in a volcano/lava-themed dungeon, and the Fire Prince should be imprisoned in a glacier/ice-dungeon, so the prisons are both weakening their abilities.

    But the name “Winter King” suggests that maybe that guy can’t go into a volcano at all. In that case, locking them both into a glacier (in separate parts of the dame dungeon) would work. The water nymph will freeze and can’t move that way, and the Fire Prince will again be weakened by being in the ice dungeon.

  • nobody72

    So where does puzzle solving fit in FUME? Can you have a boring world with uninteresting monsters and lousy character development but still have fantastic motivating puzzles ?

  • Endre

    This concept is good, I would add only one thing: by developing a game I think it is important to check on the gamer society, because it is changing during the time. There will be more variety of user, since not everyone stops gaming after they are 30 or 40 or 50.

    From the other hand the world is changing, people have different expectations regarding all of entertaining media.

    However this doesn’t mean that the expectations are the most important, I would hate if all games tried to be popular. This is the typical example of film and game series, where only the first one was good, the following only shadows..

    I’m really grateful that Larian is not that kind to give all of their values to get more popularity and money!

    Other thing: in case of DOS it would be fine to have possibility for detailed gameplay/difficulty settings, like for example in Heroes of Might and Magic 3 I was able to select how many resources I can find, how stong is the enemy… So the game could be more variable. You could give several default settings with good ballance, and we would be able to fine tune (and ruin) everything. :D :D

  • Geralt

    Regarding the E in FUME, when you said “I’m sure that eventually we’ll be able to make a villain that recognizes
    what your avatar is all about, and then hit it in its weakest spot” I immediately thought of the King of the Wild Hunt from the Witcher (first game). The absolute coolest part of that game was the very end.

  • 4verse

    i would be very interested in a kind of review of D:OS by you (when it’s out) in which you apply your FUME scale and eleborate on the reasoning behind your judgment.

  • Garod

    I guess one thing I’m missing in the FUME scale is Story.
    You can have freedom, a well crafted universe, motivation and engaging enemies, but if your story sucks the game sucks for me. But you might class that as Universe?

    Another keeps surprising me with classic RPG’s in general and that is the stupidity which is called Leveling.. why does a character which get’s x exp suddenly know how to do things he may not have used a single time allot better?
    example I raise my crafting skill by 5 points and suddenly I can do advanced crafting while I never crafted anything in my life before.
    One game which did this Superbly imho was Ultima Online, you could pick up a sword and you sucked at it, the more you used it the more points you got and the better you could use it. (granted there is the chance for grinding issues here but I think it’s better than the level approach). The Elder scrolls games also got that right imhp.
    I really wish more games would work with that… If you constantly cast fireballs then you should get better at it and not casting ice spells.
    I actually don’t think a turn based RPG has been made with that model? (wonder why?)

    I guess my Ultima 7 is Torment. It ticked many of the boxes for me.
    F) While there was some linearity in it as to story progression there was also allot of freedom.While there were distinct classes you could change your class whenever you wanted to and could level various classes so at least some freedom there.
    U) The universe is awesome, rich textured and slightly dark but also not too dark to make it dreary. The lore was excellent. Loved the whole WTF happened to you!! vibe the game gave you. Waking up in a mortuary was definitely one of the most fun experiences.
    M) The game gave you lots of motivation to play through again and again ( I think I’ve done it at least 12x and it’s a long ass game)
    E) Memorable enemies aplenty especially you Mortality, what better twist of a final boss than to fight your own mortality, the reason why every time you died you woke up on the slab of stone in the mortuary, the one thing which allowed you to actually get as far as you did.

    In the end I guess for me it comes down to emotional engagement.

  • Charles Geringer

    The best system for evaluating RPGs that I have found(That is that better represents what I look for in a RPg) is Chester Boilimbroke´s GIMLET:

    http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com.br/2010/04/ranking-and-rating-crpgs.html