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Computer role-playing game

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001), an example of a computer role-playing game
Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001), an example of a computer role-playing game

A computer role-playing game (CRPG [1]) is a video game genre that has its origin rooted in personal computers (PC) and to varying degrees utilizes game mechanics of traditional Role-playing games.

Gameplay elements strongly associated with CRPGs, such as statistical character development, have been widely adapted to other video game genres. For example, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, an action game, uses statistics (abbreviated as "stats") to keep track of stamina, weapon proficiency, driving, appearance, lung capacity, and muscularity. Warcraft III, a real-time strategy game, features heroes that can complete quests, obtain new equipment, and learn new abilities as they advance in level. However, neither game is considered a computer role-playing game.


CRPGs are originally derived from traditional role-playing games, especially Dungeons & Dragons, and use both the settings and game mechanics found in such games. The stories featured usually involve a group of characters (a party) who have joined forces in order to accomplish a mission or "quest". Along the way, the adventurers must face a great number of challenges and enemies (usually monsters inspired by science fiction and classic mythology).

Characters have a variety of attributes such as hit points. These attributes are traditionally displayed to the player on a status screen as a numeric value, instead of a simpler abstract graphical representation, such as the bars and meters favored by video games in general.

Character development

Through the course of a game, players are allowed to choose how they want to improve their character's (or party's) performance in terms of attributes, skills, special abilities, and equipment. These improvements are given as rewards for overcoming challenges and achieving goals. The conditions that need to be met in order to earn these rewards may vary; some games are focused on defeating enemies, while others emphasize completion of the quests. The amount of freedom players are given when choosing what to improve also varies by game; some allow highly detailed and specialized customizations (known as "builds"), while others automate the process almost entirely. In many games, players are allowed to name and create the concept of their characters, as opposed to playing the role of a pre-defined protagonist. When creating a character from scratch, players might be able to choose their race. Players choose a character class or profession that defines the focus of their training in different aptitudes such as weapons mastery, social skills, spell-casting, and stealth. Some games allow characters to advance in more than one of these professions, but this usually carries some form of disadvantage in order to maintain game balance. Some games also allow the player to choose a "background" or "vignette" that defines the history of the character, prior to gameplay.

Two different systems of rewarding the player characters for solving the tasks in the game can be set apart: the experience system (also known as the "level-based" system) and the training system (also known as the "skill-based" system). The former system, by far the most common, was inherited from traditional role-playing games and emphasizes receiving "experience points" by winning battles, performing class-specific activities, and completing quests, which are then "invested" by the player into the necessary skills. The second system was first introduced in Dungeon Master, and emphasizes developing the character's skills by using them - meaning that if a character wields a sword for some time, he or she will become proficient with it. This system was later used in the The Elder Scrolls series, as well as the Dungeon Siege series.

Both character development systems have their advantages and disadvantages. The experience system allows more flexibility and fairness in rewarding the completed tasks, but is generally unrealistic, since it is, for example, theoretically possible to develop a character's warrior skills without ever actually using them in game. The training system does not imply any reward for the completed quests, except a material one, assuming that the character trained his or her skills while working towards the set goals. However, such systems tend to over-simplification (as seen in Dungeon Siege) and are often considered a step away from classical CRPGs towards the action RPG genre. Many games, such as Oblivion (Elder Scrolls), utilize both the training system and experience system.

In most computer role-playing games, character advancement does not affect the characterization of the player character. Planescape: Torment and Fallout both stand as notable exceptions to this trend for their inclusion of complex quest structures and NPC behaviors that were altered depending on the player's choices, with Torment taking into account the player's predilection for law or order and Fallout introducing reputation-based traits such as "Child Killer" or "Gigolo." Other D&D-based games (including the Baldur's Gate and Knights of the Old Republic series) also offered many opportunities to shape the player's character, changing the nature of the game and and its NPC reactions.


Like the first role-playing games, most CRPGs are set in a fictional high fantasy world. Whereas the tabletop games have since diversified, few CRPGs feature elements from space opera, post-apocalyptic, alien and other science fiction themes. Almost none take place in historical or modern settings. Several notable exceptions to this trend are Arcanum (steampunk), Bloodlines ("gothic punk"), Starflight (science fiction), Darklands (a blend of medieval German history and legend), and Fallout (post-apocalyptic).


An important characteristic of a CRPG is freedom of movement. Most CRPGs allow the player to travel where he wants, putting few or no implemented restrictions of where the player can go, locked doors not withstanding. This makes exploration an important element to all CRPGs.

Characters in CRPGs often travel long distances or navigate through complex and maze-like locations in order to accomplish their goals; thus, many use a system of maps to help the player navigate through the game world.

Since Akalabeth, these games feature characters moving on one or more maps. When the player-character in that game entered a dungeon or city, the view is changed from the map view to the player view. This representation is still used by Final Fantasy series and many other console RPGs. But since Ultima 6, many CRPGS now feature a player view also in travels, showing fully developed and complex landscapes, and only showing the map to help the player.

Some games feature maps that must be viewed on their own separate screen, while others feature an automap that is always visible during normal gameplay. These maps commonly keep track of a character's current location and important destinations. Although these maps generally make navigation easier for the player, some games limit the visibility of the map intentionally to provide additional challenge or more realism.

Quest Structure

Computer role-playing games, more so than any other genre, are famous for having long and involved quests. In particular, many of the most famous and well-regarded CRPGs such as Fallout contain multiple quest solutions and nonlinear gameplay through branching plots and oftentimes multiple endings. Different character builds may approach quests differently, using diplomacy, violence, subterfuge, bribery, or a variety of other methods, often driven by character as opposed to player skill. Many quests in CRPGs are optional, allowing for freedom of choice in defining a character's goals and intentions. In some CRPGs, such as Planescape: Torment, choosing one path over another may have moral implications, potentially changing the alignment of the player. In some other CRPGs, such as Arcanum or Geneforge, a set of quests may be mutually exclusive with another set, forcing the player to come to a decision on the possible long term effects. Such quests often affect the player's standing with a particular faction which may help or hinder the player. Thus the player's choices can have profound consequences later in the game.


The CRPG travel system usually uses a map view and a set of nodes that the player can traverse to. During travel, the player characters may wander around in dangerous places, such as enemy strongholds or the savage wilderness. In some games, these locations will spawn random encounters, usually when the characters are moving. A random encounter may be benign in nature, such as finding a friendly non-player character or a wandering merchant, or it may be hostile, such as being spotted by a group of enemies or walking into a trap. Encounters are more often hostile than benign. By encountering and defeating enemies, the group of characters may be rewarded with loot and experience points, just as in many of the simpler traditional fantasy RPGs. Participating in random encounters repeatedly for the sake of amassing these rewards is referred to as grinding. Enemy characters featured in random encounters rarely have any impact on the story. Some games, instead of using a traditional random encounter system, generate the characters from a random encounter on the screen before the player is forced to interact with them. This way, the player is able to better prepare for the encounter or avoid it altogether (if possible).

Some encounters in CRPGs are not random; they happen automatically when the player reaches a certain point in the story. These encounters are usually important events and may be foreshadowed in some way. The vast majority of these non-random encounters are "bosses", enemy characters of importance who are always more difficult to defeat than any common random encounter. Other scripted encounters may include unavoidable guards, characters seeking the player's attention, or incidents that are critical to the story. Like most video games, CRPGs often feature a climactic final encounter, after which the game soon reaches its conclusion.

Random encounters are no longer frequently used in modern CRPGs, with the exception of a few special cases like roguelikes.


Almost every CRPG features combat as one of the main challenges to the player. A good portion of these games is spent avoiding, preparing for, or carrying out fights. Combat is usually carried out in either turn-based or real-time mode.

In a classical turn-based system, only one character may act at a time; all other characters remain still, with a few exceptions that may involve the use of special abilities. The order in which the characters act is usually dependant on their attributes, such as speed or agility. Most turn-based games do not emphasize reflexes.

In real-time mode, there are no turn restrictions and characters may act at any time. Action tends to be more frenetic though sometimes difficult to control. An example of a CRPG featuring real-time combat is Diablo. Many real-time CRPGs are classified as Action RPGs.

A variant of this mode called real-time with pause allows the player to pause the game and issue orders to all characters under his/her control; when the game is unpaused, all characters follow the orders they were given. This system, abbreviated as RTwP, is often actually implemented with an underlying turn-based system, as in the Baldur's Gate series. RTwP has been particularly popular in games designed by Bioware. The most famous RTwP engine is the Infinity Engine.

History and Chronology

Richard Garriott's Akalabeth from 1980 is considered to be one of the first graphical CRPGs not hosted on PLATO.
Richard Garriott's Akalabeth from 1980 is considered to be one of the first graphical CRPGs not hosted on PLATO.
Main articles: History of computer role-playing games and Chronology of computer role-playing games

Role-playing video games began in 1975 as an offshoot of early university mainframe computer text RPGs on PDP-10 and Unix-based computers, starting with Dungeon and graphical RPGs on the PLATO System, pedit5 and dnd, themselves inspired by traditional role-playing games. Other influences during this period were text adventures, Multiple-User Dungeons (MUDs) and roguelike games. Some of the first graphical CRPGs after pedit5 and dnd, were orthanc, avathar (later renamed avatar), oubliette, Dungeons of Daggorath, baradur, emprise, bnd, sorcery, moria, and dndworld, all of which were developed and became widely popular on PLATO during the latter 1970s, in large part due to PLATO's speed, fast graphics, nationwide network of terminals, and large number of players with access to those terminals. These were followed by (but did not always lead directly to) games on other platforms, such as Akalabeth (1980) (which gave rise to the well-known Ultima series), and Wizardry.

These early Ultima and Wizardry games are perhaps the largest influence on the later console RPG games that are now popular. Many innovations of Ultima III: Exodus (1983) eventually became standards of almost all RPGs in both the console market (if somewhat simplified to fit the gamepad) and the personal computer market. Later Dungeon Master (1987) introduced realtime gameplay and several user-interface innovations, such as direct manipulation of objects and the environment with the mouse, to first-person CRPGs.


CRPGs often face criticism from players of traditional RPGs. A common reason for this is the fact that most CRPGs focus on combat and statistical character management instead of storytelling and deep character development. This trend is called powergaming. Players also criticise the fact that the player has limited, pre-programmed control over their digital avatar, rather than unlimited control of a character who may interact with any aspect of the game's world.

These are common criticisms of simulated realities in general; indeed, these criticisms are also directed at gamist and simulationist players of traditional role-playing games. A virtual world might create the illusion of freedom in terms of choice and motion, but even in the most free-form CRPGs, a player's actions are limited by the amount of content that a game's designers are able to program. Narrativist RPG players, being used to having no such pre-defined limitations, find themselves unsatisfied with the experience provided in CRPGs.

Many gamers feel that it is inaccurate to use the term "role-playing game" to describe games in which the characterization of the game characters is determined by the game designer rather than the players' portrayal of their roles. However, this is a criticism of the term rather than of the games themselves.

Although current technical limitations may not allow CRPGs to be as open-ended and free as traditional RPGs, numerous games allow for considerable variation in their content delivery. Many games also feature graphic engines designed to be easily modified by enthusiasts, who with their own variations and ideas may add new graphical content and build their own home-grown setting and stories. Some games such as Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption and Neverwinter Nights also feature built-in "storytelling" multiplayer modes which provide one player all the functions of a gamemaster. However, future developments in artificial intelligence may lead to the development of CRPGs which answer all the traditionalist criticisms.

Another major criticism of CRPGs is one inherited from their roots in early, combat-focused role-playing games — that their typically strong emphasis on statistics and numbers for many facets of gameplay has diluted "role-playing" into "roll playing." In many cases, it's not clear where to draw the line between player choices and numerical determination. For instance, whether there should be a stat-based skill for information gathering has long been the subject of debate in the RPG community.

Variant terminology

Warcraft III is primarily a real-time strategy game, but it strongly blends CRPG elements into its gameplay.
Warcraft III is primarily a real-time strategy game, but it strongly blends CRPG elements into its gameplay.

Because traditional role-playing games predate them, computer RPGs were given the abbreviation “CRPG” as they increased in popularity to avoid confusing the two. In Japan, however, video game RPGs became widely popular first, so the term “RPG” (in the Latin alphabet) is used for them primarily, while the original versions are given the retronym “PRPG”. Outside Japan, console RPGs are frequently referred to as “JRPGs”, and computer RPGs are sometimes referred to as Western role-playing games (WRPGs [2]).

CRPGs which mainly feature complex, squad-based combat systems are known as Tactical RPGs, and may be abbreviated as “TRPGs”. Some prefer to call them “Strategic RPGs”, thus they may also be referred to as “SRPGs” instead. Tactical RPGs feature a strong emphasis on tactical combat, usually turn-based. This subgenre borders with Real-time tactics and Turn-based tactics, and some games are considered to belong to both the CRPG and Tactics genres, or be a hybrid between them. Jagged Alliance and Silent Storm are famous Turn-based strategy games that are also classified as part of the tactical RPG genre.

Many games commonly referred to as CRPGs, such as Diablo II or Dungeon Siege, are often described more specifically as Action RPGs. This subgenre tends to be faster-paced, more skill intensive and focused on combat, while lacking developed plot and dialogue. Sometimes Action RPGs are also referred to as hack and slashers.

Games that take significant elements from CRPGs and other genres, but don't have a genre name like "Action RPG" yet, are usually referred to as "hybrids." For instance, System Shock 2 and Deus Ex are two famous FPS/RPG hybrids. Warlord's Battlecry and Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars are RPG/RTS hybrids. Other games, such as Space Rangers 2: Rise of the Dominators, have so many different genres mixed together (i.e. CRPG, RTS, Elite-style trading simulation, TBS, text adventure, SHMUPS) that they defy any meaningful singular characterization. These games are usually simply referred to as multi-genre.

Furthermore, any CRPG developed by an amateur developer is usually referred to as an Indie ("Independent") role-playing game. Popular Indie role-playing games include Avernum and Geneforge. Indie role-playing games are not a distinct subgenre but their small budgets usually have a dramatic effect on the game design.

Differences between PC RPGs and Console RPGs

Main article: Cultural differences in computer and console role-playing games

Due to cultural differences between developer companies, historically different inspirations and origins, distinct target audiences, and hardware with dissimilar capabilities, two main trends or "families" of computer RPGs exist. Each follows a certain pattern in terms of art style, storyline, and game mechanics. To see an involved discussion of the major differences between computer RPGs and console RPGs resulting from the occidental and oriental divide, see Cultural differences in computer and console role-playing games.

List of companies

Below is a list of game developers who specialize in or have created notable computer role-playing games.

Prominent designers

  • Brian Fargo
  • Chris Avellone
  • David W. Bradley
  • James Ohlen
  • Jason D. Anderson
  • Josh Sawyer
  • Julian Lefay
  • Leonard Boyarsky
  • Richard Garriott
  • Timothy Cain

See also

  • Adventure games
  • MUDs
  • Roguelike
  • Tactical role-playing game
  • Category:Combat-oriented computer role-playing games
  • Console role-playing game
  • Turn-based strategy
  • RPG Maker
  • Simulation game
  • List of Computer Role-Playing Games


  1. ^ CRPG - The Online Dictionary.. Retrieved on 2006-08-09.)
  2. ^ WRPG - The Online Dictionary.. Retrieved on 2006-08-09.)


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