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Liveblogging Microsoft's "The Evolution of RPG Development" panel

We're at Microsoft's "The Evolution of RPG Development" panel, ready to liveblog the goings on. The panelists are Ray Muzyka (Bioware, Mass Effect), Hironobu Sakaguchi (Mistwalker, Blue Dragon), and Peter Molyneux (Lionhead, Fable 2) and is moderated by GameHead's Geoff Keighley.

4:35pm PT - Keighley starts by asking these RPG icons what the difference is between older and newer RPGs, and how they've evolved.

Sakaguchi: The graphics allow for players to see the true emotion behind the character.

Molyneux: RPGs are the first game I ever played, Wizardry on the Apple. I lost my first girlfriend to it. The graphics have changed. It's not simple and is much more significant, though the structure has not changed. There have been some evolutions but they're still recognizable back then and now. There are opportunities for changes. "I don't know who's going to do it."
4:40pm - Muzyka: The genre has evolved. What is an RPG? it's a blended definition now. The definition is increasingly broad. We're merging some elements into our games (from games like GTA, etc). Story and character is one of the activity pillars we focus on. Addictive customization, progression combat that makes you feel something, that makes you feel fear when your encountering certain enemies. You're so eager to uncover a new area to explore ... we're defining it based on those activity pillars, those chains. We're reaching new consumers as well as our existing RPG fans.

Molyneux: I agree with everything you said. For me, it comes back to this one simple phrase: role playing game. You are playing a role. What should it feel like to be a hero? To start off as nothing and become a hero, that's the differential for me. What I want to do is make you feel like a hero, make you feel significant. Emotional engagement that I want you all to buy in to.

Sakaguchi: What was the question? (laughs) System and visual fidelity are important. What I'd like to do is tell a great storyline, and the characters and worldview that players can relate to. There's a sense of exhileration and accomplishment. Thats something you get out of an RPG.

4:45 - Keighley: Is turn-based here to stay, or is real-time the way of the future?

Sakaguchi: It's crucial to create meticulously and with a great level of detail. With respect to Blue Dragon, it's turn-based but it has a lot of real time elements. Lost Odyssey has a lot of real-time elements that will make battle experiences interesting. There is an action RPG title called Cryon for 360 and two additional RPG projects.
There needs to be variable ways of planning.

Molyneux: I think there's space for both. That's the problem with action games, it's much more twitch, there's no time to pause. I hope there carries on being great turn-based games.

Muzyka: There's many ways to tell a great story. The key, as Peter mentioned, is emotion. We're striving to create both sides of the creation. Mass Effect's got the whole gamut. Everyone's definition of an RPG is different.

4:50 - Keighley: Linear versus open ended?

Sakaguchi: There will be a lot more games that have character customizations, because it's fun.
The focus is to tell a good story and reflect a world view. It's the same as making a movie, you get the characters in place, you want to manipulate all of them and feel fully immersed.

Molyneux: I've been thinking about this an awful lot. There's customization and evolution. I get a bit bored just customizing one character. When you've got no context of the world it seems kind of old school. I am just bored to death with those same old set up screen where you got change the hair color change the eyes, ya ya ya, same old thing. I'd like to continue evolving that character. It's all about your engagement. If I can convince you that these are things you've chosen, that means you're more emotionally engaged. We need to take a step further than we've gone at the moment.

Muszyka: For me, it comes down to the choices you make in the game. Non-linear narrative is one of the hardest forms to create. You have to think of all the angles. You have to have the consequences.

Molyneux: There's one slight snag. You don't want people to start believeing they're making the wrong choice. That's where we've got to be very very careful. That's where branching can work against 'em (RPGs).

Muzyka: I think it's exciting to have different stories. No two characters having the same story arc. Just like real life, you're not gonna have the same path as someone else. I love non-linearity and we're aspiring for that.

Keighley: It must be difficult to create all this non-linear content that some will never see. How do you balance that?

Muzyka: It's damn hard. You have to think fo the emotion return each player gets from the choice they make. "Jack Bauer in space." You have a grand goal, you're saving billions of lives. You have to expend things in the short term for the greater good.

Molyneux: It's not that I don't want to do multiple branching (laughs). The only problem is that, for me, I'm insecure enough to believe that I'm always going to take the wrong path.

5:00pm - Keighley: Let's talk about multiplayer. Very popular on Xbox Live. RPGs always battle with multiplayer experience. How do you see multiplayer fitting in to the future or RPGs?

Sakaguchi: I'm fond of multiplay and online connectivity. I'm hoping I can talk with Shane [Kim] and create an online game (laughs). Shane, please Shane. I wanna make one.

Molyneux: Can I do one as well, Shane (room laughs)? What you're finding is that people are leaving their consoles connected all the time. If there is any genre that is really sympathetic to online multiplayer, it's RPGs. I'd love to talk about that in great enormous detail, but I have been gagged by lots of people. [Is he talking about co-op in Fable 2?]

Keighley: What's taking so long?

Molyneux: there's a lot of stuff to work out, there's technology to work out, there's gameplay to work out ... there's a lot of reasons why you haven't seen the real evolution of what's going to happen. The revolution is coming.

Muzyka: I haven't been gagged. I'll hint at the rough shape of what we're building. The story that develops between players, that's something you can't achieve in a single player game. There's a place for both of them (MMO and single player). I think the social interactions between players allow you to tell stories of a different kind.

5:07pm - They begin taking questions from the audience.

Q: A while back on SNES there was an RPG, Secret of Mana. Why hasn't online co-op been explored in linear RPGs?

Ray Muzyka: I think it's a great idea (room laughs). You have a party joined by a common goal. Where's the fourth pillar? The story? I think that's the missing ingredient.

Q: Do you think there's a place for reality-based role playing? Really minute details like choosing your dinner set? More than a fantasy setting with epic heroes? Can there be more mundane RPGs? (room laughs).

Muzyka: I think one of the cool things about RPGs, it's aspirational fantasy. You don't want to be mundane. You want to be someone who's great. You want to be someone you can't be in real life.

Molyneux: Let's take Fable for example. Is chatting up girls mundane? (laughs in room). Is having relationships mundane? I was thinking about a game called Demitri -- and I still can't talk about this -- it's very hard to talk about (still secret). Could you be a hero in today's world? 24, Heroes, Desperate Housewives, etc. They're all set in today's world. Is the starting point you and I? We're not in some tune like in Fable. We're in this room. That's a good starting point for a role playing game. We could concentrate on the mundane "Level 3 in Make-Up" or we could focus on the dramatic. If I could say to you: this room explodes, this bomb goes off in the corner. That's a good game. It's all about the detail. In fantasy, you can brush over those details. You can say, it's my world.

Sakaguchi: I'm very interested in it. I've been exploring the idea for 10 years. I've thought of a game around a story of a boy who's trying to make up a relationship with an ex girlfriend. It's something i'm interested in, but it's tough.

Q: What makes it so tough?

Sakaguchi: Long discussion in Japanese, we'll do it someday (laughs in room).

Q: Isn't that what Yu Suzuki tried with Shenmue and failed at?

Sakaguchi: Shen mue? Suzuki Yu? Yeah I know him (laughs).

5:15 PM

They retranslate last question and Sakaguchi repsonds: I don't think so (laughs in room).

That's it!

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