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Subject: RPG vs. Adventure game, whats the difference? rss

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Noreen
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Ok, this is probably a really stupid question, but keep in mind that I'm from the era of point-and-click adventure games...

What is the difference between a game labeled as an adventure game and one labeled as an RPG?
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Krzysztof Zięba
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There's a bunch of differences. They are actually very different from one another.

Adventure games tend to be focused around puzzles. RPGs tend to be focused around combat and character interaction.

Adventure games tend to have a point & click interface with minimal mechanics (ie. outside of the different verbs you play around with, there probably isn't a separate element of the game which takes care of, say, combat or character interaction). RPGs can be anything from point & click, through first person and third person action games, to isometric titles focused heavily on action. In all of these cases, they are likely to have quite complex mechanics (like different character attributes, choices for upgrading them when you level up, some kind of system governing you moral choices etc.).

Though both genres tend to focus on plot and characters, and there has been quite a lot of overlap between their mechanics in certain titles, I'd summarize it by putting both on a scale of a mechanical focus. Adventure games tend to have very little of that, while RPGs tend to rely on that to a large extent.
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David Hicks
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My PERSONAL interpretation: RPG has an emphasis on character/skill building. Adventure is everything else.
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Krzysztof Zięba
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lokisfun wrote:
My PERSONAL interpretation: RPG has an emphasis on character/skill building. Adventure is everything else.

Which is a succinct and elegant way of saying what I was blabbering about above
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Krzysztof Zięba
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Plus, at this point in time, there's a lot of space for these genres mixing and mingling with other types of games. RPG and Adventure game elements can be found in anything from FPS to TPP Action to RTS and turn-based strategy. The difference between the two was never set in stone (you could argue that some early adventure games felt more like an RPG), but they're much more fuzzy nowadays than they used to be, because often the tech used to make both is similar. Plus, games have become much more homogenized in the past 10-15 years, so it's harder to tell what genre they are - which is why we welcomed the "Action Adventure" moniker which covers pretty much 75% of the AAA gaming space.
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Todd Pytel
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lokisfun wrote:
RPG has an emphasis on character/skill building. Adventure is everything else.
I think that's as good a definition as your likely to generate. "Adventure" once referred more narrowly to point-and-click games like Myst or Shadowgate. But those games fell out of favor many years ago and the term has since been applied to almost any game that tells a significant story without using a detailed character development system. The line between adventure and RPG's is blurry and subjective, but I'd say that the hallmark of an RPG is that you make irreversible choices in your character's development - picking a character class, choosing one skill over another, following one storyline over another, etc. Games where you have a menu of character power-ups that you can choose in different orders (Batman: Arkham Asylum, God of War, etc.) are usually not considered RPG's because your choices aren't irreversible - you'll end up with all those power-ups in the end.

But it's all really fuzzy and you'd have no problem finding exceptions if you look for them. I don't find precise definition of genres to be a useful exercise.
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Brian Sorensen

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RPG is more you have a say into your character. You can customize him down to his backstory, what he eats for breakfast, favorite Beatle (If he is of a universe where the Beatles actually EXIST that is), etc. etc. As an old school pen and paper RPG'r I'm old hat at creating characters for adventures.

If you are given a character to play with no say into his background or build, it's more of an adventure. Say, The Legend of Zelda...etc..It's more focused on action.

There are grey areas, I consider Skyrim an adventure game but if you are so inclined you have such flexibility of character creation it can be a RPG. Speaking of, I created Link from Legend of Zelda in that title. aka "The Chicken Killer". People sure do get pissed when you scare a chicken in Tamriel , just sayin. For more on the hilarity of this see Conan O Brien's Clueless Gamer.

But I digress.
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Simon Lundström
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ngwilliam wrote:
Ok, this is probably a really stupid question, but keep in mind that I'm from the era of point-and-click adventure games...

What is the difference between a game labeled as an adventure game and one labeled as an RPG?

Bluntly put, "Adventure game" is an evolution of the text-command based games:

"Pick up sword"
"Use rope on hook"
"Throw rope"

Adventure games took the step from this and had you actually click on the screen. You picked up stuff, carrid it around, used it with various stuff. Say the SCUMM games by Lucasfilm: Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken, Monkey Island… that's "adventure games".

Warning: Criticism ahead!

I HATE the term "adventure game". I really, really detest that the word is used to describe the above mechanism, and doesn't actually mean an overly theme where you're out on an adventure.

When VGG started, I sat for days and figured out a way to categorize games, and part of why I did so was that exact "genre" I don't remember the details now, but I think it was split into "atmosphere/theme" (sci-fi, fantasy, whatever), how the game was presented (text, 2D scrolling, flick screen, still screen, 3D, whatever), and what the player actiually did (controller skill, puzzle solving, experimenting with the environemt, whatever). and some other things. I remember I went through my collection of 500+ games so that no aspect of any game I knew would be left unchecked, while not being too complex. I think I had some 10 or 15 choices for all of the three aspects, that I suspected would grow into 25 or so.

It was declined of course (though I still think it would be cool to have an alternative terminology instead of the fuzzy generic terminology), but I remember that the very reason I got started on that was the term "adventure game". That's how much I hate it

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Todd Pytel
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Zimeon wrote:
I HATE the term "adventure game". I really, really detest that the word is used to describe the above mechanism, and doesn't actually mean an overly (overall?) theme where you're out on an adventure.
But I think it does mean something much more generic about going on an adventure, at least outside of the historically minded gamers you find here at VGG. People describe Uncharted as an "adventure shooter" or Symphony of the Night as an "adventure platformer". Most gamers out there don't know or care about games like Myst, The Longest Journey, etc. and I don't see mainstream gaming media making any effort to restrict "adventure" to those games. VGG is highly unrepresentative of most gamers in its historical awareness.
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Luke Stirling
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ponghalo wrote:
RPG is more you have a say into your character. You can customize him down to his backstory, what he eats for breakfast, favorite Beatle (If he is of a universe where the Beatles actually EXIST that is), etc. etc. As an old school pen and paper RPG'r I'm old hat at creating characters for adventures.

If you are given a character to play with no say into his background or build, it's more of an adventure. Say, The Legend of Zelda...etc..It's more focused on action.
By that definition, a vast majority of JRPGs would count as adventure games rather than being part of the RPG genre. A substantial number of JRPGs, including virtually all of the later single-player Final Fantasy games give you a fixed character to play. Those games rarely even do dialogue options, yet they still are considered by most to be RPGs (hence the RPG in JRPG).

Honestly, I don't think there's a hard and fast line between the two genres. In the end though, I think it comes down to transparent manipulation of numbers the player can make bigger. If an adventure game has that, then it's probably going to be seen by most people as an RPG, if it doesn't then it is unlikely to.

The interesting thing about this definition is that it's pretty much the opposite definition to most other genres. Over the years RPG-ish elements have found their way into almost every other genre of game you can imagine, but for the most part, games that do this tend to be seen as belonging to the genre of their non-RPG heritage rather than being defined by their presence or absence of numbers. As with all these things, there are exceptions, but it's strong enough trend that the examples far outweigh the counterexamples.

This contradiction doesn't make the categorisation of RPG and adventure any less wrong any more than two close synonyms that can be used to describe the same situation doesn't invalidate the existence of either word. Words that contrast and compare articles of culture are by necessity imprecise.
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Todd Pytel
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paralipsis wrote:
By that definition, a vast majority of JRPGs would count as adventure games rather than being part of the RPG genre.
I was considering precisely that contradiction as I was posting my "irreversible choices" comment. But isn't that the main reason JRPG's are almost considered a distinct genre from other RPG's? The usual complaint by gamers that dislike them is that they're too linear. And that's true compared to "western" RPG's that focus on character builds and plotline choices.

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In the end though, I think it comes down to transparent manipulation of numbers the player can make bigger. If an adventure game has that, then it's probably going to be seen by most people as an RPG, if it doesn't then it is unlikely to.
That's fair. If you do a VGG search on RPG's, they're all numbers-intensive. The possible exception is Planescape: Torment (#3 ranked RPG). While it does have some numbers to manipulate, they're not all that critical to the game. And manipulating those values is certainly not the reason it's so widely admired.

Still, it's probably better to take my "irreversible choices" suggestion as a hallmark of western RPG's rather than RPG's in general.

Historically, it seems likely that "number manipulation" came to define video game RPG's simply because it was easiest element of D&D for early computers/consoles to emulate. In the days of Dragon Quest/Warrior and Ultima, you didn't have the technological resources or existing design patterns for elaborate storylines, scripted events, complex environments, dramatic cutscenes, or variable relationships with companions. Is it fair to say that Baldur's Gate was the turning point here? It had precursors like the SSI gold box games and other non-D&D titles, but I think BG was the first game that really succeeded in being more than just number-crunching.

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Over the years RPG-ish elements have found their way into almost every other genre of game you can imagine, but for the most part, games that do this tend to be seen as belonging to the genre of their non-RPG heritage rather than being defined by their presence or absence of numbers.
I agree that's interesting. A striking example I believe you've provided elsewhere is "career mode" in sports games. I think that speaks to a big appeal of RPG's - people enjoy taking ownership of a character/team/city/etc. and watching it grow over time thanks to their efforts. But in popular perception the term "role playing game" is inextricably linked to D&D, and hence some kind of fantasy setting.
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Luke Stirling
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tppytel wrote:
The possible exception is Planescape: Torment (#3 ranked RPG). While it does have some numbers to manipulate, they're not all that critical to the game. And manipulating those values is certainly not the reason it's so widely admired.
Even there though numbers are still a pretty big deal. In addition to the obvious combat benefits of building up Str/Dex/Con and bonus spells from Int/Wis, there's all sorts of other stuff going on under the hood. Conversation options are expanded with higher Intelligence, and Wisdom affects the memories you can recover from past lives. Charisma is admittedly pretty useless for the most part. While Planescape Torment is far from being the numbers fest you'll find in virtually any MMO, there's still a lot of planning and preparation, exploring for loot to give you various bonuses and abilities, and that kind of thing going on throughout. It's possible to play it while not paying a lot of attention to those numbers, but they are still there on the character ability screen and on item mouseovers in the inventory screen.

I like to think of the not-an-RPG dividing line as existing somewhere around the Legend of Zelda series. As I said, it's a fuzzy line, but this is one example which represents point of relative clarity near to the boundary. Compared to what we call an RPG, there are virtually no numbers to manipulate in a Zelda game. You can collect heart pieces to increase your health, but for the most part Link's route through the game is essentially the same for all players. Order can sometimes vary, but not much else. The only upgrades amount to gear gating, not entirely dissimilar to the Metroid games.

As you say, history plays a big part. What we think of as the RPG genre has its heritage in pen and paper roleplaying games. Of course, pen and paper RPGs needn't be stat fests, but it's what computers are good at, and so that's what made the trip from book to digital when people were thinking "RPG". Were these systems to have emerged within computer games before tabletop gaming, then we might have very different categorisation systems for these kinds of games. But that's to be expected, genres are a product of the culture they exist in, and in essence they're basically just common threads people see between past and present media.
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Steve Duff
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It's sad we even have to discuss this. RPGs and Adventure games are really nothing alike. Night and day. It's only because they've been splattering the adventure title on anything and everything the last few years that the meaning has gotten lost.

Clicking the Adventure category on Steam is downright embarrassing - Skyrim, Shadow of Mordor, Far Cry 4 and Dayz.
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tppytel wrote:
People describe Uncharted as an "adventure shooter" or Symphony of the Night as an "adventure platformer". Most gamers out there don't know or care about games like Myst, The Longest Journey, etc. and I don't see mainstream gaming media making any effort to restrict "adventure" to those games.

As I don't read much about video games these days, I'm a bit unaware of how the terminology runs today, but that may be so.

However, that said, even I think it would be too far saying Symphony of the Night being an adventure platformer, maybe because I think "RPG" is a (large) subset of adventure games, and I'd call it a platform RPG.

(And I think the ill-named "adventure" genre is still existant, though sometimes referred to as "puzzle" game.)

Re-terminologizing the 30,000 games we have in the database is probably seen as undoable today, although I am fully willing to do so with all games that are withing my collection/knowledge, should VGG try start a re-terminology project.
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
It's sad we even have to discuss this. RPGs and Adventure games are really nothing alike. Night and day. It's only because they've been splattering the adventure title on anything and everything the last few years that the meaning has gotten lost.

Clicking the Adventure category on Steam is downright embarrassing - Skyrim, Shadow of Mordor, Far Cry 4 and Dayz.

I agree and I don't. It might be sad and it might not be.

It depends on how you define the word "adventure". If you define it as what the word "adventure" have meant during video game history, then it's sad, because it means it has been diluted to unusability. But if you define it as – well, the word itself – a game where the player is out on an adventure, then the above is not sad.

The reason is HAS been diluted is probably because of the same reason I dislike the word – it's not transparent that the word means "basically, evolution of the text-based games from yesteryear".

For example The Cave. While that is an "adventure" game, I'd probably not call that game an "adventure".

I really think that such point-and-click games should be defineable. I just don't think "adventure" is a good terminology for it.
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My definition would be something like "In an RPG you act as if you were the character you play ignoring your own intentions and desires while in an Adventure you let the character act as you would." So even Mario Kart could be an RPG if you play as (I don't know the characters so I am taking a guess) Toad and then let Mario win because you know he is a sore loser.
Wouldn't be fun but it would be roleplaying.

But mostly everthing with skills, experience points etc is called RPG nowadays.
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Harlekin wrote:
My definition would be something like "In an RPG you act as if you were the character you play ignoring your own intentions and desires while in an Adventure you let the character act as you would." So even Mario Kart could be an RPG if you play as (I don't know the characters so I am taking a guess) Toad and then let Mario win because you know he is a sore loser.
Wouldn't be fun but it would be roleplaying.

But mostly everthing with skills, experience points etc is called RPG nowadays.

Mario Kart would fall neatly into the "Karting" genre...
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Ok, so let me ask this: if I buy a game that is labeled RPG, will I always be playing online against other people? That's always been my impression. I wouldn't mind trying an RPG but it would be great to be able to start against an AI if possible.
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ngwilliam wrote:
Ok, so let me ask this: if I buy a game that is labeled RPG, will I always be playing online against other people? That's always been my impression. I wouldn't mind trying an RPG but it would be great to be able to start against an AI if possible.
That would be a MMORPG.
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From my perspective the main difference for me centers around mechanics and game play. I know much more about RPGs (role-playing games) since it is my favorite genre, than I do adventure games which I've played for less frequently.

Where some confusion may lie is that for Adventure games and RPGs story and characters are usually an integral part of the experience. Though I will say that it is much more likely to have an RPG with a limited story than it is to have an adventure game with a limited story. In an adventure game most everything a character does is to progress the story line. A weak story in an RPG doesn't have as big of an impact if the mechanics and game play are fun and engaging. A weak story in an adventure game has a much greater negative impact because there is less complexity in interacting with the game world. But with limited mechanics, there is more freedom and focus to do inventive things with the story in adventure games. The conversation tree, where a character has many different options in dialogue with an NPC, was created in the adventure game genre. It is something that can be including in RPGs these days (particularly Western RPGs), but it is a key part of all adventure games I know of.

ADVENTURE GAMES:
In an adventure game the scope of what your character can actually do is much more limited. Characters might not be able to run or jump. It is more likely the same game input (button) is used for a multitude of different commands in interacting with the game world depending on the context of the story. (This is particularly true in point and click adventures where the same command is used to interact with different items in various ways.)
Combat is usually limited and when it is present it is handled in unique ways to that game (series) like quick-time events.
Multi-layer puzzles are very common in the adventure game genre (though have become less so in the popular Tale Tell games). Needing to find x item to interact with y object is more much common in adventure games.
The camera or field of view is usually completely controlled by the adventure game itself.
Adventure games are much more likely to be linear in story and provide the same sort of game experience to different players.

The below video is long, but does a good job explaining adventure games and talks about the different sub-genres.



To make the RPG waters murkier there are two main types of RPGs, JRPGS (japanese RPGS) and Western RPGS and it has been convincingly argued that they should be two separate genres.



But I'll focus on detailing RPGs in direct comparison to adventure games.

RPGS:
One of the focus of RPGs is all the things that your character can do within the more expansive game world. Characters can run or walk, jump, fight, and explore. The are a wider range of set commands for the character interacting with the game world.
Combat is a key part of an RPG and the mechanics and abilities that can be used in combat are much more complex. Because of the combat aspect, there is a focus on leveling up characters and gathering weapons, armor, and items that provide specific advantages in combat.
Puzzles can be present in RPGs but are usually much less complex and play a much less key role in the game.
The game camera in RPGs is controlled by the player. So how the game is presented and where the character "looks" is uniquely different for every play of the game.
Side quests which are optional tasks often with their own stories are much more common in RPGs. Even in JRPGs that tend to have a more linear story than Western RPGs, the side quests available and the ability to "level up" provide a more dynamic and varied game experience than adventure games.

Adventure games and particularly text adventure games have been around a lot longer than RPGs. Adventure games are the grand pappy of RPGs. But as there has been a greater focus on mechanics in RPGs, in many games the story suffered as it became less of the focus. Some people enjoy RPGs just for the combat, leveling systems, and exploration. The popularity of RPGs coincided with the decline in popularity of adventure games. It is really nice to see a resurgence in popularity in the adventure game genre. Many of the recent Tell Tale games like the The Walking Dead: A TellTale Game Series have brought back the genre for people who rarely play them, myself included.
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ngwilliam wrote:
Ok, so let me ask this: if I buy a game that is labeled RPG, will I always be playing online against other people? That's always been my impression. I wouldn't mind trying an RPG but it would be great to be able to start against an AI if possible.

Many RPGs are just single player experiences. As Phil indicated, MMORPGS (Massive multi-player role-playing games) are by their nature are with other players.

My favorite RPG series is The Elder Scrolls (Core Series) and they only released an MMORPG this past year. The series has been primarily focused on solo play.

Video Game Development Timeline

Text Adventures > Multi-player Text Adventures > Graphical Adventure Games > Solo RPGS > Multi-player RPGs

Gaming has always been limited by technology and different types of game play has become available as technology has progressed. But each genre has their strengths and weaknesses which has caused some players to be die hard fans of just RPGs or MMORPGs but not both.

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David Hicks
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I believe at this point in RPGS, the best ones being made are still solo. And I am a paid tester for MMORPGs.
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Thanks for the input folks! I play all my games on my iPad since my pc and I divorced about a year ago. I'll take a look in the app store and see what RPGs I can find there, although I expect the pickings to be slim.
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ngwilliam wrote:
Ok, so let me ask this: if I buy a game that is labeled RPG, will I always be playing online against other people? That's always been my impression. I wouldn't mind trying an RPG but it would be great to be able to start against an AI if possible.

You normally play against nobody, neither other players nor an AI.

You usually control one or several adventurers, going around in a world following some sort of storyline. You will probably be levelling your character(s), equipping different weapons and armour, and perhaps be in control of what skills to assign/buy and such.
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
It's only because they've been splattering the adventure title on anything and everything the last few years that the meaning has gotten lost.

Not just the last few years. I remember back in the days of the original NES console there were quite a few games slapped with the word 'adventure'. It's been muddled for a long time by publishers. Sort of like how 'rogue-like' is being muddled now.
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