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Geneforge Saga vs Other CRPGS/RPGS (2000s)


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Hello all. Bit of a "curiosity" post more than anything, but here goes.


TL;DR: How does the Geneforge saga compare to other cRPGs of the same era? 


Bit of a newbie when it comes to cRPGs and such and in recent times I've been wanting to revisit this era of "classical RPGs". I've had more experience with more modern "RPG" titles catered to a more younger audience, such as Fallout 3 (despite never playing 1 and 2), Final Fantasy, and the Souls series of ARPGs for instance. My only exposure to the "classical" cRPG was Geneforge (1 to be exact), which I only played briefly until more recently when I wanted to revisit some older titles that enjoyed but I never got around to playing/finishing.


Can say that I've been going through the Geneforge saga, up to 3 so far, and it's been a great experience. Can't say that everyone shares the same sentiment, as there are often a lot of mixed messages regarding the Geneforge series in terms of gameplay depth, combat, graphics, etc, and possibly the other Spiderweb games that I haven't seen, which is where part of my question stems from.


It could also be that my rose-tinted view of these games is based purely on nostalgia, but if anyone else has played other cRPGs at the time, I am curious on how this series in particular compares to other cRPGs that were more popular back then. I'd play them myself, but not a lot of free time nowadays, maybe one day.

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10 hours ago, Ennowyndo said:

How does the Geneforge saga compare to other cRPGs of the same era?

Favorably, I'd say.


In terms of writing, I think the Geneforge games are probably the best RPGs of the 00s. All the games are very cerebral, especially for video games- they deal with big ideas frankly, and force the player to think about them and make decisions about them. Geneforge 1-3 are more baldly about their ideas; their plots are pretty simple, their characters aren't very deep, and their settings are sometimes uneven in how vividly imagined they are. They aren't badly written, though, just very dry. Geneforge 4 and 5 feature noticeably more lively writing, with a greater focus on characterization, and more complex plotting. I would say that it's more typical for contemporary RPGs (though that's a broad field) to have pretty simple stories, with not a lot of big ideas underlying them, and with what vividness is there to be found in their character writing. Geneforge is also atypical in that it does little up-front worldbuilding- it's a high fantasy setting, but you tend to learn about the geography, cultures, technology, etc, of the gameworld in an organic first-hand way, as you proceed through the story, rather than learning about places you will never see, or reading about technology you won't see until much later in the game, if ever. When you do learn about something before you see it, it's normally deliberately foreshadowing, rather than worldbuilding for worldbuilding's sake. Very loosely, the Geneforge games are more akin to a series of science fiction novels, interested in exploring the ideas they posit, while their contemporary RPGs (including the Avernum games, also by Spiderweb) tend to be more akin to high fantasy adventure novels, where any exploration of the games' ideas or themes is a rare bonus.


Mechanically, by the early 00s many of the bigger CRPGs were RTWP (real-time with pause), or ARPGs of varying lineages. RTWP games play akin to real-time strategy/tactics games, where combat plays out in real time, and you have to give commands to your units (usually by pausing the game to do so) to manage how that combat plays out, in contrast to the turn-based system the Geneforge games (and all of Spiderweb's other games) use, where combat is divided into a series of abstracted "turns." A lot of the "classic" CRPGs of the late 90s through the mid-00s are RTWP- Bioware's games, primarily, and games using their engines (Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, Planescape: Torment, etc), and Divine Divinity and its followups. ARPGs included Diablo-style ARPGs (eg Diablo itself and its sequels, Sacred, Fate) and then direct-control action RPGs (eg TES: Morrowind and Oblivion, or Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines) which combine RPG systems with more mainstream action gameplay. Strictly turn-based CRPGs were relatively uncommon (Arcanum and Temple of Elemental Evil, both developed by Troika, are examples), though they've made something of a comeback in the past decade (eg the Shadowrun Returns games, Wasteland 2 and 3, Legend of Grimrock 1 and 2, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden; Pillars of Eternity 2 was released as a strictly RTWP game, but later got a turn-based mode patched in). So Geneforge is out of step with most of its contemporaries in that fundamental way; and then on top of that, the Creation system the Geneforge games have is pretty well unique to them. The big-name CRPGs most akin to Spiderweb's games are probably the Ultima games of the 80s and 90s.


"Depth" is inevitably sort of subjective. I'd say that Geneforge's RPG mechanics and Creation system give it more depth (in the sense of freedom to make consequentially different choices) than most of its contemporaries; certainly more than any of its CRPG contemporaries using D&D rules. Some people might use "depth" to mean how high a game's skill ceiling is, or how much game there is, or other things. It's kind of a slippery word.


Graphically- the Geneforge games use a mixture of pixel art sprites and pre-rendered sprites (series of static images derived from 3D models). This is typical of late 90s-early 00s CRPGs, but by the later 00s, this, along with the games' heavy reuse of assets between games, was enough to mark them as low-budget/indie games. The amount and variety of unique graphical assets the games have are limited by time and budget; but they're all easily readable, and they get the job done.


I don't have a closing statement to wrap this post up.

Edited by googoogjoob
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I'm too dumb to come up with some long reply to this topic, but I do have thoughts. I haven't played a super large amount of CRPG's from any era, but I'd say the Geneforge games do indeed have their place amongst the greats. @googoogjoob already mentioned a lot of great points.


One thing that stands out for me, from the Geneforge series, is the essence mechanic. I can't think of many other CRPGs where you have to make decisions on how to balance your resources. I just loved having to choose between making a large creation army or supporting a smaller army with more of your own spells. 


I also cannot think of many other games that I'd finish, then restart right away to go through the game in a different way. In my recent replay of the Geneforge games, this happened a few times.

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Welcome, a solid/quality first post...


Also thank you for putting the TL:DR at the top of the post.  You wouldn't believe the number of people who think that it's perfectly fine to make you read a huge block of text & then at the end of it all ... put the TL:DR ... grrr (one of those thing that will be fixed once I become Earth Czar.  That & people who camp out in the left lane are pretty high on the "Fix this now" ilst)


Anyway, enough digressing.  Asking such a question 'here', you're going to get a lot of conformation bias.  But even taking that into account I do think that yes, Geneforge is solid enough to stand up with most any other cRPG of it's era.  It won't compete graphically with those with budgets in the tens of millions, but apart from that (& it is generally well known that if you play a Spiderweb game, graphics aren't going to be cutting edge) the game/s are very well done/enjoyable to play.  One of the things that's been a big positive to me over the years is the lack of voice actors.  I can read far faster than they can speak & don't get bored listening to a long monologue. Yes it was done for budgetary reasons, but that actually works out better for me and my immersion in the game.  By being forced to read everything rather than listening, I generate my own 'voices' for the various characters that you run into.  That & the lack of high quality graphics force my imagination to fill in all the blanks ... which, in my opinion really draws you deeper into the game as you've personalized it for 'you' rather than what some big game company's view of what things should be. 


I'm sure that I played many/most of the assorted RPGs back in the day, but the ones that hooked me so deeply that I'm still (re)playing them 20+ years later 'and' hanging out on a tiny board in a tiny corner of the internet are the ones that allowed such personal interaction (both in the freedom to develop your character however you wanted, & the mental immersion of being forced to use your imagination to fill in all the details after reading about 'x').


So a clearly biased opinion, but yes, they can hold their own with their contemporaries.

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On 4/29/2022 at 2:01 PM, TriRodent said:

That & the lack of high quality graphics force my imagination to fill in all the blanks ... which, in my opinion really draws you deeper into the game as you've personalized it for 'you' rather than what some big game company's view of what things should be. 

I feel that is a great draw, and also a deterrent to Spiderweb Software games. That era of games is when graphics could really give more of an image of what things looked like, opposed to just text. I feel SWS games are in between text adventures and games that fully use graphics to depict their environments. Games like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale had some nice looking scenery, but they are all static in my memory. One thing I like about more using text to describe things is that the world kind of changes a bit when you are given new information.


One scene in a Geneforge game really reminds me of how the graphics are just a basic backbone. When you arrive in a town, there's a creation that needs to be executed. The NPC doing the execution just walks next to the creation. A thorn baton sound is played. Creation makes dying sound, disappears and is replaced with a pool of blood. Just such a basic scene that would fall flat if it wasn't for the text describing what was going on.


Something else I've seen being a put off for some people. The games have no music. For me it isn't an issue and I imagine most other people here don't have a problem with it either. I just listen to my own music and pretend my characters have magical earpieces, or something. In an age where games had beautiful soundtracks, going to a game series that had no music and basic-ish sound could be seen as a drawback.


Well, those are some thoughts I've had.

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  • 3 weeks later...

As a full disclosure, I play a ton of RPGs and have since the late 1990s.  I didn't discover Spiderweb until 2012 or so, and Avadon was my first Spiderweb game.  I didn't love Avadon as I found it way too linear and generic, but there was something about its bread and butter approach to gameplay and storytelling that hooked me, so I very quickly went back and played everything Vogel ever did after finishing it. 


I don't think I got around to playing and finishing the Geneforges until, maybe, 2013 or 2014, but even playing them a full decade after they were originally released, they quickly became a top 5 all-time RPG series for me (Geneforge 5 is maybe my number 4 or 5  all time favorite RPG behind stuff like Darklands, Dark Souls, and a few others), and I'd personally say it's the best RPG series of the 2000s (I think 2000-2009 was a dry spell for RPGs, personally, as only a few bigger studios were doing them and Steam had yet to revive the indie scene).  I even like them way better than the Fallout series which they were supposedly emulating.  I could write volumes about why they are such great games, but for me, the most amazing thing about them is how they use such a simple, and almost formulaic, structure to create worlds and moral choices that suggest a complexity that's light years beyond the content that's actually there.  These games completely hooked me in a way that few games have, which surprised me.  I'm an OCD masochist who has to play everything on torment, and I recall more than a few times reloading battles to make sure all the NPC Serviles survived.  Why?  There were no rewards for doing so, and there certainly weren't any achievements attached.  I just couldn't bear to see any of them die.  


It never ceases to blow my mind how a fairly large company like Obsidian can kickstart a multi-million dollar RPG like Pillars of Eternity and set about creating it with scores of developers and writers, yet have the end product seem so small and empty compared to the universe that the Geneforge games suggest with so much less of everything: way less money, incredibly crude graphics, way less writing (if you judge by word count), and etc.  I remember the plot to the entire Geneforge series, including various moral choices I made along the way, but I can't recall jack [censored] about Pillars of Eternity even though I played through the whole thing (like, it was about rebelling Gods, or something, I think?).


To be perfectly honest, though, in hearing Jeff Vogel write about them after the fact over the years, I'm not  really sure that even he realizes how great the Geneforge games are, or more importantly, why they are so great.  I've liked all of the games he's done since in varying degrees (not crazy about the Avadon universe, which is kind of dull, but I really liked Queen's Wish and think he's finally doing some stuff with it to shake up his formula a bit), but I really don't see him trying terribly hard to replicate the lightning in the bottle he caught with the Geneforges.  Honestly, that's fine.  He's talked about how he was a different, younger, person when he made them, which makes sense and I understand.  However, whenever he does one of his many, "These are all the reasons why my games have been successful and people like them" blog posts he occasionally does, I always want to write my own counter to them, as I'm not sure he realizes why his games have been successful.

Edited by Juan Carlo
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