Thursday, September 12, 2013

What's What: A primer of some common gaming acronyms

Continuing from yesterday's post (Who's Who), today I aim to elaborate some of the different genres in gaming and explain some of the acronyms that are routinely tossed about. For the uninitiated, this should be a good start to understanding concepts which are often taken for granted in the gaming world. This list is far from exhaustive but covers what I feel to be the most prevalent terms.

A quick note on acronyms in speech

As should be apparent by even a cursory glance at the list below, acronyms are very common in gaming. For the most part, when utilizing gaming acronyms while speaking, the terms are properly said by pronouncing each letter. For example, RTS should be said as "arr, tee, ess" and not "rits". Where applicable, I have tried to indicate the few exceptions to this rule and provide bastardized phonetics for them.

RPG - Role Playing Game
The RPG is one of the most enduring genres in gaming. Heavily influenced by the pen and paper game D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) which in turn was heavily influenced by Tolkien, common themes in the RPG genre include magic, sorcery, swords, and hideous monsters (although futuristic settings are also fairly common). Mechanically, RPGs frequently employ numerical statistics to rank various character attributes such as strength and intelligence. As a player progresses in the game, these stats increase at various intervals known as levels and help a player gauge their relative strength. As the name implies, much of the allure of RPGs is to engage in fantasy and pretend to be an iconic hero. Thus, RPGs frequently feature epic story arcs that span many hours of gameplay.

ARPG - Action Role Playing Game
Prototypical Game - Diablo
A sub genre of the RPG, the action element generally entails a lighter story in favour of speedier combat. These games still fit into the RPG category because they often utilize a stats based approach to track character progress. Further, many of the class tropes such as strength-based characters being beefy warriors and intelligence-based characters as powerful wizards are present in ARPGs. One other feature of ARPGs is that they typically place a great deal of emphasize on obtaining equipment to enhance the power of characters; often the pull for the ARPG is to obtain better loot (equipment) over an expansive plot.

JRPG - Japanese Role Playing Game
Prototypical Game - Final Fantasy
Japanese RPGs, so called due to their emergence in development and popularity in Japan prior to catching on in the rest of the world, primarily differentiate themselves from ARPGs through the the use of turn-based combat. What this means is that the player assigns an action to his character, the character then performs that action, and then the player waits while the enemy takes its turn before acting again (chess would be considered turn-based). Another defining point of the JRPG is that the player is frequently tasked with controlling multiple characters who form a party; each character within the party serves a role, be it damage, healing, or support. JRPGs are typically heavily story focused and are well known for hiding Easter eggs (small hidden rewards) for players who take the time to explore every nook and cranny of the game.

Western RPG (Western Role Playing Game)
Prototypical Game - Baldur's Gate
Not really a true sub genre, the term Western RPG is sometimes used to refer to the stylings of Edmonton based developer Bioware who's games typically operate as a mix of turn-based and real time combat. In these games, combat is usually capable of being paused at any moment and the player is encouraged to frequently stop and think about what actions they are queuing up. Unlike ARPGs, rushing headlong into a fight without making use of the pause button is almost certain to spell disaster. Again though, the flat term RPG is often sufficient and the word 'western' can be dropped.

MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game)
Prototypical Game - World of Warcraft
The MMORPG is certainly in the running for the most popular genre in all of gaming. The obvious differentiating factor for this type of RPG is that it is played online instead of as a single-player experience. The general approach of MMORPGs is to entice players to work together to tackle challenges which require intense coordination. The worlds of MMORPGs are typically designed to be lush and visually distinctive but, for the most part, story takes a back seat in favor of frequent combat.

RTS - Real Time Strategy
Prototypical Game - Starcraft
As the name implies, RTSs reward players for fast strategic thinking. The prototypical RTS asks the player to function from a bird's eye view of a battlefield instructing units to harvest resources and construct a base replete with training facilities to produce additional combat capable units. As the game progresses, a research or technology tree is progressed through in order unlock the ability to train more varied and powerful units. Victory is typically defined through destruction of all other opponents. RTSs have gained tremendous popularity as an e-sport.

MOBA (pronounced "mow-baa") - Multiplayer Online Battle Arena
Prototypical Game - League of Legends
A sub genre of the RTS, MOBAs typically leave players in control of only a single unit while foregoing base-construction and integrating some incredibly light RPG statistical elements. Matches are usually team based in two vs two or three vs three setups. As the player is only in control of a single unit, a level of micromanagement is present that usually doesn't occur in the traditional RTS. 

4X (pronounced "four-ex") - Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate
Prototypical Game - Civilization
4X games are usually turn-based and, at first glance, may appear quite similar in terms of interface to an RTS. The player typically takes a birds-eye view but the game map is usually representative of an entire world as opposed to a single battlefield. In this way, 4X games are comparable to the popular board game 'Risk'. What makes 4X games unique is that they usually progress on an epic scale taking the player from a humble start in control of only a small pocket of the world and eventually progressing to complete domination. "4X" describes the typical flow of a game starting off generally non combative as the player explores his surroundings, then expands their territory while exploiting any resource advantages they may have to muster an army to exterminate the enemy. 4X games are typically designed to be played multiple times with the draw being discovering new ways to apply the 4X formula to victory as opposed to experiencing any tangible story or plot.

FPS - First Person Shooter (not to be confused with frames per second)
The FPS is probably the only genre that can reasonably give the MMORPG a run for its money in the contest for most popular genre in gaming. In terms of formula, the FPS typically has the player controlling a character as if they are looking through that character's eyes. Game typically involve collecting weapons to deal with foes while exploring maze like environments towards an ultimate exit.

Classic FPS - Classic First Person Shooter
Prototypical Game - Doom
The Classic FPS is so named as it is the style that the first FPS games ever released took. These games allow the player to carry an impossibly large arsenal of weapons and heal themselves by simply running over med kits conveniently scattered around the environment. The Classic FPS almost totally forgoes any semblance of a story and focuses squarely on shooting ever stronger enemies with an ever stronger arsenal. The modus operandi here is mindless fun.

Modern FPS
Prototypical Game - Call of Duty
The Modern FPS represents an evolution of the Classic FPS in that it typically tries to integrate a story and adheres to some tenants of realism. The player can usually only hold a rifle-type and hand-gun type weapon at a time and level design is typically more about large set pieces mimicking a battlefield rather than a maze. Here the idea is more to present an engaging plot arc that ties each level together instead of mindlessly blasting everything in sight.

Stealth FPS/Stealth Shooter
Prototypical Game - Thief
The stealth shooter is a take on the modern shooter that rewards the player for navigating the environment while inflicting a minimum of bloodshed. While the modern FPS may feature the front line soldier flushing out terrorists, the stealth shooter focuses on the lone operative trying to conduct a covert assassination. Level design in stealth shooters is usually quite open ended with the challenge being for the player to determine guard patrols and select a route that will not leave themselves exposed.

The above list is only scratching the surface of the different acronyms and genres you can encounter in gaming. That said, I think my selection covers the most widely used ones and hopefully was informative. Hopefully the next time someone says that their RTS plays like an ARPG you will have at least a vague idea of what they are talking about.