What would an OSR videogame look like?

I participated in a game jam recently (I’ve always wanted to learn how to code games) and it was a lot of fun. The process of making my game got me thinking about what a videogame based on Old-school rpg principles might look like. RPGs like 5e have lots of videogame counter parts with high-powered characters with lots of cool abilities, but its hard to find games with that old school vibe.

If you had to design a videogame that used OSR principles what features would you implement? What do you gain with the videogame medium and how could you leverage that? I ask this out of curiosity, and also for selfish reasons because I’m looking for some game dev inspiration.

Of the top of my head:

  • Detailed resource management (Torches, rations, etc)
  • Extensive travel procedures. You could make some really complicated dungeon turns because the computer can handle it.
  • Morale rules for monsters. Barely any games give you the option to talk with monsters or have monsters that don’t fight to the death.
  • Retainers and henchmen.
  • I’d really like to see some sort of interesting mechanics for traps. Not sure what that might look like…
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I think roguelike games could fit at least part of the bill (in fact, you could have a roguelike with henchmen and morale rules and it would encompass most of the characteristics of OSR games).

I think another important aspect is to keep the RPG rules down to a minimum: not that many stats, limited weapons and spells…

This looks to me as the hardest part to put into code. Interesting traps involve player ingenuity, which requires a flexible system. Those are very hard to code (and mostly not coded very well). Maybe a random trap generator, which combines different elements (also visual elements) might make traps more interesting without being too much difficult to code.

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I reckon a fantasy version of Jagged Alliance 2 would work very well. It doesn’t have options to talk to ‘combat’ enemies, but they do run from a fight. It ticks most of the other boxes, especially when you take into account the community mod “Jagged Alliance 2 v1.13”. Probably a bit too weapon-heavy as things stand, but you’ve got to properly plan your forays into enemy territory or your little bands of online shop-ordered mercenaries - each with their own strong character, and relationships & enmities with other mercs - are toast. It’s even got a grid-based map and mini dungeons.

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There are lots of old school video games. The original Rogue, Ultima, and the Infinity Engine games are great examples.

Similar to how we look to the past to find inspiration for our tabletop games, I’d recommend the same with video games - a lot of this foundation has already been laid.

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There are a few good ideas to pick from the Dark Souls series:

  • For real time combat, no matter how high your level is, it still requires an incredible amount of caution to survive.
  • Dark souls 2 had a simple use of torchlight giving dungeon delving quite an edge.
  • No quest logs, no maps and cryptic background, you unravel the story based on your observation of the environment and items description.
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Ghosts 'n Goblins (arcade version)!