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)!

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I think an OSR game could be along the lines of Darksouls.

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I get a lot of OSR kicks from Dark Souls and Rogue.

Like mentioned in previous posts, Dark Souls has meticulous dungeon exploration, deadly combat requiring caution, sometimes running away, rationing of resources, great clever but avoidable traps. Wonderfully “jaquayed” dungeons with loops and all that goodness. Plus some special qualities that only Dark Souls (and its derivatives) has:

Rogue is just pure dungeon crawling Basic D&D, stripped down to a solo experience, but no town, no classes. Most encounters can be avoided, but you do get xp from combat (and not gold), so you need to make wise choices. Running away is always an option, but escape is far from guaranteed. Darkness is terrifying, because you might run into a monster you’re not ready to handle. Magic is scary, because you need to, at first, identify spells and potions by trying them out, many are harmful. But you can’t afford to put off using magic for too long, because the dungeon gets deadlier by the level.

I’ve not played Nethack, but that one seems to have the complexity of simulation for more creative play. Then again, it also appears, from the outside, to be a game of character builds and mastering mechanics, but I could be wrong.

I’d like to someday make my own rogue clone, but I’m not really sure what I’d change. The balance of game elements, simplicity, depth seems pretty much spot on.

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For the style I play, survival games like Subnautica and No Man’s Sky are basically what I want out of OSR- emergent gameplay, exploration and item-based problem solving. What they lack for me is tactical infinity and more social/faction aspects but other than that the scratch the itch.

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I like Conan Exiles a lot, but I play solo and always get bored a couple hours in. It makes me want to play a wilderness survival TTRPG. It would make a nice mini-domain game with the players working around their camp, managing food, wood, getting resources, hunting.

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