Thursday, February 28, 2013

Three-fold Guide to the Neo-Retro (Revised)

Greyhawk Grognard recently wrote, "Don't Call them Clones." I disagree with some of what is said there for a couple of reasons. I've discussed the subject of how to categorize the various clones, clone-like games, and "retro feel" games a couple of times before. Since then, there have been many more games released, but I think the over-all model as a concept has held up. Here is the model, with the understanding that there are far more games out there than I can possibly fit in this space:


Neo-Retro: This is a broad category under which all relatively recent games claiming a "retro" or "old-school feel" belong. The broad classification is flexible enough to encompass games like DCC RPG and Mazes & Minotaurs, which are very different mechanically but are more about "feel."

The "Clone Spectrum" ranges from retro-clone to what I'm now calling neo-clone (formerly near-clone). These are defined below:

Retro-Clone: I originally coined this term back in 2007, and since then the waters have been muddied, but my intention was that this term be used to describe games that are designed to be system emulators, to the legal extent allowed. Any game in this category is more or less directly compatible as a system emulator.

Neo-Clone: These games are predominantly mechanically compatible with retro-clones or the source inspiration, but they add or revise certain parts to match a certain aesthetic or design goal. They still fall on the clone spectrum because of compatibility. They are not "holistically innovative" in the way that Mazes & Minotaurs is, for example, but are instead highly derived. This is where I probably differ the most with Greyhawk Grognard, because I see all motivations as basically falling in the same category, whether it is changing the economic system in ACKS, or speculating what a 2e would look like in ADD.

Games that fall in an area where these clone categories overlap are trying to emulate more closely, and include fewer rule changes or "innovations," for lack of a better term. It is a matter of degree.

This is how I see the spectrum of games out there. I don't expect the universe to agree with me, but frankly, to me, creating additional distinctions about intent is just splitting hairs. One might wish to have additional categories within the neo-retro sphere, but my scheme is set up this way because of my interests. I could envision more sphere within neo-retro, for example some that include more third edition derived categories to decide where DCC RPG and Castles & Crusades fit in their similarity or dissimilarity to third edition.

Note: Stars Without Number I'm iffy on since I have not looked at it very closely. It might be a neo-clone.

6 comments:

Nick Wright said...

Having a clarity of terms is important, I think; you know what you're getting if they describe themselves as neo-retro instead of a retroclone, for example.

I hope these terms catch on.

Wayne R. said...

I would do things differently; I see it as an outermost circle of "retro games," a circle inside that of "OSR games" and another circle in that of "retro-clones." The innermost circle would have OSRIC and LL, with BFRPG and S&W half inside, half outside. The rest of your "neo-clones" would be "OSR games" and the remainder would just be "retro games."

Dan of Earth said...

@Wayne: That makes some sense, but it doesn't acknowledge that the neo-clones are highly derived mechanically from retro-clones and/or the original inspirations. For example, ACKS borrows a lot of text from Labyrinth Lord and I think BFRPG to a lesser extent, while ADD only borrows from the SRD text-wise but is mechanically highly derived from AD&D. I think those acknowledgements are important. Understandably, publishers of games like those may want to distance themselves from the word "clone," for marketing and branding reasons, but that only obfuscates what they are.

Sine Nomine said...

I'd say SWN probably fits where it's put in this classification. The game system itself is traditional to the extent that you can run B2 with it just by counting monster HD as their attack bonus, but the add-on content of psionics, skills, starships, factions and the like probably move it out of your neo-clone category.

Dan of Earth said...

Thanks for your input, that makes sense. Starships & Spacemen is in a similar boat, but there is a gray area.

Wayne R. said...

Maybe a spectrum from "Clone" to "Neo-Retro" makes the most sense? With LL and OSRIC at one end, BFRPG and S&W a bit further out, the "Neo-Clones" in the middle, and the "Neo-Retro" ones toward the far end.