It’s an easy habit to fall into. “This is rubbish,” you’ll think. “I could make a better game than this.”
This thought process does, of course, usually fail to take into account the fact that making a game is really, really hard work that takes months or even years in most cases — and titles as complex and lengthy as JRPGs make particularly time-consuming projects to take on for even the most accomplished studios.
Usually, anyway. Lucky for the rest of us, then, that titles such as the RPG Maker series exist, allowing us to scratch that creative itch and churn out something that, while it may not necessarily be better than commercial releases, is infinitely more satisfying to share with other people because you made it.
Many of you will doubtless be aware that the latest iteration in the RPG Maker series, which goes by the somewhat cumbersome title of RPG Maker VX Ace, is now available on Steam. (It is also, at the time of writing, temporarily reduced in price as part of Valve’s holiday sale, so after reading this you may wish to take advantage of that fact.) This week on Swords & Zippers, rather than exploring a specific game or topic, I’m going to show you around RPG Maker VX Ace and hopefully give you a better idea of whether or not this is something you might want to have a play with.
Let’s jump right in. (All images in this post are click-to-embiggenable, so click away if you want to see what’s going on a bit more closely.)
Once you’ve created a new project, which I’ll assume you’re fully capable of doing yourself, this is what you’ll be confronted with. You’ll see the screen is split into a few distinct areas — the main part of the screen shows your game world and the things in it — currently flooded with water — the left panel is split into a display of “tiles” available for creating your map and a “tree” of your game’s maps, and the toolbar at the top of the screen allows you to access the program’s various functions. Let’s take a peek at one of these that is particularly important.
This window is called the Database, and it includes everything that makes your game tick — characters, character classes, skills, items, monsters, equipment, status effects, music used for various things happening (yes, you can import your own) and even the words used on the interface. You’ll also notice from the screenshot above that the Database is conveniently pre-populated with some default entries in every category, meaning that you can jump straight in and make a game with the standard content. Once you’ve got a feel for how it all works, you can then start customizing everything from each hero character’s stats to the mathematical formula used to determine damage in battle sequences. Super-hardcore developers can even delve into the game’s scripting system and completely rewrite the engine — and you better believe some creative types have been doing some amazing stuff with what might initially appear to be a rather primitive, mundane 2D engine.
The best way to demonstrate how easy it is to make something that at least resembles a game is simply to show you, however, so without further ado, let’s begin by creating a simple map. Currently, the default map is filled with water, so let’s do something about that first of all by selecting tiles from the palette on the left and then painting something that looks like scenery. Like this:
There we go. Beautiful, right? No? All right then. But suffice to say it’s super-easy to make a map. Several different tilesets are included with RPG Maker VX Ace, including ones suitable for an old-school world map (used here), exterior locations (towns, villages, mountains, that sort of thing), interior locations and dungeons. You can also purchase various additional tilesets from the official site if you want something other than the usual generic fantasy look.
If we wanted to, we could play this game right now, though there wouldn’t be much to do. So before we test it, let’s add something interesting for the player to do. (I use the term “interesting” loosely, as this really is a whistle-stop tour of an incredibly powerful piece of software.)
How about that sign over on the right of the map? Let’s make it so you can interact with it. Read it, even. First we switch the editor into “Event Mode” using the toolbar, then double click on the tile with the sign on it. Then we use the complicated-looking Event Editor to tell the game what to do when we try and do something with the sign. Like this.
That’s a whole stack of scary-looking windows, I know, but it’s actually a lot more straightforward than it looks — the daunting thing is all the possibilities on offer. You’ll see in the “Event Commands” window a small selection of the actions you can choose to happen when an event is triggered. We’re using the most commonly-used one — Show Text, which brings up a text window, optionally with a “face graphic” to represent dialog, and is dismissed by the player pressing the action button. You’ll see from that tooltip that you can put in special codes to tweak the font size, color, speed and all manner of other things, allowing you complete control over even how words appear on your screen. Neat, huh?
You’ll also notice that on the left there’s a series of “conditions” — using these, you can make events only appear at certain times, or do different things depending on who’s in the party, or only happen if the party has a specific item or… you get the idea.
That might look quite complicated, but follow it through and it’s very logical — first of all, two text windows are displayed, one of which shows a picture of a monster making a funny noise. Then there’s a battle against two skeletons. If you win the fight, you get a message about saving the kingdom and are rewarded with 500 gold pieces; if you run away, you get berated for being a coward. If we were clever, we would then add some conditions to make the skeleton disappear after we’d beaten it, but that’s a little beyond the scope of this brief tour for now. Let’s give it a try and make sure it works.
Yep, that works — though as the game stands, poor old Eric really isn’t strong enough to beat those skeletons. Oh well! Back to the drawing board.
Suffice to say, it is very easy to get up and running with a working game almost immediately. While our creation above may not be a particularly good example, it hopefully gives you an idea of what to expect from the program. It’s all point-and-click, and all you need is a logical mind capable of thinking through the sequence of actions you need to put in to make an Event work. You don’t even need to be any good at drawing graphics or making music — the game comes with a whole ton of prefab materials for you to use royalty-free, and also features a character generator for creating your own custom sprites easily. Not only that, but the product is well-supported by both the Internet community and the developer, so if it doesn’t do something you want it to do or feature a particular piece of media, you can count on someone else having figured it out and released something for you to make use of in your own games.
And if you need any further convincing of how powerful this application is, just bear in mind that several relatively recent releases were all made using either this very program or its predecessors. Played Corpse Party, To The Moon or Cherry Tree High Comedy Club? Then you’ve played something made with RPG Maker. If that isn’t enough to inspire you on to great things… well, I don’t know what else to say!
Swords and Zippers is our weekly JRPG column in which we explore the best, worst and most interesting of this diverse and long-standing genre that has fallen somewhat from grace in recent years. You can follow Pete, author of this article and GrE’s managing editor, on Twitter.