Creating a retro-inspired RPG – A Developer Diary, Part 1

If you’ve been visiting the site lately, you’ll have seen Simon’s fantastic ongoing series about his development of a text adventure for 8-bit computers (you can read all of it HERE!). I myself have developed and released a game already (you can read the review of the engine I used here), but I’m also in the process of making an RPG based on my award-winning horror short film. I decided to follow in Simon’s footsteps and chronicle the development of the game here. 

Part A – Choosing the genre.

The first thing you’ll need to do is to choose the genre you’ll want to develop. This will depend on the kind of experience you’ll want to provide to the player, and the target audience to which that player belongs. I chose to develop an RPG because, as a follow-up to a short film, my game was inherently plot-driven. My audience will be genre-nerds like myself. The short film was a bit similar, as it was a found-footage horror short (how niche can you get?), and so, a retro-inspired RPG makes the most sense.

Why retro-inspired? Because of the technical side of things, on the one hand: top-down, turn-based RPGs are within the realms of what I can realistically achieve on my own, while open-world 3D RPGs are more suited to a larger development team.

I’m also a huge fan of the genre, with gems like “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” firmly in my top favorite games of all time.

Which brings me to the next piece of the puzzle.

If you’ll borrow, borrow from the greats.

Part B – Choosing the engine.

The engine you choose to develop on will have a huge impact on what you make and who is able to play it. Here’s why I chose RPG Maker MV.

  • It’s easy to learn, and I was already familiar with the programming logic for it, having owned RPG Maker VX Ace for a while.
  • It’s based on JavaScript, so it’s web-technology. That means it’ll export to any platform that is able to render HTML5. That’s PC, Android, iOS, MacOS, Linux, and XBox One. As well as any web browser, of course.
  • There’s plenty of plugins made for RPG Maker MV that expand on the functionality of the core engine. I’ve already added many plugins to my project to include multi-language support, modding of the main menu, etc.
  • DLC is very affordable and includes fantastic character sprites and tiles. This is great as I’m by no means a graphic artist and hiring someone to do custom art would have been prohibitively expensive

Having said that, there are some downsides to developing this way:

  • There’s no support for the engine on PS4, PS Vita or Nintendo Switch.
  • Buying pre-made assets means I’ll have to work extra hard to make my game stand out. Thankfully, although many people buy these sprite sheets and tile sets, very few actually publish a finished game. So it’s not as crowded as it may seem at first.
  • In contrast to Construct 2, which has one of the most amazing user community I’ve ever seen, the RPG Maker community is notoriously elitist, and I’ve had very little luck getting other users to help me solve my issues.
Tons of DLC and plugins make RPG Maker quite flexible, despite its reputation.

Part C – The Outline

Once you choose the type of game you’ll make, who you’re making it for, and what you’re making it with, it’s time to get to the meat of the game.

I usually start with a plot outline so that I know the logic that runs from beginning to end of the game. It includes characters, key plot points, key locations, etc. This will then allow me to build a skeleton version of the game that I can then populate.

This last part didn’t come to me until recently, though, and I was spending far too much time developing each level to completion before advancing. This is counter-productive, I’ve found, as game development is an iterative process, and things will inevitably change.

I’ve scrapped most of my levels and I started again yesterday with just the main room (my character hub) and started building a skeleton version of the game with only key locations, characters and plot points. It will allow me, I think, to move much faster with the development of the game.

I’ll leave it here for now, as what follows is actual development already, and I want to save that for part 2 of the diary. I have to say that I found it crucial to let the idea mature for a bit (6 months passed since I started the game until I had the final plot for it), and this is something that I encounter again and again. My short film was in the script stage for almost a year before we shot main photography for it.

You need to let the idea mature, let yourself have these Eureka moments while the whole thing steeps and simmers in your mind. Otherwise you’ll end up with a rushed product that could have been, like many other things in life, much better with age.

I’ll leave you with this brief timelapse of yesterday’s development session.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: