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RPGMaker and First-Time Devs or (Please Not Another One of These Games)

Kurt Vonnegut didn't start his career with Slaughterhouse-Five, and you always learn faster with training wheels.

Baylor Shahan, Blogger

March 9, 2017

5 Min Read

I know you've already heard it. 

My RPGMaker game is different. If only you'd give it a chance. If only you'd give it a shot. 

Yeah, buddy. I'll give you a shot alright. A shot right into the trash bin. 

I understand the line of thinking.

Not only won't I blame you, but I can't blame you. Any dev would be lying to themselves if they didn't admit that there is a horribly negative connotation when the words RPG and Maker are used in conjunction. And they'd be lying further if they tried to pretend that it wasn't for good reason. So I get the harsh words, but I'm used to it. Your contempt is only about to grow anyways. Because I'm a first time dev. And I decided to put my game, Tumbling Apart, on Greenlight

But truth is, I've learned a lot in this maiden voyage of game design, and I owe it to this hated little engine. Because it was the only one that prodded me into taking the jump. I suspect that I'm not alone, and perhaps we should reconsider our stance on the engine as a result. 

Blame it on To the Moon...

I've been a gamer all my life and I'm 30 now.  Over time, the desire to produce something rather than consume took hold within me. Problem is, I'm self taught, and could never find a launching point.  I had self-doubt. And I'm 100% certain that many would-be devs are in this exact situation right now. But I got lucky, because one day I hear on some forum about this super underrated game developed by Kan Gao and I pick it up because it's only like five bucks. 

And then it happens. I'm blown away by this little gem of a title called To the Moon. I'm inspired to actually make the leap into game dev.

To the Moon is this beautiful game with this incredible story that's just screaming to be heard, and it's one of the best games I've ever played. And get this... it's done on an insanely simple game engine. No, I wasn't actively developing games at this point, but I knew that much just by the looks of it. Kan Gao had a story to tell, and the platform (engine) he was using was absurdly straightforward. It was like the story just shined through and the engine was an afterthought. I decided that day I would try my damnedest to do the same thing as Kan. 

To the Moon was the seed in my journey of game development. RPGMaker became the water that gave it life. And if a game engine succeeds in getting new people into the industry, I can't in good faith pass it off as trash.

RPGMaker games can be of quality and compete in certain niches

It's been demonstrated with Kan Gao's work, and I tried to follow his model with Tumbling Apart. First and foremost, Tumbling Apart is a game that's driven by the narrative. Tough sell, I know. But I think the engine suits itself best for that genre of game. Imagine Life is Strange, To the Moon, and Butterfly Effect getting together and making a baby. Ignoring the unpleasant logistics of visualizing such an act, it's probably the most straightforward illustration.

Without going into detail, Tumbling Apart is a game of one man's guilt over the harrowing fate that has befallen his sister, and his desperate trek across time to fix it. If you're interested, check out the demo. Early impressions have been positive, such as this one by Orange Bison.

There's measures I've taken to try and differentiate it from the pack and help immerse the player in Isaac's journey. Pretty parallaxes, engaging music, and thousands of hand drawn animations. I hope to pick up a dedicated artist along the way, and Philip Aldous, a tremendous composer, is working on some piano based music that will pull you down into the dark recesses of Isaac's mind. 

Polish still needs to take place behind the scenes- we rushed to Greenlight- what with Valve doing away with the service and all, but the foundation is solid. I also hope to have a trailer with some music from Philip that more accurately portrays what you can expect from it in the coming weeks. 

Above all, I want this game to stick with you for long after you play it. To me, that's the mark of a successful game. And I believe it can be done (and done effectively) on an engine like RPGMaker. Will Tumbling Apart be Greenlit? That depends on if a first-time dev using this maligned tool can convince a legion of jaded gamers to trust him- that the story will be worth it.

As a first time dev myself, knowing what I know now, would I still recommend the engine to those new in the field?

Absolutely.  Anyone who's starting from scratch but may not have the option of formal education will quickly realize that it's one of the easiest engines to learn as you go, yet offers some plasticity if you want to customize. The number one reason new developers fail is because they don't complete projects. RPG Maker assists with diving into the meat and potatoes of design without becoming disheartened and giving up.

What the engine teaches to beginners is:  you can do it. 

I'm familiar with the struggles and fears burgeoning developers encounter. Above all, don't be intimidated. The blank canvas can be overwhelming, even more-so for newcomers. Don't get bogged down by thinking, "I've got to learn C++ completely."

No, you don't, and you're only shooting yourself in the foot with that mindset.

Kurt Vonnegut didn't start his career with Slaughterhouse-Five, and you always learn faster with training wheels. There's an excellent article by Connor ORT Linning (lead designer of Towards the Pantheon, a recently Greenlit game) entitled "Game Development and Archaic Elitism" that I recommend all would-be developers read. 

Finally, to all those reading, have a lovely day.

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