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A Classic RPG in Flash: Easier Said Than Done

How one developer successfully translated a classic genre to an unlikely platform.

This article originally ran on game design site The Game Prodigy.  Visit for more resources on game design.

The platform that a game is on dictates a lot more than many game designers realize.  Epic Battle Fantasy III has been out for a while, but I thought it was worth analyzing because of the unusual venue it chose to show off its classic-RPG styled game.  Usually reserved for consoles or at least a downloadable title, long-winded RPG’s have a large fanbase but usually aren’t the types to enjoy their main titles through Flash.  And the game is very successful, with over 3 million plays and an average 4.51/5 star rating on Kongregate alone.

Taking a genre from one platform is a latent challenge in game design for many titles.  While it would seem that you could just copy the game and adjust the controls, more thought is necessary to get to know the platform and understand not just how the inputs and outputs work, but how the platform itself changes basic play behaviors.  Designers who ignore this will often find that their game is tripped up on issues that they weren’t even thinking about during development.

There are a few things that Epic Battle Fantasy III does that allow it to make the transition to the Flash platform.  Other designers may find these tactics useful when attempting to make the transition of some of their favorite genres to Flash.

Effectively Reformatted Controls

The control design for Epic Battle Fantasy is superb.  It would have been easy to take a Final-Fantasy inspired title and try to stick to the D-Pad controls that flourished in Super Nintendo days, but the demands of the Flash genre are much different.  Most Flash games cater more towards using the mouse and as few keys as possible.  And while this may seem to be a subtle distinction, it can mean the difference between players who enjoy your title and others who would like to, but are tripped up by the complicated keys.

Epic Battle Fantasy is minimal in its keyboard use.  WASD keys are used for walking around, and the space bar is the all-purpose “Action” button.  Inside of battles, where the most menu-intensive sections of RPG’s typically lies, the mouse is used almost exclusively.  By clicking on buttons that appears instead of having to press up/down/enter, the play goes very smoothly and feels natural.

Flash is dominated by the mouse and there is really no getting around it.  Thus, designers who are developing Flash titles would be wise to remember that unless they have some other tricks up their sleeve, the mouse should dictate the play style, UI, and button designs.

Weeding Out Non-Players

Epic Battle Fantasy, I believe, strangely owes a lot of its high rating to its very long loading screen and story intro.  Because it is a classic RPG, made to be played over the course of a few hours instead of just a couple minutes (unlike most Flash titles), embedding it on a website like Kongregate is an unusual place to find players willing to invest that kind of time.  Normally popular games that show up on Flash portals are hyper click action titles, made to consume no more than a few minutes of time for most players.  Even massive social game titles like Happy Aquarium or Farmville focus the bulk of their gameplay in the first few minutes.

Epic Battle Fantasy III, however, is a long story spread out over hours, complete with save slots.  So how does it keep from dropping the bulk of players who came into the game expecting a short experience, only to get bored at the slower (but fun) gameplay and quit the game?

One answer is that those types of players never make it into the game because of the long setup.  Because of the intense graphics, it takes a while for the game to load.  Additionally, this “setup” period is exacerbated by the game’s story, which also takes a minute or two, which is an eternity in most Flash games.

I’m not sure that the game’s developer did this on purpose; it might have just been a happy accident.  But the long introduction serves to help the game by weeding out players who wouldn’t enjoy the experience early before they can get into the game, find themselves bored, and leave a poor rating.  Those players leave long before the story is over.  Players who are patient enough for the intro are likely also patient enough for the game itself and happy to give it a great review.

Opt-In Confrontation

Flash, being the same platform (keyboard and mouse) that is also used for business, email, and web surfing, brings with it different player patterns than a normal game console.  For one, almost every other action normally taken with the mouse is on purpose, that is, the computer user knows what they’re getting into and they are the ones dictating the events.  Programs on a PC don’t often dictate what they user is going to experience.

For this reason, many Flash titles allow the player to dictate the action.  So for this reason, the enemy design that is present in most traditional RPG’s needed some work in Epic Battle Fantasy III.  Namely, the design of enemies approaching the player and attacking without the player’s permission.  This is something that’s done in most old RPG’s.  Either the enemies appear randomly and the game is without warning transferred into battle mode, or the enemies chase the player on screen.

In Epic Battle Fantasy III, however, the designer understood that this is a Flash game, and many Flash players don’t enjoy what’s happening being dictated to them, since as soon as an experience starts going against what they’d like to be doing, they are likely to navigate away to another page and leave the game.

Thus, none of the battles in Epic Battle Fantasy III occur without the player’s permission.  The player walks around the world and enemies stand idle, waiting for a confrontation.  In order for a battle to occur, the player needs to walk up to an enemy and press the Space Bar.  Only then does a battle occur.  Of course bosses block the path and a fight is inevitable, but it can be delayed until the player is ready.

This simple change puts the player in the driver’s seat, something that would probably be unnecessary for console titles.  But on a Flash game it helps the experience greatly by taking into account the platform.

Overall the game is a very solid one with sky-high production values, considering it was almost entirely made by one person doing the artwork, programming, and story design.  But for Flash designers, it’s important not to overlook some of the more subtle choices that have contributed to the game’s success.

This article originally ran on game design site The Game Prodigy.  Visit for more resources on game design.

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