Building Levels in RPG Maker VX Ace
Now that some of the basic parameters of levels design have been addressed in the last post, I think it's a good time to get into some of the juicy details of exactly how a level transitions from the conceptual stages to becoming an actual playable experience. Please keep in mind that the way I do things is not the only way to do it, it's just the way that I've learned to work myself.
The level I'm going to be building in this series of posts is going to be the very first scene of Class Rules. RPGs have the bad reputation of taking a while to get the player actually into playing the game, so I designed this opening as means of allowing the player to game their way through the selection of their primary skills. This scene takes place during a club fair at Vince's high school. Mechanically, this is where the player will choose what their character will be proficient in. There are different students set up around the gymnasium and in the sketchy parking lot place outside. The player will be able to choose up to 3 main skills here, but will be able to learn and improve other skills throughout the game. However, the three skills chosen here will start the highest and increase the fastest.
Designing on Paper
I always try to start my designs on paper. It's probably one of the most useful principles I picked up during my time at Sheridan. It ends up saving so much time, effort, and energy that I can't see myself changing my ways anytime soon. Jeff Pidsandy, our level design professor and program coordinator at Sheridan taught us that the designs for many levels will go through tremendous changes over their lifetime. Level Design is an iterative process, meaning that you should be consistently altering your design as you build it--especially during the earlier stages of the process. Using paper during the early stages of design allows for speedy changes. Even if you're very comfortable within a given environment, you generally have much fewer limitations on paper. If you are aware of the scale you are using (like RPG Maker's tile system, then graph paper may be even more effective because you can plan your spaces more accurately.
Once settled on the paper design, it's time to actually build the level in the game engine. As I've mentioned earlier, I'm currently using RPG Maker VX Ace to build Class Rules. I recorded a short series of animated .gifs of me building the level in the in the editor.
When making a new level for Class Rules, I start by matching my map's specifications to the dimensions of the graph paper design. Some levels require more than one sheet, so I adjust the size accordingly. The first part of the .gif above shows this process.
Next, I plot out the size of the of the spaces by tracing any indoor borders.
This gives me a general idea of how well the design transfers from the paper, and generally how large the spaces are. If the rooms are not arranged correctly or somehow the spaces are not working, I change it.
The .gif above skips to after the walls and windows were added.
I put some of the central props to get a better idea of the spacing, and then I continue to tile the floors.
Notice how much I change the entrance.
Finally, here is the level while both floor and wall tiles in. In RPG Maker, it is very simple to change the pattern/tile of a space by using the "fill" tool.
For me, that means that this is definitely not the final aesthetic of the space--I can change it as much as I want!
Now that the spaces for this part are finished, it's time to start building the characters and function to the level.
That will be in the next level design post.
You can see the transition of the level as it moved from a simple parti diagram, to a slightly more detailed grid paper draft, and finally to an in-game environment.