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RPG Maker Is Creative Fulfillment Made Easy

My RPG Maker XV: Ace purchase during the Steam Autumn sale has paid off in that I did actually start working on a game right away, and it's actually considerably easier to do than in any game making software I've used before.

The reason it's easier in RPG Maker than the other projects is because it hands the player an actual game to modify.

BYOND gave me predefined data types for turfs, mobs, objects, and areas (and the ability to define my own data types) but I would need to define my own game, there wasn't even projectile simulation, and I could never really make up my mind.  Its coolest feature was that it was a persistent state environment right out of the box.  Its most limiting feature is that it requires players to install proprietary software to use it, and this greatly restricts the potential audience of players of BYOND games.

GameMaker gave me rooms, let me define things to put in those rooms, lots of potential special effects, and robust projectile and physics simulation if I needed it.  Yet, once again, it left me to define my own game; there was nothing to tweak, I was effectively starting from scratch in an environment that had a few powerful verbs but defined no nouns for me.  I think BYOND was even easier to use than GameMaker because (in the name of added flexibility for more game concepts) GameMaker does not define the concept of "turfs," forcing aspiring developers to define the very concept of having ground beneath ones' feet.

RPG Maker begins as a fully functioning JRPG with a database full of prefab heroes, equipment, items, and monsters to fight.  It also provides a ton of art assets for the players to use, including turfs with automagical touchup, and there are now DLC packs with even more art assets if the player doesn't want to make their own.  About the only things missing from a complete and playable JRPG is building the maps, placing the events on the map that drive the story, and placing the regions on the map that determine which random encounters with monsters can happen on the map.

If RPG Maker only let the player define the when and where of things, then you might as well stick with Neverwinter Nights 2 or Elder Scroll V: Skyrim's creation kits, which are better looking and significantly more advanced games than the average JRPG.  Instead, here's where RPG Maker gets interesting:
  • Anything in the database can be tweaked in-engine: the prefab heroes, equipment, monsters, statistics, how the statistics work, how the special effects look, and more.  You can do some tweaking in Neverwinter Nights 2 and Skyrim, but you can't fundamentally change the rules of the game like you can here.
  • You don't have to buy RPG Maker DLC packs if you're decent enough at creating your own content, as you can import your own sprites, sound effects, and music.  (You could technically do this in Neverwinter Nights 2 and Skyrim, but some things require a bit of modding experience.)  
  • Advanced users can use the Ruby-based script system to make more significant changes.  If you don't like the GUI layout of your game, it's changeable.  You can even do away with the random encounter combat engine if you'd rather have some other means of conflict resolution.  Someone even made a bullet hell shooter in RPG Maker (although GameMaker's projectile simulation and collision-handling capabilities make it much more appropriate for that).
Of the three engines I mentioned here, I think RPG Maker is actually the best overall game engine to create something that's not a real time game.  What sets it apart is its inherent inclusion of a database to hold all these nifty vital statistics and make them work together.  In other words, I'm actually given a game with a working brain right from the get go!
My current project is an extremely tongue-in-cheek game that mostly parodies JRPG tropes.  The humor reminds me a little of Monkey Island: it's just laden with non-stop jokes and unexpected weirdness.  Like those developers' early experiences with the SCUMM interpreter, I'm just having fun with the RPG maker engine.
So I absolutely was able to start creating my own game right away - just a little practice game while I'm learning the ropes of RPG Maker - and I'm feeling a lot better about myself because my creative itch is finally getting a bit of satisfaction.

That said, I still have some doubts about how I'm spending my time... mostly because RPG Maker's technical capabilities are very much beneath its creative ones.

My lead complaint is that there's very little control over game resolution: it's either a tiny resolution window (544x416 default, can be redefined up to 640x480) or full screen mode.   You can get a little more flexibility with hacked .dll files (which are against the terms of service of the product) or community scripts, but it doesn't work very well.   At the very least, I would like Enterbrain to include a display mode that doubles the window side by doubling each pixel, possibly with anti-aliasing support.

Another reason to seriously consider focusing on using GameMaker over RPG Maker is that GameMaker actually has the capability to export games to a wide range of platforms.  By purchasing the right plugins, I could use GameMaker to create games that would work on iOS devices, Android devices, HTML5 webpages, and more.  RPG Maker has been released for many platforms over the years, but (to my knowledge) you can't export games to other platforms with it.  That's a pity; it seems to me that these tiny resolution games would look just great on a small, portable device.

Technically, I could do everything in GameMaker I can do in RPG Maker.  Despite that, I would really rather just plug away with RPG Maker because GameMaker requires exponentially more work to make something playable:
  • I have to define the rigid infrastructure of a game: what the game is, how it plays.  A lot of this comes down to defining a brand new database that RPG Maker implicitly has.
  • I have to create or obtain all my art and sound assets - GameMaker provides no content packs.
  • If I want to make an RPG Maker-style game, I'd have to create all the logic that drives a tile-based game, a separate "combat" room, and scripts that do everything RPG Maker's event system can do (dialogue boxes, moving around NPCs, advancing steps in quests, and so on).
After months of work, I might have created a passable facsimile of RPG Maker in GameMaker... and then I would be ready to start making the actual game!  You have to hand it to the developers of Charles Barkley's Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden, because that's exactly what they did.  Maybe one day I'll have worked myself up to that level of creative commitment.  Until then, it looks like my creative endeavors will be here, in a tiny resolution, on a single platform only; I'll just save myself all that effort and use RPG Maker, instead.

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