Some Thoughts on RPG Maker

A screenshot of a user-created map.

Image via Wikipedia

This is the first in what I anticipate to be a series of posts regarding the RPG Maker programs, the community RPG Maker has inspired, and the games that community has produced.

I stumbled upon RPG Maker while searching for the best amateur tools to design games. At the moment, RPG Maker 2003 and 2000 are both free, while the more advanced versions offer free trials. RPG2k3 remains viable, and the newer versions include improved interfaces and superior graphics. All versions are relatively intuitive, but there is a learning curve, and an impressive depth of complexity.

Over the last week, I’ve played several RPG Maker produced game, and I’ve been absolutely astonished by the graphical and interface innovations. These games have stretched the various RPG Maker engines far beyond what I believe to be their limits. I would love to point out some examples in order to give a few folks their due, but I don’t want to leave anyone out, especially considering the small sample size I’ve experienced.

However, I feel a need to point out one game from its sheer excellence.

Ascendence, by Rei, takes place in one of the most impressive settings of any game I ever played. Seriously. Any game. I’ve ever played. Sadly, Rei never finished the project, and never will, but I highly recommend giving at least the prologue a quick play through.

Several other games boast quality graphics and innovative design, but there’s another common thread most of these games share. And while I don’t want to get too negative, considering these games represent countless hours of hard work done purely for its own sake, I can’t help but point this one flaw out.

The writing is almost universally, well, bad.

This comes across in several areas. First, the basics, grammar and punctuation. It’s hard to get too upset about this, though. These are games with line upon line of dialogue, and, generally, one person proof reading. It happens. But it’s still annoying. (Sidenote: if there are any typos in this post, or any other post, I deserve to be flamed. Bring it.)

The real bad writing culprits are the dialogue itself and the overall storylines (spell check thinks it should be story lines or story-lines, but I disagree). The dialogue tends towards generic and over dramatic. The stories tend toward… generic. And over dramatic. And cliched. Which is kind of like generic.

A chunk of my ego wants to me offer some of the more talented designers my services in rewriting their games. My more humble side resists the urge and instead lambasts these poor unsuspecting designers anonymously, just like the internet intended. But I can’t help but wonder: How many of these games, and their designers, could reach commercial game quality with just a little help in the writing department?

Obligatory old person harrumph at the state of education that so abysmally failed these guys so as to allow them to write so… not well.

To conclude, I’m highly impressed from a fledgling game designer perspective at the quality of the RPG Maker games. But I doubt I will ever finish more than a child-sized handful of them.

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