What to do before you make your RPG

bgillisp

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In this tutorial I'm going to go over things that every game developer should consider and decide on *before* making their dream RPG in RPGMaker. A lot of this is based on my 6 years here on the forums, and what I've learned as a game developer myself.

1. Learn the Engine
This step sadly gets overlooked, and should be the first thing anyone does. Learn how the engine works. Learn what all of the commands do. Learn how to use the engine to do things. I'd recommend finding some tutorials on this, or there is a built in help with F1 in MZ that can help you learn. Or, worst case scenario, make a project and just try every event command and see what happens. That's honestly what I did in 2014, and I got some very silly results due to not understanding the engine (tip: Never put an A1 tile in a B slot or vice versa unless you wanna see weirdness).

2. Plan out your game before starting
Too many people paint themselves into a corner in game making. By that I mean they just rush ahead in the story then realize late that their game is in a bad spot because of things they didn't do right in the beginning. I've even seen AAA companies do this and I've read interviews with the company where they have admitted they got to x spot and didn't have the final bad guy figured out but it was too late to go back to the beginning and lead up to it. You want to avoid doing this to yourself too especially as you have less resources than AAA companies, and speaking from experience, going back to Chapter 1 2 years later to make it better lead up to Chapter 7 is a pain in the (modded by me).

Now don't feel you need to have a 150 page detailed story of the entire game either. But make sure you list out a basic plan so you know where the game is going before starting.

3. Make a short game in the engine first
Too many decide to immediately buy the engine and make Chronofinalpersonatriggeroctopathpokemanquest in it, and then wonder why they failed to make it years later. Instead, make something in the engine start to finish just to get a feel for game development. It can even be a small follow up game to your main project, or a project to just test out a feature. For example, the first game I made was a 20 level dungeon crawler with a *lot* of battles, and I used this to test my intended combat system and see how well it worked. I didn't even put a plot in it except a short blurb at the beginning that said Escape from here. That was it.

Epic bestseller? Probably not. Nor was it intended to be. In fact it never was released to the public in the end and stayed private, but I used it to learn things in the engine.

4. Decide what Engine to make your main game in
This is an important step. There are some engines that cannot make certain games well, and this is the time to decide based on what you learned so far if RPGMaker will work for you and what you want to do. This may involve seeing what you can code or will need to code too as well, and looking into what to do if you need something coded.

5. Decide if your game will be commercial or not NOW
This is important. You should decide before you have even made the game in the engine if you want it to be commercial or not. The reason is it is easier to go from commercial to non-commercial as all commercial resources can be used in non-commercial games. However, if you decide late to go from non-commercial to commercial it is going to be harder as some resources that are free to use non-commercially cannot be legally used at all commercially. So a late change may result in you having to suddenly change a lot of resources you've been using in your game as well.

In my experience, I personally prefer to list all of my games as commercial when I start. The reason is that way I hold myself to a higher standard (people expect more if you sell your game), and I know that once it is done I can change my mind and just release it for free instead if I wish, and all my assets I've used will still be legal to use.

6. Don't plan too many features into your game
This is a biggie. What often dooms indie games is they try to make an RPG with every feature in it they can think of, like crafting, fishing, swimming, monster collecting, farming, card games, dating sim, mini-games, etc etc etc. Remember you are a team of 1! You need to keep it somewhat simple so that you finish your game in under 30 years. Plus, we have a classic saying here you may have seen on Andar's starting point for new users:

A titanic list of features is a great way for your game to go the way of the Titanic.

7. Use placeholders
Too many devs once they start making the game immediately go out and try to get all the music, art, and scripts or plug-ins they need early. This is a big mistake. The reason it is not recommended to do this is we have a saying in battle "All plans tend to change once contact is made with the enemy". For us, that should be "All plans tend to change once we start making our game". You may discover some parts of your plot don't work as you intended. You may learn that stealth section you wanted to make is not fun to do as a player. So you may need to change things, and if you already got all the art and music and such for your game, you may now have art and music that you have no more use for, but you are still legally obligated to pay for it if you have already hired someone to make it.

When I was new here, I heard of someone saying they spent $10,000 all on custom tiles, then changed their game design so drastically that they can't use any of it. Don't let that be you.

Here is my experience with this in The Book of Shadows. The plan for The Book of Shadows involved a 12 chapter plot. If you have played the released game you know it has 9 Chapters. What happened was during dev I felt Chapter 3 added little to the story so I cut all of the Chapter and edited the end of Chapter 2 to transition to Chapter 4. Then when I got near the end I decided that Chapters 10 - 12 were just extra as they involved a twist I was going to do on the final boss of Chapter 9 that would result in you having to do something more to put an end to the evil for good. But I decided it didn't add to the game, so I cut all of Chapters 10 - 12 and had the game end at the end of Chapter 9. So this means in the final product the game was the following original Chapters in order:

Chapters 1 2 4 5 6 7 8 9 9

9 is listed 2x as I cut it into 2 Chapters, so Chapter 8 was part 1 of Chapter 9 and Chapter 9 was part 2 of Chapter 9.

However, since I did realize this in dev, I had already gotten the art and music for those cut sections. Probably lost about $500 in the end due to that, though the music I can at least find a home for in another game.

8. Plan breaks
Too many try to work on their game 12+ hours a day while working full time, and that pace is not substainable for any length of time before your body refuses to do it anymore. Plan into your schedule time off. I find what works for me is to plan on my calendar one day a week where I don't work on RPGMaker, and instead do anything else like read books, watch TV, play a game, run errands, or just go outside.

Hope this helps someone out there as they get ready to make their games in RPGMakerMZ...or any other RPGMaker.
 
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shockra

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All of these tips are extremely important. I keep shooting myself in the foot by going too big right out the gate or not planning far enough ahead. Even the project I started a few days ago (In MZ might I add) suffers from this problem. Some features I wanted for it:

8 Characters, each with a unique mechanic
A 10-hour MAX story (which is still probably too big for me right now)
A pretty good size overworld (with extra side stuff)

Considering that the biggest game I've made before this was at most an hour long demo with nowhere near enough planning to continue, I shouldn't be doing anything on this scale. At least, not yet.

For me, planning is the hardest part. I have a bad habit of winging it, which doesn't work at all. The best thing I can do right now is:

1. Learn what I can get away with in the system through experimentation
2. Come up with an actual plan
3. Make a SHORT game (no longer than one hour)
 

Kupotepo

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Thank you for the guidance. I thought the first step is to accept you need help and second you are powerless. Sorry, I went to the wrong meeting.
I though the first step is to ask @bgillisp questions lol.
 

Rubescen

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This is a great set of of advice!

I would add, it's ok to not finish things too! I've started and never finished a ton of projects before finally releasing a game. All that time spent working on smaller/unfinished things was great for learning along the way. 10/10 I would not complete a dozen projects again. :)
 

jkweath

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6. Don't plan too many features into your game
This is a biggie. What often dooms indie games is they try to make an RPG with every feature in it they can think of, like crafting, fishing, swimming, monster collecting, farming, card games, dating sim, mini-games, etc etc etc. Remember you are a team of 1! You need to keep it somewhat simple so that you finish your game in under 30 years. Plus, we have a classic saying here you may have seen on Andar's starting point for new users:

A titanic list of features is a great way for your game to go the way of the Titanic.
Gonna stress this piece of advice here. Scope Creep often spells the end for new indie devs.
 

BrownBread

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Thanks for the tips. I've never managed to make a complete game because of the scope being too big.
 

r66r

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Yes, thank you very much for these tips.

7. Use placeholders
Too many devs once they start making the game immediately go out and try to get all the music, art, and scripts or plug-ins they need early. This is a big mistake. The reason it is not recommended to do this is we have a saying in battle "All plans tend to change once contact is made with the enemy". For us, that should be "All plans tend to change once we start making our game". You may discover some parts of your plot don't work as you intended. You may learn that stealth section you wanted to make is not fun to do as a player. So you may need to change things, and if you already got all the art and music and such for your game, you may now have art and music that you have no more use for, but you are still legally obligated to pay for it if you have already hired someone to make it.
In other words, is it better to prototype our maps with RTP material and a few basic DLC tilesets/sounds to make the first playable version, and after everything has been tested and approved (mechanics, battles, etc.), refine our creation by changing or customizing the tilesets/sounds with our final touch here and there?
 

bgillisp

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I'd say yes myself. Use what the engine gave you to make a prototype or even a full demo and use that to make sure the idea is viable and fun. You can always go back and replace things.

What I do myself is I look for placheolders that I can stand to look at and listen to for a few months, as you'll be the one that will see them and hear them the most.
 

r66r

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I look for placheolders that I can stand to look at and listen to for a few months
I think, the most valuable tip from this thread!
:rtear:

EDIT:

Joking aside, may I suggest another tip about plugins? I may be new to RPG Maker, but with many years of working with some well-known web CMS and their plugin ecosystems, I can say that the process to follow with plugins is quite the same as for the main software. In other words :

  1. Select the plugins that meet the needs, study them (some are well documented), know the default settings, how they can be configured or extended, their dependencies.
  2. Do not activate all plugins at the same time, but proceed step by step, plugin by plugin, according to the current needs of game development.
  3. Activate a plugin, configure the settings, then test, adapt, retest, readapt... and when it's good, start again with the next plugin. It will be easier to debug and fix incompatibility.
  4. As with the game engine, it happens that the plugins chosen are not the best for our game: too complex for what we need, incompatibility with other more useful ones. The plugin ecosystem is big enough to find another plugin that can be better... or we can simply code our own.
  5. Everything is said in the original post.
  6. As well for this one.
  7. Sometimes using common events can be as good as using a plugin. And that forces us to think about what we really want in terms of game improvements before we invest.
  8. Nothing to say anymore.

Really, I'm convinced that the time we spend planning our game is worth it. However, there is a risk of spending too much time and losing our enthusiasm for creating the game. But maybe that's also a sign that we want to do too much, no?

KISS everyone!
 
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Raths Rants

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1. Learn the Engine
I mean really!?!? That's like asking us to read the instruction manual before trying to put together our brand new Ikea furniture. Sure it will save us hours of wasted time. Heck with that, I don't need no instructions. I am man hear me roar!

Four hours later the wife quietly laughs sipping some wine while I disassemble the entire thing to put panel B were panel C was...

Great post and solid advice! I am guilty of the, "too many features trap." :LZYwink:
 

AeroPergold

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When I was in my early teens, I always got too ambitious with my RPG Maker projects, always wanted to make MOTHER 4. But they never really got off the ground.

So I started small and made "Brony Quest: When Nazis Invade", a short project with the plot of three friends from Massachusetts saving Equestria from everyone's favorite madman.

I agree with all of this, but one last thing:

Always try to make improvements from one project to the next, even if its a small one because as you work with the engine of your choice you'll learn how to do certain things and do other things better.

If you at look at my games on Gamejolt, there's a gradient of quality from my oldest to my newest because I'm always learning and figuring things out. Even learn from cancelled projects as well, not everything sees the light of day.
 

The Row

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Would like to point out some more things: (That may or may not have been mentioned)
Go through the database and set things up first. Then create "Default" events, and set up basic stuff.
(after you learnt the engine but before you dive into a new project.)

Are you going to have standard jrpg with battles for instance, don't run and do 2-3maps and 4-5enemies. Create dummies and set up basic rules for said dummies.
Like, but not limited too:
  • 5-10 or so default types of enemies, which you can cut and paste for each dungeon. And their relationships, as in how much hp should a mage have compared to a "trash mob". This will help with balance later.
  • Default Spell + lvl 2-4 of the same spell. Granted MZ came with this setup, and for a good reason. Use it, or a varaiant there off.
Use these spells and enemies and create a basic auto-generated map, and test out the battles.
Is it fun? Are battles to long? To short? To common? Not common enough? How many battles can you last without the need of healing items?
Once you feel happy and feel that you are done, only then should you move on.

Create things you can cut and paste and change just the most minimal things.
Enemies in diffrent dugeon, should basically only need a change of element and img to be done. (Balance will be something change later, but since you have the guidelines, you can easilly change these as you progress.)

Does your chest have a speciall popup?
Have one created that you can cut and paste and with minimal change use in each and every map.
Same with doors, inn npcs, shops.
There is a quick menu for these and it is there for a reason, but they might not be exactly what you want to use, but the idea stands:
It is much faster to have 2-3 ready made doors on a page you can just fetch as you need them, instead of creating a new door, change the sound and image, each and every time.
It might not sound like much, but in the end it will save you hours.


Also, don't use plugins for the first 5 or so games you make. (the learning games)
Learn what the engine can do, without them. Way to many people run to plugins before creating their first event, even when they only have basic knowledge of the engine. (Learn the egine was the first point in the op, and for good reasons.)
The default engine might even have things you don't need, like 12 or so elements. Perhaps you only need 4? Take it slow, and build the fondation first, that way you are left with only fun things to do. (Creative tings, as the rest is just copy-paste.)
 

bgillisp

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That's good advice too. I might later post one on what to do once you start your RPG which would go over things like that.
 

alice_gristle

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Yo guys, I like this thread! Y'all makin' me feel like I can actually do this thing! :biggrin:
 

MissyChrissy

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Thanks for reminding me to start small with my first game and to, at the very least, write down basic plot points. :kaopride:Making the story up as you go along while creating complex maps, puzzles and scenes is not a good idea. I did that and...well, it was so overwhelming to go back through everything and change stuff that I eventually just scrapped the whole project. I had no real direction with the story. Ugh, what a mess. :kaosigh:
 

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I suspect by the time I'm done creating the 22 maps necessary for the first chapter... I will actually be good at making them. :LZSwink:

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