FIVE STRATEGIES FOR BETTER GAME-MAKING

Easy things I think everyone could do to make their games better.

I have played quite a few RPG Maker games. I have seen some of what works and some of what doesn’t work. I have seen a lot of people making the same mistakes over and over. But I’ve seen a few common traits in what I think are some of the better projects, and I’d like to share those ideas with all of you.

This is Solitayre’s Five Strategies For Better Game-making.


1. Love your characters

We live in a day and age where media is produced in soulless production lines, every facet of it engineered to appeal to the highest number of demographics possible. We have seen the same handful of tired characters paraded in front of us over and over again. The stoic, badass loner who has no friends and tells no one his feelings. The mysterious girl who holds the fate of the world in her hands. The extraordinarily pretty man with generically evil motives. That one really perky girl who everyone hates (you know the one.)

In this world of copy and paste, it is refreshing to see that a game actually has some kind of creative spark, or passion, instead of being overly-commercialized drivel created for profit, without any second thought.

One of the best ways to convey that spark is through your characters. Even if your game is not a story-heavy one, even if your character never says a word, you can usually tell if a developer really loves their characters or not. This is why I like the writing in a lot of “My First RTP Adventure” games than I do in some much more acclaimed titles by more experienced makers, or even people who are better writers on a technical level. You can tell when someone really likes the characters they’re writing for. They’ll have charm, wit, they’ll have a soul, they’ll feel more realistic, more three-dimensional, more alive. You can also tell when a writer is just going through the motions, when they don’t really care, when they’re just writing words with a face set attached. If you’re not engaged in writing a character, your audience probably isn’t going to be engaged by this character either.

Know your characters. Really know them. Spend some time thinking about your characters. Do you like any of them? If your characters aren’t interesting to you, do you think they’ll be interesting to anyone else?

Probably not.

Questions to ask yourself:

-Is this character’s personality obvious to anyone who isn’t me, the writer?
-Does this character ever do anything I find interesting, witty, or charming?
-Is the character’s personality conveyed through their actions and dialogue, or through some biography or monologue about their personal traits?
-Are these characters more to me than a block of stats and a description?



2 Make every word count.

You’ve probably heard this adage before. “Don’t use ten words when five will do, don’t use five when three will do.” While some of this can be ignored as a stylistic choice (some characters are wordier or more verbose than others) the real point of this saying is “don’t waste your reader’s time.” You must keep your reader/player engaged in what is going on in the plot, and that means being judicious with your words and cutscenes. Take into account what you’re writing, what this scene tells the player. Make sure what you’re saying here is actually going to be engaging or meaningful in some way. There is nothing worse for a player than having to sit through a really long, boring, irrelevant cutscene where someone is prattling about something the player doesn’t know or understand anything about. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at an example.

Who knows who these guys are?



Those of you who wrenched backwards in abject horror probably recognized these guys as the Gazel Ministry of Xenogears. They were a group of all-knowing talking heads who were watching everything that was happening in the world. They are also very likely the worst characters to ever appear in any game. They are completely uninteresting, add nothing to the plot, talk in uselessly vague, cryptic nonsense, and they’ll keep interrupting your game over and over and over. Here’s an example of one of their conversations:

Gazel - Blue 3: A selfish creed. I question his faith.
Gazel - Red 2: We have no need for an organization of fanatics.
Gazel - Blue 2: We will seek what they will, it's their nature.
Gazel - Red 3: But, too much is undue, something must be done. A reprimand is necessary.
Gazel - Red 1: They are an expendable group. There is nothing we can do at this point.
Gazel - Blue 4: Yes, there is nothing more to gain from their continued existence.
Gazel - Blue 1: They've already done what we've required. Currently, we're in the process of 'dealing' with each area responsible.
Gazel - Blue 3: Stein is in charge of dealing with Aquty.
Gazel - Red 2: Bear in mind the need for a 'fitting solution'.
Gazel - Red 1: Moreover, Krelian is rather exorbitant. It's only a molecular machine. Why is he placing such importance on it?
Gazel - Blue 2: 'Humans' and 'machines', it's all the same to us.
Gazel - Blue 1: Yes, they are all the same

{Image and Transcript taken from a Let’s Play by a fellow called Karnegal}

Notice how their “refusal” to use “proper nouns” when talking about “things,” makes it “impossible” to understand what they’re talking about here. This is all they ever do. So what was the purpose of having them talk for five minutes if they were going to make it a very deliberate and concerted effort to not reveal anything? Well, there isn’t one. The Gazel Ministry adds nothing to the game, never reveals anything, and never has any real relevance to the plot. You can’t even distinguish one from another! Why were they in the game? Because they were key figures in the game world’s history and it became necessary to shoehorn them into the plot somehow. But my experience in the game suffered for their presence. Their scenes were boring and vague and I rolled my eyes every time I saw them come on screen. They probably shouldn’t have been in the game at all.

Your player is playing a game. If you’re going to interrupt their playing the game, it better be to tell them something. If a scene tells them nothing and adds nothing to the story, that scene should either be significantly revised or excised entirely.

Questions to ask yourself:

-Does this scene add to the plot at all?
-Does this scene add to the development of any characters, or the setting?
-Does this scene provide comic relief?
-Does the player have the proper context to understand what is being discussed?
-Is this scene uselessly vague or provide nearly no information?
-Does this scene ramble on about a lot of things the player probably isn’t interested in?
-Is this scene longer than it probably needs to be?


(Note: Please do not leave a comment telling me how the Gazel Ministry have a fascinating history as the ancestors of all mankind, spanning the 10,000 years of the Xenogears universe, and how they were key players in many events in the game’s backstory. I don’t care.)


3. Play up your strengths. Minimize your weaknesses.

People feel obligated to follow the classic genre formula. All RPGs need to have sweeping tales of heroism. They must all have lots and lots of battles. Long, epic dungeons. Mind-bending puzzles. Breath-taking graphics.

And chances are there is one or more of these things you’re probably not very good at making.

I see a lot of games where people who obviously aren’t invested in their dungeon design throwing gauntlets of long, poorly made dungeons into their game because they felt obligated to make their game longer, or to fulfill some expectation that there were going to be a lot of dungeons in the game because it is an RPG. They fill the game with hundreds of random encounters that they put little real thought into because that’s what RPGs do, right?

Just because RPGs do those things doesn’t mean it is necessarily a good idea for you to do those things in your RPG. Lots of people make RPGs for a lot of different reasons. The idea is to focus on the part of the game you want to present while minimizing elements that you aren’t going to spend much time on.

Chances are if you got into the RPG business, it’s because you wanted to tell your totally awesome RPG story. Well, okay. But if you tell your story but phone in your dungeon design, combat mechanics, and other elements of the game, you’re going to be left with an unappealing overall product. If you don’t care about dungeon design but make your player slog through twenty dungeons that you obviously put no real effort into but included out of obligation, chances are your player isn’t going to enjoy that part of your game. If you know you’re bad at doing something, don’t make your player spend all their time in that part of the game.

Again, this comes back to not wasting your player’s time. If your battles are all filler you put no thought into, don’t make random encounters happen every 3 steps. If you don’t like making dungeons and there’s nothing to do in any of them, don’t make them massive and don’t make them frequent. If you aren’t a good writer, don’t have reams of unskippable, bland cutscenes.

It may turn out you really don’t even want to make an RPG. RPGs are generally expected to have some element of all of the above things, but that might not be what you actually want to make. You might want to make a puzzle game with occasional dialogue, or a visual novel where dialogue is all there is. Or you might want to make a dungeon crawler with very little in the way of plot. It’s important to remember, however, that player’s need direction in what they’re doing. Don’t sacrifice logic.

By playing down the aspects of a game you aren’t as good at, and emphasizing the ones that you are good at, you can make your game much stronger as a whole.


Questions to ask yourself :

-Is this adding anything to the game or is it just there to waste the player’s time?
-Am I going to put enough work into this part of the game to make it worthwhile?
-Do I really even want to make this part or am I doing it out of obligation?

4. Stay focused.

It’s been said that all RPGs are becoming the same game over time. Looking over the landscape, sometimes it’s hard to deny this. And sometimes it’s painful to watch it happen. I have watched many interesting, insular plots about one character and their personal struggles be derailed in order to focus on much less interesting, more generic and mainstream ones about killing God. Chances are killing God is going to be a lot less interesting than whatever the characters were doing before.

Don’t be afraid to defy these conventions. Not every single conflict needs to be cosmic in scale. The conflicts between humans tend to be a lot more interesting than conflicts between humans and incarnated evil. A story about a tyrannical king and the brave men and women who rebel against him is probably going to be a lot more interesting if it turns out the King isn’t actually plotting to release a demon lord with generically evil motives who will kill said king on the spot and take over his role as villain. A story with only one group of characters in conflicts, with fewer locations and events, is likely to be far superior to some arbitrary escalation to a world-spanning conflict with a nigh-omnipotent demigod antagonist.

You might call this the “Final Fantasy Syndrome” since this problem is so prevalent in their games. Near the end you can always count on some never mentioned superbeing to fall from the sky to present a final challenge. But these final villains are never as interesting as the primary antagonists. Zemus isn’t nearly as interesting as Golbez. Ultimecia is far less interesting than Edea. Which villains do everyone like better? Kefka and Sephiroth, because these two are presented as central antagonists and remain so throughout the game. But I personally thought stopping Sephiroth’s plot to genocide the planet was a lot less compelling than the party’s conflict with Shinra earlier in the game.

But there are other ways to lose focus, too. Maybe you’ve built this huge world and demand that your player know absolutely everything about it? This might be called the “Tolkien Syndrome” where the plight and development of the characters take a backseat to the author/creator showing off how cool their world is. World-building can be a lot of fun, and there’s a lot to be said about a legitimately interesting and well-developed setting, but chances are your player doesn’t have enough context to appreciate all your brilliant nuances. Focus on what your player actually needs to know about this world in order to proceed. They probably don’t need to know every detail about some giant war fought a gazillion years ago, especially if said war has absolutely no bearing on anything currently happening in the plot. If you want, feel free to include such backstory in the game as optional supplementary material, but never shove it in the player’s face if they don’t need to know it to proceed.

Keep your plot focused and simple. Don’t feel compelled to stray from the central elements in the story. Just because you created an entire world doesn’t mean you have to use every part of it or that the world’s Satan-figure needs to be the final villain.

Questions to ask yourself:

-Does the player really need to know this for any reason?
-Will this plot twist completely change the context and scope of the storyline?
-If so, does it take it in a more interesting direction, or a more generic one?

5. Play other peoples’ games.

This is very important. Chances are you’ll have no idea what RPG Maker or an amateur maker like yourself is really capable of unless you play other peoples’ games and see what they have managed to do. If you just tell yourself that no one else’s games are worth your time, you’re missing out on an enormous amount of inspiration. You can not only learn from what they did right, but from what they did wrong.

Posts

Pages: first prev 123 next last
comment=42860
Feld is going to murder you when he sees you talking shit about Xenogears.

Good article, by the way.

comment=42923
they do have a purpose in the plot and that is -SPOILERS FOR 13 YEAR OLD VIDEOGAME- the incredible satisfaction one experiences when krelian walks in and murders them all -SPOILERS FOR ANCIENT VIDEOGAME-

comment=42946
People who criticize Gazel Ministry don't really get it.

Really.

You have to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion (aka Xenogears the Movie) to get the whole picture.

Yes to all three points (and yes I am coming to murder you lock your doors). Xenogears...was an eclectic game and definitely not for everyone (one of my favorite games, though), but the Gazel Ministry DID have an incredibly important role in the plot, background, and the narrative. It takes a keen sense of observation (and a couple of playthroughs, maybe) to realize that in the context of the game everything they say makes sense. I haven't played Xenogears for quite some time and I can tell you exactly what the above conversation is referring to and exactly where in the game it took place.

Other than that though, great article.
1. You should also hate your characters.

Not hate in the sense of writing for them, but for the actions they do in the world you created. I find these to be the most interesting characters, rather than the protagonist who can do no wrong.

I hope you do more articles...


That's the same as love Neophyte. It just means put down the effort and really feel that "oh my god this character is going to be so awesome/despicable"
Ratty524
The 524 is for 524 Stone Crabs
12896
Fantastic article. Now I'll have some things to think about for an upcoming project.
comment=42952
"oh my god this character is going to be so awesome/despicable"


GOATSE PROTAGONIST!
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
18257
Neophyte
1. You should also hate your characters.
I think you have to hate your characters sometimes to really love them... This is getting overly philosophical and could probably be the subject of its own article/topic. But yeah, what Shinan said, you have to be willing to do what is necessary to really make them shine. He was pretty on the mark when he said "kill your darlings."

Stuff about Gazel Ministry

The point is, they didn't have to be so uselessly vague. What was the point of it? "We're going to show you this scene you won't understand!" I will always stand by the notion that being cryptic to the point of absurdity isn't particularly good writing. "haha, I am going to foreshadow this event without actually saying anything specific!" They could be talking about anything there, and whatever happens later in the plot, you could probably technically apply it in a roundabout fashion to what they were talking about.

There's "cryptic" and there's just nonsense.
They could be talking about anything there, and whatever happens later in the plot, you could probably technically apply it in a roundabout fashion to what they were talking about.

But you DO know what they were talking about there; it wasn't even ambiguous (the above conversation is in reference to Solaris elimination of the Ethos due to them rebelling, something that at that point, the player just played through). There is absolutely no other instance in the entire game that could be applied to the above conversation BUT that.

I see what you're saying but it kinda irks me that you picked the absolute least cryptic conversation they have to make a point of the GM.
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
14360
Persona 4 does the little details you won't get until you see it a second time about 100x better than that Gazel Ministry example since they're most definitely there, but unobtrusive.

For example, when the doorbell rings as you're talking about the scarf at Tatsumi Textiles,
it's Namatame trying to save Kanji
.

That example adds both a lifelike occurrence to the game ("oh hey gotta answer the doorbell brb") and makes the game more interesting on a second playthrough when you actually understand what's going on... without interrupting the game itself. You wouldn't get it because it'll take another 40-50 hours to get all of the clues to piece it together, but... yeah. I'm starting to ramble.

Good article, Soli.
kentona
Your mom is a hero
20844
this is now an discussion about xenogears gogogo.

wtf is a xenogear?




Good article, btw. What happens to me again and again is that I will find something obvious in my own game, but then no one else does, or other people struggle. I am not being purposely obtuse, but sometimes the familiarity with my own game makes me blind to some of its faults or shortcomings.

(this is tangentially related to the first question "-Is this character's personality obvious to anyone who isn't me, the writer?" except more like "-Is this any given aspect of the game/story obvious to anyone who isn't me, the writer?")
comment=42955
The point is, they didn't have to be so uselessly vague. What was the point of it? "We're going to show you this scene you won't understand!" I will always stand by the notion that being cryptic to the point of absurdity isn't particularly good writing. "haha, I am going to foreshadow this event without actually saying anything specific!" They could be talking about anything there, and whatever happens later in the plot, you could probably technically apply it in a roundabout fashion to what they were talking about.

There's "cryptic" and there's just nonsense.

The Gazel Ministry are basically shooting for the Book of Revelations. It's been a decade since I played it so the details are fuzzy - but I think they were the original creators, and were killed (by Grahf irrc) and they want to make a Jesus return (new bodies) and subsequently take the humans back for Deus. Krelian (Science) winds up betraying/deletes them (Creation) before that happens though. The last part of the conversation you posted is foreshadowing that. They're talking about Krelian's nano-machines, and basically underestimating him. That's the Readers Digest version anyway.

All of that said, I think you successfully made your point anyway. It's a well done article.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
18257
comment=42978
The Gazel Ministry are basically shooting for the Book of Revelations. It's been a decade since I played it so the details are fuzzy - but I think they were the original creators, and were killed (by Grahf irrc) and they want to make a Jesus return (new bodies) and subsequently take the humans back for Deus. Krelian (Science) winds up betraying/deletes them (Creation). The last part of the conversation you posted is foreshadowing that. They're talking about Krelian's nano-machines, and basically underestimating him. That's the Readers Digest version anyway.


I'm pretty sure this is completely wrong but I'll leave someone more well versed in Xenogearology to confirm/refute this.
No he's completely correct but they don't represent the Book of Revelations or anything. Xenogears is more of a statement to Gnosticism than Christianity or the Bible (although that symbolism is there as well) To filter his post;

they were the original creators, and were killed (by Grahf irrc) and they want to make a return (new bodies) and subsequently take the humans back for Deus. Krelian winds up betraying/deletes them. The last part of the conversation you posted is foreshadowing that. They're talking about Krelian's nano-machines, and basically underestimating him.

That's the right version without all the wrong parts. Yes, the Gazel Ministry are one of (there is Cain and the Mother as well) original members of humanity on XG's planet, their original bodies were destroyed 500 years ago (there were actually 2 more of them, but they were unable to be uploaded on the big sphere thing, those two were killed completely) on the Day of Collapse by Grahf and the Diabolos.

Krelian managed to reupload them on the SOL-9000 (the big sphere thing), yes, they want to take humans back for the re-assimilation of Deus (and regain their original bodies back and rule the cosmos), and yes, they do underestimate Krelian and his nanomachines and Krelian ends up destroying them.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
18257
Yeah the Revelations thing is what I was mostly talking about, since Xenogears has tons of references from Kabbalism, but for some reason I was reading what he said as "make Jesus return" and got even more confused.

Then again it does have random stuff from the Bible in there too for no reason (Tower of Babel anyone?) as well as random references to Freud and Jung of all people so who even knows for sure?
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
14360
I like Spira.

TERMS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Spira - It's a world with one continent
Sin - It's a big shark/b-ball player
Aeon - Summon monster
Yevon - It's a religion that's falseish
New Yevon - It's a cult
Youth League - It's a cult
Machine Faction - They dig stuff
Spheres - You want them
Vegnagun - You should probably kill it

I like the idea of worldbuilding, but I guess I'm just bad at it so I dislike it and having it shoved down your throat (e.g. I never read books in Oblivion except to get stat-ups because I find them dull (I do read every Event codex entry in FFXIII and some random stuff in DA:O, however, because the game doesn't bother actually shoving everything into your orifices but actually does present them (unlike Oblivion which is just HERE IS PURPLEROOFVILLE AND HERE IS YELLOWROOFVILLE)))

what the the hell is this post about

/me goes to bed
Perhaps I interpreted it wrong then. I remembered their real names being biblical (decendents of Cain specifically) from the artbook though. Quick Google seems to confirm that to be true.

Either way they serve a plot point, and their conversations aren't nonsense which was all I was getting at. :)
Craze
i bet she's a diva with a potion popping problem
14360
They might serve a plot point, but they do so in (as far as I can tell; I haven't played) an annoying and time-consuming way.
(Note: Please do not leave a comment telling me how the Gazel Ministry have a fascinating history as the ancestors of all mankind, spanning the 10,000 years of the Xenogears universe, and how they were key players in many events in the game's backstory. I don't care.)

Wasn't this last page of comments exactly what we didn't want?
Great article, Soli. Even though Xenogears is the best game of all time (by far not flawless, but truly epic on a scale I've never experienced before). As someone mentioned before, they're great rules that are easier said than done, but we'd all do well to keep them in mind when making our games.

There are many facets to creating lovable characters that I think need to be expressed. I'm going to write a series of articles on them soon, beginning with gender characterizations (a problem that virtually every rm game I've played does wrong). And yes, I realize the Eden Legacy games have no real character personalities as of right now, but they aren't meant to, so I hope people don't instantly dismiss my thoughts when I write these.

What I felt you were getting at, in point four, (and I agree with it) is that a lot of rm games focus too much on an having epic story with endless plot twists and escalating universal scaled catastrophes, and fail to keep developing their main characters or their interrelationships. Most rm games do this from the get go (or at least the few I've played), and we're forced to engage more with the plot than the actual game experience. It's all about balancing, and I think your advice is a great starting point in achieving that goal.
Solitayre
Circumstance penalty for being the bard.
18257
sbester
What I felt you were getting at, in point four, (and I agree with it) is that a lot of rm games focus too much on an having epic story with endless plot twists and escalating universal scaled catastrophes, and fail to keep developing their main characters or their interrelationships. Most rm games do this from the get go (or at least the few I've played), and we're forced to engage more with the plot than the actual game experience. It's all about balancing, and I think your advice is a great starting point in achieving that goal.

This is a problem, I feel, not just with RM games but often with the fantasy genre in general. People forget that just because there are wizards and dragons and unicorns and undead armies and lots of cool things going on, that at the heart of this story is the same thing that drives any story in any genre, which is hopefully an interesting character and a supporting cast. A character doing cool things is not a plot in and of itself. A well-developed character doing cool things can be very awesome, however!

This is why my favorite book series when I was younger (and which I still hold in extremely high regard today) was The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. This series had no shortage of high fantasy and magic and anything you could want to make for an epic story, but it wasn't about awesome adventures and the people who happened to have them. It was about an awesome group of people who happened to have cool adventures.

Also, I am not trying to advocate that every game needs to be story-based or have magnificent prose. But if you're going to hold your story up in any way as a significant factor in what makes your game good, then yes, there are certain rules you need to be aware of.
xenogears, the only game to feature a character annoying enough to make me stop playing it outright

But I personally thought stopping Sephiroth's plot to genocide the planet was a lot less compelling than the party's conflict with Shinra earlier in the game.

hi5 soli
Pages: first prev 123 next last