LACK OF PARTICIPATION: THE LARGEST PROBLEM FACING OUR COMMUNITY, AND WHY IT'S YOUR FAULT

This article discusses the lack of overall community participation here and in other homebrew communities. Additionally, it explains why it is the fault of the games themselves and not the fault of a thankless audience. Finally, it provides guidelines f

I've been a member of the community for something like 10 years and have noticed that its single biggest adversary is eneral disinterest on the part of its members in other's games. To make even a second-rate game can take hundreds of hours and months to years of one's free time, and it's crushingly disappointing to see that nobody is interested in the majority of our homebrew games. Newer and younger members tend to be less discerning in what they are willing to play and will play anything, but that represents a relatively small body of people at any given time and at any community. A creator of a game who has put long hours in a computer chair into a homebrew game is rightly unsatisfied by only a few dozen or few hundred downloads and a handful of reviews. A small number of RPGMaker games and game creators are extremely popular, but a small circle of iconic creators is not enough to sustain a healthy community.

Why are people not playing the games? It's popular to blame this phenomenon on individual arrogance, and that our community would thrive if its members would simply put more effort into it. There are hundreds of members even at small communities like this one, and thousands of members at sites like Gaming World and RMXP.org. This doesn't factor the enormous number of lurkers that scour community sites for good (or bad) games. If our members would get off of their pomp kick and download something, we'd be a lot better off, right? Maybe, we would, but I don't think that is the proper solution. It doesn't solve the underlying problem.

I suggest that the problem lies in the fundamental standards of the community and in the goals of the projects themselves. Very few of our games are ever finished. On the other side, absolutely every 40-hour RPGMaker epic makes fundamental sacrifices in key areas in order to achieve completion. In both cases the result is a disappointing game experience that either leaves us wanting more or us quitting before it's through.

Our community has an unhealthy obsession with long cutscenes telling stories that nobody cares about (let's be honest) and obtrusively-decorated game maps filled with so much superfluous decoration (AKA Three-Tile-Rule) that the creator forgets about level design. Many maps are pretty but are no more sophisticated than basic corridor crawls. Man authors tout brilliant game design and give us broken technical demos with lots of numbers and long acronyms in their battle systems.

I propose that we as a community focus development on creating games with:
1. Compelling gameplay
2. Reasonable scope and
3. Unique Presentation

Compelling gameplay is something that is largely misunderstood in our community. Crunching numbers is not inherently fun unless the numbers are finely balanced and the rewards substantial. Many creators feel the core mechanics of RPGMaker are lacking (they are) and remedy this by stealing gameplay systems from Tales Of games. They create convoluted gameplay systems with ridiculous multi-syllabic names (Custom Toilet Aim System). Many diehard fans of RPGs insist that Dragon Quest games have the finest RPG gameplay around, and there's a reason for that -- Dragon Quest is light on features, but heavy on design. For a better discussion on game design, refer to Kentona's excellent series of articles called FUNdamentals of Game Design.

I generally find that games with a reasonable scope are non-existent in our community. Many of the top games, including my own, are just the first portion of what would otherwise be a sweeping adventure. Only a few long RPGMaker games are worth playing all the way through, and most of the incomplete games are pretty bad anyway (I hear they are supposed to pick up after chapter 1 but we'll never know!). Many of our most talented creators have never finished a game or even released anything (WIP), primarily because their projects are too ambitious or dependent on teamwork that doesn't come through. We are all trying to make Final Fantasy games, and we shouldn't be.

The most successful and interesting indie games on the internet tend to be titles like Desktop Tower Defense, Cave Story, and Lost Labyrinth (my personal favorite). These titles all have in common ba very specific objective and a scope that is reasonable for the creator to accomplish in a realistic timeframe. Cave Story, for example, is a very simple platformer with basic graphics that are intentionally a throwback but also an obvious development shortcut. A competent programmer or a skilled middleware user (for a game of that type Game Maker comes to mind) could develop a similar engine and have a working prototype out over a weekend. Similarly an experienced RPGMaker user could make prototype for a game like Lost Labyrinth in a day. While our community is spending countless hours trying to perfect maps assembled from resources stolen from Super Nintendo games, clever creators are spending much less time making games that are a lot more fun.

These games are more fun because the creator has time to focus on what actually makes a video game fun. Cave Story is not a very ambitious game technically and that gave the creator license to focus on brilliant level design and a very charming overall atmosphere. Kentona has done a similar thing with his game Hero's Realm -- he decided to focus exclusively on building a team of characters from standard RPG archetypes and putting them through a dungeon. Regardless of what you feel about his game, Kentona and his fans can rest assured that the project is a smashing success. It defined a narrow objective and achieved it. How many of the members of this community can say they have actually been successful in meeting their project goal? Enterprising homebrew developers set goals that they can accomplish. By doing this, they can release game experiences that are not only complete, but fully-fleshed. More importantly, if we as hobbyists are able to meet our goals, our persuits are much more emotionally fulfilling.

Unique presention is a goal that is actually easier to meet than we all think it is. Not everybody has an artist or can make their own art and has to rely on pre-existing assets, but that does not exclude them from having novel presentation. Sprite edits are a popular choice, because it makes an individual game's heroes look unique and is really easy to do. This is a great first step and in my opinion is a prerequisite for any homebrew RPG. Absolutely nobody wants to play a game where they have control over characters they are already familiar with. Custom graphics are always encouraged, and even if you are a mediocre artist, your second-rate graphics will probably look better than something you ripped off of another game. However, even a game full of original art does not address the basic issue that many RPGMaker games feel like RPGMaker games. If a game feels like an RPGMaker game, then it does not feel unique and will probably be inherently boring. This is the problem of presentation.

We already know that artistic talent is the first, best way to make your very special game feel unique. In the absence of an art staff, one solution lies with code. A great example is the custom systems in Legend of the Philosopher's Stone. Legend of the Philosopher's Stone is not really that interesting of a game by RPGMaker standards, but because it has its own menus and its own battle system, it feels like its own game and is automatically more fun. Key to the game's success is that the custom systems work, they are polished, and they are fairly inventive and pretty fun to manipulate. Legend of the Philospher's Stone is a massively popular game. Incidentally, it's special systems are the only reason. The game design and writing are competent, but so are those of every other RPGMaker game. I'm sure nearly any member of our community can make a game with core elements as interesting as Legend of the Philosopher's Stone. The game is special because it plays differently. We have more fun when we play it, because when we push buttons, the results are a little different.

However, you can still make a game feel unique without original graphics or lines of code. Kentona's Hero's Realm, for example, uses RPG Maker 2003 RTP graphics and sprite edits from Final Fantasy IV. It's a novel thought, and it works. The par for the course for RPG maker 200x is that the sprites are two tiles tile. Kentona's sprites are ingeniusly only one tile tall. The basic proportion of map objects to sprite is changed by the tiny square sprites, and it feels a little different than a typical RPG Maker game. Without coding custom systems or drawing his own art, Kentona was able to make his game feel a little different from most other RPG Maker games. It didn't take much work -- just a touch of creativity. Similar little innovations can make a world of difference in making your game successful.

Our community needs to approach game creation differently if it hopes to thrive. Most of us are making boring games that nobody wants to play. If we focus on the three basic elements of compelling gameplay, reasonable scope, and unique presentation, we will be more successful in accomplishing project goals and making games that are more fun to play. Specific and manageable objectives flavored with a solid foundation of good game design and a touch of creativity result in better games. Better games increase community participation. What does community participation lead to?

Well, leads to more people bothering to play, and maybe even enjoy, the homebrew game that you have devoted a very valuable piece of your life to.

Posts

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I think this has some very good points in general, but misses on part of why a novice developer might post a game in the first place - to just get a game out there and get some feedback. What may feel compelling or intuitive to the solo designer could be received badly on a larger scale, but without feedback, the novice will never know which gameplay elements to refine, or even how to do so, which leads to the problem which completes the fault of this circular argument: if a community expects that games developed by novices to be bad, even if they do have compelling gameplay, reasonable scope, and unique presentation, then they'll never be given fair chance in the first place. That's the catch-22. What you're calling for is fair, but effort must still be taken on the part of the community at large to play through these broken, half-completed games, even if the experience is less than fulfilling.

In a perfect world, you can decry the lack-luster efforts of novice developers and their games will improve, making them more desirable to play, and the community, having sensed this shift, will review these games and give the authors the feedback they crave. Unfortunately for you and myself, we live in the real world, where you can blame novice developers all day long, but unless they get specific advice on their own games, they won't know what to fix or how to do so, and the games will not show any marked improvement.

To be clear, I don't think that the community should have to suffer through boring games either... but if the growth of a community depends upon new members, then a community must acknowledge that a new member's first efforts will be sub-par by virtue of inexperience, and yet support those developers in hopes of them improving to the point where they can contribute in a more meaningful way.
Been a while since I've talked to you Him. I think you're pretty much right in what you're saying in the article, and I'm definately guilty of some of the things you pointed out.
This is probably the single most important article regarding independent game development. Many have of us have the illusion that more features, the merrier, when the priority should be in a small amount of well polished features.
This is an excellent article all the way around. Hot damn.
Scheisse. And here I am working on three seperate titles (see profile) and all three of them are guilty as charged. "Oh, Well" and "Too Late" I guess, I'll just keep improving them at hat they've got going for them
This articles makes me cry and feel all warm and fuzzy and fills with glee. Oh wait, I think it just made me popcorn. Awww.

The more I try to make my RPG the more I realize how damn good the DQ series is at doing the important things right. From the first slime on you are actively managing and concentrating on getting the most out of battles and your character's abilities. That's all you need really. Good ole' fashioned well designed game play. I need to play one of those again and take some close notes.
This articles makes me cry and feel all warm and fuzzy and fills with glee. Oh wait, I think it just made me popcorn. Awww.

The more I try to make my RPG the more I realize how damn good the DQ series is at doing the important things right. From the first slime on you are actively managing and concentrating on getting the most out of battles and your character's abilities. That's all you need really. Good ole' fashioned well designed game play. I need to play one of those again and take some close notes.
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