THECATAMITE'S DICTIONARY TO THE KNOWN WORLD AND EARLY RPG MAKER CULTURE

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Forgive me, I'm not sure if this fits in here or "What's Happening in Game Make."

Thecatamites makes a bunch of small-scale games but in this sphere you probably know him for making Space Funeral. A few days ago, he published this long thing about his experiences in RPG Maker culture. As somebody interested in early RPG Maker culture (I even wrote a thing about RPG Maker game preservation for my blog), I think it's a fun read and wanted to share it.

Reading it kinda has me wondering what other people's experiences were with early RPG Maker culture, as I wasn't really around for the early stuff.
After all these years, I finally realize what a three-tile rule is.

Hallelujah.
I remember catamites posting Biggles goes to Mars in the GW days (he was known for posting a lot of AGS stuff then). His threads would get little notice compared to RM projects. I have a memory of Steel (RIP) going on a large rant on why people should play more of catamites stuff and not the everyday rpgmaker RTP crap. Which cemented more of the narrative that GW was becoming more and more anti-rpgmaker. I don't think catamites was ever part of the rm hate crowd, but his projects were kind of pointed out as a counter culture to that. Space Funeral came out way later and on RMN and in a post-Braid world, but its kind of funny to me that it gained a lot of traction with that history in hindsight.

To make things fun I'll respond to just about every point with my perspective. Because fuck it, I accidentally fell asleep in the middle of the day and everything is closed at 4 am.

THREE TILE RULE:
As I recall it was some tutorial by a guy named xXXxxxxXNemesisXxXXxX (The number of x's are an exaggeration but this was still circa mid 2000s). He made Philsophers Stone which was notable for lifting the CBS from Kindred Saga and was really passionate about mapping. The three tile rule kind of exploded as a joke but it stuck for some reason. It did summarize the attention to detail a lot of people in screenshot topics had when the games started looking better than the actual SNES games the graphics were ripped from.

This kind of thing was unique to the rm community, there was just a huge focus on over-analyzing SNES tiles because you almost had no choice but to go with the rest of the community's mindset. The closest analog I can think of is the Doom modding community where John Romero left behind "rules" and people took that as some bible to take from. But in RM's case, due to the absolute lack of authority or connection to actual japanese rpg developers there's almost this Lord of the Flies situation where a bunch of kids decide the arbitrary limits and standards, and that's just how it is. I should emphasize again though, this whole thing was mocked a lot. Though in RMN the "make everything claustrophobic as possible" is still really insisted.

OVERLAYS:
AznChupmunk was the king of overlays. I remember seeing Muse a lot and thinking the overlays were the most dope. Though now that I revisit it the limits are pretty clear if you actually understand how lighting works. Most SNES games would do a simple spotlight or just "bake the lighting" into the chipsets themselves but it was much much easier to just make a black image the size of the map, then put in white spots you think where the light should be and let an alpha transparency trick do its thing. Actually remember a thread where I broke the process down. This whole thing seems outdated and clunky when you bring up any 3D engine, or a really basic gamemaker shader.

But yeah the common complaint was people would just spam the shit out of fog and light everywhere. Nickad's games, I'm sorry to say, are pretty much downloadable parodies of this. The classic rebuttal for the game being too dark/saturdated is "just change your monitor settings bro"

MUSIC:
midis are probably the coolest argument in favor of ripped resources. It allows rm authors to basically supply you with a mixtape of their favourite rpg tracks or surprise you with really outside sources. AraFell 2005 would just have SM64 music for a title screen, which was considered BOLD. The Way unironically uses Darude - Sandstorm midi in an in-context rave dance sequence. ABL starts off with a moody John Carpenter theme. That one Wild Arms battle theme is used in EVERYTHING. I associate a lot of themes to purely RM games that it feels jarring to hear the source of them nowadays when I come across it trying out ps1 RPGs for the first time. Probably 70% of my time spent in the rm2k/3 editor was just me listening to the tracks I've dumped in the music folder and just imagining what my game will be like.

FINISHED GAMES:
It was super rare to see a hyped up game ever get finished. More recent users and the advent of game jams tend to make a big deal out of just making smaller stuff and just finish your shit, because the experience of finalizing a game, uploading to a site, is pretty important. I mostly agree with the sentiment. But due to the nature of RPGs and what the standards were back then, demos usually had grandiose beginning contexts to them. There was often a promise of interwoven plots and a larger world to explore, with mysterious foreshadowing things (because thats what rpgs typically have).

With a compact game jam game, you don't have that at all, you concede that you have to keep the story basic and simple and without any cliffhangers or loose ends. There was a really good writeup by Mellytan that justifies the point really well that maybe all the vapour-screenshots and hype for games that were never gonna come out was a joy by itself, despite what the marie kondos of game development will have you believe.

1 hour game jam games don't spark joy is what im basically saying, damnit.

CLICHE:
I've always contended that even the most ripoff of RM games kind of had a humanity to them. No matter what there was going to be some kind of "message from the author" or some really off thing that no commercial game would bother doing that gave way to the idea that you could tell what this person was really into based on the cliches they implemented or the sub-conscious choices.

Back in the old days it was probably the easiest go-to critique to say that a game was a ripoff of whatever recent ps1 game was. Though for a kid that would just replay the PC demo of FF7 over and over due to not having money. It was worth it to have a poor man's suikoden or to see FF7's slums recreated for the 99th time. The nature of "RPG"Maker ultimately leads to stuff like that anyway. There is no escape, you will dream about making your FF4 clone til the day you die.

HOSTING:
I've probably mentioned this before, but it is pretty dang amazing that when a regular game comes out its release date gets documented, 10 warez groups store on a torrent somewhere, the wikipedia page was made the moment it was announced, and there's like 10+ years worth of googleable information you'll be able to find out about an obscure troubleshooting error for it down the line. RM game preservation has none of that luxury, FBI kicks the door open to the megaupload HQ and suddenly half of the ancient RM game totems have to be recovered. But ultimately it always takes awhile to realize something should be preserved before it's too late.

RTP:
fuck yeah. One thing to note about the downloadable part is that this shit saved a lot of file size in the way it was designed. 20 something whole MB was saved because the creator only had to have their own added content in the game's folder. This actually makes it fairly easy to recover RTP only games that require the RTP off of web archives due to this size saving. Fairly useless now though, probably pisses off people that just want to play Yume Nikki

Running out of steam, might write about topics I didn't get to later.
Darken, you should post at 4 AM more often, this is some pretty stellar stuff!

Hi scitydreamer! ❤

Yeah Cap_H posted this in the "What are you thinking about right now?" thread and it sort of started an interesting discussion there.
But yeah, I do think this deserves it's own topic. I'd like to add my thoughts to this as well at some point, cause I've thought about this a lot.

EDIT: I would've replied to this sooner, but I've been sort of star struck - Thanks for writing that blog post about us awhile back! Reading this thread, especially Darken's reply makes me want to start unloading a few games onto webarchive, just to see what sticks. But because of something that's been going on at my end for the last 2 years, I only have a few minutes to computer access these days. So I can only focus on smaller projects at the moment.

But once that clears, I'd really like to get back to this full speed. Because what's interesting about this is that, there's actually a new community emerging from all this and it's worth talking about - because if we don't foster it, we're gonna lose it. etc.

EDIT2: Like... there's new rpgmakers out there now, people like momeka, visitorofdreams, LolloRocketDiver - whole bunch of others I can't think of at the moment - Who use rpgmaker, but don't necessarily want to make traditional jrpgs, horror games or turn to kickstarter with them.

...Looking back on those ten years, some of this stuff is still hard to talk about.
I really wish I knew about places like this where people were making games in RPGM back in 2002 when I first started dicking around with it. Who knows what I might have ended up making.

The original post is pretty insightful as has been Darkens thoughts. I hope this thread continues, its super interesting to look back on.

author=LordBlueRouge
EDIT2: Like... there's new rpgmakers out there now, people like momeka, visitorofdreams, LolloRocketDiver - whole bunch of others I can't think of at the moment - Who use rpgmaker, but don't necessarily want to make traditional jrpgs, horror games or turn to kickstarter with them.


Discovering Space Funeral is what inspired me to return to RPG Maker in 2015 after over 13 years away from it, theres so much that can still be done with it creatively, all this time and people are still just scratching the surface.
RPG REVIEWER:
Reviews are kind of a holdover from early video game journalism where sites like Gamespot basically had a screenshot for every game and almost every game shipped to a store had a review/buyers guide. There was a huge incentive in the early internet to just basically document anything. Just really weird rating systems came into place. In a way reviews are helpful for understanding the general opinions of people, especially when the game came out. There's more to preserving games than just their actual download or their screenshots. The fact that there are reviews with this star system (that some people will take very seriously) kind of says something about the origins of the community, what we want to impose on how feedback and critique might present itself. Nowadays it seems like games journos focus purely on impressions, quick looks or youtube videos. The holistic metacritic score still has this canonized relevance to discussion of upcoming games, but there seems to be a shift towards "this is just my every day opinion" as content.

Personally I'm more interested in the "discourse" of a game rather than if the game meets a standard or not. I don't know if that's actually conductive to the medium though. When Beloved Rapture came out back in 2006 as a hyped demo, there was this sense that I was enjoying the spectacle of its release than the game itself. There was a lot of discussion and drama surrounding game authors back then, and it was sort of related to the games themselves (and what they contribute).

COMMERCIAL GAMES:
Laxius Power comes to mind, there were like 3 game creators actually going out of their way to sell RM games way before some of the programs even became legal. They were exiled and cast out. Different community, but the Laxius Power thread in TIGsource is pretty hilarious. It was less that the games cost money, but that they were mocked constantly. There's a really weird off-putting aesthetic to https://www.aldorlea.org/ just everything embarrassing about being into anime RPGs put into the advertising and the art. It's not as bad now but it really reminds me of the pre-2008 indie scene a lot, where people would just sell games directly to paypal. It just looked really cheap, and got associated with the "branding" that is asking money for an RM game. I think that crucial detail might be overlooked, that things would be different if commercial games back then were actually a shining example of the community they were born from.

RUDRA:
It's interesting to note the terms like RTP, Mac and Blue (or now FSM), Theodore, Roco, kind of became synomous as assets named after an art author specifically making stuff for the RM community. Rudra was the only tileset actually based off a SNES game that would usually be it on its own. In the dark ages many people would grab tilesets from different SNES games (or whatever people bothered to convert into the tileset format). Everyone for some reason used the FF5 forest tileset even though it was sized for 16x16 characters. If there was a train in the story of the game, chances are you'd witness phantomtrain.png at some point. And just a lot of other weird SNES chipsets that would randomly become overused for simular situations. It's hard to keep track though, and I think Rudra as a whole was easier to understand as an entity

This is GW era mapping in a nutshell: https://rpgmaker.net/articles/610/

INDIE GAMES:
Yeah there was literally no real avenue to go to for indie games for awhile. Everything was kind of quarantined to engine forums or you just happen to be a game creator with their own website (Nifflas, cactusquid, and Konjak come to mind) and even then those people originated from some Games Factory variant. TIGSource started into the late 2000s but came and went rather suddenly and I guess to some extent there still isn't a central indie community other than twitter and GDC circles somewhere in San Francissco. What blows my mind was that itch.io was started by leafo of GW origin. Probably for the better though, it retains none of the GW community other than maybe catamites finding a bigger outside audience.

I remember a lot of "name changes" being part of the discussion. I think a site named after RMXP renamed itself to hb games to become more of the indie spirit and to not just make it about rm games. RMN probably ran into that issue numerous times when it came to assessing how much rpgmaker means to the sites identity. Over time though, I think it's just easier to accept that yeah everyone here uses rpgmaker even if there are exceptions.

EMOTION:
Replaying Kindred Saga some of the writing wasn't as good as I thought it was back as a kid. However, I do think the notion of having your character experience a weird sort of melancholy does make the writing of a lot of rm games "age" better. Generally there are a lot of bad video games where I think the main issue is that there are no emotional stakes involved. Everyone is just wooden and there's nothing much to care for. Give rpgmaker and my chemical romance cds to a teenager who just played "The Bouncer" and they'll punch out a needlessly over-dramatic convoluted farce, but at least when looking back through the archived games, it'll count for something. There are lot of scenes in RM games that make no coherent sense to the stickings of the plot, but you understand why the scenes were made and the outer context of what the author was trying to express it does speak to something else (even if unintended). https://rpgmaker.net/games/1320/ This game I didn't like much when I first played it, but looking back it's a pretty good amalgamation of oldschool emo RM games. Oh and Razor's intro is a strange masterpiece in this regard.

MISAOS:
There were actually a lot of site awards in the early 2000ish rm scene. This is a fucking weird fanfic-like writeup by an old community member. http://leafo.net/gwtemp/articles/87/ and http://leafo.net/gwtemp/articles/97/ But it does illustrate how natural it was for RM to steer into an oscars/grammys setup. That RM was somehow its own medium that needed industry conventions to make everything valid. Being endorsed by Don Miguel was like getting blessed by the Pope even though all he did was make an engine (that he didn't create) more accessible. In the article I posted you can see the personalities intermingling with each other like some kind of victorian bureaucrat party. There's something lighthearted and fun about that though, even though it was a recipe for irc banning drama.

TARG:
targ died so Space Funeral could exist.

FORUMS and Sites in general:
There was a sort of dark ages where everyone just used geocities pages to advertise their game. But then more and more it made more sense to join sites with actual domain hosting and forum infastructure. EZboards was kind of huge because it meant that pretty much anyone can make a forum and that accelerated a lot of communities. I just remember a lot of sites with really dark themes with cool RPG art themed banners with a bunch of affilate links though. Recovered from webarchive this kind of gives an idea on what these sites would look like, 800x600 formatting and all:

rm2knet.com forums
rm2knet history
Rpg pirates
rm2kLibrary
RPG Wolfpack
Ultima Island

http://old.rpg-palace.com/chronicles.php RPG Palace, home site of Legion saga, still exists.
http://rpgtown.proboards.com/board/13/game-makers-general?page=52 earlier iteration of RPG Town, some old ass posts you can find from 2002. Though the forum theme looks nothing like it did previously.

Idk I just remember a lot of random pocket communities with 5-10 active people that would post on GW anyway. This was like before social media was even a term and google barely worked. This is what you basically ended up doing to foster anything, but for some reason everyone was trying to make the same type of games articles resources hub even if they didn't end up being the best place for any of those categories. People would just be "from" those sites. I guess it's no surprise that facebook and twitter just become the dominant platform replacing any need for a "personal website" anymore.

OTHER ENGINES:
Fury2 Engine HYPE. I think the key thing is that engines that sound good on paper always have a hard time replacing the practicality and the intent. What made rm2k3 so special was that it was very obvious that you could make a SNES rpg from it despite its limitations, there were "killer apps" so to speak that provided good examples for writing and gameplay balancing. It was super easy to grab rudra and just roll with some sick maps. The practical things always come out on top as history shows, it's never really the on paper features that impresses people. Though I think the people that adapted the RMXP and VX engines were a different crowd entirely. Evidentially, rm2k3 went through a revival with stuff like Yume Nikki and its millions of fan games. Not because of "Hmmm.... 320x240 sounds good" but because of the aesthetic attachment tied to the engine itself.

HORROR GAMES:
Alright so I can probably type out an essay on why making a horror game in rpgmaker is actually kind of natural. The accessibility of text boxes and inventory management means you instantly have a goto for a narrative game involving puzzles. The more complicated and possibilities engines have actually make it harder to focus on the low budget aspects of creation. Look at horror movies and how low budgets often necessitates a campy aesthetic and some form of creativity. The resources in rm2k3 allowed for a lot of adaption and even just the default sound effects were enough for passable sound design. I think a lot of people out there dig the allure of downloading a small creepy game made in an outdated game engine. I think it's something to be observed rather than given a reaction of "pfff did you not read the "RPG" in "RPGMaker"????????" My favorite horror rm game is probably The Longing Ribbon and to some extent Diary of a Madman (horror rpg).

SCRIPTING:
CMS, ABS, DBS, CDBS, a lot of people would make up acronyms for what was effectively "gameplay" you'd program in another engine. Community regulars were really big on feature lists and making a big deal out of what they did beyond what was given and "advancements" made in a slowly dying engine. I've never played a single "Action Battle System" that I ended up liking but there were tons of games attempting it. There were so many demos that basically fancied themselves as tech demos and even RMN houses a lot of them to this day. Kazsui is this advanced evolved Project X form of this where the stuff he makes is actually good. Pixel Movement with collision, a tactical battle system that seems really function, and probably sometime in the future he'll find out how to get raytracing working in rm2k3. None of these will likely reveal themselves in a full playable game though, but at least you can kind of play the first few minutes of FF7 recreated in rm2k3.

The Way actually impresses me because it has a dueling system nobody understands, the default battle system, a bunch of mini games that are surprisingly competent, some generally interesting set-pieces throughout prerendered 3D environments. It's kind of the game everyone dreams of in terms of having the right amount of technical prowess while still delivering on writing. Even if you don't think The Way is good, it's amazing that game ever got made since most finished games barely surpass having a slightly modified DBS.

CHARAS PROJECT:
The oldest community site still standing. Some forum posts date back to 2003, but it really doesn't represent the going ons of the community other than that one time Wishmoo made resource demands. I wouldn't be surprised if the webmaster has some condition in his will stating that his family must pay the server upkeep forever.

i really should just make a rm history documentary vid at some point.
...A lot of this stuff is very hard to look back on and read, especially that post about wishmoo and copyright material.
(I just got the Nirvana Charset joke now,)...Like, it sounds like the community was at odds with itself and standing in
it's own way, from truly progressing - were things always this bad?

I was gonna make a blogpost about this on FFvD but...back in 2000-ish, I was on Newgrounds, playing stuff like Megaman RPG
and Final Fantasy vs. AOL, wondering if there was a program out there that was easier than Marcomedia Flash to make jrpgs in.

So, when I finally got RPGMAKER2003, I came to places like GamingW and RRR looking for help, thinking they would be the same as Newgrounds, Adobe Photoshop or other Macromedia Flash support sites during the 2000s. But it wasn't like those support sites at all, it was exactly like what you described here Darken, and I think unfortunately, it took me 10 years to realize that.

Like, this is hard to look back on, but I feel like it's important to talk about.

Maybe this is the unfortunate consequence of using pirated software? You have a program that's not officially supported, so you're on your own trying to figure this stuff out and you have a user base/community that's at odds with itself - I dunno, I'm grasping at straws here, but I absolutely do not want to go through that, again, ever - and I guess that's why I wanted to start talking about it.

author=Darken
i really should just make a rm history documentary vid at some point.

You really should man ♥ It may not seem like it now, but I feel like this is gonna be important down the road.
Game preservation is an important thing, as is records of this sort of community.
Though in RMN the "make everything claustrophobic as possible" is still really insisted.


I've on more than one occasion seen a beautiful map and thought "This must be shit to actually play through."

It is okay to let the player walk in a straight line now and then.
author=LordBlueRouge
So, when I finally got RPGMAKER2003, I came to places like GamingW and RRR looking for help, thinking they would be the same as Newgrounds, Adobe Photoshop or other Macromedia Flash support sites during the 2000s. But it wasn't like those support sites at all, it was exactly like what you described here Darken, and I think unfortunately, it took me 10 years to realize that.


In terms of "passive help" there were a ton of tutorials littered everywhere. But in GW you'd get bitched out if you asked about anything to do with something that was in the help file. I remember asking if there was any event command that did x and the first reply was some moderator pointing me to the exact section of the helpfile and being annoyed. But it was a completely unrelated thing so he didn't even understand my question. I kind of laugh at that in hindsight. Sure I can understand the frequency of noobs needing help with switches was something that had to be contained. But I don't think outright hostility was a way to build a community.

So there are several eras I kind of mapped out mainly pertaining to the oldschool makers (RMXP, VX and Ace is just gonna add more work...):

Before RM95 (1996-1998) BDM aka Before Don Miguel
RM95 Era (1998-1999) Dark Ages
RM2K Era (1999-2003) Golden Age
RM2K3 Era (2003-2004) DDM (End of Don Miguel Reign)
GamingWorld Era (2004-2009) (also known as Common Era to mortals)
RMN Exodus (2007-2013)

I do know the details of the passing of the torch between KanjiHack and Don Miguel pretty well (as the leader of KanjiHack basically gave me a lore dump) and Don Miguel's site has a pretty good diary of events. So Before RM95 is actually pretty damn easy. But I have a complete blank on early rm2k as I mainly just downloaded games and didn't bother with communities until rm2k3 picked up momentum. The origin of rm2k3 and RPGAdvocate and the whole controversy with GGZ is pretty easy to cover. GW is kind of spotty in some places but I think I can piece stuff together from threads and archives.

If anyone actually remembers early RM2K or RM95 history feel free to give a shout, specifically wherever the community congregated and what games were popular. Or if anyone happens to know some retired RMer on facebook or something it'd be cool if there was some correspondence or info gathering.

author=scitydreamer
Reading it kinda has me wondering what other people's experiences were with early RPG Maker culture, as I wasn't really around for the early stuff.

I guess I've been using RPGmaker on and off for the past fifteen years now? Maybe more, actually, though that's weird to think about.

I was always way too shy to interact with anyone on the forums, though I remember back in ye olden days "community games" were a thing. They were like regular RPGs, except all the NPCs were users from the community or whatever.
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