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by Agetec

slide1-01.jpg (4537 bytes)Want to flex your creative muscles? Want to capture the hearts of game fans across the world, or at least those of your friends across the street? Do you want to make your own RPG, Squaresoft be damned? Well, Agetec has attempted to give you that very opportunity with RPG Maker.

If you are like me, you approach these things with a little skepticism. I have been disappointed by so many whatever-makers other games have thrown at me in an attempt to extend their replay value that I have become jaded. And a set-up devoted solely to design? Ouch, that is a hard sell. Questions abound. Can I really create the RPG I have always dreamed of? Or is it so limited that I will have to once again settle for what the programmers think I want? And, how exactly does it work? Well, let me dodge those first two questions for awhile.

slide2-01.jpg (5139 bytes)How does it work, then? The game is split into two sections: RPG Maker and Anime Maker. RPG Maker contains both the edit features you will use to create your own RPG and a sample RPG that is a must-play, not because it is all that fun, but because it gives you a look at what kind of RPG you will be working with. Anime Maker is an art program that allows you to draw your own title screens, characters, and monsters and edit them into the game, as well as design some basic animation on the side. More on that later, first let’s dig into the RPG Maker.

There are several steps and a lot of man hours involved in creating a successful RPG. RPG Maker uses a series of simple menus to make these steps as easy and straight forward as possible. First, come up with your concept. Do this with as much preparation as you feel is necessary, but you will need a story, some characters, and a driving idea. Title your RPG, select some opening art, or design your own in Anime maker, and get to work on your characters. You can have four main characters in your original party, and can add more as the story progresses. You choose the characters’ skins (out of 68, or design your own in Anime Maker), their HP, MP, experience level, strength, stamina, intelligence, luck, and more. And of course, you will need some terrifying monsters lurking about, so create them. This is the fun part, isn’t it? There are 99 existing monsters from fairies to the undead to dragons and griffins and the like, and, again, there is the Anime Maker if you want to draw your own. I have to say, though, that I was impressed with the choices -- they are about as good as they come. You set the monsters’ attributes much like the main characters’. You also set each monster’s pattern of attack by way of probability, through percentages, that each attack will occur. So, there might be a 35% chance the monster will attack physically, 25% it will use magic, 5% it will earn a critical hit, etc. You also need to create the items and magic used in the game. Name them, select what they will do, choose a graphic and sound effect for it, and assign it to a person, place or thing.

slide3-01.jpg (5078 bytes)Following me so far? Okay, now that you know the story, the characters, and the monsters, you need create the maps that provide the settings of the game and the events that drive the story. This is a long process, indeed, but it is the very substance of your campaign. Textured tiles are used to piece together the landscape where you place your towns and dungeons and so forth. An "event" is anything that changes the current flow of action, such as a screen change, a message, a movement from, say, forest to forest or town to dungeon, a choice the characters have to make, a battle, anything.

And that’s the basics, the nutshell, so to speak. Keep in mind the game comes with two full manuals of specifics. The choices are indeed fantastic. But are they unlimited? No. And how would that work exactly? Let’s face it, you want choices, need choices, graphics, menus, because if you are down to dealing with ones and zeroes you better be getting paid. You deal with the current limits, and wait for the next game to break through them.

slide4-01.jpg (6092 bytes)One of the first limitations you will encounter is that the overall concept of RPG Maker is geared toward fantasy-oriented settings and gameplay. There are some sci-fi dungeons and a big-ass robot bad guy to chose from, but if you are looking to capture the atmosphere of your favorite sci-fi RPG, you won’t be able to do that here. However, the biggest limitations of the game itself are not in the construction of the game, but in its performance, specifically the graphics, sound effects, and fighting system. I am not kidding when I say that if you picture your favorite 16-Bit RPG from the Super Nintendo or Genesis, you are about on the mark. The graphics are embarrassing, the music and sound effects barely register and there are no special effects. The battles are rigid and old school. And I don’t care how good an artist you are, nothing you can do in the Anime Maker can compensate for this.

Which brings me back to the Anime Maker. It is a nice touch, but difficult to use if you don’t have the PSX mouse. The controller simply doesn’t offer the fluidity you will want. But they have done a good job of separating the steps so that they are easy to understand and ensure that your characters, monsters, title screens and animations are complete. And given the low frame rate of the game itself, there aren’t many steps required in animating the movements of characters. In all, this is a feature some will appreciate, but only a few will really use.

slide5-01.jpg (4767 bytes)Given the fact that you are really creating an RPG whose performance is at least a decade outdated, the game practically begs for a little silliness. I had a lot of fun trying to make the most humorous, self-parodying campaign I could. I created Mudboy and Mudbunny, who had save Chuckleville from the Dragon using spells like "Ouch My Butt!" and "Holy Crap!" Yeah, it’s dumb but it was fun.

slide6-01.jpg (5547 bytes)The rest really depends on you and your memory card. Or cards, I should say. This game eats memory faster than a kid can eat candy. A small, one map game will take an entire card. You can, however, link several cards together in order to create a more complex campaign, but that takes money (or a big, fancy card). But if you have the time and the memory, if you are an RPG addict and must see the current state of consumer RPG design, RPG Maker is a must. And creating an RPG that is specific to the tastes, humor, and experiences of you and your friends, to include likenesses and obscure in-jokes that would make the writers of "The Simpsons" jealous, is almost too good pass up.

Jeremy Kauffman

Snapshot

Ups: Lots of customization; graphics editor; write your own RPG.

Downs: Memory hog; fantasy-biased.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation

 

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