I am only blogging so often at this point because it really saddens me to look at the vapid wasteland that is currently the Cblogs. It's probably because it's summer, but it feels like there are scant few entries that aren't advertisements for some nefarious product from a country that may or may not even actually exist, and that is a bit of a bummer. I don't even remember the last time a blog got promoted, and there have been a record number of non-topsauce days as a result of the result slump.
Criticism of the Cblogs aside, I've been trying my hand at game design, an endeavor fueled by a total lack of any sleep and liberal amounts of foods that are bad for my body. The rapidity at which my fat flesh vessel is physically deteriorating is borderline obscene; sex with my wife has turned into some kind of bizarre amateur double-pregnancy fetish video, and my hair is getting so long I look like a member of Five Man Electric Band. I just can't keep my shit together, and it hurts, but it's become serious creative fuel in a way; I can't imagine putting my energy anywhere else right now unless it's towards the creation of some kind of new innovative snack food that is funneled directly down the throat and into my grotesque feedbag, so it feels good to at least be doing, well, something.
Actually sitting down and attempting to design a game has lead to a lot of thinks; prolonged thinks, taking place in front of my computer with me usually petting a cat or staring at a ceiling. I decided to start real small just so I wouldn't overwhelm myself; with a program like RPG Maker, it is very tempting to just make some grandiose epic that you can never possibly finish because you way overestimated your drive to actually see a project through, so I'm aiming for an hour or two of gameplay at most. The most surprising element of the project was realizing that a lot of the ideas I thought I had completely flew out the fucking window the second I put my hands on the mouse and keyboard. It's pretty easy to imagine a vast epic with interesting characters and worlds until you actually sit down to produce the thing; when it unfolds before your eyes, the end result is often a lot more disappointing than you originally hoped it would be in all your excited optimism. I decided to start small there as well, and expand as I went along.
There are a few design conundrums that have already come up, and that I am wrestling with. Number one: the conventions of the modern RPG. I've played a lot of RPG's in my time, spanning a broad range of sub genres, so it was a little difficult to know exactly where I wanted to start. For a game that is only an hour or two in length, I decided I wanted to start with a rich, entertaining story, and work the gameplay mechanics around that rather than the other way around. So almost immediately, any kind of random battles or grinding in a field or a generic dungeon was out of the question. Since the story I am working with is of the Magical Girl theme, a genre popularized in Japan by shows such as Sailor Moon, having the main character wielding swords and fighting slimes just didn't feel appropriate to the setting or the story, so I nixed that right away, and tried to find a more creative way of creating challenges for the player so that the game doesn't become a glorified storybook hidden beneath the veneer of an RPG.
I decided that the crux of the Magical Girl anime-style was really all about helping people. In Sailor Moon specifically, the episodes would typically begin with a person, usually with some kind of hook behind them. Then a monster of some kind would possess them, and Sailor Moon would have to heal them by using her magic, thus saving the day, and usually culminating in said character resolving whatever real life personal issue it was they were having. So I thought that would be a good place to start.
In my game, which I'm just calling Magic Girl Mako for the time being, a young girl is endowed with the power to heal people who have lost a part of their memory at the hands of dark forces. So the gameplay essentially revolves around exploring the different locales of the game to identify the people whose memories or fragmented, and "diving" into their memories in order to restore the missing piece. Dungeons are essentially comprised of locations important to the characters past, and are fragmented and scattered in a dream like dimension made of several levels which the player has to successfully navigate, solving puzzles, unraveling the story of these NPC's, and fighting through a handful of predetermined battles against creatures that have wormed their way into the characters minds before facing off against a big bad at the end of the "dungeon" who guards the lost memory you are trying to restore. Once Mako defeats the boss, the memory is restored, and a cutscene is presented which ties up the loose ends of the backstory that was unraveling as you traversed the dungeon. The NPC is healed, and Mako has to move on to the next area to find the next person, and so on, until the climax of the game.
The ideas presented here are nothing new, really, but I thought it would serve the gameplay very well to implement them in such a way where dungeons can be different and varied without ever succumbing to the usual tropes seen in most RPG's. I've played way too many RPG Maker games that start in a cave or a keep, and have the players facing off against FF1 era enemies, so I didn't want to approach my game that way.
Designing the world itself and the towns has been a fairly organic process, and one that has led me to spend a lot of time thinking about the logistics of it all. Since I want to keep areas fairly small and condensed, I'm trying to incorporate that in the story at the same time, and the world is kind of taking a life of its own as I go. I only wish I was any kind of an artist, or had experience creating my own assets, because using the default stuff available will ultimately end up hurting the end product. Oh well. I'm really just concerned with completing a project for the first time, and so far, it's going smooth.
POO TOWN may or may not be a placeholder name. Haven't decided yet.
Another thing I've been thinking about lately is female roles in games, which is what originally led me to (perhaps somewhat cynically) choose a very cutesy, girly theme for my own game. I wanted a main character that my daughter could someday relate too basically, so I tried to keep that in mind when jotting down ideas for her personality; strong and outgoing, but young and occasionally emotionally fragile. She lives with her dad, who is the mayor of the first village in the game, and whose over-protectiveness of her (in all aspects of his life, which actually led to him founding a walled town to protect his family from the outside world) revolves around the death of his wife. He is damaged but loves his daughter, and will do anything to keep her safe, but his passive role (he is not even present at the start of the game) in the story becomes far less so as the game progresses. Mako, like all Magical Girls, is charged with a rather bittersweet task; though her natural curiosity and spirit of adventure propels her to help the people around her, it's a pretty big bill for a little girl to fill. I'm definitely not breaking any conventions here, but the idea was just being unapologetic about crafting a game with a female lead without trying to project my own sensibilities on her or the story too much. I'm basically trying to preserve the same sense of escapism I had when I watched Sailor Moon as a kid, in secret, embarrassed, but always thoroughly entertained despite the fact that it was a "girls show."
It's been a lot of fun so far, and I'm really excited to see if I can get it done. I'd love to share the end product when its finished and hope anyone who is willing to give it a shot will ultimately enjoy it.
Since I am totally new to this, it's interesting to sit on the other side of the fence for a change, and rather than criticizing products others have created, learning how much thought and time really does go into games, even if it is just a small pet project in RPG Maker like mine is.