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Caster's Trap: A commentary


RPGmaker horror done right, wrong, right, wrong, wrong and right again

So Caster's Trap makes me want to dropkick a dingo.

RPGmaker in its multiple incarnations presents a tookit for the aspiring game developer, a toolkit that is simultaneously freeing and crushingly limited. Supporters of the tool might answer that statement with something along the lines of, "RPGmaker is only limited by your creativity," or, "We're still discovering new ways to do things with it!"

Both of those things are true* as it turns out.

  • *Provided you don't mind choosing between factory assets and a crushing amount of work and/or cost in acquiring and implementing audiovisual items.

Over its years of existence, RPGmaker has spawned a relatively widespread base of support. Based on my perusal of Gamejolt, IndieDB and so forth, it seems the maker community seems largeliy interested in pumping out fan games as opposed to creating original IPs.

That's fine, too. It's just not what I seek.

Thankfully, over time the community has generated a niche branch interested in creating horror games in spite of the engine's sword-and-sorcery-based asset kit. Quality entries including The Crooked Man, Hello Hello and It Moves prove the engine, while incredibly limited mechanically, is capable of delivering eerie, gripping stories that stick with a player like a chainsaw to the ribs.

And then there are entries such as Caster's Trap, a 2014 entry by RPGmaker aficionado TheOdie, which displays a glimpse of the engine's power and a grand command of atmosphere while showing off the supreme limitations of the engine and a thankfully non-contagious case of designer-brain.

As I play through this game, let's have a discussion of what we see.


The opening

Entering into the world of Caster's Trap, blind as always, we are greeted with a touch of pre-game narration explaining the situation. It's nothing unusual; we have gone to investigate an intimidating old house on a hill with naught but a flashlight and a newspaper clipping to accompany us.

Then, the narration addresses us directly, wishing for us to have a good time with the game.

We've slammed into the fourth wall coming out of turn three, and it doesn't feel great.

Our newspaper clipping informs us, with several instances of broken grammar, that a boy has gone missing in the area. Missing person, creepy house, dark visuals and a single flashlight at our disposal all prove we're mired deep in gothic horror territory.

The darkness of the visuals creates an opportunity for Caster's Trap to show off its impressive lighting sensibilities, which go beyond the conical flashlight view to some delightfully dynamic candlesticks and lanterns. The downside of that lighting effect is its added drag on the framerate, which at times seems to dip into single digits.

Our mission, while not clearly laid out in-game, seems to be to locate this missing person. At present I have not finished the game, so I can't be certain I'm correct; essentially, the play simply starts exploring as if en media res. Beneath the strains of a nicely atmospheric soundtrack, we begin walking about and examining objects in search of items to use on other items.

Problems begin to mount immediately. To save a bit of time, I'll drop a quick list of the major recurring issues before moving on.

  • Side doors aren't initially apparent. This is a holdover from old-school RPGs, a slice of design stemming from the difficulty of animating doorways from the side. This game heralds side doors with a single tile of floor pushing into the wall area.
  • Using inventory items from the menu results in a strange bit of flavor text. "You wiggle your fingers in front of you, but nothing happens." This comes across at first as nonsensical -- "Why on earth am I wiggling my fingers? I was trying to light a stove!" -- and it also wastes the player's time when a simple buzzer sound effect would've been fine.
  • The writing present in this game's dialogue and flavor text is simply atrocious. Almost every text window contains at least one glaring grammatical error, which poses a serious problem in a game intended to draw a player in and create suspension of disbelief. I'm not sure if the developer's first language is English, but reading the hint, "Ignore all that is evil" over and over drove me quite batty in short order. Do not misunderstand this as my grammar nazi tendencies overacting, though. There are a handful of text screens whose grammar and syntax is so garbled the point of the statement is lost. I cannot stress enough how deeply this broken grammar damages the experience.
  • Certain events are only triggered if light is shined in an area after other events have occurred. Several instances involve picking up flashing items on the ground, items which may not have appeared despite their areas already being lit, and I ran into an entire chase sequence I could not trigger because I had already lit the candles needed to trigger the event. We'll talk about this in a bit more depth later.

Keep in mind, one cannot judge RPGmaker games the way one judges indie/AAA games of a salable level. A great deal of slack must be allowed, particularly for game length and visual quality.

Over the next few posts we'll talk about Caster's Trap in progress. In the meantime, have a beautiful day!

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About The Travisionistone of us since 2:43 AM on 08.29.2015

This Travisionist typically writes at https://thetravisionist.wordpress.com, but thought it would be a splended idea to stick his neck out and visit the greener pastures of games writing.
He's more inclined toward the indie PC gaming scene than consoles, has a somewhat respectable beard and a load of programming courses on his agenda in the next months. With endless love for The Binding of Isaac, Five Nights at Freddy's and Portal, for example, he's punched his pretentious indie card numerous times.
A former print journalist outside the games industry, he's ready to write for a subsection of the world that matters to him.