Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Changing the RPG Maker Game Opening

I've been really, really quiet on the big RPG Maker game. Like, over two years without a post. So, here's why. I didn't like it. I needed to rethink it. If you see from the last post about the Review Effects tab and the one about Money, XP and Inventory, I realized my game had an identity crisis. Part of that started with the way the project developed (originally as just something fun I was doing on the side to learn RPG Maker.) But, that's caused structural problems, which you see in those two posts.

Now, only click through if you're fine with spoilers to a game I'll probably never make.

First, read through the Money, XP and Inventory post. The point of this game is to tell a story. I want there to be interesting gameplay, but I want to keep the gameplay from getting in the way of the story. Unfortunately, if you've seen the opening few screens, that's exactly what happens from the word go. Arthur, our nominal hero, is a giant distraction. He's off tone from the start, pining after Lady Sarah, talking to himself, breaking the fourth wall and delivering hamfisted tutorial as you go through meaningless random encounters that teach you how HP, TP and MP work.

This breaks so many of my design rules. Let's focus on two design rules:

1. Your player should always have a party in a turn-based JRPG, as multiple characters are what allows a strategy to be used.

2. Each screen should be advancing the plot or characterization.

The first room in the dungeon is just a long series of gags or jokes at Arthur's expense, or beating the audience over the head with "This is a dream! See the disembodied voices in the different colored text boxes? DREAM!" Not only that, you don't get a second character until the second or third room. While that character is interesting (Han, the Ghost Dog, who can go incorporeal to deal magic damage or become solid to deal physical damage), and ties to the main character (Chris used to have a dog as part of his elite security team until it was killed in action during an attempt to stop an assassination), it just... is further off tone.

Because, in about 20 minutes, you're going to have to decide if your lead character from the second party is going to obey an order to kill a mind controlled ally or not, then, a few minutes after that, the perky gunner girl, goes down gun blazing to give her friends time to escape a horde of rat men in the sewer. Having a funny ghost dog in the first 10-15 minutes of game play is off tone. It needs to go.

No matter how much I like him.

So, now that I've outlined everything wrong with the opening (It is too slow; it is uninteresting game play wise, and the tone is wrong), I've been spending time off and on for the past two years trying to decide how to fix it. And here's how I'm going to fix it.

First, we've established that the Dream World to Real World connection is not one-to-one. Since, if Chris sacrifices himself to save Wes, Wes starts dreaming he is Arthur, we know that Chris isn't Arthur, per se. Once I accepted that as a fact, it meant that I was free to use characters without having to remember which characters are asleep in the Real World. Dream World characters can act independently of their Real World dreamer, and with this fact in tow, it actually means that you can see the influence of the dreamer on the Dream Character (and there will be some points in the mid- to late-game where this causes problems for our Dream Characters because it is a real identity crisis for them. Which version of them is real?)

So, this means instead of Arthur being alone, he can have allies. We break a cardinal rule of writing as well in the opening, where Arthur tells us that his king told him to go find this magical spring because the world is dying. We never see the world dying around him. So, let's give him stalwart companions from the Dream World character roster (probably Silas, Nybal and Lydia since those three don't join in the second Dream World section). This conveniently also gives Arthur a priest, a necromancer and a fortune teller, who can help enhance the dream quality by expounding on how the world is dying as they travel through a short series of mazes to get to the Emerald Cave.

To enhance the Dream like quality, we're going to have "something" chasing the party during the maze sequences. In addition, the mazes will progress from a well run, ordered city, to a ruin, to a wasteland, with certain things positioned to make it clear that these are the same areas. This helps it seem like this is a timeless, never ending search.

Then, once the party reaches the Emerald Cave, we'll keep a lot of the character moments with Arthur being distracted, but now he'll have people to play off of, instead of having to play off the "hah, I'm talking to myself" line or talking to the player. We'll keep the rescue of Han the Ghost Dog, but demote him from playable character.

Then, just like with the original, they'll reach the magical spring to find it has all dried up. There will be the confrontation with the Red Knight, only this time instead of him being a somewhat hammy villain (who literally tells Arthur "I'll get you, and your little dog too!") is now going to be redone to be an over the top well-intentioned extremist.

He'll claim to want to mend the worlds -- this will be the first direct hint to the player about there being two worlds (besides... you know, all the interface spoilers that would exist with a finished product like a cast picture with Chris, Wes and Victoria.) He'll claim that he'll need, "Power to mend them. Power and blood over flowing. Brooks, rivers -- oceans of them."

We'll do the boss fight, then transition back to Chris waking up. This will play out pretty similar to the current game (he walks around, meets his squad, meets the other squads, his boss recommends he get some sleep, he goes to try and sleep and is awakened by Dr. Pras due to an attack on a city bank.)

Here, this chapter gets some extensive re-writes. Before, we left Alicia, Jennifer, Kiley and George on the sidelines, only bringing in Regina, Wes, Victoria, Pras and Chris. With the re-write, I want to bring the entire cast into play here. That'll require us making the bank bigger, or moving it to a more central part of town, so that we can be given a larger area for the party to traverse. Either way, the entire sequence needs to be re-worked. We still want Victoria to die and for Chris to have to choose whether to kill Wes or sacrifice himself to save Wes, but I need to re-work it all.

Anyway, the point of all this is:  Sometimes, you have to completely abandon the entire narrative and just start over. Which, essentially, this project is doing, when you take into account re-creating the entire inventory, skill, encounter, passive and plot. The only thing that'll get kept is much of the text.

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