The My RPG!! Demo Writeup
I don't remember when I first started work on "My RPG!!". While my best guess is late-2017, it could've even been earlier. I've spent more time not working on this project than working on it, due to numerous factors.
Regardless, this is where I want to talk about anything that comes to mind leading up to the release of this demo.
My RPG!! is in a similar position to another project, known as Dear Diary. It was a game started in the quaint RPG Maker 2000 engine with the purpose of simply completing something. I got the idea to make a game that got "better" as you went along — to start in an amateurish world — and go onto progressively more evolved RPG Maker realities. The inciting element being when the protagonists jump over a Waist-High Fence, defying the rules of the world.
However, by about mid-way through this second world, the story slowly started to evolve itself. I was pretty much writing by the seat of my pants — part of the means to get something done by not getting stuck in the drafting phase — and once I'd got to the first boss I had developed a fairly simple (on the surface) universe through which to tell my story.
So while I did start the project in the Ruby-less RM2k to force myself to focus on the game, rather than the scripting language, I somehow ended up creating a custom skill system. I even went so far as to make it automatically order the skills in this custom menu screen. That's no simple feat, since RM2k only provides you with basic arithmetic and 10,000-or-so numeric variable entries. You can't just make an array and tell it to order the entries.
It wasn't exactly a sensible use of my time to "event" a system that cycles through every skill slot to shift numbers around into order by ID. The engine would already maintain the actual skill order, the effort I put in was mostly to look pretty and concise with the in-engine information.
I considered adding skill descriptions to the skill assignment screen, but felt it was low priority compared to the tedious nature of its implementation. I hoped that the names/icons would be self-explanatory, and seeing them used against you by enemies would help teach you the effects.
Despite wanting to just make a game and not worry about complex features, I still felt I had to make some unique gameplay element out of necessity, otherwise the game could be brushed off simply as "lol it's one of those metafictional games, aren't you beating a dead horse?". A basic structure of equipping skills would give the player a level of customisability on how they want to play the game, and I could focus more on this element rather than say, the physical equipment.
However, to call My RPG!! metafictional I feel would be inaccurate in the way that's normally understood. I have personally called it "metapunk". The world within the game is real — the characters are not within some video game within the narrative, rather all the metafictional elements are such largely for aesthetic and narrative purpose rather than more literal ones.
I'm not sure how successful I am in communicating that, and in fairness as long as the story is essentially "fiction about fiction" — or the creation thereof — it technically counts as metafiction.
It just isn't one of those fourth-wall breaking ones.
There's the title "My RPG!!" itself too. Naturally, I released the game demo originally on April Fools, intending it to be a reverse-joke. Something that appears nonsense on the surface, only to be more thought out as you progress along. The absurd title plays into this assumption, while serving the game's metapunk theme at the same time.
I originally planned to release the game on April Fools in 02018, however I lagged a little behind on development, and then a disaster occurred within my friend circles, leaving me to retreat for much of the year. This didn't exactly help with my creative drive and resulted in the game not being worked on for a large amount of time. (Not that that's terribly different to my usual behaviour anyway.)
But things got better. Relatively. I ended up creating more gameplay eventually, ready for the next April Fools to come around in 02019.
Creating this new area was a bit of a challenge, as I felt the need to up my game (hah) in comparison to the beginning dungeon. While I personally liked creating those locations, I could understand if the "empty maze" issue of the Bravely Default series may have people bored. I tried my best to make rudimentary puzzles as well as a non-linear progression to this new location.
I also wanted to include a fancier puzzle here, but I didn't have any idea what to design for it. I tried thinking about what would make for an interesting bookcase puzzle that wasn't simply putting square pegs in square holes, but didn't know where to begin. I decided to leave it out (for now?), and wrote in an excuse that actually fits within the context of the world.
Conceptualising puzzles is something I struggle with, which I fear results in my level designs coming off as "empty mazes" full of grindy battles.
Early into development I came to the idea to challenge myself. I would not use any Show Choice - dialogue options - in the game. Instead, all choice would be invisible to the player and presented through other actions. Even the skill assignment menu doesn't use "yes/no" in its UI. I probably didn't need to go quite that far...
Of course, I'm not always successful at this. There's a couple of early choices that opaquely indicate themselves to the player. One of them has to be done so to let the player know what they have to do, while the second one is mostly done to show they have a choice in the first place. There are some invisible player choices earlier than this, but you could argue the former examples serve as tutorials to the game's design sense.
One challenge that comes with not giving the player dialogue choice is that I can't even do something as simple as "do you want to do this?" This lead me to adding some warnings before bosses after beta-tester feedback, in the hopes it would nudge the player towards remembering to save.
I fiddled endlessly with balance, largely due to my own laziness/negligence. I shifted stats as I tested the game, but failed to replay to make sure you could get through from the beginning, resulting in the party I was testing with being over-levelled, which in turn affected the stats of the enemies as I made them. This was shed light on when my beta-testers reported they were 2-4 levels behind what I tested at and had no items.
Moreover, due to the way damage calculation worked, basic attacks would quickly trail behind skills in terms of output. I'm not entirely confident if I've fixed this problem, but I hope that gameplay I make from after this demo's content onwards will take into consideration the way damage and stats work such the player can still use their normal attacks when they need to.
I also would create the ability to scan enemy stats later. While I personally don't like the way it's implemented, it is still ultimately a useful function that helps the player. Because of the skill assignment system, the player kind of needs to know what elements and ailments are effective or not, to avoid spending a large amount of time on trial and error.
I have many more things I could say, but they're too brief to really give deep paragraphs too, so here's a list of them:
- I had fun with flavour text, but while I tried to keep it up, it's maybe not consistently applied.
- I intend each protagonist to have a different style of speech/dialogue, however I feel like this is really only obvious with Valentina's all lowercase speech. Fransisca is supposed to be more liable to overuse exclamation or question marks, but I think I didn't make this too obvious after her first appearance. Oh, and she swears like a sailor.
- I rewrote early dialogue a few times after I began to understand what kind of story I wanted to tell. The lines still communicated "you broke the rules of the world", but they were a little vaguer initially and had some weird, unnecessary double-meaning.
- Thanks to the latest RM2k, I created my own custom font! Like, that's actually letters I sprited/edited myself. This also enabled me to have even more custom glyphs beyond the "EXFONT", and gave me insight into the way RM2k handles glyphs and text colour. Not that that might be that useful.
- Modern MIDI support sucks.