Originality in RPG Maker Games

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Originality in RPG Maker Games
Note: General format has been stolen remixed from Modern Algebra's many helpful tutorials.


Apologia

I've been in love with RPG Maker since I was what, 10 years old or something. I think hobby game making is one of the most enjoyable things in the world. Nowadays, I don't make games with RPG Maker as much as I used to. It's more like my experimentation ground. But that's beside the point. The point is, I've been in the RPG Maker community for a fairly long time (though mostly as a leecher), and compared to the ye olde days of RPG Maker 2003, I've found that the games that are being made today are somewhat.. lacking. Maybe it's because I've aged into my teens, or because I've "outgrown" the RPG Maker scene, but I think the reason is something much more tragic.

I understand that most of the offenders to the points that I will soon state are the ones who will not be bothered to read through this document, and I'm fine with that. I just hope that I can persuade the rest of you to touch up your games.


Tragedy of the Commons

I recently entered an Environmental Science class that talked about the "Tragedy of the Commons", a passage written by Garrett Hardin in 1968. It's a pretty good read, and I definitely recommend it. The main points of the essay, to my understanding is that:

  • There exist Res nullius (The Commons), which are open resources that anyone can use.
  • People will act rationally according to their own self-interest, and exploit these commons.
  • Although it is no one's long term goal for the commons to become extinct, this self-interest will eventually deplete the commons.
You might be asking yourself, cozzie, what the hell does this have to do with Game Making? Well, there exists a "commons" in the RPG Maker Community, which for the sake of simplicity, I will narrow down to the Resources and Scripting Board. Lovely people have dedicated time and effort to filling up these boards with resources and scripts for less talented people to use, and that's great. What happens next is the issue. As you may have already forseen, the popular scripts and resources (Tankentai, Yanfly's Scripts, Kaduki, Enterbrain's ChibiTsukuru), get singled out and reused. Obviously, the common people, guided by their own self interests will choose to exploit these scripts and resources, as they are the best available. However, as more and more people begin to use these scripts and resources, in my opinion, the less value these scripts and resources hold.

Take for example, Tankentai. How many games have you seen that use Tankentai? Practically all of them. And the more games you see with Tankentai, the less awesome it becomes. This problem isn't just regulated to RPG Making. This is one of the problems with "real" games, like Dante's Inferno, which is a complete rip off God of War.

I'm not trying to say that you should avoid using resources from the commons; time constraints, lack of talent and other things can justify using common resources over original resources. Indeed, going for the Hannah Montana concept of getting the "Best of Both Worlds" is what most great games do. I mean, who wants to code a completely new engine from scratch? However, it doesn't take a genius to realise that your game NEEDS to have a certain degree of originality if you want it to shine from the rest. Which brings me to my next point. What is originality?


Be Original, Not Dumb

rpgmakervx.net is the biggest example I have of this rule. If you've ever looked through their projects, many games promote themselves as "Original", "Unique" and above all "Different". Yes, they are all "original", but they are also "dumb".

Here is a quote from Ocean's blog, which will probably explain the problem with this much better than I can.

Quote from: Ocean
So as I saw on some forum, there was a person trying to make some custom graphics. Wonderful I say, nice to encourage game makers to make their own graphics so they can make the games world how they want it to be. However, they pretty much traced over existing game resources. So all that potential to make an interesting and unique world was completely lost.


Again, using the rpgmakervx.net as my prime example. Their "original" sprites and resources are just a bunch of frankensprites and recolours from the default RTP. Frankenspriting, as far as I'm concerned, is the bane of originality. Sure, you can make incredibly different sprites from simple frankenspriting, but what it doesn't do is give a sense of originality. The atmosphere created by the chibi RTP sprites and the strange combination of over yet under-saturated colours in the palette stay the same, no matter how much frankenspriting you do.

I call this phenomeon "being dumb". Why waste the time frankenspriting sprites if they're going to look exactly the same as the RTP ones? You may as well just reuse the same sprite over and over again, since that is essentially what you are doing.

What this means that it is up to you to break out of these limitations and design your own world, using your own original characters, not some re-sprites of an RTP sprite.


Effect from and on the Community

The biggest problem with the RPG Maker community(and this should come as no suprise), is that, unlike most game making communities (like XNA), there are more makers than there are players. This fills the RPG Maker community with many mediocre games, which deplete the commons at a much larger pace.

We've already established that you need originality to shine in the RPG Maker community. Here in rmrk, most of the veterans realise that the games being churned out by the less experienced members, kinda suck, and never really bother to check them out. Not just because they lack originality, but also because of other things such as lack of polish, mapping errors, etc. That's not my point here; my point is that, when these games use these commons that almost everyone uses, whether it be for commerical games or the newbie 30 minute games, the commons used gain a reputation for being "nooby"(for lack of a better word), and again deplete the value of the commons.


Problems with Originality

Many people make RTP games because it's easier. I mean, a lot easier. Most RPG Maker's are developers, not makers. They bought(or illgeally pirated) RPG Maker because they though making RPG Maker games would be easy, require no work, and made fusing their random story into some epic game that's going to be amazing relatively easy. Unfortunately, making a good game is hard work, if not for yourself, then for your team who is working on all of this.

If you're a developer who wants to make a good game with RPG Maker, but you have no talent in scripting or graphic design, it seems like the obvious move to use the default RTP and the common resources. However, you don't have to use the RTP and the common resources. You have a few options. You could hire/recruit a team to do the work for you. There's no shame in asking for help, and many people will be glad to do so, though the high quality ones usually want money. You can ask your friends for help(recommended), as well as random people on the internet(not as much). You could also learn to script/sprite/etc. Even if you just learn a little, it really helps when you can modify a script or resource to suit your own purposes.

Quote from: TDS
In my experience, I posted a demo of a game I was making. The battle system and menu took me months to make since I had to have the resources for them made.

Not 3 hours later, I saw a post in a forum I will not mention and someone had just ripped everything from my game and just changed the names and recolored it.

I thought it was a one time thing... Then it happened again and again... It got to the point that I was being blamed of ripping off their work which had been ripped off from me.

You could blame me and say, why not better encryption? Well I used to think that some people just wanted to learn how things were done, not just steal your work.

In the end even if you are original it wont last very long since people are just going to outright copy paste your work.

I'm not going to lie here, this problem holds true even outside of Indie games. Again using the example of Dante's Inferno, which is an outright rip of God of War, and it's hard to know if they really did steal the battle system or resources, and who was the original creator of the resource. So how are you going to stop this?

The short answer is, you can't. This problem will always exist no matter what you try to do. But, at least in my opinion, you should be happy that someone accepted your original concept as something awesome. Kindly ask the author to credit you, or whatever you want the author to do. All forums have time post logs, so you should have no problem proving that you were the original author of the script or whatever. Creative Commons licenses are also a nice way to help solve this problem, and at the very least they can't make anything worse. You can find out more about creative commons licenses here.

:ccby: :ccbysa: :ccbyncnd: :ccbynd: :ccbync: :ccbyncsa:


Original Games

Let's take this opportunity to view a few original indie games(as I doubt many of you have your own company), both RPG Maker and non-RPG Maker:



Dust: An Elysian Tail, for XBLA. The beautiful graphics of this game are mainly hand painted, with minimal 3D Texturing, creating a great atmosphere reminiscent of the Disney days. Much more aesthetically pleasing than the 3D models of games like Call of Duty or Resonance of Fate, at least in my opinion. Currently stuck in Development Hell.



Rainblood: Town of Death. This game is one of the most popular RPG Maker games in China, and it's no surprise why. Almost entirely made out of custom graphics, the game's painterly atmosphere, resembling Okami and Feudal Japanese design gives a somber atmosphere that no other game could match with simply RTP + Frankensprites.



Eternal Grace, a commercial RPG Maker game featuring vivid graphics and an intuitive ABS with various cool features. The most important thing is that the game doesn't fill itself up with useless scripts; all of the scripts serve a purpose. The depth of these scripts is also amazing; they really help in creating the atmosphere.


Closing Note

I hope I've displayed the necessity of original games, especially in today's RPG Maker Community, which is flushed with games containing unoriginal resources, scripts and music that really take away from what the game could be. Remember, your creating your own game, containing your own world, and your graphics and scripts should reflect the atmosphere of the world you want.
« Last Edit: September 05, 2011, 12:04:26 AM by cozziekuns »

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Something you forgot to explain and I think it should be mentioned is that even if you are original someone is going to just rip you off...

In my experience, I posted a demo of a game I was making. The battle system and menu took me months to make since I had to have the resources for them made.

Not 3 hours later, I saw a post in a forum I will not mention and someone had just ripped everything from my game and just changed the names and recolored it.

I thought it was a one time thing... Then it happened again and again... It got to the point that I was being blamed of ripping off their work which had been ripped off from me.

You could blame me and say, why not better encryption? Well I used to think that some people just wanted to learn how things were done, not just steal your work.

In the end even if you are original it wont last very long since people are just going to outright copy paste your work.

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Updated the first post with your comment, and my opinion on the proble. Thanks for the input TDS.

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Frankly, I think you addressed the aesthetics way too much and didn't address the gameplay and story enough. They are all vital things to a game but each player looks for something different and if you wanna jsut complain about ripped resources, etc... Eh... :/

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I really need to get one of those Oekaki boards or drawing tablets that allows people to draw directly into pixels. When I use scanners, I get all muddled up and spend hours that could have been used for spriting on erasing and editing pencil lines and smudges.

As for originality - I like to focus on the "engine". Engines aren't pretty, or elegant most of the time, but they determine what's really going on under the hood we call graphics. To me, the most generic and unoriginal work in RPG Maker communities is the Engines. I'm not a very good scripter by any means, but I try very hard to translate ideas into gaming engines - both common and bizarre.

Some more recent experiments included a Game where typing in foreign languages would allow you to cast spells; a Game where your main actors could hack reality and change the parameters of the game as their "powers", and a game where you could create or customize existing skills, including psionics.

Some of my more ambitious failures include a planet creator and a tactical movement grid. For people like me, having some "generic" graphics and sprites on hand makes things somewhat easier, although I admit I've been recently contemplating using layered sprites to give them things like hats, sunglasses, helmets, and maybe weapons.

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I really need to get one of those Oekaki boards or drawing tablets that allows people to draw directly into pixels.

I truly agree there.  The problem I have is that I cannot draw with a computer, I use Photoshop and AutoCAD, REVIT (Mainly for architecture)  but that is the extent and I've basically taught myself these programs.  The resource making truly does limit me, and its unfortunate, because I truly would love to have a game made completely with my own graphical elements.  Maybe you can list some threads on how to make your graphics better? Or perhaps some tutorials?  I read your post thoroughly and like doomed said, you haven't addressed the storyline and gameplay in your debate.  I think that the story that I have written for my game is well thought out and well developed with very few or no conflicting stories.  It has been developed from when I wrote it for when I was DM for a group of seven people.  The story that I made from that campaign is now evolved into something my friends can play through, and they find it absolutely addicting and well mapped out.   Being the developer, however, leaves me saying sometimes, "Man, I wish I could make this look differen,"  or "I want this to be like this, but I'll settle for this since I couldn't draw it properly."   I understand that some people that write scripts and do graphic design go to school for this kind of thing, and thats wonderful.  But some basic knowledge of photoshop, flash, and ruby is extremely wonderful, and I can understand where you're coming from in that,  but some people just don't KNOW how to make everything aesthetically pleasing. 

   For instance, I'm trying to make a custom battle system, and tankentai is the best I've seen.  But I don't even know how to edit it properly, and then I need to make all the sprites, then I have to make animations for skills, that in itself I can see as being months of work.  The lack of originality is not the problem here, it is a lack of a skillset to make a game.  I'm making this game alone, I am an Architecture student (which constitutes a ratio of 1hr class time/ 4hr hw time), and I have a nagging GF as well.  I need more time in the day, and I need more sleep haha..  but I still find time to put into developing my game, and what I've realized is this.  If your story grasps the player from the very beginning..  it will not matter how bad or unoriginal your graphics are.  I mean.. I'm probably older than some of you here, I remember playing Ultima 1 when you mere a dot on the screen... lol  and i loved that shit.

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Quote from: shintashi
Some more recent experiments included a Game where typing in foreign languages would allow you to cast spells; a Game where your main actors could hack reality and change the parameters of the game as their "powers", and a game where you could create or customize existing skills, including psionics.

I also started an experiment with changing/creating skills during game runtime which has turned out successful (which may or may not feature a public release). It's been a lot of fun though.

It would be a nice change to see some extremely original games. They are few and far between. It's not even the resources such as scripts or sprites that are the same but even the story and characters are often a mash up of various, almost easily-identifiable, games that are out there (be they Indie or professional). And like Cozzie pointed out it's not just novice game makers that fall into this but the pros too.

Sure, it's a great way to start out whilst you learn the ropes and figure out what direction to take your game. There's a lot of parts involved in game making so slowly building the foundations on which your masterpiece will be created upon helps to streamline the design process. But then you've seen just how 'awesome' the latest Yanfly engine or the Tankentai side view system really is and forget that it doesn't really take a lot of effort to further those systems into something original to your own game. Even something developed over the top of those systems can leave a big impact on the would-be audience.

I have no problem with the aforementioned systems, but I do agree; they are overused, and mostly because of their convenience and popularity. I believe they can be used as great foundations but that's where it should stop. If your game's highlight is 'It features the Tankentai battle system!' then it's not really going to entice the person who has played 5 other games whose highlight is also 'It features the Tankentai battle system!'.

Whilst there are limiting factors somewhere in most game making endeavours - it's rare to find a single person who is capable of handling every aspect from initial concept through to final delivery - there are people out there who will help others out with even the smallest of things be it a small edit to a script that will add a new dynamic twist to an otherwise commonplace system or a set of new face graphics to emphasize your character's plights. Even a suggestion on the story concept behind the orphan in xxx-village can be more than enough to begin developing from the foundations already created.

Which also leads to this:

Quote from: thanatos2k1
But some basic knowledge of photoshop, flash, and ruby is extremely wonderful.

Even if you can't find those people to help, or want to really make a success on your own, taking the time to learn a few new things and working on them is, in my opinion, the greatest achievement you can get in game making. And when the critics - of which every person who plays your game is one - make their reviews praising those small things that made it different from that last game they played, there is something to be proud of and people will remember it. They won't, however, remember those games that featured the same highlights because they were almost impossible to differentiate.

Aesthetics aren't everything (though they can help). There's some decent games out there that make use of fairly common resources but with a few twists and gameplay changes they become something else. It would be worth expanding the OP to include the various aspects of a game and not just (mostly) one of them. An in-depth discussion on this topic would be greatly beneficial to new game makers and veterans alike.
« Last Edit: October 28, 2011, 01:34:33 PM by LoganForrests »
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graphics are the thing a person with no original engine should work on. An existing engine with minor tweaks and new graphics could last years. An engine with the potential to evolve is even better - try making an engine that is supposed to do more than you are capable of programming, and release a semi functional version - then you can release better versions as your objectives and talents start to line up.
« Last Edit: November 01, 2011, 09:11:06 PM by shintashi »

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As someone who has been casually in the RPG Maker scene since 1999, I have to say, originality has been a scarce commodity for a long time.


I'M OLD.  :tpg:

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You and me both, brother...

The problem with originality is that you only know you've arrived when your work is good enough to steal.
:tinysmile: