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Friday, March 12, 2021

Beginning RPG Maker: Vocabulary of Concepts

So, I bought RPG Maker...NOW WHAT?!
"So I bought RPG what?" You make a game, of course! There are some basics you may want to be aware of and understand, first, though. There are specific terms used in the RPG Maker community that will be helpful to familiarize yourself with for interacting with those members of the communities and in usage of the RPG Maker software... 

NPCs: "NPC" stands for "Non-Player Character. This term is a reference to characters the player interacts with, yet does not get make decisions for nor play as. A shop keeper where you buy weapons or armors from is an example of an NPC. A villager or townsfolk you can talk to on a map is an example of an NPC. 

ACTORs: These are the playable characters in a game. You'll probably see and hear "SV Actor" frequently or "SV Battler". Those simply refer to an Actor / Playable Character's Side-View sprite sheet or Battler sprites used in Side-View Battle systems.

SPRITE SHEETS / CHARACTER SPRITES: In case you are not aware, these terms simply refer to the artwork for individual characters or frames of a character animation, OR, an entire sheet of character animation blocks.

RPG Maker Character Sprite Sheets example

EVENTS: Events are what you create in the RPG Maker game engine to represent / be an NPC or an object in map environments. Events can be that shop keeper mentioned earlier or a treasure chest that you open to give the player an item, gold, armor, a weapon, etc... There is an entire mode dedicated to the creating and editing of Events in the RPG Maker program. The other mode is "Map Mode", where you create and edit maps and terrains within the maps. Events are placed on a map in Event mode and assigned functions based on player interaction. 

: Eventing is how you program or tell the game engine what each character or object does in the characters (NPCs) or environments interact with players. Does clicking on the NPC display a dialogue box that informs the player of vital game / story information? Does the NPC offer a choice, if so, what happens when a choice is selected by the player? Eventing is what you tell the Event to do in a given situation. 

Events window with Eventing "code" example
When encountering a monster, does it initiate a battle with the player? If so, eventing is telling the monster event what to do before and after battle; you event what happens when the player wins the battle, loses the battle, or manages to escape the battle. Is there a boulder in your path that needs moving and can only be moved if you have a certain character in your party or if you are in possession of the "Gloves Of Mighty Strength"? This is all eventing...programming the behavior of characters or objects in your game. 
Eventing is a type of programming and RPG Maker language, though it is not any kind of coding or scripting that you need to know how to do in creating games within RPG Maker. Events are a part of EVERY version of the RPG Maker software. 

MAP LAYER / EVENT LAYER: Event Layer is the mode in RPG Maker where you generate whatever events you need on any game map. This is activated to edit and place events in your game. The Map Layer is the mode for creating and editing the look and design of your map (positioning the ground tiles, be it dirt, grass, water; where any cliffs or houses may appear).

Tool Bars to show Map Mode & Event Mode from XP, MV, & MZ

Tileset window example from a screenshot in RPG Maker MZ
: These are the sheets of items and objects that you'll use to create your maps with. Some versions of RPG Maker has 1 tab for map-making tiles, where others have 5 tabs of tiles used for map design. Tilesets have a "base layer" that always goes on the "bottom" of a map (especially if the version you are using utilizes layer-mapping). These "base layer" tiles are like grass, dirt, water...basic terrain features. 
There are also "Auto-Tiles", which are tiles that change based on how many of them are grouped together in the map's grid. They appear one way and usually only use the center of a square of the map's grid when placed ONLY on one tile or square. When you use the same Auto-tile in more than one connected or touching tiles, they will form a new appearance. Like a mountain may take up the center of one square on the map's grid when placed singularly, though will appear as a cluster of connected mountains when placed in 4 squares, or 6 squares---as long as they are all placed next to one another, they will connect to form a different image than on a singular map square.
Some Auto-Tiles are also animated. In the map editor they do not appear to be animated, yet when you test play your game, you'll see that they are animated. An example is water: water will shift from side-to-side when in-game, as if tides are moving, though will be stationary when in the map editor. 

RTP (Run-Time Package): Depending on which version of RPG Maker you are using, you may or may not have to understand what a Run-Time Package is. All the sound effects, music, character walk-sprites, enemy graphics, icons, window skins, etc., are all part of the RTP. The RTP is the collection of Game Assets that you can use with any RPG Maker software. Without these,  you'd have to create all of your game yourself. With RPG Maker versions prior to Vx Ace, the Run-Time Package was separate from the Game Design Engine, which meant two different installations to get you Up-and-Running with designing your game. Since RPG Maker Vx version in the RPG Maker series, comes with the RTP already installed, to make it easier and faster to get going on designing your video game!

DATABASE: This is the heart of any RPG Maker game design engine. In the Database is where you set-up and create your items, weapons, armors, actors (in-game characters), animations (for spells and attacks), tileset formatting, Classes, main sounds for basic game operation, etc. Any game developer (yes, this means you) will spend most of their time in the Database when using RPG Maker software.

RPG Maker Database example ScreenShot

We may add to these terms in time, so keep checking back. If you'd like us to explain or define any other terms, let us know in comments below and we'll be sure to get to your suggestions! 😀
Hope these were helpful!

Friday, March 5, 2021

Story Workshop - Developing an Idea

So, you have a basic idea for a story, story-arc, or an adventure in your novel, table-top campaign, or video what?

A basic notion to keep in mind is that twists and turns can keep a story interesting, engaging, and even entertaining. It's not simply about sharing your story, yet is also about doing so while maintaining the readers' / players' attention(s). So, let's start with an example idea and develop it!

A murderer stalks the streets of a city, town, or the trails of a forest...

That is the basic premise. Now, does the story revolve around the murderer and his or her motives and experience with their murdering?
Is the story more about one or more of the victims? Perhaps how one of the victims copes with the murderer's holding them hostage. Maybe the victim survived the murderer's attempt on their life and has to deal with that experience, knowing the murderer remains at large. The victim could have survived by somehow managing to kill the murderer, and must deal with the fact they took a life, even if it was in self-defense.
Could the story be about one individual or a group who want the murderer apprehended or dead, like a story of revenge? Are the murders a backdrop around which to frame what the actual story is about? 

One idea, many directions and potentials to explore in expanding on a basic, simple premise. Where this idea ultimately leads is dependent upon the needs of your characters or overall story. Is there a general framework already established that one of those directions would fit more easily into?

Characters' actions determine how events unfold---NOT the other way around.

When developing a story idea, it is a good rule of thumb, to have events revolve around character development first-and-foremost. How does the event(s) impact the character(s)? What does the event(s) mean to each involved---how do the characters perceive the happening(s) and respond to how others involved's choices and behavior? 
A natural, organic story will play out respectively and appropriately if an author remains true to their characters, without seeming contrived or forced. Characters' actions determine events or how events unfold more than the other way around, which can come across as artificial and often times, confusing for viewers/readers/players.

Does the main character or one of the characters in the story (main or supporting cast) secretly feel the murderer is doing the world or local region a favor by killing those he has? If so, would this influence the character to deter or sabotage any one else in coming close to figuring out who the murderer is or catching/killing him? How do others respond to these actions? Is anyone getting the feeling or hints that the character in question is subtly sabotaging them? How would any of the other cast feel about this or what actions would they take if discovering the perception and feelings harbored by the character throwing them off the murderer's trail?

See, how in the previous paragraph, depth began to emerge for the story idea. More layers came into play, that work off of one another to produce interesting results beyond simply: Murderer has, well, murdered, and must be stopped; Murderer is pursued, then story climaxes, resolves and is over. It's great to keep things simple, though if your story's premise can be summarized in one short sentence, then perhaps it needs re-evaluating. For example:

"A murderer is pursued by a group of friends, all wanting revenge for the loss of loved ones at his vile hands. Hot on the killer's trail, they follow clues that lead to a discovery more shocking than the loss they've suffered! Their lives and the murderer's will never be the same!" the point, yet teases the reader with the unexpected. The description above sets-up the story as being more than an average murder story, in a concise, intriguing manner.

In conclusion: Consider your Character's goals and how they perceive events, actions of those around them or involved with them, the motivations for their own actions, and let that dance with plot-beats to create an interesting story with depth, intrigue, and genuine characters. Don't be afraid to show how events impact your characters and how their experiences are significant to them.

There's enough Dilemma Beans (food for thought) for you to chew on for the time being.
See You in the next workshop article! 😃

Friday, February 12, 2021

Things to Know BEFORE Making Your First RPG Maker Game! (Part I)

"So I bought RPG what?" 

Whether you bought RPG Maker 2003, XP, Vx, VxAce, MV, or MZ, you may find it helpful to familiarize yourself with the RPG Maker software before diving into the making of your first game. Here are a few things no one tells you about how the software operates. 

(Also be sure to check out our list of TERMs to KNOW when Beginning RPG Maker, if you're new to the RPG Maker experience. Just Click Here.)

Parallel Processing Overload

Event Trigger Options
With Events in RPG Maker, there is a setting that determines the trigger for the event, called "Parallel Process". This trigger type can come in handy when having animated events on your map, such as smoke billowing from a chimney of a house. When using this trigger on a map, it runs as expected and is not an issue---UNTIL you place too many of these types of events on one map!
Doing this can generate lag in your game; it can slow down the game's movement and frame loading rate drastically. This is true in RPG Maker MV and MZ, and ESPECIALLY with earlier versions such as Vx, VxAce, XP, 2003, and 2000!

This is one reason I prefer to make smaller, quaint, cozy maps---
so that I have less potential for limitations in what I can place on the maps.


In the "Skills" Tab of the Database, the first entry or first skill is "ATTACK" and is the default. When in battle, this will be the first option before the other options of Skill sets available to the PC (Player Character), Guard, Escape or Run options, etc. This will prompt the appearance of whatever weapon the character is using, to appear with the appropriate animation pose block in the Side-View Battler animation for a character to play, simulating the use of a weapon with the attack animation. 

By default, the animation for "ATTACK" is set to "Normal Attack". If you were to change this animation, you run the risk of other skills using whatever animation you set this standard attack animation to. 

This is a great example of things that aren't made clear in RPG Maker by the help files, yet I encountered it when I wanted a specific effect and when Battle-Testing, discovered that almost every skill an enemy or the PC would use, all referenced the same animation. It took me a lot of experimenting to see where this unwanted effect had occurred...
Simply changing the primary "Attack" in the first skill slot's animation back to "Normal Attack" was the resolution to the issue I had unknowingly created for myself. 😁

Character Walk Sheet Numbering

In the "characters" folder of the "img" directory in your game's project folder, are the walk graphics for each PC or NPC, or even objects. With character walking graphics, there is 3 columns, but 4 rows. The 3 columns are for stepping animation per direction, and the 4 rows relate to direction the character can walk in. In some instances, you may have multiple character walk graphics on one sheet. 
There may arise times that the number of which character on this sheet will be referenced or needed to be known. The numbering starts LEFT to RIGHT at the top, then LEFT to RIGHT at the bottom and starts numbering at "0", not "1". So, per 1 walk sheet with 8 characters, there will be 8 characters, though the numbering will end at 7, like in the photo reference...

UNLESS you are using RPG Maker XP, in which case there are 4 rows and 4 columns. It's the only RPG Maker version that uses this format for walk character sprites. RPG Maker 2003, Vx and VxAce, as well as MV and MZ all use the 3 columns, 4 rows format for character walk sprites.

Map Tile Numbering

Similar to Character Walk sheet numbering, when creating a new map, setting Map Size (Width and Height), the game engine begins counting tiles on the map from "0", not "1". It goes "0, 1, 2, 3, etc." on the X (horizontal) axis and the same for Y (vertical) axis.

The X and Y axis on maps may come up a lot, whether in tutorials, forum posts and comments, or you'll come across things related to the X and Y axis frequently. They are used for coordinates to track your character on any given map, an event's position on a map or in relation to another can be used to create "Town Portals" that take you from a dungeon back to town and then from town, back to the spot in the dungeon where you created the portal and was last when there.

X and Y coordinates are also used to show pictures and move pictures around, once on screen, in cut scenes and other functions...

For those of you who may not be aware, the X axis moves left-to-right and right-to-left (the horizontal directions), while the Y axis moves up-and-down, down-and-up (the vertical directions). I suggest playing with picture positioning or making your character "jump" through eventing and the "movement route" feature in the event windows, to get a better grasp of how X and Y coordinates work (especially since Y coordinates are different RPG Maker, than you may have been taught or use the knowledge outside of this engine). 


When placing tiles on maps (in map editing mode), try pressing the "Shift" key on your keyboard as you left-click your mouse for tile placement. You will get a different version of that auto-tile or the same tile, placed where you selected it to go. THEN...(with RPG Maker MV and MZ) if you right-click an already placed map square tile that has something placed in it from the tileset, you can copy it as it appears on the map by left-clicking on the map where you want it placed, and holding down the Shift Key. While we are on this topic...
Unique to RPG Maker XP, when you righ-click on a tile on the map, it'll automatically select THAT tile in your tileset, so that you know which tile it was that you had used on that square on the map's grid. Vx, Vx Ace, MV, and MZ do not do this.

In Conclusion...

This was but a few things that are nifty to know when starting your journey into video game developing using the RPG Maker series of software. There is more to add to this list, so you can keep checking back with us for further details. As always, we highly recommend making short (10-20 minute) games or just starting games with the mind-set of playing with the software to see what it is capable of and what the experience is like IN-GAME as well as IN-DEVELOPMENT modes, prior to endeavoring to make your first actual game. This will help your skills and give your games a polished feel in the long-run. 
Many Happy Returns!