RPG Maker: U and I could use some work…

Greetings, ladies and gentlemen!

Last week, I wrote a post regarding some issues that I had with the interface in the current version of RPG Maker while using a screenshot from the interface of the upcoming installment to the series as a direct comparison. The purpose of the post was to show that the developers are rather slow to make improvements to their software. This post will act as an immediate follow-up to last week’s post, “U and I aren’t working…”, and go over some of the solutions that I came up with for significantly improving the software’s interface, and some additional aspects I didn’t cover last week.

Before I begin, I would like to bring up a video released by ArtCraft Entertainment, the team behind the crowdfunded MMORPG, Crowfall. This video, starring UX Design Lead Billy Garretsen, focused on the process of developing an interface for an MMORPG from concept to implementation, and reiteration to testing. Garretsen mentioned that Crowfall was being built with the Unity engine, and showed off how he was able to implement and easily modify the user interface using the options available within Unity. The biggest takeaway I got from his presentation was a phrase he used midway through the video, “real-time feedback.” This is a significant element that is missing from the development aspect of RPG Maker, and is something the RM developers should strive to provide in their product going forward. I bring up this idea of real-time feedback, because it relates to some of the changes that I suggest be made to RPG Maker.

RMMV - DatabaseMax

General Settings

As I mentioned in last weeks post, the fields for editing the name and description of items, weapons, armor, etc. are not designed for use with customized user interfaces, when using fonts other than the default, or when using the built-in text commands. Due to this, I suggest that two things be done. For the sake of real-time feed back, give RM creators a way of editing the text fields, such as the name and description, while simultaneously having the ability to see how it will look in-game. This is one of those things that makes it tough to do unique things with RPG Maker. I don’t use the default text because it is too large, and it doesn’t allow me as a creator/developer to provide enough information to players trying to understand the basics of an item, weapon, or whatever. Additionally, I can’t look at the description of an item at a glance in the editor because the scale of the field for inputting the description is a rigid rectangle. This rectangle is just big enough to show a creator how much room they have to write using the default text. This is lame, and is something that is going to remain in the next version of RPG Maker.

The second change that should be made is to make the General Settings a more flexible window similar to how the Traits section was designed. Rebuild it to function like a list that can be easily edited and viewed at a glance. Even if the description can’t be viewed at glance, because it has the potential for the largest amount of text, all of the other fields that require far less data input could be seen at a glance. Additionally, this list of information could be designed so that it can be expanded to include other bits of information such as the changes to character stats (Parameters), or other bits of information that could work specifically for an RM creator’s game. Granted, there are more changes that need be done before these can be implemented.

Database Flexibility

I shall reiterate another point from last week’s post, the Change Maximum button does not need to exist. It is a pointless feature. Furthermore, the database lists needs to be far more flexible than they currently are. By this, I mean that RM creators need to be able to expand upon, reorganize, and edit the items in the database list in a more natural manner than has been possible in any version of RPG Maker. The changes, or additions, that need to be made here are to, first, remove the Change Maximum button. It is a pointless feature. Second, add the capacity to “Add”, “Insert”, and Drag-and-Drop items within the list with ease. Make the list flexible so RM creators who require hundreds of items to fill their game aren’t forced to list them out in a Word Processor beforehand; or, in the case an RM creator has already begun listing out their items in the database, should they realize too late they made a mistake somewhere, they won’t be forced to use the Copy and Paste tools, the only tools available to them, to move large portions of the database to create an open space for the item, or items, they missed. Since items in the in-game inventory of RM projects are listed exactly as an RM creator has listed them in the database, it is mandatary, if not an absolute necessity, that these changes be made.

Customizable Parameters

Another change that is not coming with RPG Maker MV is the ability to modify the parameters (or character stats) that are used in RM projects. By this, I mean that there will remain the same six, fixed parameters across all RM projects, which are Attack, Defense, Magic, Magic Defense, Agility, and Luck. While I have tolerated this limitation in the last two versions of RPG Maker I’ve used, I was hoping the next version would provide more options for RM creators. This is obviously not the case. Personally, I don’t use this model, because it doesn’t provide enough options for me. I prefer to make better use of the limited number of stats given to me to ensure that itemization is flexible, while making each stat viable across the cast of characters. The default assortment of stats amount to two damage stats, two defense stats, a speed stat, and a stat that can easily be ignored. When I alter the stats, I make sure each one serves a major purpose, and has the potential to be useful to each character. In the default set, Attack and Magic are not viable stats for every character, and any benefits that are provided by Luck will go unnoticed. So, what can be done about this? Grant RM creators the option to define the parameters, and their function, for themselves. When starting new RM projects, make sure there is a default set of parameters, but allow the RM creators to modify them, remove them, add more as they see fit. Also, don’t add a Change Maximum button. It is a pointless feature.

Map Layering

As mentioned in my overview of the features for the next version of RPG Maker, MV will feature an automated upper layer that will allow RM creators to easily stack tiles in a way that is impossible in the current and previous versions of RPG Maker. I also stated that I believed that the developers of RPG Maker have been handling this feature incorrectly for multiple versions of the software. The change that I propose here, and, again, made mention of previously, is that RM creators be able to determine how many layers are used in each individual map on their own terms. This would be easier for the RM developers to not have to spend development time creating goofy features like an automated upper layer while also allowing RM creators to use the layers in a way that suits them. I can see an option in feature giving RM creators the ability to define the type of each layer. For instance, a layer could be defined as a Parallax, and not be strictly used as a background element. Another layer could be defined as a lighting layer, allowing an RM creator to alter the lightness or darkness of a map, as well as apply lightning effects at different points of the map. This idea is probably more ambitious than what the developers of RM are willing to achieve, but it would allow RM creators of varying levels to create gorgeous maps with ease.

Mapping the In-Game Interface

This next feature that I will discuss isn’t a change, but more of an addition. This feature idea gives RM creators a unique way for designing the UI for their RM projects. I envision it functioning similarly to building a map for the game. Each screen that players interact with will be individually listed in a “UI Pages” list, which can be expanded to include new pages, remove pages (as needed), and drag-and-drop pages to reorganize the list to suit the needs of RM creators. The visual components used to build a UI “page” will be similar to the pieces that make up a tileset, except for autotiles, perhaps. The RM creators have access to a layers features (as mentioned above) for each page, and can use them to easily design the visual aspect of their project’s user interface. For the components that change with a defined item or character within the database, these will separated into a different layer similar to, but not exactly like, the Events layer for maps. RM creators can define placements for icons, text fields, character sprite and portrait positions, and how much interaction a player of the completed RM project has within each page. Additionally, there would need to be a feature tie-in with this for RM creators to easily test the functionality of the user interface (real-time feedback). It probably sounds more complicated than I am imagining it to be, but we may never know since it isn’t likely to be implemented.

Well, those are the important changes and additions that I believe should be made to RPG Maker. Unfotunately, the likelihood the developers will go above and beyond their typical rate of updating the software is slim (but mostly nil). So, I’m not going to hold my breath that drastic ease-of-use changes will be made to the software that has been marketed as “Simple enough for a child. Powerful enough for a developer.” The upcoming changes and additions coming for RPG Maker MV, as seen on the feature overview page, are a huge step in the right direction with the addition of JavaScript and Mouse support. However, at the end of the day, RPG Maker feels, to me, like an entry-level development tool. It is a decent place to start, but serious developers might be better off learning the ins and outs of programs like Unity, Z-Brush, Maya, Flash, or any other game development tools that don’t place anywhere near as many limitations on their users that RPG Maker does.

What has your experience with RPG Maker been like over the years? Are there changes or additions you wish, or have wanted, to see made to RPG Maker? Join the discussion below.

Thanks for reading to the end. I hope you’ll be back for the next one.

War Fist out.

Please, join the discussion.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s