XCOM and I are in a fight.

21 12 2012

It’s okay, we’ll be okay, but – honestly – after an evening where I started six games and watched each one go down in a horrific and hopeless blaze, I need some time. My entire team in heavy cover, one by one being one-shot by Thinmen standing up in the distance and taking stupidly accurate pot shots. It kept happening.

The teleport bug only happened once, but it also happened twice last weekend, and that’s a lot; I haven’t seen it that often before now. It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. But I need some time. I definitely want the teleport bug fixed before I really continue with my Let’s Play. although I have plenty of footage, I’m also…mad. I need time.

In the meantime

In the meantime, the holidays are upon us all. I’ll have a full week (or more) away from my gaming machine, during which I can get all the space I need from XCOM. My skill will no doubt diminish (again) but my love will endure. My plans for the week are:

  • play Castle Crashers for many, many hours with my siblings (they are something like 28 and 30 respectively, both my junior);
  • enjoy the company of my family and friends;
  • study Ruby Scripting and RPGMaker VX Ace to sate my curiosity;
  • risk failing at designing a video game.

JRPGs and I go way back. Final Fantasy IV (II in the U.S.A., pre-Square ‘metric conversion’) is still my favorite story-based game of all time, and Final Fantasy VI (III in the U.S.) is almost equal in my eyes. I mean, it’s a superior game in many, many respects, and the story is arguably better…but Cecil and Kain and I, we go way back.

I’m under no illusions. I sense that my ability to tell a compelling and gripping story – especially in a JRPG format – is likely lacking; even if I do have a great story (or even a merit-bearing seed for one) there is still the impressive mountain of work between a completed product and myself. I wouldn’t want it to be a linear game; I’d want it more like Ultima IV and less like, well, my two favorite JRPGs of all time. The latter parts of FFVI let you go basically wherever you wanted and address (or disregard) issues that might reunite you with old party members and even get them to rejoin you…but it was equally possible to fail in doing so, or find them dead do to your own prior choices.

RPGMaker trivializes much of the grunt work in making a game, providing me with a functional tile engine, a functional and robust scripting engine, and a metric ton of art and music assets. If nothing else, it’s a fantastic way to get a prototype rolling. It’s not even that limiting if you are comfortable scripting, which I am. How limiting is it? Well, that’s the purpose of this week’s research. Either I will dive into it as-is, or I will do what I possibly should’ve done long ago and learn the Unity 3D engine. (Much more powerful, much more complex, and ‘restriction’ doesn’t really apply.)

Will I make a game? Probably not. I very much want to, but often my make-a-game projects result in something small, functional, and interesting for me…but not really ‘marketable’. A tile engine. An asset engine. A crude 3D tactics map engine. Noticing a pattern? They are all engine parts with no vehicle to sit in.

Actual games I have designed with stories all fall into the tabletop genre (DnD, Shadowrun, others) and, to my credit, my recent efforts have been very well received. I believe this is because:

  • I put an intense amount of background design and work into characters and locations for the players to engage in and explore;
  • I strive to never say No, allowing the players to explore as they choose;
  • I make it very clear that the actions and choices of the players have very real impact on the game world.

My hope is that I can leverage these in game design. The amount of scripting is staggering (just one small conversation tied into a single plot arc could easily be a hundred lines over dozens of conditionals depending on what the player has or has not done in the history of this play through) and that may be where the limitations truly lie for RPGMaker…which will push me towards Unity.

Before I write a single line of code though, I need to really hammer out the world, the people, and the how-and-why. Then comes game play design. THEN comes “Can this engine do this for me?”

Can I do this in a week? Probably not. But I gotta start somewhere. It’d make for a cool Youtube diary.

Thinking on Youtube makes me miss XCOM.

But, I still need time.

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