On RPG Maker and Game Engines

420605-capt01Whenever a new indie retro RPG comes out, a few reviewers ask if “this was made with RPG Maker“. The latest cases were Anodyne, Cthulcu Saves the World, and To The Moon. Sometimes, the devs don’t care. Other times, they act offended.  The same is true of other commentators. The assumption behind this type of commentary is that a game in RPG Maker isn’t a real game. This is specially apparent when one looks at comments from Eric Shumager, creator of Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden, who stated that “RPG Maker doesn’t allow for mechanically good games”. In an interview with PCgamer, he stated that:

“A big part of Barkley was gently making fun of the RPG Maker community. At the time there were a lot of games made with RPG Maker that took themselves very seriously. They had this self-important attitude, but at the same time they were made completely out of graphics stolen from famous SNES games like Chrono Trigger. It was a bizarre juxtaposition that we thought was really funny. We did the same thing: our game is clearly not serious, but we’re taking it very seriously.”

If one looks at a recent Escapist poll, it seems like these anti-RPG maker attitudes are rather widespread. In this survey asking if people would pay for a game made in RPG Maker, 32% of those surveyed voted “No. Use a real engine, pleb.” And there is the problem with the assumption that RPG Maker games aren’t real games – it has to do with the engine not being considered a “real” engine.

Now, Mr. Shumaker’s game was ultimately  created with Game Maker, but it might as well have been an RPG Maker game. It has all the conventions of a default RPG Maker game, and its battle system is just barebones borrowed straight out of RMK2003.

So, what’s the problem with RPG Maker? I honestly don’t know.

Certainly some people put the minimal effort into making their games. They don’t use original assets, they don’t have clever writing, they don’t use scripts, they don’t have any clever ideas… they simply create a map, throw in a few characters with poorly-written dialogue, and call it a day. These games are actually less detailed and poorly designed than my first and second attempts at making games using the RPG Maker engine. What are the differences? On my first game, Generica: Vol. 1,  used non-RTP art and clever dungeon design. The second one, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, had dialogue derived from Coleridge’s poem and used non-RTP art. Since these were my very first games, they can still be considered as amateurish. Still, if I wanted to charge a buck for these games, I could. Because in the end, whether I use RPG Maker or a “real” engine like UDK, the process is the same.

Let’s consider this claim for a second – when it comes to the creation of games, RPG Maker is no different than UDK.

This may come as a shocking statement, but I’ve used both UDK and RPG Maker (and RenPy, Twine, and Stencyl) and in the end here’s what you do:

  1. Create the assets to be used, or find pre-made assets.
  2. Plug the assets into the engine.
  3. Set collision.
  4. Make custom scripts.
  5. Create a world.
  6. Create events.
  7. Test and Compile

Now, this may seem like an oversimplification of the process, but it’s not. When working with UDK (or Blender, or your choice 3D engine) designers will most often go to 3D Studio Max or Maya to create cities, characters, and items. When working with RPG Maker, or your choice 2D engine, designers will rely on Photoshop (or, in my case, the free GIMP and Paint.Net, as I can’t afford Photoshop for a hobby).

Sometimes, designers will create a template and work from there. In 3D programs, they will create, for example, a barebones house and create a few different versions from there. When I used UDK, I used the same room 6 times in a row and the only things that changed were the light sources and items inside. For 2D games, we have/create character templates  and assets, and mix and match.  Certainly, some could make the argument that it’s harder to make 3D assets than 2D assets, and this is true – if you are familiar with 2D programs and not with 3D programs. If you’re familiar with 3D programs, then making 2D assets is more difficult.

Of course, the assets need to be plugged into the game. This is easier in 2D engines than in 3D engines. In RPG Maker, you move the created asset into the project folder, and in Stencyl you import the asset through a browse function. For UDK, there is a 5 – 10 minute process per asset that includes exporting from the 3D rendering program and importing into UDK… just like exporting from Photoshop and importing into the 2D engine so never mind.

Collision has to do with the type of objects that the character will be able to interact with vs. the objects that the characters will walk through. The difficulty of this depends on where you create your objects. If you use UDK Geometry to create a space, you rarely need to modify collision. If you import a 3D model, you may have to set collision. Likewise, if you use a 2D asset native to your 2D game making program, say RPG Maker, you don’t need to set collision. If you create a sprited world of your own, you will need to set collision.

Both in 3D and 2D engines, if you want to make your game do something that the engine wasn’t originally made for, you will need to create scripts. This scripts let people create action and shooting games in RPG Maker and RPGs in UDK.  In both types of engines you create a world. In both types of engines you create events. This latter, in RPG Maker most often takes the form of characters, monsters, treasure chests, and plot points, while in UDK it takes the form of spawn points.

So… what’s the problem again?

I have heard from many friends that it’s simply that RPG Maker is easier to use. That much is certainly true. Creating a basic bare-bones game in RPG Maker could take about 4 hours for someone who has never used the engine and doesn’t have any tutorials, while learning to use UDK without tutorials is fairly difficult. With tutorials, however, creating a simple stage in UDK becomes an endeavor of a few hours at most.

The “problem” with RPG Maker isn’t the engine itself, it’s the huge number of Barkley-Gaiden looking games “out there”. Certainly, in some of the less reputable game hubs there are plenty of “RTP Hero Alex saves the world from a monster trapped in a crystal” type games (an archetype I make fun of in my third game), and the number of fan-made “Final Fantasy: Insert subtitle here” games is astonishing. However, I don’t see a problem with these fan-made games, specially when they use the original game’s sprites and music and repurpose them to create a tribute. So the problem is, really, plenty of poorly designed games. It’s worth noting that there are plenty of poorly designed user-created UDK levels in the multiplayer sections of the game, some of which crash the game.

So… there’s really not much of a difference.

Yes, the engines work differently, and the technical know-how to create assets for each engine is different, but the process – game creation and testing – is the same, and the end result – a game – is the same. So the REAL difference comes down to personal preference regarding play style and aesthetics.

Do you want your games to look like Ankash Kallyat’s amazing UDK Environment:


Or do you want your games to look like awesome RPG Maker XP-created games Reincarnation and  Vila do Nevoerio:


elYecfJ viladn1


Before I sign off on this post, I would like to address two more things. One is Eric’s comments that “RPG Maker doesn’t allow for mechanically good games.”

Once you become a pretty OK designer using RPG Maker, you will be able to fully modify the XAS, Schala, and MP scripts. [Note: I’m at this level – I can customize scripts with some efficiency].

Some more creative designers might be able to script  incredibly unique stuff. Tomokay Scripts, for example, offers scripts to make RPG Maker create arkanoid-type games, side-scrolling platformers, adventure games, minesweeper, RTS games, puzzle games, Shumps, tactics games, card games, and a plethora of other stuff.

So, as the evidence shows, Eric’s comments are either misguided, ignorant, or just outright BS.

The other thing I want to mention is that of the four games mentioned here – Anodyne, Barkley: Gaiden, To The Moon, and Cthulku Saves the World, the more engaging and better written one – To The Moon – is the only one created with RPG Maker.

So the next time someone asks “was that game created with RPG Maker?” my answer will be “does it matter? I want you to evaluate the game on its merits, not on what it was made with.”

And would I pay for RPG Maker games? Sure – depends on the game. Just as with AAA games. I would pay 3 – 5$ for a completed Generica Vol. 2 (but it’s going to be free), and I would pay 10$ for To The Moon. However, I wouldn’t pay 1$ for that PS3 Hanna Montana game.

About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on September 21, 2013, in Video Game Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Interesting read. I happen to have RPG Maker VX Ace myself, and I find it very easy to use. It’s strange how some people throw that “easy to use” thing around as if it were a bad thing, as if the legitimacy of an engine is based on how “hardcore” you have to be to understand it. Really, we need more easy-to-use tools like RPG Maker VX Ace to break down the high barrier of entry for game designers. If the skeptics had their way, we’d still be punching in assembly code.

    • I wholeheartedly agree with you. I recently taught a class where students had the option of using their choice engine to create a game as a final project instead of writing the final paper (no one took the chance). What’s funny tho, is that I do have a bit of experience with the “hardcore” UDK engine and I found it easier and faster to create a stage there (if it’s pure open world then even easier) than it is to create a single stupid Showkaizer sprite from scratch.
      Good like with your VXA projects!

  2. Good Read and good points. I have no problem with RPG Maker. We are currently making our own Indie Game just now and we may even consider doing a small, in your free time project in RPG Maker with all or most of our own original assets.

  3. The only thing that keeps me from using one of the RPG Makers is that they are limited to 640×480. I’m an artist and I’m tired of learning how to program. It’s not my strong suit and it is annoying that programmers insist that is the hallmark of making good games. If the tools were easier to use, more artists would jump in and you’d see more games.

    Maybe that is why programmers get so worried. They think they will write themselves out of a job.

  4. The problem with RPG Maker games is that they all look like they were made with RPG Maker. It’s a mold and while you can decorate however you want, it still looks like it came out of a mold.

    Even all the examples you posted have the same basic look and feel. I think that is why people are down on RPG Maker games.

  5. Another issue with RPG Maker is it hasn’t changed much since it was created. It’s 2015 and it still looks like the early 2000’s. I figure by now they would have updated it some more. We will see when MV arrives.

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