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October 10, 2009

RPG Maker: Years Ahead of Convenience

I was over at a friend's house sometime last week (we're talking 2009 here), when he popped in his copy of RPG Maker 3 for some unknown reason and started adjusting terrain. This friend of mine is kind of a strange gamer. Earlier that night when Heavy Rain came up in conversation, he had logged into Playstation Home, ran to the theater, and waited through several other game trailers before the newest Heavy Rain trailer came up. Once again, this is 2009, we do have the Internet on hand mind you.

Still, his strange decision to entertain me with terrain adjustment in an archaic Playstation 2 RPG editor game, brought back floods of memories. You see, I was once very deeply and perhaps frighteningly, obsessed with the possibilities that the first RPG Maker had offered me. It suddenly struck me how completely unique that game was for the time it had come out.

For those unaware, the RPG Maker series is sort of an obscure thing. It has much more traction in the Japanese market for obvious reasons, but three of the titles have managed to make it out over here in the States.

Being an avid Role-Playing Game nut growing up, I somehow stumbled on this games existence, and learned of the possibility of it coming to America. They hinged the entirety of this possibility on one thing though, the success of Fighter Maker. The fact that the game I was so eager to get my hands on might not come out in my country if a game in a completely different genre failed, angered my nerdy little 14 year old self so much.

Either way, I was finally relieved to learn that it was indeed coming. I remember the day that I finally unwrapped it. I popped it into my Playstation, and savored in the sweet... menus... and uh... tutorials. This game was more complex then I had ever imagined it would be, but I was determined.

I would read the detailed, thicker then a phone book, instruction manual in bed at night. But the real help in analyzing and figuring out this behemoth of a task, was a fan community that had sprung up on the web. I couldn't tell you what the site was, though I suspect it is rpgmaker.net, but these people were devoted. You could download insanely detailed characters that were made via the caveman-like tools in the game, or even entire RPGs created by other users.

This is where I get to the the heights of ridiculousness that people would go to for this game. Not only did we all do this in the days before we could type up our obscene amounts of dialogue with a keyboard, but we did this before the days when our consoles would go online. So you may ask, "How'd you get your games online?" Well I'm glad you asked that. We purchased a pricey accessory called the Dex Drive that never got used for anything but uploading RPG Maker files off of our memory cards.

Sure, my friend's mother (not the Home visiting friend) was the one to actually foot this bill, and sure you could use it for game saves of any other game, but the absurdity still stands. My friend Steve and I, spent weeks studying tutorials, and hundreds of hours getting frustrated when things wouldn't work. We begged parents to buy a computer gadget that we would never use for any other game. We spent months of our lives, to create a really terrible, maybe hour or so long RPG entitled, Michigan Adventure (no, it wasn't based on the amusement park of the same name, but it did feature our English teacher as a demon and a fellow classmate as an optional character you find in a dungeon full of monsters known as Trekkies).

After that? We spent even more of our time trying to be amusing by creating Casino Adventures. It was one room. What took so long? We pushed the limits of the game as much as we possibly could to try to create fun, casino related mini-games. They were not fun. I think we had a monkey race (not sure how that was casino related) game where we had pre-programmed the results of every race based on who you bet on, so you could only win if you bet on one particular monkey. There was also a Britney Spears related sex joke and I think the bartender was a demon.

It's not about the ridiculous content though, it's about the fact that we, and everyone else, went to those lengths to make up for the game's limitations. Put that into today's context. Little Big Planet banked it's entire marketing strategy on the sort of user created experiences that we struggled to have with RPG Maker.

With all the conveniences of the modern consoles, a game like RPG Maker would be a thousand times easier. People could upload their created games right to the online servers and then download the most popular new game created by some guy from halfway around the world. Yet, even with the new conveniences, I can't help but think gamers today have lost the motivation it took to tackle a complicated game like this. I'd love to be proved wrong though. RPG Maker 4 anyone?