After a day or two of mucking about with RPG Maker XP, I feel I can give a much better thought out opinion. I’ve come to realize I’m not the greatest reviewer on the planet because, lets face it, I tend to get really excited about everything of even slight interest that comes along and a week later, its old and boring.

It’s just my nature.

So, I took a few days, messed with it, and produced the start of a new game called “Adventures of Amber, Chapter One: Quest for the Pumpkin”.

Five or six hours of work have produced…

  • A small desert town.

  • A working casino with BlackJack, Roulette, and the Three Cup game (no graphics yet, but that will be easy to add).

  • A scipted opening sequence that includes movement and WORKS flawlessly (Chris should appreciate this one…he spent literally dozens of hours trying to get a group of six people in our last RPG Maker 2k game to walk in circles…my guys not only go through the motion now, but I’ve managed to get it to the point where they do so with some aura of personality).

In other words, the bugs and quirks of the past are gone, and what’s left is the best generic RPG maker I’ve played with yet, and one that likely far outstrips the potential of the long awaited RPG DS.

There are a few welcome additions.

First, one of the more silly limitations of earlier RPG makers has been largely removed. While the earlier incarnations limited you to a single 256 icon tilemap each map, XP only limits you to a single tilemap of any size.

So, anytime you feel you need to add another tile to your tilemap, you can simply open a tile editor (Tile Workshop) and add it to your tilemap. It’s that easy. In principle, this means that, if you are thus inclined, you can simply merge all of your tiles into a single massive tilemap. This would be a huge memory hog, but if you feel the inclination, the option is open to you. A few of the tilemaps in the sample games (more on these later) use thousands of tiles per tilemap.

Also in the realm of graphics is “fog”, which should actually be called a “shadow map”…it’s a simple bmp that is overlayed over your entire map, allowing you, for example, to show the shadows of clouds overhead (which can then be moved, for a really nice effect). You can also do fog with it, of course. :)

Weather effects are also added, things like streaks of raindrops, snowflakes, and others. It’s a nice effect.

Another welcome thing: the tiles for events can, in theory, be any size. So, monsters (for example) can fill the entire screen. If you draw it that large, it will be in your game that large. This has great potential, and the RTP contains some monsters and animal tiles that are actually 4x4 tiles big.

There are now three graphics layers, plus an event layer, and the addition of the extra layer requires that you put a little bit more thought into how you design your maps. Its hard to imagine without using it how this can greatly affect your design, but, using it properly, it can add a good deal to the illusion of depth. This is really helpful with trees and forests, and also makes the tiles you have much easier to copy and paste into different tilemaps…since almost all nonfloor tiles are placed in either the second or third layers, none of them are drawn with a certain floor-pattern as a background…it uses a transparent background instead.

On the annoying side, the switch to fullscreen mode requires hitting Alt+Enter each time you play the game. It’s not that big a deal…which is the point. There should be an option right out of the box that switches things to full screen without having to tell the players to just hit Alt+Enter every time. It’s annoying that there is not.

Also on the subject is graphics, there is a website http://charas-project.net/ that has a really great custom charset editor built into it. It will require some tweaking of the graphics to make RPG Maker XP take them, but it really isn’t that complicated, and will make yours games look much better to have some custom looking characters.

In the realm of audio, there are a variety of sound options. As far as formats go, you can use MIDI, WAV, Ogg Vorbis, and MP3. No CD audio, which is unfortunate, but MP3 is better any how. There are three different types of sounds: BGM, BGS, ME, SE. BGM is a continously looping sound in the background. BGS is a continously looping sound (like the sound of rain, or water dripping). ME and SE are one time music and sound files…things like a “Bu-bah-bah-BUH!” or a cats meow that are very quick and only play once.

Onto the more mysterious (since all the documentation for it is in japanese and its been only barely translated) RGSS, which stands for Ruby Game Scripting System. The vast majority of how the game plays and almost everything about how it looks are encoded in the RGSS. Just glancing through it, even the standard scripting commands that you use are implemented using RGSS. So if you want to overhaul the game’s entire event system, the option is yours!

The limits of RGSS aren’t known very solidly for now…so there are the standard gamer style rumors we’ve all been used to, where any unreleased (or untranslated) game feature is basically capable of serving up a framerate of 300, 12 channel dobly digital on a one speaker sound system, and solve the worlds energy crisis. There are rumors of AVI players, support for printers, and internet multiplayer support buzzing about…so who knows what to expect.

What we do know is this : An overwelming part of the game engine is written in Ruby or RGSS, and Ruby in its pure form supports external DLLs…which, in theory, means that RPG Maker XP can use external DLLs, which, in theory, means that it can do anything a computer can do… This, of course, is all in the realm of theory. RPGXP recognizes the “require” command that loads DLLs, but doesn’t actually do anything with it, so the consensus is that DLL support has been disabled by the developers, probably to protect the less savy RPG Maker customers from their own stupidity. With DLL support you make it so that people can run commands like FORMAT and DEL from inside RPG Maker games…wouldn’t it be great fun to download some RPG Maker game from the internet, and find that it deleted your windows directory…sounds scary, but fact is, any moron with a copy of BASIC and half a brain can do the same thing just by spending ten minutes reading the BASIC documentation.

Anyways, it follows from this that, eventually, a hacker may very well break open the external DLL support of RPGXP, and, by any standard, make XP simultaneously the simplest and most powerful RPG making software of all time (at least, released to consumers). But this is all very iffy, and for now, DLL support is disabled…leaving us with a powerful but limited engine scripting language to tweak and modify. Which is more than any other RPG maker gives you (the exception being that RPG Toolkit supports DLLs, but has a hideous user interface, and an engine that is seriously crippled in other ways).

I’ve been able to play some of the japanese sample games, and I think that, for the first time, RPG Maker is capable of producing shareware quality games.

Assuming you have an artist, then your restrictions are actually pretty few. It will be 2D, no mouse support, nothing online….none of this is particularly controversial yet.

Some of the sample games have a typical field map…others have a FF:Tactics style world map (where it is simply a map, with dots connected by roads, and you move between the various dots)…this is done entirely with RGSS, and I’ve looked at the source code…it doesn’t seem that complex, or even seem to really push the limits of the system.

The game comes with a (pretty nice looking) Dragon Warrior style battle system, but user scripts are already out that run as a just as nice FF style battle system, as well as other, bizarre entities. One interesting one is a CCG style card game battle system, that comes with one of the sample RPGs (which i do not have, but have seen screenshots of).

In every single game, the menus (for status, equiping, etc) look completely different.

In other words, every game I’ve played so far made using the RPGXP system has actually looked like a different game. The differences almost outnumber the simularities. They are 2D RPGs. I’ve seen commericial games stay closer to the FF established RPG formula and not be considered mindless clones.

This seems to highly suggest that, for the first time, RPG Maker could be used to produce shareware quality games. There is no longer an ASCII logo flashed when the game boots, and, provided you can prove that you own a copy of the game (i.e. buy the $100 japanese version), you have the rights to distribute and sell your game. This has always been true for RPG Maker, but, up until now, the limitations on RPGMaker have been so strict that trying to make a game with it that isn’t instantly recognizable as being an RPG Maker game required overwelming abuse of the limited game events system.

Now, provided you have a willingness to learn the RGSS language and use it, you can create unique looking games. There are replacement battle systems that completely change how your battle looks (from Dragon Warrior Front view to FF side view) with only 10 lines of RGSS code.

Should a hacker add DLL support, this will become even more impressive, with games that can access the internet, use the mouse, printers, open multiple windows, etc.

Its a good day for RPGers, because RPG Maker has grown up.

I’ve created, using RGSS, a primitive lighting system for RPG MakerXP.

You can have one light per map, and that light will glow (a circular area around the light will be brighter). It’s actually a pretty neat effect, but a bit limited so far. I’m absolutely positive I could remove the limitations, but for now, its just a brief, first foray into the world of RGSS. A foray I have returned from victorious.

What’s nice is that this counts as a decent improvement over the existing features of RPG Maker XP, and it took me something like an hour to implement it (and 30 minutes of that time was spent reading uncommented RGSS source code and japanese compiling erros and trying to work out how it works…).

(smiles happily at his campfire scene, with the circle area around the campfire glowing slightly red, and all the areas beyond it gradually fading off into black….I love this RPG Maker XP).

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27 October 2004