CHAPTER 1: PLANNING
Planning is very important to create a good RPG because if you don't know what you want to make you can't make it :) Let me explain a bit if you want to make a top down RPG with a tile scrolling engine you need to plan the following things before you start: the size of the tiles, how the engine scrolls (tile-by-tile, pixel-by-pixel, etc), do you want free camera movement (more on that later), etc. It's very important that you know these things before you start because when you know this at the beginning you don't have to think about it when you're programming, letting you focus at your programming and not at the planning.
When I play things I usually open a new file in Notepad (or acctually MS-DOS EDIT) and write a bunch of stuff I want in my program in there but you can also get out a notebook and write all your stuff on there. Don't write your stuff at loose scraps of paper because you're gonna lose them (Jeez... I sound like a schoolteacher here), it's OK to write them on a scrap but insert them into your file/notebook ASAP. I lost many good ideas due to the fact that I didn't write them down or that I wrote 'em down but lost them.
Things you can plan are, general things like; is the game going to be VGA or SVGA, is it going to use a library (which?) or not, what are the file formats like (BLOAD, JSprite, All tile/maps/etc. stored in one file?) , (as I said earlier) tile-engine; the size of the tiles, how the engine scrolls (tile-by-tile, pixel-by-pixel, etc), do you want free camera movement, game features like day and night, weather effects (rain, snow, thunder), NPCs (walking, talking etc.), what are the shops going to be like? Can you barter with the shopkeeper or does he have a fixed price, will everything cost the same everywhere? Maps! Will there be a world map? Will you have maps that blend into eachother? And what about Magic? Is there magic in the game? How does the character learns to use magic? What kinds of magic are there? I could go on and on and on but actually you should be thinking up things you need to plan!
These are just examples of things you can (need to) plan. But I left out one of the most important things of an RPG, the story! Before you start writing your RPG you need to decide about the story. First you need to decide how many characters you need just 1? Or maybe 3 or 20? How many characters can be in your party? You need to take this into account when writing your RPG. Also you need to have a general idea of what's the story going to be. You can enhance the story as you program or you can do the story when you're finished programming and then implent it into your engine.
Well I think that's enough for this chapter! Onto the next one!!
CHAPTER 2: THE STORY
The story is one of the most important parts of an RPG. The story is what keeps people playing your RPG. It must be both original and interesting. It needs twists and turns and a lot of surprises. This chapter is about writing a story, thinking up characters and what you can and cannot do in a story.
The first thing you need to do when writing a story is decide the setting. In which period of time is the story taking place, medieval, present day or the future? Will there be non-realistic things (like dragons in medieval or aliens in present day or future)?
When you've decided what setting you want you can think up a general story. Lets say we have a hero whose parents are murdered, he wants to avenge them so he searches for the bad guy who killed them. Allong the way he finds out what the bad guy really is up to: TAKING OVER THE WORLD!!! This is a story you can place in almost any time period and both non-realistic and realistic:
Medieval, non-realistic: The bad guy is a powerful wizard, who wants to take over the world using his goblin army. Our hero learns to use magic from an old monk at some monastary which he uses to defeat the bad guy.
Medieval, realistic: The bad guy is a powerful lord, who wants to take over the world using his army of plundering knights. Our hero is trained by a good knight (maybe he can be murdered too, makes our hero even more angry), after he has trained enough or after the knight dies he goes to the bad guy and challanges him to a duel, which he wins of course!
Present day, non-realistic: The bad guy is Saddam Hussein who attacks the USA with biochemical weapons and nukes. He manages to completely destory the USA (I know you Americans don't like this story, but hey!). Now that the USA is out of the way he can conquer the rest of the world. Our hero is one of the few survivors and swears to avenge every one American that has been killed. He infiltrates Saddam's army and get higher and higher in the army until he is one of Saddam's most trusted generals. In this position he assasinates Saddam.
Present day, realistic: The Soviets have been working on a powerful new weapon that can destroy a whole army in only on blast. Our hero is a poor farmers son whose village is destoryed as a test of the new weapon. He joins a underground rebellion against the government and kills the bad guy in an assasination.
Future, non-realistic: The bad guy is an alien who wants to take over the world and then the rest of the universe (The World is Not Enough, eh? :-) ). Anyway, our hero thinks he's a human (he looks like one) but during the course of the story he finds out that he really is an alien with mysterious powers, which he uses to defeat our bad guy alien.
I'm not going to make a Future, realistic plot simply because we don't know what will be realistic in the future and what not. So basically you cannot make a realistic game in the future.
Of course these aren't the most original stories but it does show you how a simple concept of taking over the world can be adapted to many different settings. Did you know that actually most RPGs have a story based on some bad guy wanting to take over the world? Let me give a some examples: Final Fantasy 3: Kefka wants to take over the world, Secret of Mana: The Emperor and Thanatos want to take over the world using the Mana Fortress (OK, not really but sort of) and Final Fantasy 7: The Shinra Corp. destroying the world (I haven't played this game in whole myself (Yes, I haven't lived, I know) but that's basically what happens, if not feel free to correct me). While this concept is so un-original you can make the story that it is interesting, I like the present-day realist story that I made earlier, as far as I know it hasn't been done before. Of course, you need to add a lot of incidents to the story, maybe our hero falls in love with the daughter of a high-ranking officer or he is captured and needs to escape a his cell within 5 minutes or else he's executed.
These are just some ideas but you really should try to have some original ideas to make your story interesting. You can borrow a good concept from another game but change it so that it still is original. Lets take Chrono Trigger, an excellent RPG by the RPG masters of Square, you travel across time to complete your quest. You could for instance take the time travelling concept and have a story that there are 5 magic wands scattered across time. If all 5 wands fall into the wrong hands the world is doomed (taking over the world again :-) ) Our hero has to collect all 5 wands to prevent this from happening. You have the time travelling but you've adapted to your own story.
NOTE: Some people are just better at story writing than others, just like some people are good in Maths and some are good in Spanish. If you really can't write stories well, you'd better find someone who can write stories for you because a story IS one of the most important parts of an RPG.
That's it for this issue. In the next issue I'll continue this chapter. The rest of this chapter will basically be about thinking up characters and what you can and cannot do in a story. I hope you enjoyed my article and feel free to e-mail me with any comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.