RPG Programming:
by SeiferTim : 24 November 2004

So, what makes a Role Playing Game? This is one of the most difficult genres of game to identify, since sometimes the lines blur between what makes a RPG, as opposed to an adventure game, or something else. I want to try to make sure that you are actually making an RPG, and not just thinking you are. So first - a bit of history.

One of the first RPGs ever created, and in fact the one that has been the inspiration for many RPGs would have to be a simple pen & paper game called Dungeons & Dragons. With the invention of this game, you could get a group of friends together, and slaughter monsters by the dozen, and rescue scantily clad princesses - all in the comfort of your parent's basement. And the best part - in case that wasn't enough - instead of traditional games which - after reaching the finish line - you just packed everything up until next time, you could keep using your character, and they would grow - learning new skills, and special abilities.

Over the years the genre has evolved a bit, especially thanks to the introduction of video game RPGs, but the features that make them RPGs have stayed pretty much the same. Even D&D has changed over time, but you can still go to a hobby shop, pick up a book, and then spend countless Friday nights camped out in someone's basement, with empty cans of Mountain Dew littering the floor while hurtling fireballs at ogres. But here I want to point out those important features of an RPG, and discuss them a little bit. Now I know that Marz started some tutorials, and one of them does cover something similar to this, but I feel our opinions differ enough for me to bring in my own list. I'm not saying his is wrong, or anything, but for our purposes I would like to outline those things that I focus on. So here we go:

RPG Necessities:

  • Character Advancement: This is where you have a character which, throughout the course of the game, becomes stronger, and usually able to do more cool stuff.
  • Underlying Mathematical Stat System: I have not yet seen an RPG ever that does not have some kind of stat system that works across the board - Strength, Speed, Accuracy, or whatever are all translated into variables which are used during battles, and sometimes other events, using some calculation to determine what happens when the character does something. Sometimes this is little more than how much damage is dealt in battle, but often it can be much more in depth than that.
  • Advanced Battle System: This can be somewhat tied to above, but let me clarify: to qualify as an "Advanced Battle System", this means much more than simply HitTesting 2 objects, and if they Hit one way, the player takes dies, and another way the enemy dies - as is seen in many platformers like Mario or Sonic. The only real challenge is seeing if you can jump at the right time to hit something. RPGs will almost always be a lot more advanced, either using a turn-based, or die-roll system, or - as in Zelda or Kingdom Hearts - having frantic real-time battles where you have to run, dodge, and use special tools or skills to take out your opponents. Even the very first Zelda game has a more advanced battle system then most any platformer ever.
  • Vast Environment: Every RPG takes place in an environment that is easy to get lost in. There are almost always townsfolk to talk to, places to visit, and can oftentimes take a long time to get from place to place on foot. Unlike other game genres, where the environment is what makes the game (ie: you jump over rocks, run up mountains), the environment is much more like real-life: It exists to give everything else a place to be. You don't always need a whole world for an RPG (example: Xenosaga), but more often than not, there are lots of places to visit in an RPG, and you are almost free to roam around.
  • Deep Storyline: There may be a few exceptions running around unchecked, but EVERY RPG that I've ever even heard of has an immense storyline, which usually sucks you into the game, and ties everything together (and spans 3 - 4 movie packed Discs :P ) If you're not a good story writer -FIND ONE! Or read my other tutorial:
    I don't know how to stress this enough: you must have some kind of story at the very least, and a decent one at that. No one will care about the rest of this crap if your story is not much more mature than the Teletubbies.

So there you have my list, next up we'll discuss the different types of RPGs, and how to tell them apart. There really aren't that many varieties, but you'll want to know ahead of time which one you want to make, or else you'll be in trouble. There are only three different types that I can think of, Okay, so here we go:

  • The Classic / Turn-Based or Die-Roll RPG: This is the original RPG type. Basically, the game is broken into two parts: Exploration, and Battle. For the most part, you would walk around the map, which is usually in top-down, or birds-eye view mode, until you encounter an enemy (and usually without much more warning than: "SWOOOOOOSH! [Insert Upbeat Battle Music Here]") Almost every Final Fantasy game is of this type. Some RPGs were nice enough to take out random battles, so the battle wouldn't start unless you touched a wandering monster on the screen. Mario RPG, and Mystic Quest are like this.
  • The Real Time or Smash and Run RPG: This is more or less the type of RPG where the battles occur in the same screen that you explore, and usually with groups of wandering monsters. Zelda, and Diablo are both good examples of this type. These RPGs are more like an Action/Adventure game, but can be some very fun games.
  • The Tactical Warfare RPG: This type of RPG seems to be much more popular in Japan, but essentially almost all the focus in the game is on long, drawn-out and involved battles involving large groups of people. The story, and environment, while still in existence, takes a back seat, often with little more than a rudimentary map, and a quick dialog sequence between battles. The battles consist of a large grid area, sometimes with various heights, depths, and terrains, where you place your army, and then take turns (almost like chess) to move them around and fight. Anyone who's ever played the old Battletech game should be somewhat familiar with this concept.

Each type of RPG has its own Pros and Cons, but for this tutorial, I would like to work with the Classic RPG, for many reasons. After this tutorial, if you really wanted to, I feel confident that you can make your own RPGs of the other types, if you really wanted to.

Onwards to the next page!

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