World map

I’m not even touching procedural world map generation. | 2015. Kenneth Lowe via RPG Maker VX Ace.


My job duties officially come to an end just this week, and it looked as if I would have some time to contemplate the future and wander the earth again.

Alas, no. I was just finished with a great workout session with a friend when I realized I had at some point gotten a call with a job offer. It’ll mean a move down to Springfield, but it’s some stability after years without it. Debts will be paid off. I’ll have ready access to friends I hardly ever see anymore. The savings account will grow.

So: Better focus on getting some real writing done, or it won’t ever get done. Fortunately, I have plenty of stuff I actually care about that I’m working on.

The past week, in between job apps and lying in a fetal position consumed with fear over continuing to write my loathsome novel, I have been tinkering with RPG Maker VX Ace. It’s a program that essentially provides you the ability to create a cooker-cutter JRPG. Unless, of course, you get creative with coding. Then you can pretty much make it do whatever the hell you like.

In messing around with another game idea, I discovered, to my great delight, that I possessed enough know-how to make the game become a rudimentary text Choose Your Own Adventure-type game in the tradition of the superb Lone Wolf books. I discovered this while I was down in Colombia (if I remember right), but I never did very much with it. The game I designed began to get too cluttered, and my inspirations for it competed with one another. Ultimately, I had an idea for the story and the execution of it, but I was making it too big: Six character classes, a sprawling story, dungeon after dungeon, nearly a dozen weapon and equipment categories, dozens of spells and abilities for the characters, and on and on.

It was with a ludicrous amount of enthusiasm that I came up with my current idea: A focused adventure game set in Japan’s Warring States period (late 16th century – a favorite setting for Kurosawa’s films). The player takes control of a party of four adventurers – a samurai, a monk, a ninja, and a Shinto priestess – who return to find the castle of their lord sacked and everybody dead. One of the daimyo competing for leadership of Japan is surely to blame, but which?

The object of the game is simple:

  1. Find your lord’s killer.
  2. Kill him.
  3. Commit seppuku to join your lord in death.

If you fail, you of course commit seppuku out of shame. To be clear: Victory = Seppuku, Defeat = Seppuku. It’s the fine distinctions that truly matter in life.

Besides the obvious Lone Wolf books, the game has a couple of strong influences, ones I think I’ll be able to incorporate while keeping the overall scope of the game fairly narrow. The first is Darklands, a ’90s computer RPG that takes quite a while to fully describe. In it, you control a four-person party of Germans in 15th Century Germany as they pretty much wander around and sword-stab or magic the shit out of people who look at them funny. I think you can kill some demon lord to beat the game, but it’s so aimless that it feels like Skyrim but without a main quest. It is, to be as fair to it as I can be, fucking impenetrable: Stats so hair-split that you can have a character who can speak Latin but not German, a randomly-generated map, no clear indication of what derived stats are derived from and how any of them allow you to cast spells, &c.

But man, that choice-based navigation! It essentially cuts down on a bunch of development. Rather than stress over creating environments the game put up illustrations with text and gave you choices. In battle, you went to a turn-based sort of environment and you saw the fights play out, and moving on the world map was also animated, but that’s because those two actions really couldn’t work in the same text-and-image-based environment as simple adventuring. It’s that approach I want to take with this game.

Another major influence is The Consuming Shadow, a game by Ben Croshaw, widely known as Yahtzee for his hilarious video game reviews. Croshaw also programs on the side, and his game, beta stage though it may be in, is a solid concept. You play as a paranoid British shut-in who has determined that fucking C’thulu is about to invade our reality. You must drive throughout an England enveloped in Lovecraftian evil as your sanity decreases, using scarce resources and quick thinking to try to gather enough clues to perform a banishing ritual. But what if you banish the wrong C’thulu?

The game is notable not just for its unsettling aesthetic, but also because it has an underlying logic structure the player must investigate. Each C’thulu is associated with a color, a rune, and a divine duty. As you rove around fighting evil, you discover clues like “[Some C’Thulu] is NOT associated with the color red” or “[Other C’thulu] is NOT the invading god.” I have played through to the end and reasoned the incorrect C’thulu, thus damning my dimension to eternal tentacle-rape.

It’s this logic-web I’d like to apply to the adventure of the four dishonored ronin as they try to figure out which of three daimyo had their lord killed and his damn house burned down. I’ve even figured out how to populate each of these fiendish lords with the variables that determine which castle, battle, and province they are associated with. The difficulty, of course, will be figuring out how in the bloody stool of Vishnu to get those clues spread out across the world. It seems like using arrays or matrices could help, but I have no effing clue how to write such code, since I am only using the editor that comes with RMVXA.

I plan to show off some more cool parts of this game. I’ve already designed the first area, including random item pick ups, a randomly-timed event, and even *gasp* a moral choice. What will I think of next?