Developer: KADOKAWA CORPORATION
Okay. I may as well be the “indie Japanese fanatic” of our staff. I mean, reviewing Pixel Game Maker MV pretty much cements that notion. Kadokawa Corporation is one of the strangest publishers in terms of video game releases, green-lighting such unique franchises as Armored Core, King’s Field (by FromSoftware!), Danganronpa, and Zero Escape (by Spike Chunsoft). However, those who delve into indie games will know Kadokawa as the publisher for the RPG Maker series, an RPG game maker software franchise which has served as the main engine for many indie titles.
Of course, this means there are even more bad games hidden in Steam’s store library. However, RPG Maker enabled many creative minds to produce interesting titles with little-to-no budget. A large portion of games are not even RPGs due to the liberty of the software’s engine environment. Pixel Game Maker aims to grant more tools to make any type of game. However, this has caused some issues with its core audience.
This is not technically applicable as the title is game engine software. The content that can be depicted is up to the creator themselves.
This is going to be difficult to give a lot of in-depth detail as I do not have much (if any) experience with game design. I did, however, go through the tutorial, which explains some basic functions by having the user assemble a scene with placeholder objects. I will review some of the things I did to give my impression of using the software. Trust me, everything is going to appear terrifying to experiment with. But those who have used similar software will find some familiarity with the interface, meaning it will be a matter of readjusting similar terms with previous experiences.
After going through the tutorial, Pixel Game Maker (PGMMV) will not seem as daunting. That being said, there are a few caveats if you plan on picking this up. First and foremost, the scope of your interest must be established. Priced at roughly $85, it’s a little difficult to recommend if the purchase is simply out of curiosity. If anything, at least a consistent interest in game design is required to justify even experimentation with the software. There are no assets available to purchase as of yet if your game project does not have any original art made. Thankfully, there are plenty of sample assets to tinker around with and, once again, the tutorials will teach how to bring in custom sprites.
The second caveat is creativity. RPG Maker’s most popular titles were not even JRPGs. They were either top-down or side-scroller puzzle adventure titles. Some benchmark demos that were made ahead of PGMMV’s release show the type of action games that can be made, ranging from pinball to physics-based platforming. The physics engine is the most interesting feature in PGMMV’s arsenal since the user can actually control the amount of gravity that objects can have individually. This doesn’t just apply to gameplay, but also to establishing aesthetic. For example, I could apply explosion physics to inactive objects so that if an explosion reaches them they are blown away, adding a touch of realism to the environment.
The most technical task is probably setting up animations for sprites. Thankfully, this is actually handled pretty well. In the Animations tab, the user is given a map to create a flowchart for a specified object. The animation tutorial starts off with the player character’s wait stance and then has you set up two cells for walking and jumping. Then all three cells have to be edited to allow for controller input for these actions. If I were to give an analogy, it would be like elongating a simple additive equation to show how 4 plus 5 would equal 9. If this is already sounding a little tedious, don’t worry; it’s much more tedious than that. I forgot to mention that I also had to create a simple background scene with a floor and some platforms with collision detection so that my player character wouldn’t fall through the environment.
This brings me to my third and final caveat which is patience, or better yet, perseverance. Even with the sample assets I had, I already realized that there were so many things that weren’t even included like in-between sprite frames which add that organic feel to character movement. I even had to mess around with collision detection for a sloped platform because I noticed that the player character would be stopped by some seemingly nonexistent gap between the apex of the slope and the immediate square placed next to it.
You’ll also notice in the screenshot above that the player character appears to be standing in mid-air. This is not an error. As well as needing to refine the collision on the slope, I would also need to draw and import some additional sprites if I wanted to visualize the weight of the character’s stance when standing on an angled surface. This probably sounds like overkill, but think back to a game like Castlevania and how much time it probably took to refine how planted Simon was on those stairs. Suddenly, even those budget Flash tween-animation games seem difficult to make…
Yup. I don’t think anything else has given me a better reality check than going into PGMMV’s tutorials, showing me how much effort needs to go into creating a video game. However, at the same time, it was genuinely fun. I was reminded of my times at computer camp and programming bootcamps and the mentality shift I had to make in order to contextualize the problems I was trying to solve. If anything else, I am more interested in discovering what ways visual perspective can be manipulated in this software. I am also excited to see what the independent scene will churn out. PGMMV may not be the best of its class, but RPG Maker games have been a large part of gaming for me, and this latest engine makes me optimistic for new underdog gems to enjoy in the future. There are free demos that show off PGMMV’s capabilities as well as a full game created by the same team behind the indie hit, 1001 Spikes.
I will end this with a few personal recommendations for those interested in checking out RPG Maker games. One quick note before I start, as I said before, RPG Maker games are in their own sub-genre, and one can get lost in trying them out. That being said, many of these games were either self-published or under niche publishers, and therefore the content of said games are stronger than usual. Many games are listed under horror, interact with incredibly explicit themes, visuals, and explicit content (you’ll find a large number of adult games that have oversaturated Steam were made with RPG Maker, so take extreme care when searching), and often have multiple endings for multiple playthroughs. Now for the list:
Yume Nikki, a pure exploration game with bizarre visuals and a surreal aesthetic. An updated version is now available but the original is free. [CONTENT WARNING: Disturbing Visuals, Themes on Suicide and Solitude]
Lisa: The Painful, an abject weird and dark apocalyptic RPG with a punishing but well-crafted battle system, a compelling yet tragic story, and the best executed and worst implied morality gameplay concept I have ever seen (eat your heart out, Fallout 3). This was one of my favorite titles of 2014. [CONTENT WARNING: Explicit Violence, Explicit Language, Explicit Sexual Themes, Themes on Abuse, Spirituality, Morality, Violence]
Hylics | Space Funeral | off, A trio of completely abstract RPG Maker games with unique and compelling visuals, music, characters, and story with light JRPG battle elements. [CONTENT WARNING: Strong Language, Spiritual Themes, Strong Violence, Disturbing Visuals]
Rakuen, a wholesome yet surprisingly mature exploration adventure game with charmingly strong art, a rich story, and a heartwarming lyrical soundtrack.