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Game Creation Station: Fleshing out a town

In my last column, I discussed how to create a map using RPG Maker XP.  I created a small dark area I named “Tutorial Forest.”  The end product resembled a slightly creepy area that a witch would find homey.  That helped me start to learn how to use the tools that RPGMXP has to offer.  This week I’m going to start working on the starter city for my first game, “The Search for Dave.”

This is where game design starts to meet story design.  To understand my starter city, I need to answer a few different questions.  These questions will help map out the city which is the center of the first act of the game.

Here are the questions that I want to answer:

  •  Why does this first town exist?
  • Where does the player character reside?
  • What buildings will be in the first town?
  •  Why do these locations exist?
  • What story elements need to be in this town?
  • What will lead the player character and (maybe) party members on to the next area?

There are two main motivators in role playing games that I enjoy: The first is the story and the second is the gameplay.  I already know that the gameplay will be turn based and centering on a group of characters.  The gameplay has good motivation built into the combat style.  The player character defeats monsters, levels up and received awesome loot. I came up with these questions to help me flesh out the story for the project.  The story will need to be the main motivator for the noncombat parts of the game, so I’m going to answer these questions and start figuring out the reasons my first city exists.  There is a caveat: the answers to these questions may change as the design process continues and the story becomes fully fleshed out.  Let’s see what I come up with for answers, shall we?

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Why does this town exist?

It’s obviously an area to help the player character get comfortable with the world and start the story off with a bang.  In a previous column, I mentioned that the game would start out with the player character going to Dave’s house and finding he isn’t there.  This is the town in which that event will happen.  The first town also needs to be a place that introduces the player to the world at large and set expectations for the forthcoming journey.  There must be gameplay elements, monsters, at least one companion and a place to shop and sell loot.

Where does the player character reside?

I don’t know if this is where the game will start, but the player will need a place to live.  I’d love to have a base that changes with the actions of the player character, but that is a bit too advanced for my current skills.  This area will just be a place that the player will call home until he moves on to another town.  To be totally honest, I’m unsure if this area is even needed at the moment.  I’ll see how that goes when I start building the city and get into the design process a bit more.

What locations will be in the first town and why do they need to exist?

(For this answer, I just combined two questions into one.)

The town obviously needs an area for the player character to start. This could be his house, as I mentioned above, or some type of café or other starting area.  Since this will be a game set in the modern world, it could be conceivable that the player starts at a location that isn’t near Dave’s house.  Maybe he receives a phone call asking him to come over? That seems like a good way to start the game no matter where the player actually begins.

The town obviously also needs Dave’s house, the area where the player character goes to find Dave (who isn’t home.)  This place could have a non player character in it to tell the player that Dave isn’t there, and give clues where to start.  I’d also like to leave clues around the house that can be found by the player character as he searches through the area.  It might be the first place a battle takes place as well.

There needs to be at least one shop where the player character will be able to buy new equipment and offload loot for money.  I’d like this shop to be a bit more interactive than most RPG shops.  I don’t know how I will go about doing this, yet, but I’d like it to be more than a counter and a NPC.  (That brings up another question: What will I call the money in this world? Dollars or bucks I think.  I’ll remember this question and answer it at another time.)

I need areas that will give vital story information, help the player character level up and gain abilities while generally pushing the game forward. I’d also like to have areas that are completely extra but help the player in some way.  (Another thought: What abilities will my player character have and what kind of characters will he pick up as companions? These questions are flowing as I put down answers to other questions.)

What story elements need to be in the town?

The story for this game will be in a rough three act structure.  This isn’t because I’m trying to adhere to rules about storytelling, but because having three towns easily lends itself to that format.  The first town will represent the first act and will be the start of the journey.  So the elements that need to be represented in the town will start of the story, explain the motivation behind the journey and give the reason for moving on to the next town.  I also want to give a bit of foreshadowing about how future companions will tie into this story.

What will lead the player character and (maybe) companions on to the next area?

I need to have several areas where clues are left that inform the character about the story and lead him to the next part of the game.  These clues and story elements will push the player character out of the town and on to the next stage of his journey.  Unfortunately, I don’t know what these clues and story elements will be at the moment.

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With all the questions answered, more or less, this brings me to some parting thoughts for this column:

I’ve come to a realization as I write this entry that I still have a lot of work to do on this project.  I planned on starting the design of my first city today and further familiarizing myself with the RPG Maker XP tool-set.  Instead, I figured out that I need to sit down and work on my game design document a bit more so I know where I am going.  Everything I write and put down might be changed in the future, but it is a good idea to have a map to follow.

I plan on seeing this project through to completion. However, I’m filled with a bit of anxiety because there is still so much to be accomplished.  This is my fourth Game Creation Station article and it seems like I am barely scratching the surface of creating the game. I know this is okay and game creation is always a daunting task.  I’m going to give myself some homework before I write my next column in two weeks: Finish a game design document and flesh out the answers to the above questions in a better way.

Next time I’ll talk about the story I am writing and how working on a game design document helped or hindered the creative process.   I will also get into the nuts and bolts of creating a city in RPG Maker XP and start planning out my first area.  Remember that Jessica “Allahweh” Brown will be back next week with another column about her Zelda Classic project.  Stay creative and keep building until I see you again.

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Warren C. Bennett

Warren C. Bennett

Gaming is one part of his life and writing is another. Warren has been doing both since Atari was king and computer games came on multiple floppy disks.