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Learning from Genesis

Lunar 16 Bit 16-Bit Pixel Art

RPG Game Title Screen Genesis
Ahh... the ol' title screen. Gotta love that abysmal logo.

When you grow up loving a medium, you often want to create in it. Somehow, when Becca and I were very young, we discovered an RPG development engine and thought it was only logical to make our own games, so that’s what we did.
That RPG engine was called the OHRRPGCE, which is still available today (though the latest version was put out in 2013, so it’s sort of tapered off), and it was pretty powerful for its time.
We, however, were not as powerful. We were young, and most of the games we developed were juvenile or throwaway. There were certainly a few gems – one in particular – but the rest were either embarrassing or laughable. Often both.
But today we focus on the one, despite its flaws, that we’re still proud of. We want to tell you about the 4 design principles we learned from a little RPG called Genesis.

RPG Adventure Explore Fight
No random battles? Talk about a headache to program!

1. Creating Lofty Goals

The beauty of creating a game from scratch is you can combine elements from everything you like. That old saying, “I wrote this book because no one else would” rings true for games as well.
When we developed Genesis over a period of 8 years (yes, eight years – we had a lot of time on our hands) a lot of great games came out. It was a major transitional period for RPGs especially, running from the SNES days through the golden age of JRPGs on the PSOne. Random battles started to disappear, new fighting systems were implemented, and everything went 3D. And we loved those changes.
But every tool has limits, and the OHR had plenty. So many in fact that we sometimes turned to scripting to try and solve them. Often this led to innovative ways of pushing the software’s boundaries, like when we managed to prevent random battles entirely by having enemies walk around on screen so you could choose to fight or flee beforehand.
Other times… well, let’s just say it made a buggy mess of things. Which leads to the next point.

Cute Monsters Swords RPGMaker
Die, pigeon scum!

2. Killing Our Babies

Sometimes things just don’t work out. We had a lot of blunders, and most of them stemmed from our lofty goals.
And our greatest problem? We didn’t kill them as soon as we should have. A mini-game that was broken, a reward system for killing monsters, and a terrible bar brawl scene all remained intact when they should have been cut.
The truth is, as developers we become attached to ideas, even when those ideas don’t fit in a satisfying way. It’s not our job to shoehorn in every flight of fancy that strikes us as interesting or innovative. It’s our job to make a playable game that is enjoyable and polished. Which is why we have to learn to kill our babies, especially when they jeopardize the final product.
Thankfully, we stopped working on Genesis in 2009, which means we’ve had a good six years to ruminate on that one. But most people don’t have that kind of time to get 20/20 vision again, which is why we have to get the product into fresh hands as quickly as possible, and at multiple stages throughout development.
It’s just too easy to get embroiled in something and lose clarity, which is why we need a community to have our backs.

World Map RPG Genesis Pixel Art
World map for Genesis

3. Developing in Community

I don’t care what old Westerns say. In the real world, a lone ranger is a dead ranger.
Taking critique is difficult, but in the world of game development, it’s essential. The community is of paramount importance, and when we were creating Genesis we simply didn’t listen enough.
There is a delicate balance in the world of game development. It teeters between secrecy for a big reveal and transparency for open feedback. Often we think, “I’ll keep this bit back for a big announcement and everyone will flip their lids over it.” But we must be cautious of that mentality, especially when it means missing out on vital feedback from the people who will actually be playing the game.
Bungie was famously critiqued for their poor communication when Destiny first launched, and the community rightfully called them out for it. Only now has the developer started taking stock of critiques and engaging with community feedback, but the product they are releasing is exponentially better than the one they started with.
That is the benefit of a strong community – they make our games better. They are honest with us when no one else is. We’d be foolish to rob ourselves of that by withholding communication and releasing a product that isn’t as polished as it could be.

Military Base Tactics War Camp
Once the "Layers" option was implemented, we went a bit nuts

4. Striving for Polish

I’d rather have a few perfect sushi rolls than an endless Chinese buffet. Why? Because at least I won’t regret the first one afterwards. Quality over quantity is more important than ever in game development.
As a gamer, I have a very short attention span. If something doesn’t grab me within the first 10 minutes, I’m unlikely to stick around, and we learned some interesting things from Genesis when it comes to polish.
First, presentation matters. Though it was a pain, we had to update our graphics year upon year, especially as the development engine improved. While it’s unfortunate, we learned that in the early stages of promotion, all people have to go on is the look of your game. You can’t put a controller in their hands and say, “Just try it.” So polishing up our presentation became top-priority for screenshot posts and gameplay videos.
Second, pacing is important. Once our game was out there, we learned this the hard way. It was just slow to start out, like most RPGs of the era. Even now, going back and playing around with it, I’m just thinking, “Yeah yeah, get to the death and mayhem.”
They say with a book, the first page is often all you get. If you don’t grab a reader by the first page, you’ve lost them. The same is true with a game. Which means we have a responsibility to start things off with a bang.

Next, On to Arcadian Atlas

While we wanted to take a look back at the games we developed before, we’re very excited about getting into the guts of development on Arcadian Atlas.
Stay tuned to this blog for regular updates on story, graphics, scripting, and juicy reveals for the game as it progresses over the next few months. It’s going to be a wild ride, and one we’re excited to share with you.
Want to know anything specific? Comment, tweet, or shoot us a message, and we’ll catch you next time with another Arcadian Atlas update!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, love this quote: "I don’t care what old Westerns say. In the real world, a lone ranger is a dead ranger."

    So true...