From The “No Shit, Sherlock” Dept.: Writing A Game Is Hard

Image courtesy of Writing Happiness

Image courtesy of Writing Happiness

Around the time of the Christmas Steam sale, I made a deal with whoever would take me up on it: whoever gets me a RPG Maker VX Ace, which at the time was discounted 66% (but still relatively expensive), would get their own custom-written game in the JRPG mold. Naturally, the devil regular reader @Lorekky took me up on it, which is doubly impressive considering she lives in Australia and the game probably required her to resort to selling blood, considering the cost of a game down there. Awesome! RPG Maker! Brilliant! I can make my own game!!!

Oh shit… how does RPG Maker work? I have to make RPG Maker work.

Learning how RPG Maker worked involved having to read tutorial after tutorial after tutorial. The problem with RPG Maker is that it doesn’t come with the best manuals on Earth; it has help files, but those are sparse at best. So I had to load up PDFs from online showing me step-by-step how to do basic tasks. Hours upon hours of looking up PDFs, web forums, and other sources for help.

At this point, I still barely know how to create a functioning town, let alone anything with interactivity or solid design elements. But that’s not the worst part.

Oh shit… what am I going to make a game about? I have to write a story.

Oh, shit. I have to write a story.

Let’s face it: most RPG Maker games are awful. Stolen assets, poor writing, just fanboys trying to be cool and make something they love without the first idea how. With that said, the only difference between me and those fanboys is that I *know* that I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ll be honest: as a non-fiction writer, I’m pretty good. I can weave 2,000 word features that get good reviews, and leave an impression. As a fiction writer, I have one short story to my credit, from 2005, and looking back on it, it’s like a raw metal; with some work, my fiction writing could become great, but I don’t read enough fiction to really become a good fiction writer. My life is based around life; I’m not one who likes escaping to too many fictional worlds, which gives me a poor foundation of influences to write fiction. I can write a brilliant opinion piece. I could even write a competent ten minutes of stand-up comedy. But ask me to make a story out of thin air and I simply don’t know how to do it, especially with any competence.

And yet here I am, not only trying to write a story from thin air, but also trying to pound it into a workable video game. Not only that, but I’m trying to write something that doesn’t suck. I have a vague idea of what I want my story to entail, but I don’t have a real beginning, an end, other characters, villains, or any kind of plot driver. I know I want something that might have a few tropes, but ultimately has likable characters, with a female protagonist who isn’t a walking stereotype, and villains who aren’t moustache-twirling evil, and holy shit I basically just listed the wishlist of every single so-called social justice warrior on Tumblr.

Going through this, I’m reminded that there are people who are paid to do just this, and in some cases, do it to such a level that it’s astounding. I’m playing Mass Effect 3 right now, and I’m reminded that I’m going to blow 200 hours on a game that (so far) has done virtually nothing wrong from a writing standpoint. The amount of polish on this, and many other inferior games, is astounding. Even small-time developers are impressive. I don’t know how the hell Dale Johnson of Vision Riders does it; he not only wrote his own original story, but coded his own game on top of it; no RPG Maker crap there. Having attempted to do it, it kind of blows my mind, and I’m getting third party help.

It’s very easy for people to simply dismiss games out of hand. This one’s story sucks, this one’s graphics suck, that one’s protagonist isn’t fun, this one’s online sucks. We say so dismissively, as if we can sum up years of work with a three word sentence that ends in “sucks”. Sometimes, it gets to the point where we say it in a way that actively drives people out of the industry, which is like shooting our feet to spite our noses. While subpar games should be called out when necessary, we should never discredit the sheer amount of *work* that goes into games before they’re even built. I’ve tried, and a half a year later, I’m farther away from being ready to actually write the game than I ever thought I could be, and if I want to create something that anyone would actually want to play, I have a daunting task ahead of me that I haven’t really appreciated before recently.

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Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.