“My first project” — The tendency towards RPGs

My high school computer science class was taught by a man named Mr Lew, and he was a genius.

As the final project each semester, every student (and a partner) were to make a computer game. Academically speaking, the reason why this was a great idea is obvious — games contain so many aspects of computer science that you can’t really make one without showing everything you’ve learned in the class. Plus it was something everyone could get excited about.

At least it was something the nerds in the class could get excited about (this was pre-PlayStation, so computer gaming hadn’t really blown up yet).

Most people made little sports games based around some kind of parser interface:

What play do you want to run:
1 Play 1
2 Play 2
3 Play 3
4 Play 4
Enter your choice:

Which made sense — we hadn’t done really any graphics programming, so ASCII was the best we had. At first, of course, I entertained the thought of making an RPG, like Zork. In years past, I’d made a small one for my calculator which enjoyed a fairly wide circulation around the school — but I wanted to do something bigger.

But I pushed that aside and decided to go with Space Invaders (in ASCII), instead. It’d be more impressive, and therefore more likely to land me an A.

The second year I took the class, though, we learned graphics programming — so I decided the time had come to make my RPG masterpiece. My opus.

I’d start simple, I thought, and just work towards something like Adventure (only with stats, more enemies, an inventory, and a huge world and story). Of course, as anyone who has ever tried to make an RPG has fond, this proved to be much more work than I first thought.

So about three days before it was due I dropped the whole thing and coded up a quick graphical version of Pong, which did pretty well.

But still, the idea of an RPG nagged at me. In college I continued to try to make RPGs with my friends, and of course these projects always fell through because they were too much work. There was an FF3-looking one, a few MUDs, and probably some I don’t even remember.

RPGs are hard.

I wonder what it is about RPGs, though, that makes them so tempting. Maybe it was just that I happened to be playing a lot of JRPGs at that point… I dunno.

I imagine, though that others have had this experience. I read all the time about people and their first heartbreak game, and usually it’s an RPG.

Just musing…

If any of you have tried to create a video game on your own… was it an RPG? If not, what was it?

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  1. I made a side-scoller. It really didn’t do much. You could walk, and there was a badguy that my partner made who would shoot at you and you had to reflect the shot back at him. That was basically it. It had pretty artwork though, or at least I thought so. That’s what we spent the most time on, the animation. It ended up working pretty well, but I didn’t really like the way the code ended up. If I had thrown many more features in there, I wouldn’t have been able to figure it out. I wish I had a screenshot around, probably is on my other computer.

  2. Post a screen, if you’ve got one, I’d like to see. I never tried to make a sidescroller (up until the Qwark sidescroller in RC3) — but they were always among my favorite games.

  3. http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v228/Anti_Me/untitled03.jpg
    I think this isn’t the final version though. The backgrounds don’t look quite right. I remember there was a house you could walk past in the final, and it wasn’t dark out. That little guy in back of him doesn’t really do anything, he just walks along. He’s just there to look cute. We had an idea for him to have like a special super-awesome death-all move if we expanded the game, but it was a 2 week project and I really didn’t know how to code all that stuff anyways.

    Oh it has music set from the forest maze in Mario RPG. I thought that was very fitting.

  4. I think the problem with RPG design is that though it looks straight forward enough, it actually employs completely nonlinear thinking. If you’ve ever done nonlinear editing (Avid, Final Cut, etc.) it’s the same sort of thing.

    A few friends of mine over at BioWare have mentioned the company ran into the same problem when hiring writers for their RPGs. They would hire novelists or screenplay writers with good credits and then find the new employs didn’t really know how to write for the “open” format of an RPG. Which is why they incorporated the build-a-short-module aspect of the hiring process. The writers before this change were used to linear cause-and-effect thinking. Side scrollers, most other video games, and those old pick-your-path books are examples of the closed type.

    I believe either you can write that way through instinct, from reading/writing a LOT of RPG material, or you end up faking it by writing what I would call “closed” or “limited-option” RPG environments. Being a DM for a few years helps. Especially world-building for your own campaigns.

    But I may be biased due to my gaming background (Gamma World articles for Dragon when I was a wee 15-year-old geek nerdling). And I’ve spent the last 20 years building a world and writing a trilogy. Probably take another 10 to finish (!). But that’s because I think you should always learn from the best, and I’m following Tolkien’s example…

    (not that I’m in his league or anything)

  5. The desire to become a hero and go on an adventure is perhaps the most fundamental fantasy. It’s an extension of our childhood games, where we become pirates, Indians, knights, and treasure hunters. Humans are designed to roleplay (it’s how we eventually realize we want to be doctors, firemen, or secretaries) and we love to explore.

    Hell, who doesn’t want to be Link and rescue Zelda?

  6. Well that makes sense in a pen and paper RPG, though in a CRPG it’s not as much about playing a role.

    CRPGs tend to have certain characteristics about them that aren’t necessarily about playing a role.

    Like stats and numbers and upgrades and such.

    Also, Zelda isn’t technically a CRPG. It’d probably be labeled a character action game or an action/adventure game.

    If what people want is to tell (or play) an epic story with their first game, you can do that with almost any genre. So why do people pick RPGs?

    Perhaps it’s just a misidentification of what the creator is looking for — “CRPGS usually have big stories and cool worlds, so I want to make a CRPG”

  7. Hey Div, I like the artwork on those screens.

    Really cool style.

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