Sorry for not posting last week. Here is my review of RPG Maker VX Ace. It is a fairly long review which is broken into good, bad and ugly sections.
I actually consider this to be a really good program that I would gladly use to develop games in if it were not for the items in the ugly section. Before I get to the ugly points, lets first look at where the program excels.
When you consider that RPGs consist of multiple maps it is important that you have a decent map editor. Thankfully the map editor is very nice. It is tile based with each map having a tile-set that the map is made of. Tile-sets are made up of one or more image files. It is possible to share images between tile-sets which can reduce the number of necessary image files.
My favorite feature of the map editor is smart tiles. These tiles work by looking at the surrounding tiles and choosing the appropriate tile. For example, let's say you were adding a 4x4 tile rug to a room. The corners and edges would become the appropriate border pattern while the centre four tiles are the mid-carpet image.
The map supports multiple layers. Essentially you have your floor/wall layer which various decoration tiles can be placed over top of. This allows you to have things such as walls that have pictures on them or tables and chairs in the middle of the room. Tiles have three states of enterability. They can be solid, appear over the player or appear under the player. Each tile can also have an event placed on it. Events can have their own sprite and have scripts attached to them. I will cover events in more detail in the scripting section.
The database holds all the actors, classes, skills, weapons, armours, enemies, troops, states, tile sets, common events, system, and terms that the game uses. Editing these is what makes your game unique. There is a default starting database that is set up for your typical fantasy game. If you are not developing a fantasy game or want to create an original game then you will pretty much want to get rid of most of the stuff in the database and start from scratch.
Database pages generally give you a list of all the items in that category. The number of items in a category is set to a certain number of entries, but those can be changed to however many items you need. Each item then has a simple to fill out form making creating and editing items very simple.
The power of any game engine is largely dependent on how good the scripting system is. There are two parts to this factor. The actual language(s) the engine supports and how much the API for the game lets the player control the engine.
Language-wise RPG Maker VX Ace uses the Ruby language. This is a very flexible and powerful language but not something easy for a first-time programmer to grasp. To allow non-programmers the ability to create scripts, the program also offers a menu-based scripting language. This is a fairly easy to use language where you assemble commands based on typical RPG actions and fill out dialog boxes with the details of what you want to do. There is enough actions that you can accomplish most game tasks.
For those going with Ruby, which I never did for First, you have access to an API that gives you access to pretty much everything you would want to do with the engine and even gives you access to the windows API giving you a lot of power if you absolutely need it.
While this is a great tool, there are some rough edges.
While the database is nice to use, there is one really annoying thing about it. Many categories of items depend on items in other categories. If you are creating an encounter in the troops tab, you need to make sure the monsters have already been created. The monsters need to have skills and items set, and so on. What I would have liked to have seen is the option to create a new required skill or item on the fly so that when creating something you are not jumping back and forth between tabs.
I covered the packaging issue in my postmortem of my first RPG Maker game. The tool for creating a distributable package does not analyze your game for the assets that are actually used but instead includes all the files in the resource manager. This means you need to manually remove any items your game does not need otherwise it will be included in the distribution. If you are doing a total conversion, this may not be that bad as you can start by removing everything and only adding back what items you need but this is still a lot of work that could have easily been automated.
The documentation that comes with the package is kind of sparse. It covers the basics of the tool and has an API reference for Ruby programmers. It has no tutorials on how to use the game nor any explanation of how the stats in the default database work. To find answers to these questions requires searching forums or delving into the ruby code and spending hours looking through the database to piece how things work. There are some really good RPG Maker VX Ace tutorials on the internet, which you really should go through before using the tool for the first time, but nothing with the package.
None of the bad items above are enough to deter most people from using the tool. I would too, but there are three issues that prevent me from doing so.
The game resolution is really ancient. Anybody who has played a RPG Maker game probably has noticed the small window that the game is played in. While it is possible to get past this limitation by liberal use of Ruby scripting and Windows API calls, this would be a huge amount of work. I am hoping that if there is another version of RPG Maker released that it will at a minimum address this issue. Possibly by supporting different resolutions of tile-images though even the simple solution of scaling tiles would be sufficient for many people. If RPG Maker VX Ace had proper support for HD resolutions then I would probably be developing a commercial game in it right now despite the other two ugly items.
Having used cross-platform languages for over a decade, I really don’t understand why developers still release tools that only create stuff that will run on Windows. Windows is such a large base that this is not an outright killer, but when combined with the resolution limitations makes it so for me. Minimally I would like to have the ability to export games to OSX and Linux. Ideally support for tables as well. Even if you had to pay extra for the ability to port to different platforms, this would be a great feature to have.
One thought that I had was to simply use RPG Maker as a prototyping tool and then find a way of exporting everything to another engine that overcame the resolution and platform limitations of the tool. Making this much more complicated is the fact that all the built-in graphics as well as most of the DLC theme packs are licensed only for use if the game is published as an RPG Maker game. As most of the DLC packs that have this limitation don’t explicitly mention this until after you have bought/downloaded them, this is exceedingly annoying. While this deters people from jumping ship to a different tool, it also prevents people from using the tool. This is unfortunate as it would be a great prototyping tool even without proper export commands.
While I would not rule out using RPG Maker VX Pro as a prototyping tool, I would make sure I did so by making sure all the music and artwork used was my own (or licensed for use outside of RPG Maker). It is a really good tool but the resolution and lack of cross-platform capabilities makes it unsuitable for my needs. I am really hoping that a new version that addresses at least one of the above issues is released soon as I would quickly grab that tool.