Sorry, you hip cats, but I didn’t have time to finish the LP post I was working on. (For the reason why, please refer to yesterday’s post title.)
But that’s okay. I’ll take this time to make fun of the RPGMaker community a little bit.
As you may or may not be aware, folks don’t draw their own graphics for their RPGMaker games. Most of the time their graphics are ripped wholesale out of existing commercial RPGs, especially from the SNES era. 16-bit graphics fit that nice sweet spot between “looks nice” and “easy to work with” that the higher-res graphics of later RPGMaker engines lack, and as a result, there are a lot of RPGMaker towns out there that look suspiciously like the ones in FF6.
Since everyone was pulling from the same pool of graphics, RPGMaker communities needed some other metric to determine which games had good visuals. So they concocted a series of rules which, if followed, would produce a nice-looking game. And which, if ignored, meant your game looked like a steamy pile of hey-hey. Of these, my favorite was the three-tile rule.
The three-tile rule was very simple. When drawing your maps, you had to make sure that no wall or flat space existed more than three tiles long. The fourth tile had to jut out, or switch directions, or cut inwards. The result, as written in scripture, was a more natural-looking environment. Nothing in nature is perfectly straight.
Overnight, every location in every new RPGMaker game started taking on this jagged, zig-zag appearance.
On its face, I think the rule is fine when applied appropriately. For an average outdoors-y dungeon, the three-tile rule might be a good yardstick to rap on the knuckles of laziness. Instead of a straight forest path, you’d be forced to stick a few trees or rocks in. Instead of a starkly narrow valley, you’d have the rocky terrain widening and narrowing in places. Deftly used, a guideline like “no straight edges for four tiles” might be a good addition to a mapmaker’s toolbox.
However it was applied, though, games were judged as though the three-tile rule were a holy commandment issued from on high by a big bearded dude who flings thunderbolts. People would mock otherwise beautiful-looking mountainsides because of a few straight edges. Straight coastlines were maligned. Eventually, artificial constructs like walls, houses and castles came under the hammer. (Although at that point the rule was perhaps being applied ironically. Impossible to tell.)
The harsher problem, in my opinion, was that some makers were applying the rule to games it should not have applied to, out of a desire to fit in. FF6 has nice, organic-looking caves and rivers, yes yes, and so everyone was trying to be FF6. But not every game is FF6. FF6’s dungeons are sterile and lifeless, devoid of moving parts or puzzles. The gameplay happens in combat, where your characters exhibit a huge variety of abilities, strengths and weaknesses to explore. Making the maps visually interesting is a good way to pave over your mediocre dungeons.
But then you had games like Zelda: A Link to the Past, or Lufia II, or Golden Sun, or any of the Quintet RPGs. Maps in these games were blocky and cartoonish, built more like playgrounds than real-world locations. Which was a good decision, considering the design of those games called for very action-packed locations. You move pieces around, interact with the environment, position bad guys. These games use their blocky visuals as shorthand for the player’s ability to immediately see the exact position of every screen element.
And then you have an entire class of games, such as EarthBound and Dragon Quest, which are simply aiming at a different style of aesthetic. Does anyone really think EarthBound would have been better if the maps were more “organic”?
That’s really my broader point here: no matter how useful or ubiquitous your rule might seem, there are always reasons to break it. Some rogue scholar is going to come along and post a comment like “what about a rule saying everything in a game should be fun?” — and yes, I mean that too. Some people derive enjoyment from successfully completing long, trying tasks which, in and of themselves, are not individually fun. Millions of people pay Blizzard $15 a month for the opportunity.
And so, for a while, the RPGMaker community produced a lot of games which were mostly forgettable, but very well-received on the basis of not having any straight edges… at least until the next New Rule came along.
“But Brick! Maybe you’re not as smart as you think you are!”
Smart? Who ever said anything about smart? In fact, let me tell you how smart I’m not. Last night at work I was prepping a stack of envelopes. The following day someone would stuff these envelopes with pedometers (not fun ones, like Pokéwalkers; just boring hospital-flavored pedometers), stamp postage on them, and send them out the door. My job was to apply address labels to them and then put a post-it on top indicating what was supposed to go inside.
But I’m not smart, so instead of writing “PEDOMETERS” on the post-it, I wrote “PEDOBEAR”.
I stared at it for a few moments trying to figure out what wasn’t right about it. Then I threw the post-it away and tried again. An hour or so later, walking past the stack on an unrelated task, I looked down and noticed the second post-it also read “PEDOBEAR”.
I am confident I got it right the third time.