Five things I would change about Kinetic Cipher.

I learned a lot about game design in the time between when I started my RPGMaker 2000 game Kinetic Cipher and 2003 when I decided to dismantle it and completely rebuild it from the ground up. I felt like starting the game over from scratch, applying what I’d learned about the engine and games in general, I could make a much more solid game.

And that turned out to be true! Kinetic Cipher (Again) was much better in a lot of respects. But even going back to look at the remake, I see where I made a lot of really dumb mistakes. See, once again I feel like I’ve learned a lot about game design in the intervening years, and I see a lot of things in KC(A) I would do differently.

(Note: I won’t actually be re-re-making the game. The only way I pick up KC again is if I get funding and a publisher. This is really just a thought experiment.)

1) The world map would be smaller.
The world map in the original KC was a standard RPG map. When I remade it I wanted something more like Chrono Trigger: a world map whose only function was to quickly get the player from one interesting place to the next. I shrunk the map sprites down to instill a sense of scale, and it looked pretty slick. But it’s still way too big! There are places on the map where you can stand and not even see any interesting location to enter. I liked hiding things in little nooks and crannies around the map, so I don’t think I’d use a node-style world map. But I’d probably have a rule like “there will never be more than 12 steps between the last required area and the next one”.

2) I’d introduce Melissa earlier.
Even if you’re an oldschool RM dude who goes way back with KC, you don’t know who Melissa is. She was supposed to be one of the player characters, and a pretty important one at that. Except the plot graph didn’t allow for her to join until well after the 50% mark, and neither version of KC got that far. She’s one of the game’s most interesting characters and absolutely nobody in the world knows she exists except me. Along that note…

3) I’d cut out two party members.
KC was supposed to have nine  party members, when all was said and done, four of which could be in your party at any given time. The leader, Karen, was glued into her slot, so even if you had all nine you’d only ever really get to pick three at a time. I think nine characters is probably too many to keep a handle on, though. My gut tells me that Robin and Cor would not have been necessary as PCs. Robin was always a hassle to balance for a lot of reasons, and I had planned to really downplay her role as a combatant in the endgame. Probably would have been better to just have an NPC guest slot for her, than try to shoehorn a character into a combat and advancement system that didn’t really have a spot for her.

4) It wouldn’t be ATB.
KC(A) is too hard. Way too hard.
I didn’t make it hard, though. The toughest spots in the game are spots where the RPGMaker battle engine just doesn’t support the player’s ability to make good decisions. Enemies all tend to attack at once, which means your whole party can die on a whim unless you’re picking your options really quickly. A system that pauses the action any time the player has control (something like Final Fantasy X or Super Mario RPG) would be ideal for the kinds of battles I was trying to build.

5) I’d dramatically shorten the freewheeling.
I tried to give the players a lot of freedom to explore things in KC(A). About a full year of work was put into the areas on the second continent, and almost all of it was unnecessary. There was a series of fetch quests that took a lot of work to put together and didn’t actually add anything to the game. I had too many locations that only existed because that’s how it was in the original. I didn’t really need a North and South Orin. The goal should have been to ferry the player through the plot (and the dungeons!) until he had explored all of Tekiel — and then opened up some freewheeling. At this point the player would have six or seven characters to play with, a decent idea of how the world fit together, and the means to travel between locations very quickly. That’s the time to introduce fetch questing, not when the player is on a crucial plot-driven errand.

There are lots of other things I”d probably redesign, too, but those are the ones that immediately jump out at me when I flip through my screenshot archive.

13 comments to Five things I would change about Kinetic Cipher.

  • DragonShadow

    KC is and always was one of the great RM* games, still unrivaled in dungeon design by a long shot.

  • I was always a little sad that KC(A) never made it back to Caspian’s Maze. That was, even back then, one of the best dungeons I’ve ever played. I don’t think I’ve been so impressed with an RPG dungeon like that until Ayr’s Rock, and I haven’t seen anything quite like it since.

    I’ll always be hoping for KC(A)(A)!

  • dtsund

    Having *just* played through KC(A)#3 for the first time, I have to say I found it to be quite enjoyable. My three major complaints were:

    1: The difficulty is too front-loaded (this is the real difficulty problem; the later portions are not actually too hard). Dealing with splitting monsters (Goo’verde!) which you’re only barely faster than with only one party member is… tedious, and Tower Valorus in general seems to encourage a playstyle involving many, many trips back to the healing statue. Could be at least partly fixed by Nero joining sooner, probably.

    2: The monetary system is out of whack; Kinetic Cipher may be the only RPG I’ve ever played in which an Inn stay routinely costs about as much as upgrading a single piece of armor (actually, the armor usually costs less once you factor in the resale of your old gear). Generally, I had to wipe out multiple encounters just to break even on Inn stays. This is alleviated when you get Robin and can Scrounge up elementals to sell. Just for comparison, I loaded up my Final Fantasy V save and went to Moore, where… an Inn night is 70 gil and the *cheapest* piece of armor available (the Sage’s Miter) is 3000 gil. I dunno, perhaps this was by design, to make Inn costs matter more?

    3: You… have an inordinate love of Final Fantasy IV-style hidden passages. Bumping against every tile in a dungeon wall to find the one you can walk through is just not fun. It wasn’t even particularly fun in FFIV, eihter (see also: Edge’s trial in the Lunar Ruins being the worst of the trials). Sometimes there were subtle visual clues in KC(A)#3, sometimes there… weren’t. And sometimes you just can’t find the passages. Thanks to an RPG Maker quirk (I presume), I found that I could see where the hidden passages were, as by slightly folding my laptop’s screen I could get the empty, impassable spaces in the walls to appear very dark brown while the passages themselves are still black. Nonetheless, letting Robin synthesize a one-time use item to reveal all passages in a room (so you’d only occasionally use it, but it’s there when you need it) would have been a godsend, and would have felt less like cheating.

    Despite these complaints, I thought it was a lot of fun. Regarding your ideas, here are my thoughts:

    1: No need. Map’s fine as it is; if anything, just making Karen walk faster in map segments would solve the problem completely.

    2: …Can’t really comment on this one. KC(A)#3 ends right when you get a fourth party member (incidentally, I have some concerns that Nate might break the game if it went on longer, but it doesn’t), and I obviously don’t know how Melissa plays.

    3: I wouldn’t want Robin cut! The one problem I have with her is that Scrounge takes too long to kick in; I had to artificially prolong battles to make it work. Uh, that and her low initial speed. But I’d certainly say she fits into the game well, and serves a gameplay purpose. I’d probably make Scrounge take half as long, but reduce Robin’s defense for the duration.

    4: Dear God, yes. I found myself wishing for a FFX-style turn-based system as I played this; if implemented, the best route to take might be something like Paper Mario, where you can more or less guess what the enemies are going to do on their turns, opening up the possibility (and maybe necessity!) of planning many moves ahead.

    5: Maybe. I like being able to do side stuff when I want to, though, but that’s just me. One of my only complaints about Chrono Trigger is how the first half of the game is so linear, but then the second half dumps a big list of sidequests on you, thusly making it an example of the opposite extreme. A steadier trickle would have been nicer, in CT as in KC. Especially in the first continent, where you suddenly find the Rainbow Guild and *need* to do all four quests *now* or miss them forever (I presume?).

    That was… longer than I anticipated.

    • Brickroad

      #1 wouldn’t have been a problem if I weren’t trying to fight with 2k3’s wonky battle system. It’s unbelievably difficult to get that system to do anything you want it to do. It works fine for plain ol’ boring “hammer Attack” style combat, but that’s not what I wanted. (Although I should have started Karen with a magic spell at L1.)

      #2… I don’t really remember how much Inn stays cost. Heh!

      #3 is “working as intended”, but only if I’d continued the game. One of Nate’s abilities reveals hidden passages in exactly the way you describe, but there’s a hard level cap in place that prevents him from getting enough XP to learn it in the demo that’s released.

  • Scott

    How about a full plot summary Brick?

    Also if you are planning KC(A)(A) (or another RPG) and planned to use XP or VX I’d be happy to make some scripts for you, as payment for the many hours of enjoyment both Kinetic Ciphers gave me.

  • Drifloon

    You’re wrong about nobody else knowing Melissa exists, actually. KC#8 has a fairly extensive section where you play as her, though you don’t get to use her in battle.

    I will never stop hoping that you do continue KC(A) one day. It’s the most professional feeling RPG Maker game that I’ve ever played. I’ll always think of KC’s characters when I look at RTP sprites.

    I also second the guy who asked for a plot summary! If you’re not going to finish I’d love to know what exactly would have happened.

  • darkdreamer

    That’s usually how it goes in game design. The more you learn, the better it gets. Comparing both of the Kinetic Ciphers on both of those engines, Kinetic Cipher (again) is much stronger than the RM2K version, but they are both still good, just not as good as you wanted it to be.
    I didn’t mind the challenge of the RM2k3 one, challenge is a good thing, but I think what you’re thinking of is that challenge should be incremented from easy to difficult.
    Coming from the RPG Maker community, all of the engines are still fun to use, but the elements that are missing are, well, the engines themselves. Though it is extremely low budget and community shared, they still lack creative control and the freedom of programming EVERYTHING by hand. Brick, don’t give up. I love your game to death and perhaps someday, when you really put all your time and energy into the final project, Kinetic Cipher will turn out to be a perfect game.

  • BoswerLK

    so some random nostalgia had me searching to grab KC again…and I find this! always was one of my favorite rm2k games. with the rise of indy games now, I don’t think it’d be terribly difficult for you get a publisher should you go for round 3. …funding probably not, but there’s always kickstarter and steam greenlight for profit

    anyways, sadly most of the download links for KC on the internet seem to have died somewhere in the past 13 years…even for this remake that I just found out about. …you wouldn’t happen to still have the latest versions of both around, would you?

    • BoswerLK

      oh, and yeah. I always hated rm2k3’s engine. spoonybard made a final fallacy sequel on it. …rm2k3 completely killed that game. he went with the gritty tales of phantasia/megaman x6 style tilesets too, which didn’t fit the cartoony style of the game at all

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