Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The "Why" of What We Do

Hello.  My name is Wes Falls.  In September of last year my friend Robert Jenkins and I decided to make us an RPG.  The game we envisioned would be created entirely from ideas found in every RPG.  We then brainstormed the whole of the story, and what would be included.  The last part of that discussion involved the game's title.  We wanted something that sounded like a Japanese console RPG--English words that sound like they could be describing a fantasy role-playing game, but otherwise made no sense in particular.  We named the game Valor Seed.

At first, we wanted to make Valor Seed a pastiche of every Japanese console RPG.  This seemed to be really funny at first.  Then I got to digging around, particularly through my own vast collection of console RPGs.  I had an epiphany:  every RPG is already a pastiche of every RPG. 

It was then that we decided to focus our attention on a particular era of RPG's, and on what we liked about them.  We decided to make an RPG that looks, sounds, and feels like it is being played on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but with modern game play elements.  I found the NES' color palette, and researched its display capabilities.  I hired a professional composer to score the game.  He had never worked with chiptunes before, but neither had Yuji Hori before Dragon Quest.  I respect chiptune composers very much, but to get a score that sounded like a real Nintendo game, I wanted someone who would write the music the way they always do, and then try to make it sound good using the NES' sound chip.

Here is an example of what Sean created:

Mana Overload - RPG Boss Battle by Sean Beeson

My original plan was to create it to be a short romp of a game, but after the score arrived, and I counted all the hours I had put into development, I decided to work to making it a commercial title.

One particular source inspired me into this.  Zeboyd Games' two indie-games, Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World, had both been absolute godsends to me.  I was just about to throw away any hope of getting a new RPG like the ones I was raised on, and then I met a skeleton named Dem.  I pester Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games every so often on Twitter and Gmail.  When I say pester, I mean, write a four-page, barely coherent diatribe about twenty topics that has just no possibility for a response.  Still, he responds.  I really am not good at flattery, and I suspect Robert is not good at being flattered, so there is always this awkwardness like when you realize you've just called a "ma'am" a "sir".

When it came time to start on the script, I was hesitant.  You never know how hard being creative is until you have tried to make an RPG by yourself.  You spend so much time designing maps (I actually studied the maps of Final Fantasies 1-3 intensely to understand the logic used in their design), and then choosing enemies, and then making weapons, and spells and then what does what, but when, and how long and so on, that when it comes to writing the dialog to the story, you just cannot do it, and  I am no slouch when it comes to writing.  I knew what the characters were like, and how the world worked, and the backstory, and the mythology, and all the events that would happen--but the actual way they said it?  I got about fifteen pages, I think, of script and then I just sort of felt very grim about it.

This is not where I tell you that everything worked out for it.  This is where I tell you that it started to look better.  The script is still not fully done--there is no final revision of it yet.  If you don't know who Alexander O. Smith is, he is the man who made Vagrant Story absolutely the dopest shit ever.  He has done many kickass things since, like making sure the voice acting for Final Fantasy XII did not suck the excellence right out of his script by producing the audio himself.  I played the Japanese original of that game, and if Steve Blum, Crispin Freeman, or Cam Clarke had gone anywhere near the main cast I would have...commented about it angrily on a forum somewhere, probably.  But the game would not have been as good.  One of the most important parts of an RPG is communicating with the player--if your script sucks, or is too literal a translation, the player just will not try as hard to win the game.  As there was no way in Hell I could afford to pay Alexander O. Smith, or any professional, to write my script, I started looking around to who I knew.  My friend Jeremy Bauman, probably more of an AOS fan than me, had studied Shakespeare in college and was all about the Elizabethan parlance and stuff.  Jeremy put together a treatment of my script, but then had to go and work and make a living.

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