Friday, March 23, 2012

RPG Maker VX Ace - PC Review

I love to create.

Swords and sorcery is my preferred template for whether it's the MUD I have owned for over a decade, or my tens of thousands of pages of writing or the hundreds of hours I have spent in RPG Maker titles over the years.  I have had my hands on several versions since this series first became popular, and have finished a handful of very small projects and had a couple of incredibly large and ambitious ones in a state of incompleteness.  I did skip a generation though, and last purchased RPG Maker XP and have little experience with VX except the trial which I never really delved into the way I meant to.

Best RPG character ever?  I think so...

 Simple Enough for a Child; Powerful Enough for a Developer

The above is the slogan you find on the website for RPG Maker VX Ace, and there is an incredible amount of truth to it.  I admit I have always been partial to the visual style of RPG Maker XP personally, and I was quite happy with the level of coded customization I was able to apply to my games.  There are some amazing new features in VX Ace though that really stood out to me.

For starters, there are so many different things you can do in the interface now, whether it's layering background images, including more information about characters or items to an updated script editor that I feel is even easier to navigate and make adjustments to.  If you are looking to make a 16-bite style RPG, this is the software for you.  I know it really hit several sweet spots for me.

First, the basics.  There are drawing tools you can use to create maps and in these mapped environments you can add events that can do everything from handle conversations, to generating battles or triggering your cut scenes.  You do not have to know a thing about programming, though a certain ability to understand the flow of logic involved with switches and variables makes it all come together.
This screen and map creation are where I spend the majority of my time

You have a database that manages things like character information, default music, settings for map tiles and more.  If you are artistically or musically inclined to create your own content, they have an easy to use import tool so you can add your own custom materials to the mix.  For those who enjoy further tinkering around, you have access to a script editor.  This is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used to make a title even more unique.  Of course, it is possible to 'break' the game you are making if you do not know what you doing, but the software does a pretty good job of pointing you in the right direction of your error.  
You can import your own graphics or use the provided backgrounds

I admit I am pretty decent at following the logic and mocking things up (or sometimes mucking things up) in the code.  That said, one of the most powerful things about the RPG Maker series is the incredibly talented and passionate communities out there who share resources such as sprites, music and yes - code scripts.  Since this release builds off of the original VX release, there is already some established content that can be used out there, but without a doubt the longer RPG Maker VX Ace is out in the wild, the more amazing content people will release.

Is everything perfect with this software?  No.  There are always new features people want to see added, and some people question how much of an upgrade over VX this is.  Some of the cool features I really liked were:

- Region ID's in the map making
- Shadow pen tool that allows you to quickly and easily add or remove shadow affects from the maps
- Random map generation
- Character generator.  Seriously, this feature right here?  Absolutely awesome in my opinion
Character generator... where have you been all my life?

Those are a couple of the quick things I noticed.  Now, the greatest challenges facing people making games on this kind of software usually come in two varieties in my experience:

- You want to make something completely original but are weak in some area (or multiple areas).  This can be spriting, map making, creating music, writing the story, database management or scripting to name a few.  This is where the communities come in so helpful, and quite a few people work on teams to complete their goals.

- You have a great idea, but somewhere along the way you lose steam.  I've fallen victim to this several times before.  It never seems to completely dampen my enthusiasm for the software, but I have only completed very small, focused games that usually have a 10-30 minute play time.  Bigger projects are hard to complete.  I have one right now in XP that I only got through the prolog and chapter 1 of 3 completed.  There's over an hour of play time right now, but I think I just bit off more than I can chew with the scope of what I started.
This is the scripting engine

There are so many things in RPG Maker VX Ace though that help streamline the process now.  I put together a couple of short tech demos just to see what the software could do, and in the process I felt like things were coming together much more quickly than they have in the past.  This will really help users of the software finish their projects I believe.  Is there room for improvement?  Sure, but it is quite clear that the series has come a long way in this release.

So would I recommend you try the software out?  Absolutely.  There is a free trial on the website so you can tell what you are getting into.  For me personally however, this software is just about a perfect fit.  Now if you will excuse me?  I have some maps to create...

Incredibly short video of a map with scrolling background and a quick, easy fight



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