A pitfall is a danger or problem that is hidden or not obvious at first. RPG Maker is fraught with pitfalls that many developers fall into (like our poor heroes pictured above).
How does one avoid many of these common pitfalls? Below I’ve listed out some that I’ve observed over the years. I’ve also linked resources to help navigate through some of these traps.
A) Lack of Customization
This section was becoming so huge that it spawned it’s own article. You can read it here: 5 Things People Don’t Customize In RPG Maker
B) Clashing aesthetics
Back in the 2k/2k3 days there wasn’t a lot of options in terms of resources. Developers had to rely on rips from other sources (often SNES era RPGs) to customize their tilesets. This led to a lot of clashing aesthetics that often made for visually dissonant games.
Nowadays, RPG Maker users have tons of resource packs to choose from. Many of them are designed with the RTP in mind like the Modern Day and Futuristic tile packs. You can easily plug them into your project with little to no editing required.
If you are going to use custom graphics for your game then you run the risk of having clashing graphics. I’ve seen many projects that have a few custom portraits for the main characters and then Character Generator faces for the supporting cast. This can ruin otherwise appealing art.
When selecting assets for your game consider how well they fit the artistic style. I’d rather have a game that mostly relies on RTP than a mishmash of art styles.
C) Maps that make no sense
One of the major differences between a Good Map and a Bad Map is not just the mapper’s artistic ability. It’s whether the map actually makes sense! Many maps often have strange layouts that would be impractical for NPCs to move around in. They can be too large, too small. Objects can be located in weird locations like having a clock behind a wardrobe. When designing your maps, take the time to consider the layout.
Another pitfall I often see is poor use of depth in mapping. This can most often be seen in Mountain locations. Because RPG Maker has a 3/4 top-down perspective it can often be difficult to design locations where the depth changes. Be conscious of the depth of your map when working on uneven terrain or you’ll end up with maps like the one pictured above.
D) Bad tutorial or NO tutorial
Often RPG Maker developers design their game with the assumption that the player is familiar with RPG Maker games. This is a pretty dangerous assumption to make. When designing the introductory section of your game, you should assume the player has never played a RPG Maker game before. You want to point out the basics like Controls (“Press X to access the Menu”) or how to navigate the menus. You should also give the option to skip these tutorials for seasoned players.
A common pitfall with tutorials is front-loading too much information. If your game relies on unconventional mechanics or terms, then you want to slowly roll them out so that the player can comprehend and retain them. If it’s a huge info dump all at once then the player will have difficulty remembering important details.
Adding a Game Manual to the project folder or putting one in-game as a key item is also a good idea and a useful resource for players. Just assume most players won’t read them.
E) Poor pacing or lack of engagement
One of the biggest pitfalls is poor early pacing in RPG Maker games. Many RPG Maker developers create introductory sections that offer no challenge or interesting mechanics. You don’t want to overload the player at first but you don’t want to bore them either.
When talking about RPGs, particularly commercial ones, you might hear someone say “The real game starts 10 hours in!” There are tons of other RPGs that are engaging early on. Just look at classics like Chrono Trigger or Earthbound for example.
Nick has written an excellent article on Pacing: How Is It So Good: Chrono Trigger. Consider reading it for tips on how to properly pace your RPG and keep your player engaged.
F) Frequent missing in combat
You know what’s not fun in RPGs? Losing a turn because you missed your opponent.
The high risk, high reward character or skill is fairly common in RPGs. You either have a chance to do high damage or no damage. Even if you crunched the numbers and the results are favorable, it still can give the player a bad impression of an character or skill if it misses often. If you’re going to have missing in your game make sure it doesn’t happen too often.
By default, the HIT % of any class is 95%. Consider bumping this up to 100% and changing it for weapons/skills or have it affected by states instead. Otherwise, it will apply to all actions that can miss.
G) Too much RNG or “false difficulty”
RNG has become a fairly common term when griping about game balance. “Screwed by the RNG”. When players say something like that they’re referring to the “random number generator” that is present in many games. The root of RNG in RPGs can be traced back to dice rolling in D&D. RNG can make a game more interesting by creating unpredictable elements. It can also make games feel unfair when done poorly.
Many novice RPG designers fall into the pitfall of relying too much on RNG to make their game difficult. When designing the AI for your enemies, you should weigh the chance they will select certain actions over others and what results that can lead to. At some point it becomes almost impossible to predict every variation but even a cursory review can reveal potential balance issues.
If your RNG is too wide in range it can lead to vastly different player experiences. In one of my friend’s early games, he had a final boss who had the chance to use a buff that would increase all his stats making him much more difficult.What made it worse was the buff could stack. If he didn’t cast the buff then the fight was fairly trivial. If he cast it more than once then it became almost impossible. It was completely random whether or not he would use the buff. It would have been better to have had him cast the buff at certain intervals in the battle (every X turns, HP < X%).
When designing encounters you want controlled randomness. The random factor should improve the overall encounter; not take away from it.
H) Too much exposition
Exposition is a tough balance in RPGs. You need to share important plot details with the player to give context to the game but you also don’t want to bore the player with walls of text.
Volrath has written an excellent article on this subject: Exposition: A Tough Balance. Make sure to read it for tips on how to balance exposition in your RPG.
I) Poor spelling/grammar
One of Nick’s 4 Ways to Turn Me Off Your Game Immediately. It’s worth taking the extra time to review your writing for spelling and grammatical errors. One here or there is forgivable but if it keeps coming up it’s going to start making your game look lazy.
Hopefully this article revealed some pitfalls you might have missed in the past.
What are some pitfalls you’ve noticed on the path of RPG creation? Let us know in the comments!