A lot has been said about the creativity of Indie Games vs big budget games, and I think that being mostly hobbiests with a spattering of commercial indie devs, we need to really be taking advantage of that advantage we have.

One of the biggest advantages to creativity I think in RPG Maker, and one that is used regularly in the Indie environment as a whole is the concept of a Living Game. I’m making this definition up myself, but I’m taking the terminology from something that already exists: Living Documents.

The Quintessential Living Game

The Quintessential Living Game

Here is the thing, though it is more feasible than it used to be because of downloadable updates and such, but for the most part, once they ship the game, a big box commercial game (especially console games) are pretty much what they are going to be and can’t be changed. You have your internal playtesting, and your focus groups, but for the most part you have an educated guess on how the game as a whole will perform in the wild. Now, if you have GOOD QA it will be a pretty good educated guess. Don’t take this as a bash against QA guys, because I know a couple and they are really awesome people and know their job.

Living games on the other hand, get out in the wild and aren’t necessarily in their end state. A lot of indie games do this, and RPG Maker games almost always do this. You can release an early demo and get tons of feedback on what works, and what doesn’t. Even if you release the full game, you can always go back and touch up areas that people have issues with… or even completely rewrite them.

While we of course, probably won’t make a game with the same reach, just think about the whole debacle with the ending of Mass Effect 3 for instance, or the outsourced boss fights from Deux Ex: Human Revolution. Now, both of these got changed to varying levels later, but it wasn’t as easy as a living game. Mass Effect 3 had an ending DLC added, with varying levels of success among fans.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution on the other hand released an entire new version of the game with the director’s cut to fix their mistake. I rebought the game myself, its a brilliant game and the director’s cut fixed most of the issues, but in reality I’m still kind of peeved at the approach. That to get the game really how I think it should have been to begin with I had to completely rebuy it.

RPG Maker games don’t have to deal with this. They can be revised as often or as little as you want, you can even tweak something repeatedly and get feedback on it. Take advantage of the way your release medium and RMers expectations work. Incorporate the fans into the polishing of your work.

7 comments… add one

  • Jomarcenter January 22, 2014, 7:04 am

    Well I kinda thinking about making games update-able and easily be change. Luckily the content management in every rpg maker software. You could sent a new version without any problem and trouble if there a possibility of piracy since you could release separately the script, pictures, database and such which of course helpful to the developer if someone found a bug that even tester missed.

    And another note that I don’t normally saw any commercial RPG maker games taking advantage of such feature so it really be a problem if someone found a game breaking bug and no one fix it since releasing patches from a encrypted one could end up to piracy by just adding the unprotected EXE file to the folder(tell me if I am wrong since I didn’t test or do this kind of thing).

  • Davane January 22, 2014, 10:01 am

    Sorry, Nick, but you have been beaten to the punch by the term “Living Game” – which was coined from the term “Living Document” as stated. I, amongst many, have been pioneering the idea of both “Living Documents” for many years now, in various forms of media. Originally, this was with regards to the digital publishing industry, which has allowed for a massive boost in independant publishers in various sectors, most famously that of the tabletop RPG. With the ease of customisation of Dungeons & Dragons 3.x series, thanks to the Open Gaming License (OGL) provided by Wizards of the Coast at the turn of the millennium, combined with the advances in social media and digital publishing of the last few years, have allowed for a shift from a product-based model to a service-based model within the independant roleplaying publishing community. I, myself, created and championed several such services using the “Living Document” model from as early as 2004 – which is particularly useful for fan-created collaborations that are not easily sold as products. The most famous of these was “The Legend of Zelda Roleplaying Game” which ran from 2001 to 2011, using such a model, under an informal fan license until Nintendo of America decided to stop allowing the project from using it’s IP.

    The idea of a “Living Game” has also been under development for some time, and the creation of my D-Jumpers line has seen the shift from a “Living Document” format for the incarnation of it’s tabletop RPG routes, through to it’s current incarnation as a “Living Game” as per the current CRPG design using RPG Maker. This is very much a current project, having been in development from September 2013.

    As for your article, all of your points are valid, and as stated above, I have been a champion of the “Living” format for some time, advocating a shift from a product-based model to a service-based model within the industries that are using it. My influence, however, was largely derived from the “Living” RPGs that were once part of the fantastic convention line-up of the RPGA Network to support many tabletop RPGs. Membership peaked during the 80′s and 90′s, before the RPGA was largely disbanded falling the fall in convention popularity following this period.

    With this in mind, comes the biggest potential for the “Living Game” format – the ability to update games with no content that specifically expands the existing world, and integrating with current events in the game. That is, the relative ease with which you can have the player retread old ground to find new things, as inspired by community feedback.

    It is no longer neccessary for designers to create massive epics, where everything is pre-planned, and then release one giant product. The alternative is that they can release smaller, bite-sized updates, to expand the gamplay and storyline, as they are developed. This approach is very much synonymous with designing a well-crafted tabletop RPG world, where the stories flow from previous stories almost seemlessly.

    At the moment, I am working on D-Jumpers: In Search of Adventure (www.d-jumpers.com), which features a nameless young boy on a quest to become an adventurer by escaping his village and enrolling in the region’s Adventurer’s Guild. This is a fairly simple premise, but creates a local environment for our hero, which is really the players avatar (as opposed to any pre-scripted significant character).

    From this simple premise, a follow-up storyline is also possible – the hero having become an Adventurer returns to his village to help them. The ease of updating the game means that this second storyline doesn’t have to be designed in with the first – it can be implemented afterwards, using a great deal of the same assets, and the same details, as the original storyline. Additional areas, characters, and storylines can also be relatively easy to implement as updates.

    The one limitation with CRPGs that tabletop RPGs don’t have is that they lack flexibility within the story. Where as a GM can improvise new details on the fly when characters try and do something different or off-beat, everything that the players can do in CRPGs has to be implemented first in some format. However, the “Living Game” design approach allows for a happy middle ground between the two – additional alternative solutions can easily be added into the game after the main storyline has been created, so there are alternative solutions to puzzles, possibly even with their own unique coded outlines.

    Such a “Living Game” design philosophy is, however, shifting the focus towards a more service-based approach, and thus requires a huge amount of organization, dedication, and commitment to pull off successfully. With many designers preferring to create different products, rather than essentially provide endless updates to a single product, it’s not unusual to find that many shy away from a more “Living” type of game design, in favour of potentially more lucrative format, whatever their core aims may be.

    • Nick Palmer January 24, 2014, 3:08 pm

      I was pretty sure someone has named the living game before, I just didn’t feel the need to look up whether someone had used the term exactly. The way it is used is something we are already doing, I just think that people don’t notice enough how this changes everything about the way they can design. Also, I think your comment is longer than my article.

      • Davane January 25, 2014, 7:23 am

        I think you are right about the comment being longer than the article. Of course, with such a long and illustrious history, the idea of “living” media has been around for a while, and while it might be novel in some forms of media, in other forms it can be quite interesting with a great deal of insight.

        Also, I am not entirely sure that Minecraft is the ultimate living game, since it is more of a sandbox game with an active community.A more appropriate examine would be World of Warcraft, which has been going for almost 10 years now. While most MMORPGs tend to focus on the multiplayer aspect, people seem to forget that the best of these are normally subscription-based, constantly featuring updates that expand the gameplay and the world, to keep the game fresh. There is plenty of scope for inspiration from such games – even if you don’t include any multiplayer options. There are some fairly famous online SPRPGS (Single Player RPGs) that use such principles, such as Adventure Quest by Artix Entertainment which has been going for over a decade now.

  • Do Ngoc Nhan February 12, 2014, 11:45 am

    Yep! Living game ! ^_^ The most popular style of Indie Game!
    (P/s: I love MineCraft ! ^_^)

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