Guest Post by Molly from iD Tech
Education has come a long way since my K-12 days over a decade ago. When I roamed the beige-bricked walls of my secondary education, “computer” class was an elective—my best friend informed me he was going to be “Microsoft certified,” and I nodded along as though I had a clue what he was talking about. Certification, neat! Despite my lack of interest in certification, I was a computer enthusiast: I played online games and used Photoshop for my art.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was a lot going on in my quest to keep myself entertained: I was learning, and I was having fun doing it.
One of my favorite software to use is RPG Maker VX Ace—I fell in love with it several years ago—and I was hyped when RPG Maker MV was released. Unlike many game creation tools on the market, RPG Maker MV allows the user to jump right in and start creating with no art or programming skills required. It’s approachable, intuitive, and the best part? It’s got enough depth for an advanced user to make a great game.
Pretend you’re eleven: it’s Monday morning, your first day of camp. Your outfit is on point, and you’re excited for some tech awesomeness.
And maybe this is how you expect camp to go:
Of course, it’s not that simple. When designing a game, there are countless elements that go into it: story, visuals, game mechanics, character design, level design—the list goes on and on. The journey from idea to game usually looks a bit more like this:
Quick student engagement is what our curriculum is all about—remember, you’re 11. You don’t want to sit around and read, you want to create! Right from the start, students are jumping in the software to meet specific objectives—the first of which is to create an environment for their game.
Maps are made with tilesets, or small images that can be laid together to create an entire map. Grass, trees, cafe signs, buildings, rivers? RPG Maker has it! Students spend time Monday morning planning the player’s path through the game and evaluating how to use the environment to guide the player along; right from the start, students are utilizing their abundant creativity and critical thinking skills to cater the map towards a goal.
The core of games built in RPG Maker use events and switches, and here’s where the magic really happens. Think of an event as a container for all of the actions that happen in a game: dialogue, quests, puzzles, animations, the like. Switches add an extra degree of control to events, allowing you to have many paths for how the game plays out.
Events and switches are really the bread and butter of RPG Maker. Students will spend most of their time here to complete objectives, from creating a unique boss battle to writing and organizing events to doing ‘cinematic’ style cutscenes.
Let’s look at a student project in action. In a world where cats are disappearing, it’s up to one person to bring them back to their owners! But first—we need a companion. Someone strong. Someone cool. Someone who likes cats.
To add flavor to the story, we can get creative with switches. We can write our event so that the character will only join us if a condition is met.
What this event boils down to is a simple form of logic, one that’s used in programming: if I wear sweet new hat, then they join our party, else do nothing.
If I was going to program my game in Java, it would look like this:
The function above says, “If the player has a cool hat, then the second character joins the party.”
You can see this below in RPG Maker: a switch, “hasCoolHat” is turned on, and in the Contents, “Change Party Member” adds our second character.
A switch has two options, ON or OFF. What if you wanted to have more? That’s where variables come in. A variable can have an infinite amount of options. This is another programming concept: a variable stores a value, which RPG Maker will call when the event is executed. The variable can keep track of gameplay: if you have a quest that needs to know how many cats have been rescued, this is where variables shine.
Math is one of many components of programming; in RPG Maker, character damage is determined by formulas like the one below:
a.atk * 4 – b.def * 2
These formulas can be made up of different operators, +, -, *, /, %; these are, of course, also used in programming. Not only do students do a bit of simple math to determine how their abilities perform in gameplay, they’re learning bits and pieces of programming to put towards their STEM education.
Phew! That was pretty intense, and that’s not nearly all there is to RPG Maker—in fact, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Students can choose a variety of paths when working with RPG Maker. From skill and event creation heavily rooted in logic and math, to world-building and character design to explore their craziest (and coolest) ideas! And because RPG Maker is approachable and intuitive, they’ll learn some great 21st century skills—like problem-solving and innovation—that they can take with them to university and beyond.
The hardest part about RPG Maker, I think, is to stop creating with it. If 16-year-old me had this tool at her disposal, I can only imagine what kind of awesome worlds she would have created.