by Paul “Reynard Frost” Walker
If you’re a member of the RPG Maker community, you should be almost intimately familiar with the phrase “RTP”. The default graphics that come with each RPG Maker that we know and love. Sometimes it gets the job done, but other times it’s just not enough! We need a song that’s got a bit more fire to it, we need a priest with an afro, or a battler of a unicorn wielding a machete in its mouth. Whatever your need, sometimes we need to get out of our comfort zone and find new and better resources to make our game just that much better itself.
Yet are these resources better? Sure on their own that battler might look absolutely amazing, much like a bar of chocolate can be a delicious snack on its own. Yet throw that bar of chocolate into a plate of spaghetti… While some might enjoy the contrast in flavor, others will widen their eyes in surprise and react with, “Why is there chocolate in my marinara?”
This is where we get to the core of our topic. Consistency. What is consistency? The dictionary describes it as, “Correspondence among related aspects; compatibility”. To put it simply, consistency is the act of making sure that nothing in your game feels out of place. If you’re making a bowl of spaghetti, then you’ll want to use the usual ingredients that make that classic dish so tasty. Yet what about that bar of chocolate you love to snack on? Chocolate in your ice cream is far more compatible than in the middle of your pasta! Yet I’m sure we’ve both had enough of the food metaphors, how does this apply to RPG Maker? Let’s discuss the two main types of resources and how you can keep work towards keeping them consistent with each other.
Tilesets, character sets, battlers, etc. All of these graphics make up the pieces we need for the visual aspect of our game. To start, let’s take a peek at this screenshot of a battle scene I pulled randomly from Google:
Those player battlers look mighty well drawn don’t they? And that background? Even better! Why the two seem to go hand in hand! The similar color tones, the drawn or painted style. Like a page from a storybook brought to life, right? Well there does seem to be something out of place in this lovely shot… Those bees! Notice the difference not only in colors/brightness, but the actual drawn style? While the background and the player battlers are different styles of drawing, they at least blend well due to their colors. Not to mention a scenery and a character can be slightly different without being too jarring to the eye. But those monsters? Why they look like cartoony critters that belong on a saturday morning adventure show, not the comic book style epic that the player battlers would lead you to believe you’re playing. Now let’s take a look at something a bit more consistent in its art style!
Here we have the player on the right and the enemies on the left in usual jRPG style. However, notice a difference between the art in the first example and this one? Well for starters, both the player and the enemies are drawn in a similar style. Sure the enemies are larger, as battlers often are, but they’re both drawn in a retro 16-bit style that has a matching style of color and shading. The two of them don’t look any more out of place than the other. The UI is also consistent with the art style above.
What’s the simplest way to make sure your graphics are consistent? Well to have them drawn custom for your project! Can’t draw? Don’t know any artists? Not a problem. If you want to borrow assets make sure that the two styles look compatible. (Only recommended for hobbyists, as ripping any graphics for a commercial endeavor will just get you into trouble). If you want to use the RTP, then I’d recommend picking up the RTP style art packs that are sold here at RPG Maker Web. If you’re strapped for cash, your best bet is to try your own hand at art. The beauty of RPG Maker is that you aren’t stuck with only Pixel Art. You can try hand drawn graphics, or make 3D images and use those instead! Just remember, keep them consistent. If you’re going to use 3D Battlers, make sure your characters are also 3D, as well as your environments. Want to mix and match? 3D Environments look good with 2D Sprites, or vice versa! (See: Ragnarok Online for the former, and Final Fantasy 7 for the latter.)
Art not your thing? Not sure where to start? Then look no farther than here on RPG Maker Web! There are plenty of tutorials available for the beginner artist to try their hand at their own custom assets. It will take time, and it won’t be easy, but it is possible. I myself didn’t know a thing about pixel art a year ago, and now I can put together some competent art assets. For example:
These two shots also show off a difference in consistency. Look at my combat in June, the numbers and health bars didn’t match the battlers at all, the backgrounds while pixelated, weren’t the same proportion as the battlers, and the menus are all transparent! Totally breaking the immersion of the game. The latter on the other hand, looks like something you would have played on the NES! (Or at least I hope it does). Notice how the characters and the battlers are both drawn in a simple, 8bit style. If I had taken some rips from Final Fantasy 7 and put them in there, imagine how awful THAT would look!
Tilesets being the main chunk of the RTP, aren’t as often mismatched as the battle system might be. No, the other chief culprit of mismatched assets is the message system! While those Kaduki facesets look nice, they’re a completely different style than the RTP facesets. Heck even the Samurai pack has drastically different face sets than the ones used in the basic RTP. Just keep in mind that if you’re going to use face sets, that you use the same style of face set throughout the game. Not only that, but make sure that what types of characters that get face sets is also consistent. If you give face sets to only key characters, like quest givers and the party, that’s great! But if you give a random villager or two a face set but nobody else, then it will just confuse the player! Yet that’s not all you need to keep in mind for consistency! Next, we’ll discuss the audio aspects of our game.
Man, Final Fantasy has a really great soundtrack doesn’t it? But how would it sound mashed up with the music from Deus Ex? Not that good right? Or how about a song from Final Fantasy 7 mixed with the combat music from the first Fire Emblem? Even worse, right? As it is with graphical assets, a piece of audio may be amazing on its own, but it has to blend well with the rest of the audio you’re using or it will just sound jarring to the player. If you want to use 8bit music, make sure that not only is the music 8bit, but your sound effects are as well! Want to use high def orchestral tracks? Make sure that the sound effects you use are high quality and modern as well. Yet the type of music you use is only one piece of the puzzle! You also need to keep audio levels in mind! What are audio levels? Well if you take a peek into the editor when you’re applying a piece of music or sound effect, you can also control the volume at which that piece of audio is played. Depending on how many different sources you’re pulling audio from, you may need to sample these by ear and mix and match volume levels. Does your world map sound fairly quiet and then you jump into a battle and you’re rushing for the volume control to turn it down before the blaring rock music destroys your ear drums? Well just slide down that volume slider in the editor so that your battle theme is around the same volume as your world map!
Like face sets, voice acting is also something you want to keep consistent. Do you use simple grunts for key characters, but a long speech for a random quest giver? Seems quite out of place doesn’t it? If you give full or even partial voice acting for every single character in your game, that’s great! But make sure that [i]every[/i] single character gets their own voice! Only want key actors to have voice acting? That’s also great! But make sure that you don’t give a random bartender some voice over and neglect the other villagers in town who are forced to be silent! Keep it consistent!
Another example is with environment sounds. Do you have one or two chests that make a sound when opened, but all other chests remain completely silent? Out of place once again! Or do you have a cool sound effect that plays when one character joins your party, but no fanfare is heard when the rest of your party members join? Out of place!
Keep in mind that we are making video games here! When a player is playing your game, you don’t want them to get snapped out of their immersion and get a frown on their face when they find out that you suddenly threw in a cameo from a character that is portrayed in a completely different art style than the rest of the characters in the game! As a homework assignment from me to you, take a look at the games you love and keep an eye out for how things match, how they blend together, how they look so consistent! Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Paul Walker works as a quality assurance tester who has worked to help perfect games in series such as God of War and Uncharted (And Hannah Montana The Movie Game, but I’m sure he would rather forget that). When not working on games, he works on games, and is currently working on the game Ruins of Rydos using RPG Maker.