Pixelate:Issue 13/Thinking Indie

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Thinking Indie
Original author: Jonas Kyratzes

Thinking Indie

Hi there, Pixelate readers. As you may have noticed, Thinking Indie was missing from the previous issue. With the change in management and so on, I, um... didn't quite realize that there would be another Pixelate. But, as it turns out, Pixelate lives and thrives, and I'm glad that it does. So here is this month's rant for you.

Writing in today's indie games! I've written about this before, in this very column. It's time to get back to the issue. Playing through the entries in RPGDX.net's Chione Challenge, I kept thinking "why didn't these people put some effort into the writing?" Nearly all of the games have terrible writing, and they suffer from that. There is a single exception - Mark Hall's "Blorp Zingwag: Elf Detective", which deservedly won the challenge, and the Blues Brothers RPG, which tried to be funny and mostly failed due to nasty spelling errors.

"Blorp Zingwag: Elf Detective" deserved the award, because it was funny and witty and slightly insane. All of this was accomplished through the writing. In technical terms, it wasn't that much better than the other games - but as long as a game functions without crashing, it doesn't really matter if its code is better. What matters is content.

I don't know why so many developers of indie RPGs ignore writing and story. These are the meat of your game! To create yet another RPG engine that feels exactly like all the others, add some combat and throw in a couple of inane lines about defeating "the Big Evil Thing that lives in the tower to the north" is not to create an enjoyable game. If you're going to create a game that replicates gameplay which we've seen a thousand times, at least create an original story. Or get someone else to do it for you. But a game that plays like all others and doesn't have a good story is just not fun. Randomly running around killing monsters in a clichéd battle system is boring. RPGs are not about battle systems or about imitating previous engines. When the player fires up your game, is all you want him to think that it looks like Final Fantasy? Because if that is all that you want, five minutes later the player will be quitting, realizing that all it does is look like Final Fantasy. Come on, people, it's not that hard to come up with a good story, or to find someone who can.

Oh, and let's talk about writing. A good story consists of more than just a good idea. Presentation also counts. If you're making a high fantasy game, your characters should not sprout abominations like "Hi, King." Instead, they should be saying something more like "Hail, my liege!"

Oh, and while you're at it, get your grammar straight. Learning the difference between "to" and "too" might be a good start. If you're going to make a game in English, make it in an English which will not cause the player's eyes to bleed and his brain's language center to melt.

I hear some people complaining about how English is not their native tongue, so they shouldn't be blamed. Well, I'm sorry, but that's like saying "I can't really write C++, so it doesn't matter that my game formats your hard drive when you click on the start button." Writing is no less important to game development than programming. Get someone to correct your mistakes and to help you with your writing. Beta-testers can find more than just bugs in the code.

RPGs are about creating new worlds and letting people explore them. And they are also about telling stories. To do any of this, an RPG must suck the player into its world. This is not achieved by battle systems, or engines, or similarities to SNES games. Because no matter how perfectly similar your game is to your console RPG of choice, bad writing will still kill any atmosphere you may have created.

Don't be afraid to let someone correct your mistakes, and don't ever make the mistake of underestimating the importance of good writing. Remember that a good story and good writing can raise even the most mediocre game to great heights.

That's it for today. Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time.

Jonas Kyratzes is a writer, game developer, and filmmaker. He currently lives in Germany, where he is slowly but surely losing his mind. He has now published more than thirty articles, but he still doesn't believe anyone actually reads them. Check out his site at www.jonas-kyratzes.net, or do something useful with your time.

Issue 13: The Diet Issue
Thinking Indie
Matrix Math Part Two: Projection Matrices