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» Intro to RPG Design Part 1
Introduction to RPG Design
Written by KingSpoom

Every piece of literature has a tone or mood. Most professional games convey a theme, even non-rpgs. It is not necessary to have one, but it certainly can help. A theme will help to keep your storyline running smooth, but only if you use it. A theme can keep the player immersed in your world. Now... how do we come up with a theme? What exactly is a theme?

A theme is simply the message your game has. Common themes are:

One person can make a difference (Chrono Trigger)
Some things are worth dying for (Lufia 2)
Friends are there to help (FF6).

There are many more out there and millions are possible. Coming up with a theme shouldn't be too hard. In order to find the theme of your game (in case you don't have one), you should look at generalizations of your plot. If your game is a traditional or similar RPG, then take these steps. First look at your main character(s). Then ask yourself why, in a general way, he fails or succeeds. This doesn't work all the time, if it doesn't you usually have to look throughout the whole story, but many hints are given. To give you an example, I will take a look at Final Fantasy 6. Terra is thrown into a world she remembers nothing about. Throughout the story she is guided to be good, by her newly found companions. After the world splits apart, many people lose hope. Just knowing that there were others willing to fight Kefka wasn't enough, however, and she needed to be convinced that saving the world would still help the children she wanted to protect. In the end, Kefka is defeated because of the teamwork involved against him... and the spell Ultima. The theme is mentioned above, and it is shown throughout the game. Your friends are constantly helping you through situations, giving you the support you need to finish your journey.

I mentioned that a theme isn't necessary earlier. A good and original idea is important (unless you are doing a parody/comedy type deal). Creative ideas seem to pop in certain people's heads, but what about the rest of the populace? Everyone else has to either steal their idea, or make their own. Hopefully you choose the latter. Here are various tips I have heard over the years:

Listen to music
Watch a movie
Read a book
Play a game
Take a nap
Ask someone else

Personally, I have only tried listening to music to help with a game... it was orchestral music. All of my other game ideas have come out of the blue or by thinking just about games. It does help to have a guide in your quest, and I intend to provide one over this small series of articles. When creating a story, there are a couple of things to remember. First, you should strive for originality to ensure your game brings a fresh feeling to the player. Next, you should decide on a setting. Then, you should plan your linearity. After that, you should decide your conflicting force. Then, you should develop your plot to make it dynamic and unpredictable and your characters to make them interesting and believable. Finally, you should let it sit. Wait you say? Let it sit? Yes, after fully documenting your game project, let it sit in a drawer away from your mind. Come back to it in 2-4 weeks, after you have forgotten about it. If the game still sounds like a good idea, then you have a winner. It can be skipped (although I wouldn't recommend it).

Original ideas...

Some would say they are few and far between, but what is the definition of an original idea? To be original, you must precede all others in time, which means to be first. There is a fine line between originality and deriving your work from another, and there are even different scales upon which people judge originality. What you must realize is that the kind of originality that you should have doesn't have to be as far from your predecessors as possible. Remember that just making your game original will not force its success. Things to avoid taking, in order of importance not to take are: Main stories, character stories, specific graphics, names (characters, towns, or other), concepts, events, and features. If you want to help rid yourself of other game's ideas, you should stop playing games for a week (only involved games, you can play Tetris, pong, etc...). For those of you hard-pressed or unable to come up with a plot, I will list several generic plot types in a future installment, as well as some examples that may be used by anyone.
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