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Article - 'Keeping the Secrets a Secret' by Xanqui

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004

Blurb

Xanqui's first RPG article, which gives some tips on how to maintain the element of surprise without spoiling it before you even release it!

Body


So you’re creating an RPG (Yes, an article by Xanqui about RPGs!…or is it?), and you want certain events in it to be the biggest thing to hit GW? These events are so great, that they’re comparable (to an extent) to Aeris’s death or the secrets in The Matrix Revolutions. This is going to be big, and NO ONE will be expecting it.

However, you forgot that back when you first mentioned your game, you gave away every single great moment of your game in order to increase the hype. Sound familiar? Probably not, because odds are you’re not even near completing even the battle system, let alone the game itself. But I am here to SAVE you from the fate of the poor bastards who gave away all the secrets in screenshots and text months ago.

First of all, the biggest question you need to ask yourself is “Am I going to complete this game?” Odds are you’ll say yes. However, is that a true statement? “Yes,” you think to yourself. “I’m going to create the biggest shocker in GW history, and there’s nothing stopping me.” Okay, seriously, ARE you going to complete your game? Well, for the hardcore game makers out there, this is some serious stuff, so pay attention!

Screenshots are great. Really, they are. They can bring out the best aspects of your game. With a screenshot, you can show the lighting, the maps, the awesome characters, and even your cool new way of showing dialogue. They also provide a sneak peak of your totally awesome battle system. However, it’s vitally important that you avoid certain things while taking screenshots.

Avoid all major buildings and secret villains. If you want the audience to simply stare in awe at the giganormous (word I invented to describe boobs) building you spent months perfecting, LEAVE IT OUT OF THE SCREENSHOT. Otherwise, the player is going to look at it and think, “meh, I saw that six months ago.”

But on the contrary, leave out all the stuff that everyone has already seen before in other games. If you have a town with houses that look exactly how the chipset makers planned, then what’s the point? Unless you yourself made the chipset, don’t show off crap like that. Instead, show a brief glimpse of a great event that will take place in that town. I’ve seen many screenshots of these towns with a dialogue thing on it that just says “You’re from the republic?” or the like. Trust me…it’s not cool, and no one cares.

Of course, I’m guilty of this old cliché. In fact, I’ll provide some screenshots of the game that I –NEVER- intend to finish (so don’t friggin’ ask me) that prove my point.


Keep in mind that I made this game a long time ago, before I knew much about switches and such. This was my first battle system and it was very basic. However, if this were the year 2001, this would look AMAZING to people. In other words, this would be a good screenshot to show. It doesn’t reveal any secrets, but it shows how cool the game is going to look.


This screenshot, however, is useless. Not only is the cow on top of the hay, but there is no significance in dialogue or scenery. Nothing about this screenshot will make anyone care about the game.


While this screenshot lacks in dialogue, it shows some of the neat effects I used in my game. It also introduces a key character, Heather. This screenshot not only intrigues people into wanting to play it, but it also provides information: that Heather is Xanqui’s girlfriend.


This screenshot shows some pretty scenery and cool-looking RTP v.1.32 character sets. If those character sets were original, this would be a good screenshot to show.


Yep…he’s crouching down in front of Xanqui in a forest that is extremely clean and parallel. No.


While not very appealing map-wise, this shows the awesome Xian army in the game, which takes care of anyone. It also shows a few of the main characters. This is more informational than intriguing.

None of those screenshots really revealed any big secrets of the game. But if I were to show a character kneeling over his loved one’s body, lying dead on the ground…well, that’d just be stupid. Even if the death takes place in the beginning of the game, it still loses its shock factor if shown in the screenshots. Don’t let anyone know that the hero’s girlfriend dies, which is the inspiration for the hero to go out on his adventure.


But…screenshots aren’t the only way of revealing all of the secrets. Text is just as dangerous. The best thing to do is start out with a description of the setting: “In the post-apocalyptic world, where the year is forgotten and war is all that the people know…” Then move onto where the character stands. “…a young farmer by the name of Xanqui is torn between two worlds (notice I didn’t say how or why) and must journey to get back what is rightfully his. With the aid of several friends, Xanqui travels across many worlds, fighting evil and defending his people from the empire. Throughout his journey, he will discover secrets and treasures that will forever alter the course of the future.”

That’s pretty bland, but it felt epic. From there, I would go onto character profiles. Basically, work around all of the key events with words like “journey” or “what is rightfully his”. Keep it short and simple, but don’t stray too far away from the actual storyline. Also, keep in mind that no one wants to read 90 pages of text about your game. (There have been a few in the Game and Demo forums…)

So basically, screw with the audience’s mind. Show them what they want to see, but not enough of it. The trailer for the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King shows some amazing scenery, and some cool looking action shots, but only enough to make you wonder “what happens next?!?” If trailers showed all of the best moments of a movie (which some have), then what’s the point of seeing the movie? To see scenes that aren’t as good as what you’ve already seen?

Anyway, don’t ask me to complete that damn game. It’s crappy by today’s standards for rm2k anyway.