By the time 2017 rolled around, I had owned RPG Maker VX Ace for about 4 years. While I had played around with it here and there and wanted to make something with the system, I hadn’t done much.
Then one day, as I was browsing itch.io’s Game Jams page, I stumbled upon the “RPG Biz’s 2D One Map Challenge,” an event that challenged a person to make 2D game with, well, only one map. Most importantly, there were prizes involved. Though RPG Maker wasn’t explicitly mentioned, it seemed to be the engine we were supposed to use, so I opened VX Ace and got creating.
That was what encouraged me to create All’s Well In This Small World, a short RPG Maker game about grief. Today, I want to do a retrospective/post-mortem on that game’s development and go through the experience. Let’s dive in together, shall we? But first I have to answer the question: why RPG Maker? Of all the tools to use to tell this story, why this one?
Well, there’s the easy answer, of course: I wanted to win a contest and I used the engine I thought I needed to use. But there are a few other answers, too. For one, I wanted something that was more visual than a Twine game—as much as I love Twine, it doesn’t have much going for it in the graphics department. I also wanted to experiment with making something within the limitations of the RPG Maker engine—all the graphics are from inside VX Ace, and not brought in from elsewhere. I think the game turned out looking pretty good, and I definitely enjoyed designing the map – I remember that being very fun.
And why this story, you might be asking? Well… the reason is actually pretty personal. My former piano teacher had died the year before, and I was still in a state of grief. I had regrets—though the very last time I saw her was good, I had not been nice to her before that. I was a high schooler with untreated depression at the time and was struggling quite a bit, and I let my anger out on others in an unhealthy way—including her. I never really apologized for that, because she died before I got the chance to say I was sorry.
I wanted to make a short film to capture my grief, a little project called who is mike (yes, the letters are lowercase; deal with it). I still have yet to release it, but I do want to get it out there someday, even though I’ve delayed making it for so long. But, I decided to make a short game that discussed grief in some fashion, a brief project to “let it out”, as it were. Thus, All’s Well In This Small World.
The game opens up with you standing at a cemetery, outside a village. The exits are both barred by skeletons, so the player has nowhere to go but up. I wanted to make sure the player knew where to head to, and also foreshadow the themes a bit (mainly, the theme of death).
I remember that designing the cemetery was quite a fun experience; I wanted it to look intentionally decorated, with flowers and graves scattered about at random places, not organized in any particular way.
If you read the signs outside the town, you can learn more about its history, and that it is the home of a prophesized hero, the slayer of the Frost Dragon. You also learn that people have tried and failed to slay it before.
Speaking of heroes, the game’s protagonist, Gertrude (called “Parka Girl” in the game’s files), was one of the first RPG Maker characters I designed when I first started messing with VX Ace. I held onto the sprite in case I decided to use it, and eventually, I did! Things work out nicely like that sometimes, don’t they?
The village is blocked by a knight, who gives some more exposition before disappearing and letting you go inside. Once you go in the village, you can speak with the other people there. The game and its characters were designed a bit “backwards”. What happened was I would make a building, and once that was finalized, I would put the character and dialogue in, basing their dialogue on the things around them (for example, the knight talks about making soup for the others, as there’s a kettle and put-out fire next to him). Basically, the map was created before the characters were, and I think it made for an interconnected experience, where the environment and people are strongly connected.
When you talk to most of the people, there is a choice. All these choices can be narrowed down to “be nice” or “be mean”. I wanted the player to choose what kind of hero they wanted to be to these poor villagers—you can be sympathetic to their causes, or refuse to help them. Either way, they disappear after you finish speaking to them, leaving the village more and more empty.
This was my first time writing Events in RPG Maker, and overall, I’m pretty satisfied with how it went. It was interesting doing narrative design in a system outside of Twine, and I enjoyed doing it. I think out of all the characters, my favorite is “Ore Man”, the guy who went mining and asks for Gertrude’s help carrying his spoils. I don’t know why; I just like him a lot for some reason.
At the center of town, you can get more information on the Frost Dragon and the prophecy of a hero. There is a statue with 3 plaques; the center one can be read on its own, but the ones on the left and right must be read together, and they say the following: “The devious Frost Dragon, whose reign will soon end by the dragon slayer’s hand.” This was just a little bit of worldbuilding/exposition I decided to include. I don’t know if anyone ever saw it, because looking back on things, I didn’t make it clear whether you could walk to the center statues, but ah well. . .
When you go up to the house at the back center of town – “your reward,” as the knight at the beginning calls it – the game will end. I wanted to make sure the player knows this, so I put this prompt:
Once you say, “Yes, I have,” the game says, “Alright. Then welcome home.” After a fadeout, the game returns to the title screen—the experience has ended. My personal view on these events is that this is what Gertrude is seeing just before she dies at the hand of the Frost Dragon, that she is imagining being back in her hometown. Hence all the people telling her to rest and telling her of a “journey”—they are telling her to let go and depart this mortal coil.
Here’s what the entire map looks like in VX Ace, by the way:
When this first released, I was told that All’s Well In This Small World wasn’t “much of a game” (which isn’t completely untrue; heck, I even called it an “anti-RPG”). However, it does fill the basic requirements of being an interactive experience. There are things to act upon, people to talk to, and an end state. That said, I suppose I could have made it even more clear that this is more of an “experience” than a “game” in the traditional sense—there aren’t enemies to beat here, nothing like that. Just a quiet, dying town, and a little story about a hero who returns to her home.
So would I call All’s Well In This Small World a good game? I don’t know about that—it isn’t an experience designed to grip players, as it’s a slow and steady game about grief, not a thrilling battle RPG. But it was a great first game to explore, and I think it was successful as my starting venture into RPG Maker VX Ace. I had a lot of fun making it, and I’m very glad I did.
It’s fitting that now I’m looking back on this game—I didn’t touch VX Ace for four years, and now, it’s been four years since I made All’s Well In This Small World. Not that I haven’t used VX Ace at all—I participated as a programmer in Vagabond Dog’s SAM I Am Jam, making a game called A Frame At A Time back in June 2020 with Glitchgirl and Oh_Dear_Hunter. But aside from that, I haven’t really made a return to VX Ace. I really should though. It’s an engine I greatly enjoyed experimenting in, and just looking back on All’s Well In This Small World has made me want to pick it up again.