Independently developed games are a growing market, and commercial titles made using software such as RPG Maker and Ren'Py have grown tremendously in the past half-decade. French developer Aldorlea Games (http://www.aldorlea.com) is one of the most prolific developers of commercial RPG Maker titles on the market today, and Millennium: A New Hope even grabbed our award for Best Indie RPG of 2009. We had a chance to interview Indinera Falls, the brains behind Aldorlea Games, and talk to him about his approach to game design, his future projects, and even how he handles the criticism people have about RPG Maker and Ren'Py titles among other things.
RPGFan: Thank you for taking the time out to answer our questions. Firstly, what first made you interested in video game development?
Indinera Falls: I have always been passionate about creating worlds and game making in general. Before attempting to make actual games, I wrote several long (and playable) sagas on sheets of paper; genuine RPGs with stats, places, characters, and events. Laxius Force was developed from one of these paper plans into a video game.
In April 2001, a magazine helped me discover the RPG Maker software. I totally fell in love with this fantastic software that would let me create my own RPGs and have gone on to produce 12 games so far (with lots more to come!)
RPGFan: What is your approach to game design? How do you go about finding the right composers, graphic artists, etc. to partake in your projects?
IF: I never rule out anything or anyone, and I always favor a friendly, down-to-earth approach. I draw together the staff for a game mostly based on personal preferences and based on the artist's past work.
As for game design, first comes the idea, next comes the storyline, then the gameplay elements, then I start mapping the areas, and finally I fill the places with stuff. Well, I should say that the real last step is the beta-testing, debugging and polishing – those last three are probably the most nightmarish part of game making.
A lot of the planning is done with plenty of sheets of paper where I note what I need to do, reminders of what I should do later, etc. I never saved these planning sheets, but if I had, they could probably fill up a whole room by now.
RPGFan: What are some of your favorite RPGs and what influence have they had on your game designs?
IF: I like mostly ancient stuff, pre-1995. I progressively stopped playing newer video games since their gameplay and atmospheres started to not interest me any more. I like Japanese and Western RPGs pretty much equally, something allegedly uncommon, and that probably reflects in my own games.
My favorite JRPGs would be Phantasy Star (Phantasy Star 4 particularly), Shining Force (the first one) and Dragon Force (the first one, although I did play Dragon Force 2 in Japanese). My favorite PC RPGs are Daggerfall and Might and Magic 6-8, with a preference for part 6.
All of them contribute greatly to my inspiration when it comes to game design. I liked the uniqueness of Phantasy Star's plots and characters, and how the adventures were colorful yet with a lot of depth and tragedy. I also liked how vast the world was in Daggerfall and Might and Magic 6, with many things to do and discover, and a sense of freedom few JRPGs have.
RPGFan: What makes RPG Maker a favorable engine for you? What are some of its limitations you have to contend with?
IF: It's favorable because I know it very well and it also offers everything I need to make the exact type of RPGs I like (a' la the Phantasy Star games on the Genesis/MegaDrive). This, along with the Shining Force style, has always been my favorite style of RPG and RPG Maker is designed exactly for this.
The limitations, as far as I am concerned, are with the default resources and not the program itself. Although I try very hard to come up with new stuff both for music and graphics, it is not always easy, since the default stuff is not wide enough to make several series (unless you want them to share the same visuals and sound).
RPGFan: There are a lot of gamers out there who say "all commercial RPG Maker games look, feel, and sound the same" or "anyone can create an RPG Maker title and sell it, but it takes real skill to make a game from scratch instead of using a box of cake mix." How do you respond to those criticisms?
IF: The first claim, while true to a certain extent, just makes me want to reply that when I was playing games as a teenager on the 16-bits systems, Final Fantasy 6 felt a lot like Breath of Fire 2 which felt a lot like Phantasy Star 4, etc. All those different series from different companies had the same kind of save-the-world stories, the same kinds of heroes, and the same kind of gameplay based on killing monsters, earning levels, beating bosses, etc., yet people, including me, loved them. So any gameplay resemblance is only a problem if you're not a fan. I believe people who voice this complaint just don't like this style of game.
As for similar resemblances in looks and sound on RPG Maker, it's only true if you only use the default resources constantly. There are many artists, musicians, and other freelance artworkers out there offering their services. It only takes a bit of involvement to hire one or more of them to give a new color to your game.
As for the second claim, those who say it should just show their RPG Maker games since anyone can do it, right? I am a creator and a storyteller, and making my games this way allows me to share what I have.
RPGFan: Have you ever thought of developing your own proprietary engine for games?
IF: Not until now. I only went commercial in 2008, and I want to produce a "few" more games before I think of it. When my ideas for storylines and everything run dry, I'll think of other alternatives.
RPGFan: Although you have a cottage industry releasing RPG Maker games for PC, with the advent of downloadable content for consoles and more robust gaming apps for mobile phones, do you have ambitions to create games for platforms such as Xbox Live, Wiiware, or the iPhone?
IF: It won't happen in 2010, that is for sure. But, if I can compose a team and find an adequate budget, why not? It would certainly be interesting to create a brand new game for those platforms, or even adapt an existing one.
RPGFan: Let's talk about some of your upcoming projects for 2010. I know there's Laxius Force III and more episodes of Millennium (which we're looking forward to) but you also have a few other ones in the works, like Dreamscape, Ella's Hope, and Legend. Tell us a little bit about your 2010 projects and what players can hope to expect from them.
IF: Dreamscape and Ella's Hope are Aldorlea's closest upcoming projects.
Dreamscape will be a standalone game with gameplay slightly different from my other games and new kind of challenges. In this game you will be allowed to visit the biggest dream of anyone you encounter. I don't want to say too much so close to its release, but there will be lots of worlds and perspectives to go through!
Ella's Hope is being mainly developed by Eridani, an Aldorlea admin who has been very involved in many of Aldorlea's releases. It will feature a great cast of characters and enchanting story for players of all skills. Further games based on the characters of Ella's Hope are also in development stage.
Millennium 3 will go follow a crescendo from part 2 as time is running out and Marine is missing a lot of people to complete her magic 13. Also, some of Mystrock is going to venture out and try to make an impression on her... maybe we are heading for a clash?
Laxius Force III will be the grandiose finalé of this trilogy. As Random and Luciana get nearer and nearer to locating the Grand Commendanter, he's getting slightly nervous and will send out new enemies to slay Random once and for all. This is a BIG finale to this epic trilogy.
Finally, Legend has been pushed to the end of 2010 so that I can gather an adequate team for it. It's a sci-fi/fantasy/comedic game quite reminiscent of Phantasy Star, so fans of the Genesis/MegaDrive games should definitely check it out. I can't say too much about the plot so far from its due date, but it will be a standalone game full of humor, yet with an epic breadth. And it will be big! I love good ol' big RPGs with many characters and monsters!
RPGFan: Where do you see the future of indie gaming headed?
IF: It's hard to tell. Big portals tend to favor shorter games at lower prices, which is not a good thing for an RPG developer and true RPGs. There might eventually be a bigger separation between niche stuff (to which those real RPGs seem bound to belong) and casual indie gaming. But in both cases it should be more and more, both in quality and quantity.
RPGFan: Is there any advice you would like to give to aspiring indie game developers out there?
IF: First, have a great imagination. From there, passion, motivation, obstinacy, and dedication are the qualities a developer should have to see a project to the end.
RPGFan: Any final thoughts you wish to share?
IF: 2009 has been awesome for indie RPGs, let's make 2010 even better! Meet us for that at http://www.aldorlea.org!
RPGFan would like to once again thank Indinera Falls from Aldorlea Games for speaking with us. We hope that Aldorlea and other independent developers find success in their RPG endeavors.