An Engine By Any Other Name: Interview with RPG Maker Developer Dari

An Engine By Any Other Name Dari Interview

I Hate You, Please Suffer by scitydreamer. The splash screen of Dari’s latest game features that title, the credit, and a hand flipping the bird. When I first noticed Dari’s work, I was a little put off. I think there’s a fine line between game development punk rock and just being an edgelord (as they’re referred to in internet parlance). Like punk rock, indie development comes from a strong culture of doing it yourself. Be it marketing or distribution, there’s a lineage of developers doing it all. I feel like I got some of that when talking to Dari; as brash and in-your-face as their games are, a major factor in their personality is passion. Passion for game development, the games industry, and modern culture.

Though Dari’s titles are quite rough around the edges, with art assets that look straight out of notebook scrawlings and royalty-free music, the games themselves are a rarity in today’s landscape. Without the funding and time to focus on polish, Dari instead creates a compelling world full of interesting characters and strange parallels to the one we currently live in. This is most apparent in the beginning moments of their latest title, where the protagonist Ramona gets laid off from her company after a profitable year and immediately accosted by her landlord for rent. On the nose, sure, but few games made by big developers doing layoffs are going to be making the same social commentary. Enjoy this interview between me and Dari about their games, RPGMaker in general, and modern media covering video games.

RPGFan: How would you introduce yourself and the types of games you make?

Dari: To be honest, I’m not sure how to present myself. Marketing is definitely not a strong suit of mine. I won’t describe myself: I want people to look at me and assign my vibes.

RPGFan: What are some of your favorite parts of using RPG Maker to create games?

Dari: My favorite part of using RPG Maker is making events. The eventing system really has everything you need for stuff outside of battles, though I may be biased because I really get into writing things out.

A screenshot from the game I Hate You, Please Suffer. The characters are standing in the line and Ramona is wondering, "Am I one of those boring anime protagonists that just live overly normal sad-sack lives before they get isekai'd?"
Huh, I wonder…

RPGFan: What would you say is the biggest misconception about RPG Maker and the games developed using it?

Dari: I’d say that the biggest misconception of the engine is that it’s just used for shovelware. Everything can make trash! We have trash in RPG Maker and we have trash in the triple A space… I do think the recent big hits of Omori and Fear and Hunger Termina help fight that image, though.

RPGFan: What are some of your favorite RPG Maker games or experiences?

Dari: The thing about experiencing RPG Maker games is that a lot of the truly interesting ones won’t be on Steam. Not to say that there isn’t any up there, but people are missing out if they limit themselves to Steam releases. You have to remember that a lot of early RPG Maker was freeware stuff, and a lot of the iconic works in RPG Maker came out of freeware downloads from hobbyist sites. So instead of recommending big stuff, I’ll recommend a batch of short games made for a game jam Gotcha Gotcha Games ran back in 2022 that I participated in (IGMC 2022) because there was some interesting stuff in there. MissingSeven’s Ouroboros: A Dungeon Crawling Adventure won the whole thing, and honestly, it’s deserved. It’s perfectly functional as a short RPG with a cool gimmick. Other games I still think about from that jam are Melon Kid’s To Be Continued, Honk Honk Studio’s Dad On Arrival, Alice Gristle’s Bloom Underworld, and Ronove’s Life Eternal. Honk Honk and Alice Gristle were newcomers out of that bunch, while the others have interesting RPG Maker history, and I recommend looking into their stuff while you’re at it.

RPGFan: If money and time weren’t an issue, would you continue to use the RPG Maker engine?

Dari: Yeah, I’d probably still use RPG Maker because I’m comfortable with it. The difference would be that I’d be able to commission people to work on things I can’t. I already use royalty-free music from Loyalty Freak Music for my stuff, and I did commission a song from them before, but it’d be really cool to commission an original soundtrack from the ground up.

RPGFan: Slimes (Dari’s first title on Steam) has some pretty strong themes of religion and self-reflection, and is overall just a fairly dark game. What inspired you to make Slimes?

Dari: Slimes was kinda my meditation on how I felt about the world, specifically how I felt about religious extremists and how they treat minorities that fall outside of their graces. One thing that I personally experienced was being told that a recent mass shooting at the time was the perfect opportunity to convert people to Christianity. I promise you that I’d have probably been more feral with the game if I made it today instead of during the lead-up to the 2020 election. Because, man.

A screenshot from the game Slimes. The characters are facing a slime in a dungeon and Julius says, "How dare you make noises at me!? Healer, let's put these miserable bastards in their place!"
Julius refuses to remember “Healer’s” real name.

RPGFan: Can you tell me a little bit about your new game, I Hate You, Please Suffer, and its place in the greater context of your work?

Dari: I Hate You, Please Suffer is another exercise in emotions because I’d rather make games than go to therapy. More specifically, I wanted to be mean to players for petty reasons. I don’t remember the specific cause for this, but I’m generally annoyed by how gaming culture shuns any source of friction in their games. I originally wanted to make an RPG that’s in line with Takeshi’s Challenge, but it kinda ended up spiraling into its own bigger thing. One thing that annoys me about the gaming audience specifically is that they inherently treat games as power fantasies. So with IHYPS, while there are happy endings in reach, they’re kinda small-scale. You’re never going to take down the head of the local mob, the local dungeon still has to exist for economic reasons, etc. The main characters will be happy, but they’re ultimately still small parts of the world. The alternate route’s more of a power fantasy, but I also made sure that it’s miserable and you don’t reach a satisfying conclusion.

RPGFan: I Hate You, Please Suffer boasts over 10 hours of gameplay with the complete version offering an alternate route. How long did it take to develop?

Dari: I started working on IHYPS a few months after I put Slimes on Steam, so it took at least three years. To be honest, I think 10+ hours was an underestimate because I’ve seen players get 20+ hours out of it without even touching the alt route. Though, the development time’s largely because I only have three free days a week to dedicate to working on stuff, and I still had wants and needs outside of working. But maybe if I was in a situation where I could work on things full-time…

RPGFan: You also run your own indie-focused gaming site called Indie Hell Zone. Tell us a little bit about running your own site and updating it consistently for years.

Dari: Indie Hell Zone mainly started as an exercise for myself to write consistently, and hey, maybe I could put it on a resume if I ever write for an outlet. It’s hardly professional, but it’s a thing. To be honest, I’m not happy with a lot of early stuff on the site because it felt like looking for something for the sake of writing something instead of digging into something with passion. If you ever look at my stuff, just look at my posts on RPGs I’ve played. That’s where I shine the most. I guess a problem people would have with the site is that I rarely look at current things, but my site, my rules.

Screenshot of the game I Hate You, Please Suffer. The screenshot is of the battle screen, showing the party to be the characters Ramona, Devon, Kyrie, and Jasper. The party is fighting a level 12 Scorpion Tulpa and they have the option to Attack, Amateur, Disciple, or Guard.
Well, at least one of the scorpions is cute.

RPGFan: Indie Hell Zone has posts going back to 2017. How do you feel reporting on indie games, at large, has changed since you’ve been writing?

Dari: Well, look at the state of general media right now. Even if you ignore the AI crap that’s popped up in the last year, media’s been in a dire state because of parent companies fucking them over. I really think that for media to be successful and uncompromised in its vision, there has to be independent outlets and support for them. Also, I guess there’s a greater focus on podcasting because people prefer listening to news with funny bits tied to it, but I don’t like to talk and I don’t think I’m interesting enough for people to form parasocial bonds with me, so Indie Hell Zone will not go that route.

RPGFan: Do you have any parting messages for our readers or anything you’d like to say about future projects you’re working on?

Dari: I’ve been planning work on another game, but I want to take a few months off for myself before I throw myself into something new. Anyway, free Palestine.

Thank you so much, Dari, for sharing your insights about RPGMaker, your games, and your thoughts on the industry at large, and for teaching me about Takeshi’s Challenge.

Dari also goes by scitydreamer on both and Steam. I encourage you to check out their games either by visiting their page or looking for Slimes and I Hate You, Please Suffer on Steam. Likewise, you can find them on Twitter, their website, and I’m happy to shout out the game jam Dari referenced in the interview – Indie Game Making Contest: Rebirth.

I really hope you enjoyed this interview. And though I’m confident your gaming time is precious and dwindling as life goes on, these games were made with passion and care and deserve a larger audience. Don’t let others’ prejudice of the engine fool you.

Nick Mangiaracina

Nick Mangiaracina

Nick slept through most of high school because he needed to maintain heavy raiding hours in EverQuest. Since then he's been spending most of his time playing and writing about video games, specifically RPGs. He loves learning about RPGs he's never heard of and spends a fair amount of time lurking in indie spaces for emerging small-team indie RPGs. He also has a tri-color corgi named Felix.