RPG Maker as an E-Literature Platform

Event type: 
Pavillon J.-A. DeSève UQAM
320, rue Sainte-Catherine Est
J5C Montréal , QC
Quebec CA
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Short description: 

In the late 1990s, a unique piece of software was released for the Sony PlayStation by ASCII. Simply called RPG Maker, it was the English-language localization of the third entry in Japan’s RPG Tsukuru series. RPG Maker wasn’t a game so much as a platform for the creation of other games, specifically those in the vein of early 1990’s Japanese-style role-playing games. Due to the platform’s technical issues, mainly the lack of direct internet access and the storage limits of Sony’s proprietary memory cards, RPG Maker presented the amateur game developer with many hurdles to overcome in the creation of anything interesting and unique. 

Not long after its release, small communities of RPG Maker users sprung up around online forums such as GameFAQs or RPG Maker Pavilion. These communities gave budding developers an opportunity to share their work with each other. Using a third-party peripheral for the PlayStation called a “DexDrive,” creators could image their memory cards and share these files online, files that users (usually fellow creators) could download and flash onto memory cards of their own to play. 

Due to the limitations set by the PlayStation’s memory card format, games made with RPG Maker had to use the common elements: 68 character sprites each with four color palettes, 99 enemy battle sprites, 127 map objects, et cetera, were stored on the CD-ROM. Although custom graphics could be made using an included editor, only nine new character sprites could be imported per game. Likewise, interactivity was nearly identical among RPG Maker games. Because the battle system could not be customized, most games created on the platform played similarly to one another. The main thing that distinguished each creation was narrative: While RPG Maker games tended to look and play the same, each told a unique story, and some of them did this in surprising ways. 

This paper is intended to represent the preliminary steps towards a study of RPG Maker as a historical platform for amateur electronic literature. The platform’s technical affordances and limitations will be discussed, focusing on Sony’s memory card format and its odd method of data storage. The DexDrive, an unlicensed peripheral that allowed users to create and share images of these memory cards, will also be examined, as will a few of the communities that this technology helped foster. Several examples of works created with RPG Maker will be examined in detail: "SILENT VOICES" by David Vincent, an example of a work made entirely with default game elements; "Man Getting Hit in the Groin By a Football RPG featuring Ernest Borgnine" by MisledJeff, a short comedy piece that doesn’t feature any direct interactivity (but, as the name suggests, does feature Ernest Borgnine taking a football to the groin); and the presenter’s own RPG Maker e-lit piece, "The Days at Florbelle", a recreation of a lost work by the Marquis de Sade.

Record posted by: 
Ulrik Lahn-Johannessen
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