While creating wiki templates for my upcoming RPG, I used sample information from my character Celty. I could stop there and ask a question I’ve thought about idly: I spotlight my characters like Final Fantasy VI or Tales of Vesperia spotlighted theirs, where each of them has shining moments and a fan could make a dozen compelling cases for who the “true” hero is, so why is Celty my “default” character—my template? Is she my favorite? No. Is she my strongest hero? No, although she’s up there. Is it because she’s playable for a longer time than any other character? We’re getting warmer, but then why is she the first playable character—the Terra or Yuri Lowell to others’ Celes and Estelle Sidos Heurassein and Rita Mordio?
I found that my answer lies in the heart of battle my history. (Sorry, Ryu!) Most of Celty’s modern profile was created within the past three years, but when I decided to add a Trivia section about her past, I set myself on the path to uncovering ancient secrets. At first I meant it only for simple asides: her gameplay abilities were designed with speedrunners and single character challenges in mind, she was originally imagined as a warrior mage and not a martial artist, and her name predates Celty Sturluson from Durarara!!.
On that last point I paused. Celty was one of my longest-surviving characters, going back at least to 2000 or 2001 when I first had the crazy notion that I could make an RPG one day—but could I find out how long she’d been with me? I dug into old documents. The truth I found shouldn’t shock you (hint: it’s up in the blog post title), but it shocked me: I’d created Celty as early as December 1997. I had made her a legendary NPC in the computer RPG creation tool Blades of Exile. She was not only “one of” my longest-surviving characters, but the third longest-surviving.
Celty is my “Bulbasaur”: a character who wasn’t my first creation but will always be #1 in the Pokédex.
If that was the end of the story, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. The real end of the story is that I found epiphany and revelation and truth. I dug into my past to answer a single question and walked away with an answer to a second and infinitely more important one.
Why must I make an RPG?
Making an RPG–is that not the craziest thing? Isn’t it madness? How many indie developers have failed to make an RPG because of the genre’s complexity? At the age of 15 or 16 in 2000, did I already have the game developer version of what Michael Gerber would call the entrepreneurial seizure? And if so, why haven’t I “learned better” yet here in 2013?
Why is it that whenever I’ve tried to stifle my game developer fantasy, it fought me with a stronger will than my own?
People develop games for many reasons, ranging from lofty and noble to simple and pragmatic, and as I’ve read and heard and seen those reasons, I’ve wondered about mine.
- Am I making a game to innovate? No. I hardly believe in innovation.
- So if not to innovate, then to revive old-school tradition? No. I am designing in that vein, but old-school was revived years ago. (And still a decade too late for my liking!)
- To leave a lasting mark on the world? No, although I’d be happy if it did.
- To honor God? I’m a person of love and forgiveness, and if creative content reflects a content creator then the game will likely reflect my values—and that, I hope and believe, would honor God. I’m a follower of Christ; not only that, but one who wasn’t raised that way. Even so, the honest answer remains no. Not as my primary motivation.
- To send a message? As no as no can be. Beauty exists in being rather than opposing. Beauty exists in question rather than answer. I detest didacticism. Many creators have ruined wonderful and pure fantasy settings by slicing off a chunk of the world of their imagination and slopping on some hardened grime from the world of their frustration, believing all the while that no one would spot the difference between Eden and their patchwork chimera.
- To tell a story? Absolutely not.
- Am I making a game for money? No. I care about almost nothing less than money.
- So if not for fortune, then for fame? No. That may be one of those few things even below money.
- To prove that I can? No, nothing so crude. I already have all the faith that I can, at least when I’m aided by excellent creative tools like Unity and the ORK (Okashi RPG Kit) Framework. (How wonderful that I live today and not decades ago!)
- Because I’m the only one who can? No, though we’re getting warmer.
I started this very blog with the vague belief that maybe I could attract and eventually leverage an audience to support me in… making a game.
I wrote a script for a 140-minute video review of Tales of Symphonia‘s story with the passing hope that if it went big on YouTube, I could build and leverage an audience to support me in… making a game.
I bought a house and rented it out and intended to buy one more because then I’d collect enough gross rent for living wages and I could quit my job and start… making a game.
Earlier this year I looked into how to hire overseas iPhone developers to make useful apps to bring in additional revenue that I could use when… making a game.
And all of these plans are unbelievable, incorrigible, insufferable, grade-S denial.
“Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes
Is it any wonder I only blogged consistently for a few months before a steep dropoff? Or that I have a 140-minute script and only fifteen minutes of edited video?
No matter which way I turn, all roads lead to… making a game.
I’m making an RPG because I have to.
Is that too tautological?
Q: Why must I make an RPG?
A: I’m making an RPG because I must.
And yet that’s the human condition: full of coherentism and foundationalism, which is fundamentalism by a prettier name, because if we don’t have circular arguments and first principles then we’re left with infinitism, and we (as a species) are even less satisfied with turtles all the way down than our other two problem children.
Even so, that question lingers:
Why, really, must I make an RPG?
Yes, it’s because I can’t help myself. But why can’t I help myself? Why can’t I fight it? And the answer is this:
My dream has lived with me a long time, and she’ll outlive me if I let her, and I have no wishes to leave behind a widow.
I’m done preparing, Oliver Wendell Holmes. I’m done setting up complicated schemes I only barely care about—a blog, a video review, rental properties, iPhone apps—with the idea that eventually they’ll help me get to the heart of the matter, which has always been the heart of the matter no matter how deeply I’ve thrown myself into denial.
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” -Stephen Covey
My answer to why I must make an RPG converges with my answer to who my RPG is for, like two rivers joining into one. Taking a line from one of my favorite indie tweets, I’m my own target demographic.
Expanding further on that line, I was my own target demographic. Was? Yes.
I’m making an RPG for the most kindred spirit I know: my 13-year-old-self, who was much smarter, or at least more in tune, than my 28-year-old self.
At only two months into the age of 13, 1997 Me said I could do it—and then eleven years came along and said I couldn’t, and for a long while I was stupid enough to believe them.
A friend shook me back into hope in 2009, but just in case she hadn’t, 1997 Me had prepared a secret weapon. A time capsule. Inside were those documents, those documents with all the beautifully amateur details of that first time I believed I could make an RPG, documents still frozen in ice and awaiting my return. They reminded of beginning, origin, genesis, alpha; they revealed end, purpose, conclusion, omega.
Thank you, 1997 Me. I owe ya one.
You sent a message forward in time to remind me who I am. Now I must send a message backward in time to reaffirm who I was.
Though I have these documents, I don’t have memory enough to see my words appearing as I typed them. That doesn’t matter. I don’t need the visual—the image of 1997 Me at a keyboard at night or at noon, clear skies or rainy, or whatever type of day it may have been. I need the understanding—the image of ascending creativity, a newborn muse rising against gravity, toward the sky and into the sunshine, toward space and into the starshine, toward the heavens, toward God, into the ether, into the invisible, into the infinite. It’s a creativity unchecked and untempered, speaking no words but still declaring its heart:
Only those who dream shall see
The very bounds of what can be
I must make an RPG to reach back to my 13-year-old-self, full of faith and imagination and riding the wind with a muse on her dawning flight, sailing along the ocean of the stars, catching heroes and monsters in an angel’s net.
I must make an RPG to say, “Yes. You’re right.”