The year is 2015. You’re on Twitter, or YouTube, when suddenly you spot it: a brand-new Pokémon game that you’ve never heard of before! Curious, you look it up in order to find out more, and you discover that this is no ordinary game, it’s a fan made game that looks and feels just like a new Pokemon game, but is free to download and play! Wow, you think, I had no idea that you could do that! Now I want to make a Pokémon game, too!
(Screenshots from Pokémon Ethereal Gates, an upcoming fangame to be released August 20th.)
Woah there, bucko, not so fast. You might think it’s easy to make a Pokémon game, but like any game project, it takes lots of time, careful planning, and dedication before you’ll reach a product that’s at all finalized. It’s important to understand the scale of a project before you dive head-first into a super ambitious game project, or else you risk being overwhelmed and having to cancel it because you didn’t realize how much work it was going to be.
Fortunately, I’m here to guide you. This post will be a tutorial to getting started on making your first fangame — but it will include advice that will hopefully be useful to veteran game developers, too. So, without further ado, here is what you should do:
1. Brainstorm some ideas. Think of what you’ve always wanted to see in a Pokémon game. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, either. You may be tempted to follow the classic formula of 8 gyms + evil team, but consider more possibilities: What about a more story-driven game? Or a survival based game? Or a game where you play as a Pokémon? It helps to envision what kind of game YOU would most want to play. Keep track of all your ideas somewhere — in a notebook or a word document. Writing it down helps. Also bounce some ideas off your friends and listen to what they have to say. Have fun with this part! Coming up with new ideas is the most exciting part of game making. Be careful not to grow too attached to any of them at this point, since you might end up changing them around or scrapping them later.
2. Familiarize yourself with the tools used to make a Pokémon game. Yes, before you even finalize the concept for your game, you should explore your options when it comes to creating a fangame. My personal preference, and the base for almost every (non-ROM Hack) game out there today, is Pokémon Essentials for RPGMaker XP. Pokémon Essentials is free to use (although RMXP itself costs between $5 and $20), and is essentially a heavily modified version of the RMXP engine that includes complete functionality of a Pokémon game, and is easy to use with little to no programming knowledge. By default it is modeled on the 3rd generation, but it’s relatively easy to modify to fit any generation style or even a custom style of your very own. The creators of Pokémon Essentials are constantly releasing new updates to it as well, and there is an active community creating and sharing resources. Honestly, it’s never been easier, so what are you waiting for?
To learn the ropes of Essentials, the base game itself is honestly the best tutorial; it comes with dozens of pre-made maps and events that demonstrate how to use its tools. Another really great resource is Atomic Reactor’s “How To Make a Pokémon Game” video tutorial series on YouTube:
3. Consider the scale of your project. For somebody just starting out, making a full-length classic Pokémon game with hours and hours of gameplay is a hugely ambitious project. If you also plan to add Fakemon to your game, that’s an even loftier goal because then you will need a full set of sprites, along with stats and movesets for every single one. If you’re not ready to handle all that responsibility yet then you should practice making a smaller game first. Remember, none of the time spent working on a project is wasted — even if you decide to scrap it in the end, you will have learned valuable skills that you can bring with you to your next game project. The more games you make, the better you will get at making them.
4. Don’t get obsessed with recruiting a team. If you have some friends who want to make the game with you, that’s great. But far too often, people start out with just the bare-bones outline of a game and immediately try to recruit people to make the game for them: mappers, spriters, scripters, composers, etc. You should be ready to take on responsibility for making your game yourself; This may mean learning how to map, write events, make sprites, etc. If you have no artistic talents whatsoever, you can find resources for your game on the internet, on websites like DeviantArt and The Spriter’s Resource where there are many graphics available for public use. If you are using somebody else’s work however, make sure to keep track of it and give credit to them somewhere — it’s just polite.
Also, if you do have a team of people working together on your game: Communication is key. Having a good team dynamic is critical to being productive. Use platforms such as Skype or Slack to keep everybody coordinated and up-to-date on game progress. It doesn’t have to be all professional, though, so feel free to joke around and have fun — you’re probably all Pokémon nerds, anyway.
5. Prioritize work on the actual game. What I mean by that is, it’s easy to get sidetracked by making promotional artwork, graphics, memes, etc., but none of these things are going to make your game get finished any faster. This also means to not spend time brainstorming the post-game when you haven’t even finished the first Gym yet. Focus on what needs to get done — even if it’s less glamorous than composing your Champion’s battle theme, it’s just as important!
6. Wait to publicize your game until you have a substantial amount already finished. Social media such as Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube can be fun, and a great way to garner feedback and generate hype about your project, but it can also serve as a distraction from what’s important, which is actually finishing the game. If you over-hype your game without having anything concrete finished, you risk embarrassing yourself further on down the line when your fans are counting on you and you don’t have anything to show for it. Once you have made something playable, trust that your hard work will speak for itself and generate interest on its own.
And lastly and most importantly…
7. Have fun!!!! Game making is a fun and exciting thing to do, plus it’s incredibly rewarding to create something for yourself and other people to enjoy. It’s not a job, so don’t take it too seriously — go out there and have a great time! Once you’ve started your game, and you’d like to share it and connect with other people in the fangame community, I recommend joining Relic Castle — currently the only web community that’s dedicated solely to Pokemon fangames. If you do, tell them Involuntary Twitch sent you!
That’s all for today. I know this blog post was text-heavy and not filled with pretty, pretty pictures like it usually is, but I thank you for reading it all the same! If you have any lingering questions, feel free to leave a comment or tweet them to me at @voluntarytwitch.
Until next time,