Pixel Game Maker MV - PC / Software Preview

Game creation software has been around for numerous years, though perhaps the most popular has been the "Maker" brand, which has focused most heavily on RPGs. Pixel Game Maker MV offers a lot of the same features that has made their RPG Maker series so popular over the years, offering some built-in physics and scripting engines to handle the logic instead of actual knowledge of coding in order to make a variety of different game types. By and large, Pixel Game Maker MV succeeds with some notable rough edges that I kind of expected from an Early Access title on Steam.

So first, a high overview of what Pixel Game Maker MV is trying to offer. Instead of being focused on turn-based combat found in their RPG Maker series, Pixel Game Maker MV has a greater focus on action gaming. Some of the early examples I have seen out in the community revolve around action platforming titles (like Mega Man or Castlevania) or action RPGs (think the Ys series) or a variety of different shooters (such as side or bottom-to-top shoot-em-ups).

The easy part comes in the environmental design. Just as in the RPG Maker series, you are working with a tile based system for creating your maps. These are as open or narrow as your imagination really, because you can create tile sets that are top down or from the side and everything in between. Essentially you are creating things that characters can stand on (platforming), or take damage by if they make contact (shooter). You make the rules around these visual elements (I've seen some pinball tables designed even).

These tile-created stages serve as scenes. You can have a single screen stage similar to Super Meat Boy, or you can have something that scrolls and continues on until a goal is met that then ushers the player onto a new stage. One of the cooler elements that is natively baked in is the ability to have multiplayer. I have seen many hacks over the years in RPG Maker where people were trying to create multiplayer or even MMO-like games, but here the engine in Pixel Game Maker MV natively supports this (though it is only local multiplayer). Some games obviously lend themselves to multiplayer better than others. A platforming genre that requires precision jumping and timing could be greatly hindered by a second player who is keeping the screen from moving along (I think multiplayer caused more death in Contra than it ever helped), but in a space shooter where the screen is automatically scrolling from bottom to top continuously, having some extra gunners on your team can be immensely helpful and satisfying.

One of the early concerns with this is the relatively sparse graphics already provided with the product. The stock graphics (RTP in RPG Maker) are always a bit of a sore spot for people, but that also provides plentiful opportunities for others to create their own visuals that often get shared out in community spaces (or sometimes sold in packs as well in the past). There are some basic pixel art tools that help to get the job done (both in designing objects and also animating them, which is actually pretty well-handled), though I myself are not in any way artistically inclined and am more than happy trying to use default resources or those provided in the community spaces. So this is one area I'd like to see Pixel Game Maker MV grow over time.

Now aside from laying out the environments and plugging in your music of choice to compliment them, there is the actual matter of how the game operates. This is where things get most exciting, and probably the most daunting for the average user as well. The Maker titles have always been very menu heavy, as the flowchart actions and series of switches and triggers are what make the series 'no coding necessary'. They handle the logic in a way that makes complicated code more of a series of menu choices that then get implemented. This has always been what makes these games so appealing to the masses. However, there is a major difference between Pixel Game Maker MV and the RPG Maker titles, in that they are not designed with a specific genre in mind. Yes, there is a lot of variety in RPGs, but a lot of that comes down to stories, subsystems, characters, things like that - but it's generally a genre of game. Here we are talking about several different genres and the menus do accommodate them - but having so many more options makes the workflows broader and harder to use as well.

It does not help that currently, the help documentation is pretty sparse here. The user interface is not terribly friendly and it can be a bit of a challenge to see how the different pieces all connect to one another. Thankfully I have many years of experience with Maker programs, so while there are quite a few differences, I am familiar enough with the core systems to find my way around. I suspect someone coming into the series fresh might find it a lot more challenging to connect the dots and make their games come together in a completely cohesive way. It sort of reminds me of the very old RPG Maker games from years ago that used to circulate the internet before the series was officially ported over to English. The community did just enough to make the commands and help files get you pointed in the right direction, but right now the tools and tips are nowhere near as polished as say, RPG Maker MV. I imagine that this is going to be one of the areas where the development team is going to be putting their time in until Pixel Game Maker MV releases from Early Access.

One of the biggest challenges facing creators with RPG Maker is that so much of the content can feel generic. Sure, you create your own characters, your own narrative and your own maps, but as I mentioned earlier, the use of the default graphics and menus can lead to one person's game being very, very similar to someone else's. One of the areas where the RPG Maker community is the most active however, is in the various scripts they write and plug into the game engine. This is a bonus feature that can unlock a variety of things, from simple cosmetic changes (3rd person versus 1st person combat) to more minor tweaks to the core systems (perhaps customized menus or charge attacks) to complete game changers (real-time combat, making a strategy game out of RPG Maker). There are some incredibly talented people out there who make script modules with directions on how to apply them to your game, and Pixel Game Maker MV has a similar option using JavaScript to expand on the software's base features.

This is an incredibly powerful option that opens up infinite possibilities. Of course, this can be hit or miss - you are either developing your own code or using that of someone else. Oftentimes, you see multiple modules that you want to include with your game, and then you have to figure out how best to integrate them together. I have spent more hours than I can count mashing together different scripts, writing some of my own and then trying how to troubleshoot them to make them work, but the end result is incredibly satisfying (if at times pretty frustrating to get there). Unfortunately, this can make your game unstable as well, and the Pixel Game Maker MV software is pretty unstable right now to begin with. It is not horrible, but I do strongly recommend saving often, as I have experienced a half dozen or so crashes with it already, and that can be with a basic project with no JavaScript added. At this point I would be hesitant to really fiddle heavily with scripting until the core software's stability is improved (I would say half of my crashes occurred during the saving process).

So where does that leave Pixel Game Maker MV right now? It is probably only going to appeal to those who are really itching to craft an action game but do not want to spend time coding it. The potential is undeniable, and I cannot help but flash back a good twenty years or so to the unreleased RPG Maker games of yesteryear that were hastily hacked together for an English audience and had plenty of bugs to boot. Those were early offerings that gave people like me a glimpse of great potential, but there were growing pains as well. I am willing to accept those, and a lot of others are as well. However, if you are a novice to game making software or the Maker series, this is probably not a good jumping in point, at least not until the stability and help text are improved upon. I have read some posts about people wanting to make action RPGs with this engine, and I think that could work, but I would honestly take RPG Maker MV and find some of the better established scripts out there to convert that engine to those needs.

It is clear that Pixel Game Maker MV is still an Early Access title with plenty of room for polish and improvement, but I will admit that occasional crash aside, I've been enjoying my time with the software. I see the possibilities, and they are very intriguing. I do not mind tinkering and learning through trial and error, and once I got familiar with the menus I felt as though I was making genuine progress. However, it may be worth holding off for awhile to see Pixel Game Maker MV in a more finished state before investing your time and money into it, especially if you are newer to this kind of software as it does very little to hold your hand at this point. Once the localization efforts improve and the power user community provides more tutorials, content and support - I definitely think Pixel Game Maker MV will be a bit more new user friendly.

Software Information

AGM Playism
Kadokawa Corporation
Game Maker
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Article by Nick


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