14 votes

Turning my tabletop game into a real video game

So, I am a filmmaker by trade. I understand scripting, pacing, etc. I also have been doing a lot of tabletop design, running a campaign for years with continuity, recurring characters that I design from the ground-up (excluding the rule system, so just all the dungeons, NPCs, plot devices, etc).

With covid, film production has really slowed down and I have some time on my hands, so I thought about trying my hand at video game making, something I have honestly toyed with for decades, but never did too much of. I did have a brief window in the 00s when I had RPG Maker and I made some demos that my friends enjoyed, but that's about it.

So, given that my programing knowledge is super limited (I took a few Java classes over a decade ago and used to do HTML in the 90s), my graphics making abilities are near non-existent (I'm good at motion graphics, but not pixel design or 3D graphics), but I have what I think is a good plot, characters and game design, what should be my first steps in trying to make this a reality? What engine should I use? I have no problem buying, for a couple bucks here and there, other people's art and what not. Ideally, probably make a 16-bit esque RPG, like FFIV, Earthbound, etc. but perhaps with more of a BioWare, "choices matter" type dialog/questing system.

I don't expect to set the world on fire, but I do want to make what would be considered a decent looking first effort from a one man novice that, if nothing else, would be a fun experience for me to make and something fun to give my players as a gift (as we are reaching the end of the story of our campaign). And maybe, why not, something I could release for the broader public if the core is good and it's worth me hiring a few more people to help me polish it. Maybe it won't. As a filmmaker, I know how bad first films are, and a lot of times they are just learning experiences that you keep on a hard drive locked away somewhere. So, trying to be realistic while excited.

Appreciate advice.

34 comments

  1. [5]
    Adys
    Link
    Limited programming knowledge and no graphics ability will hamstring you in making anything decent, honestly. I don't want to tell you you can't do it, but be realistic about your limits. I...

    So, given that my programing knowledge is super limited (I took a few Java classes over a decade ago and used to do HTML in the 90s), my graphics making abilities are near non-existent (I'm good at motion graphics, but not pixel design or 3D graphics), but I have what I think is a good plot, characters and game design, what should be my first steps in trying to make this a reality? What engine should I use?

    Limited programming knowledge and no graphics ability will hamstring you in making anything decent, honestly.

    I don't want to tell you you can't do it, but be realistic about your limits. I believe your first steps should rather be finding other people to collaborate with, people that will fill your knowledge gaps.

    With that said, both RPG Maker and GameMaker Studio are a highly accessible engines which may fit what you're trying to do. Unity3D is most likely the real answer but isn't as accessible given the skillset you're describing.

    Also, go right ahead and watch Game Maker's Toolkit on YouTube. It's an excellent channel. It won't answer any of the questions you asked here, but whether you're making a video game or a tabletop game, it's a fantastic resource for game design.

    10 votes
    1. [4]
      Erik
      Link Parent
      I definitely am trying to stay realistic, so I appreciate you giving it straight. Collaboration is definitely something I'd consider if I wanted to take what I've got and put it out in the world....

      I definitely am trying to stay realistic, so I appreciate you giving it straight.

      Collaboration is definitely something I'd consider if I wanted to take what I've got and put it out in the world. I like filmmaking because it's collaborative and would love to make something with a nice group of like minded folks. That said, I'm sure there's a bunch of people in game development land that "have a killer idea" for a game that are unskilled like I am that are constantly trying to get these people with real skills and talents to work with them. I'd like to have something to show that I'm worth working with before just being another one of those folks.

      I am mostly concerned about graphics. They're a huge part of what people love about games and it's my weakest point. I have 16 credits of Java and Visual Basic that I took for fun along with three semesters of calc and a semester of formal logic. So while the nuts and bolts of programming is not necessarily in my wheel house, I at least am on the ground floor of how programs think and execute with stuff like if/then statements, uses of matrixes and what not.

      Funny you bring up GMTK, I just started watching his stuff a day ago when the thing with him and Notch was posted here. Definitely very neat. Reminds me of reading the old Reverse Design blog for Chrono Trigger and Super Mario Brothers 3.

      Thanks for the advice.

      1 vote
      1. [3]
        Adys
        Link Parent
        FWIW you can make a really, really fun game with atrocious graphics; just make it your style. Use stick figures or something (XKCD comes to mind). Once the game is fun you can do a second pass on gfx.

        I am mostly concerned about graphics

        FWIW you can make a really, really fun game with atrocious graphics; just make it your style. Use stick figures or something (XKCD comes to mind).

        Once the game is fun you can do a second pass on gfx.

        6 votes
        1. ThatFanficGuy
          Link Parent
          You can make a game without graphics. My games are text-mostly 'cause my graphical ability is non-existent, but I can make a word work.

          You can make a game without graphics.

          My games are text-mostly 'cause my graphical ability is non-existent, but I can make a word work.

          1 vote
        2. spctrvl
          Link Parent
          Kingdom of Loathing is a great example of the stick figure art style.

          Kingdom of Loathing is a great example of the stick figure art style.

  2. [2]
    skybrian
    Link
    This isn't going to be very commercial, but if you're doing it for fun or learning something new, have you considered a text-only game? Maybe try out Twine or Inform 7? This might be a good way to...

    This isn't going to be very commercial, but if you're doing it for fun or learning something new, have you considered a text-only game? Maybe try out Twine or Inform 7?

    This might be a good way to think about how to turn your story into an interactive game without getting distracted by graphics. (On the other hand, it means paying more attention to writing.)

    6 votes
    1. Erik
      Link Parent
      It's not a bad idea, since I mostly have it written that way already thanks to having done it as a tabletop game to start. Might be something to fall back on if full fledged design is proving too...

      It's not a bad idea, since I mostly have it written that way already thanks to having done it as a tabletop game to start. Might be something to fall back on if full fledged design is proving too challenging.

      2 votes
  3. [2]
    stu2b50
    Link
    Engines I'd recommend Godot or Unity. Godot is fully free, no royalties either, and lighter weight, but is newer and has less documentation. Unity is the other way around, although it is a little...

    Engines I'd recommend Godot or Unity. Godot is fully free, no royalties either, and lighter weight, but is newer and has less documentation. Unity is the other way around, although it is a little crusty.

    Assets, I there's /r/gamedevclassified (or something like that), where artists offer their services for money and so forth.

    I would start an MVP then build it forward - get a stick figure that can move around, then a stick figure that can enter combat, and so forth.

    4 votes
    1. Erik
      Link Parent
      Definitely appreciate you giving the vocabulary word minimum viable project. That's definitely what I'm looking at making here and I should have known that there's a proper way to say that. I'll...

      Definitely appreciate you giving the vocabulary word minimum viable project. That's definitely what I'm looking at making here and I should have known that there's a proper way to say that. I'll check out that sub a bit once I know what engine I'm using. I don't mind paying for what I'm using, but obviously this is fun money and not a real budget. Basically taking what I would spend on other things I'd do with this time (reading, playing other video games) and spending on this instead.

      Will check out Godot and Unity! Thank you!

      1 vote
  4. [5]
    Kremor
    (edited )
    Link
    I also recommend Godot, is easier to learn than Unity, and the documentation shouldn't be a problem unless you're trying to create a "genre breaking" or multiplayer game. Ren'Py is also a good...

    I also recommend Godot, is easier to learn than Unity, and the documentation shouldn't be a problem unless you're trying to create a "genre breaking" or multiplayer game.

    Ren'Py is also a good option if you want to create a story driven game.

    3 votes
    1. [4]
      Erik
      Link Parent
      Another vote for Godot is a good thing to help me gain a little direction, so I appreciate that. Definitely not looking or genre breaking. Quite the opposite. Just want to make a 16-bit style JRPG...

      Another vote for Godot is a good thing to help me gain a little direction, so I appreciate that. Definitely not looking or genre breaking. Quite the opposite. Just want to make a 16-bit style JRPG in a cyberpunk-like universe.

      Renpy is something I had heard of before because I have delved into visual novels a little bit lately. Stuff like Doki Doki Literature Club and Hatoful Boyfriend have been super interesting to someone like me that mostly assumed Visual Novels were just dating sims (and I guess in a way these are too, they're just inverting that expectation). Don't know if it's quite what I want, but it's something to think about!

      Thanks!

      1 vote
      1. SkewedSideburn
        Link Parent
        If we're talking proper engines, then I vote for Godot as well. It's more intuitive for a novice, I think. But I'd recommend trying RPG Maker first

        If we're talking proper engines, then I vote for Godot as well. It's more intuitive for a novice, I think. But I'd recommend trying RPG Maker first

        1 vote
      2. [2]
        Kremor
        Link Parent
        I don't know how hard would be to implement an RPG system on Ren'Py but is definitely possible, I found this site with some examples, and imo it is a good starting point for beginners.

        I don't know how hard would be to implement an RPG system on Ren'Py but is definitely possible, I found this site with some examples, and imo it is a good starting point for beginners.

        1 vote
        1. Erik
          Link Parent
          Good to know I could think outside the box a bit there.

          Good to know I could think outside the box a bit there.

  5. moocow1452
    Link
    May want to mod it into Tabletop Simulator if all you want is your game to have the accessibility being available on Steam.

    May want to mod it into Tabletop Simulator if all you want is your game to have the accessibility being available on Steam.

    3 votes
  6. [2]
    parsley
    Link
    I would recommend that you check a couple game engines (like rpgmaker vx or inform7), find their communities and play the better games you find, to get an idea of how the engines shape the games,...

    I would recommend that you check a couple game engines (like rpgmaker vx or inform7), find their communities and play the better games you find, to get an idea of how the engines shape the games, what people expect from the engines or what non-obvious thing can be done.

    Some good RPGMaker games: https://www.reddit.com/r/patientgamers/comments/4l7atj/good_preferably_free_rpgmaker_games_out_there/

    Also I would start with small games to learn the ropes and get feedback.

    2 votes
    1. Erik
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      That's actually a very good idea to perhaps better get me a feel for which engine I should use by seeing what other people's end results look like. Great advice. I would definitely start small. My...

      That's actually a very good idea to perhaps better get me a feel for which engine I should use by seeing what other people's end results look like. Great advice.

      I would definitely start small. My goal with this, at first, is just to make the first session of my campaign into something. So probably only an hour of gameplay at most.

  7. [3]
    ThatFanficGuy
    Link
    If you ever need another writer, send me a PM. I excel at worldbuilding, and on-par about plot, characters, and RPG systems.

    If you ever need another writer, send me a PM. I excel at worldbuilding, and on-par about plot, characters, and RPG systems.

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      Erik
      Link Parent
      I defo appreciate the offer, but that's basically my strengths lol. Still, if something were to actually bloat to the level where I need another me, I'll hit you up!

      I defo appreciate the offer, but that's basically my strengths lol. Still, if something were to actually bloat to the level where I need another me, I'll hit you up!

      1. ThatFanficGuy
        Link Parent
        You sure as hell won't get another you, but you're gonna get something. You'll either sing me praises or curse me to hell afterwards.

        You sure as hell won't get another you, but you're gonna get something.

        You'll either sing me praises or curse me to hell afterwards.

        2 votes
  8. [2]
    archevel
    Link
    Have you considered building a mod for some existing game? Since it is an RPG you are making you could make a story mod for Divinity Original Sin 2 (some docs for how can be found here). Might...

    Have you considered building a mod for some existing game? Since it is an RPG you are making you could make a story mod for Divinity Original Sin 2 (some docs for how can be found here). Might want to wait for BG3 if you want to use a more DnD like ruleset.

    Of course there are other older options too like NWN and others. Starting small with a mod seems more feasible than setting out immediately to implement a whole game. It also will let you focus more on story etc Vs writing code.

    2 votes
    1. Erik
      Link Parent
      Truthfully, this never game to me, but it might work pretty well if someone has some pretty easy mod tools and not like, something i have to hack in order to make work. I can remember making a...

      Truthfully, this never game to me, but it might work pretty well if someone has some pretty easy mod tools and not like, something i have to hack in order to make work. I can remember making a whole Starcraft story campaign for my siblings with the editor that came with Starcraft back in the day. I should see if there are any mod tools for games that take place in the type of universe I'd like to try out. Thanks.

  9. [5]
    admicos
    Link
    I would say trying to make games would help you (re-)learn programming, as when you do something you can usually see its effect right away. When fleshing out the mechanics of the game, graphics...

    So, given that my programing knowledge is super limited (I took a few Java classes over a decade ago and used to do HTML in the 90s), my graphics making abilities are near non-existent (I'm good at motion graphics, but not pixel design or 3D graphics)

    I would say trying to make games would help you (re-)learn programming, as when you do something you can usually see its effect right away.

    When fleshing out the mechanics of the game, graphics can be as simple as colored squares moving around. When you get the mechanics right, then you can do something about them. If you set your game's atmosphere right, you might be able to just use single color shadows or whatever as your graphics, but I am not sure how that would work on an RPG.

    For engine, I would definitely suggest Godot for 2D. If you're looking for 3D, either wait until Godot 4, or use another engine. But considering you're new, sticking with 2D might be the best option.

    Also, maybe try out entering some game jams if you're looking to learn this seriously. They are really good ways to learn and practice, as there is a hard deadline (so, no procrastination) and you're usually given a topic to begin with (so, not much of "looking for an idea")

    1 vote
    1. [3]
      Bwerf
      Link Parent
      Based on the programming/art level of @Erik I think using godot won't be limiting even if he wants to do it in 3D. Godot 4 will be here before he gets to that point. There are a lot of basic...

      Based on the programming/art level of @Erik I think using godot won't be limiting even if he wants to do it in 3D. Godot 4 will be here before he gets to that point. There are a lot of basic concepts to learn first. On the other hand I would strongly recommend against making anything 3D as his first game (and as you say as well), so maybe it's a moot point. =)

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        Erik
        Link Parent
        For now anyway, I'm really only interested in 2D. I grew up on it and have a strong attachment to it. I know it's not necessarily what's marketable these days, but I am a fair ways out before even...

        For now anyway, I'm really only interested in 2D. I grew up on it and have a strong attachment to it. I know it's not necessarily what's marketable these days, but I am a fair ways out before even considering marketability in what I want to do!

        1. Bwerf
          Link Parent
          2D is very much marketable today, maybe not for the biggest of them all, but there regularly 2D game hits, so even if being marketable was a concern of yours I'd say that going 2D would be your...

          2D is very much marketable today, maybe not for the biggest of them all, but there regularly 2D game hits, so even if being marketable was a concern of yours I'd say that going 2D would be your best option. =)

          2 votes
    2. Erik
      Link Parent
      Game Jams remind me of the 48 hour film festival. Definitely a neat idea and something I would look into if I really started to get into this whole thing.

      Game Jams remind me of the 48 hour film festival. Definitely a neat idea and something I would look into if I really started to get into this whole thing.

  10. [3]
    grungegun
    (edited )
    Link
    I don't think you need an engine based on what you're talking about. My goTo for recommendation is Processing. I also recommend you work through the two books here, which shouldn't take too long....

    I don't think you need an engine based on what you're talking about. My goTo for recommendation is Processing.

    I also recommend you work through the two books here, which shouldn't take too long.

    Processing is Java with some libraries and a decent IDE. Basically, you download it, install, then when you run it, you get a new project that you can click 'play' on to compile and run. It's based on making graphics easy, and it's designed for 'students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists' according to their website. It was my second programming language after VBA, and I recommend it primarily for the excellent resources, though it can still make actual games.

    1 vote
    1. [2]
      Erik
      Link Parent
      Appreciate an alternate opinion, will definitely check out Processing a bit.

      Appreciate an alternate opinion, will definitely check out Processing a bit.

      1. grungegun
        Link Parent
        I'd highly recommend it. It's the language that made programming make sense for me. With a lot of game design studios, I felt like I wasn't doing anything. With things like c++, etc, without a...

        I'd highly recommend it. It's the language that made programming make sense for me. With a lot of game design studios, I felt like I wasn't doing anything. With things like c++, etc, without a fair amount of knowledge, it's difficult to make something other than a console program. Processing struck that balance for me.

        1 vote
  11. [4]
    Apos
    Link
    You could use Ink to start: https://www.inklestudios.com/ink/. This will let you write your interactive story and test it. And then that can be plugged in an engine if you want later. They have a...

    You could use Ink to start: https://www.inklestudios.com/ink/. This will let you write your interactive story and test it. And then that can be plugged in an engine if you want later.

    They have a tutorial here: https://www.inklestudios.com/ink/web-tutorial/.

    1 vote
    1. [3]
      Erik
      Link Parent
      This is pretty interesting to me looking at Pendragon, the game they've got coming out they apparently built with their engine. Thanks for the heads up.

      This is pretty interesting to me looking at Pendragon, the game they've got coming out they apparently built with their engine. Thanks for the heads up.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        Apos
        Link Parent
        Just found out that they have a GDC talk: https://youtu.be/KYBf6Ko1I2k.

        Just found out that they have a GDC talk: https://youtu.be/KYBf6Ko1I2k.

        1 vote
        1. Erik
          Link Parent
          Ah, very cool. I have been leaning toward it just because it seems easier for someone like me to drop in with and this helps!

          Ah, very cool. I have been leaning toward it just because it seems easier for someone like me to drop in with and this helps!

          1 vote