Hello, welcome to my Zenith website! My name is Jasmine Ta. If you’re unaware, the Zenith unit is one of the last units a Freestyle Senior takes, culminating in a three month project starring the Senior’s field of interest! This can range from creating notebooks made out of recycled paper, composing a whole album, or even writing a novel!
My Zenith project was about game development, or more specifically, programming an entire Demo in the game engine, RPGmaker MV! Click to the other tabs to see my process! There’s a link to the game as well!
Esque was born on a blue spring morning during the Senior Zenith presentations. Max Ratchke had just finished showing off his original board game, Cannon Fodder, and I was wondering what in the everliving name of Zenith I was going to do with my life. So I did what I do when I don’t know what do. I daydreamed. Somehow, that strange little daydream envisioned itself as a tiny game of someone getting over their fears for the future. That’s where Esque as a story came from.
As for why Esque became a game, it goes back to my middle school years where my greatest form of gaming entertainment was Youtube Let’s Plays. Back then I didn’t have the money, the gaming systems, or time to invest into playing games so I did the next best thing: watching people play them. My favorite kinds of Let’s Plays starred RPGmaker games, those done in the simple style of first generation games like Pokemon and Final Fantasy. My personal favorites at the time (and still are) were Mad Father, Witch’s House, and the Monster Men series.
Many game developers today credit their careers to big companies like Nintendo or Ubisoft, but there are even more who gained their ambition from indie games, including me. I never even thought about making my own games until I saw how average people were telling amazing stories through pixelated visuals, beautiful music, and a simple game engine called RPGmaker.
RPGmaker’s whole premise is that anyone can use it, regardless of coding experience. So for someone who only dreamt of making games without thinking about it seriously, it was the perfect tiny step on a long journey. Somehow, as I developed Esque’s plot, it turned into an overblown epic of multiple people getting over their fears, from a mundane fright of dogs to the paralyzing terror of emotional attachment.
At the beginning of the Zenith Unit, I had a vague, internal idea that games could tell stories. I just had no idea how well they could tell them. That’s what my Senior Thesis was in a nutshell: how games physically, emotionally, and mentally change your perspective and world views for the better and why schools should utilize them in their curriculum. The English paper opened my eyes to what the audience might be thinking as they’re joining Esque’s characters for the first time, pushing me to creating little and big changes to the plot and character dialogue. However, I received a lot of aid from my partner, friend, and classmates as well.
Esque would definitely not exist without Jacqueline Ta to create the visuals. Well, it could in theory, but it wouldn’t have been quite as ‘lovely,’ as she would put it. Jacqueline helped me pin down and revise all the character designs and dialogue so that the story you see today runs smoothly and looks stunning. Our relationship did crumble a few times over the course of three months, which is inevitable, but our relationship has always been the setting of a rocky shore. In addition, my classmates’ fashion styles greatly affected base character designs. My friend helped me create a beginning sequence to the game, which helped introduce all the characters and add mystery after a playtest.
In fact, one of the biggest lessons I have learned in this project had to do with trial and error. The majority of the project dealt with cutscenes and events. For instance, when a character enters a scene, you could have a dialogue box come up where the character says, “Oh no! I’m late for school!” This particular scene is short and easy to program. One character, one movement, and one box of dialogue. Now imagine dealing with six different characters, their movements, and their separate boxes of dialogue.
I had no idea that you could program a cutscene on one event when multiple characters are involved. To my knowledge, events dealt with one character, two at the most if the player was talking to another character. However, events have the ability to call up different events (or characters) to perform movements, which enables a developer to easily stick an entire drawn-out cutscene on one event.
I just so happened to figure this out after I was half-way through the major (and final) cutscene of the game. When I realized it, I saved, quit the program, and slept for five hours straight. Then the next day I returned to programming. Unfortunately it was too late to correct my previous method (which involved 5 different events, about 20 separate switches (which were used to turn those events on and off), and countless ‘wait’ commands haphazardly strewn about). If there was anything I wish I knew beforehand, it would be this.
There was a few times when I didn’t touch the project for days, partly because I was busy working on a behind-the-scenes booklet for the Consumer Project but mostly because I was burnt out and anxious. As great as the game looks, it reeks of cliche, amateurish stink. That’s perfectly normal, but it made me feel like ‘oh, what’s the point?’ However, I was able to push myself past those times (and times they were many) to produce a demo of Esque, with all its cutscenes, background characters, maps, and features.
Someday, I plan on creating more games. RPGmaker games of course, but I want to produce visual novels, open-world adventures, and action sidescrollers. I want to try my hand at puzzle games and hidden object games. I want to tell more stories using games. Esque is a tiny first step on a long journey, and what a journey it’s already been.