What is it? An all-inclusive development suite primarily for making 2D RPGs. Includes some graphics sets to get you started.
Price and licence: £18 for the older version, £55 for the latest. You can sell what you make, no royalties. 30-day trial available.
Makes games for: PC
Tutorial: RPG Maker Web's tutorial
Case Study: To the Moon
Developer: Kan Gao (Director/Designer)
Get it: from the official site
How long does RPG Maker take to learn?
6 months and 17 days for the average person between the IQ range of 115 – 140, with a catastrophically significant margin of error.
I think a few months should be enough to get the basic technical aspects down, without going into the optional scripting. It's much quicker than most tools of its nature, though it's still like having to work out just to hold a brush before you can start painting. The engine's got the foundation covered, such that anyone could just sit down and get a character sprite to run around on a map with a basic battle system; but to create your own systems and mechanics involves programming logic just like any language, albeit with much more simplified syntax.
It does actually have programming capabilities, which opens more doors than there are windows. And to be able to use it as well as to create something like this (which was indeed created with RPG Maker) takes much longer, and is a lot more in touch with traditional programming.
What prior knowledge or skills are helpful?
On the technical side, programming experience (the engine uses a scripting system based on Ruby) and a general grasp of logic.
Otherwise, every creative skill comes in handy – the engine actually has a rather active community, which is exciting because it also means that there's a lot of bartering for resources going on. If you've something to contribute like drawing and composing music, then not only can you cover those aspects of your game, but also exchange your services for others' contributions in other aspects as well. It's like Burning Man, but with less sand.
What can't you do with it?
As far as 2D stuff goes, there's actually not much of a limitation as far as the program's capability is concerned. You can create an entire set of new systems and make a quirky adventure game like Fleuret Blanc , or operate on the entire engine and create something like U.S.G. .
However, it's sometimes not very efficient (from both developing and computing perspectives) to make some of the things, relative to alternate engines and programming languages. The main technical restriction for me right now is the inability to port to Mac & Linux; but that might (and hopefully will) change in the future.
How long did you think the game would take to make, and how long did it actually take?
21 months. We started in February 2010, and it was released on November 1st, 2011. But its initial 'expected' release date was April 2010. Though to be fair, the game was originally going to be just 30 minutes or so; but then I realized I was being an idiot.
How much of the development time was enjoyable, and how much was unpleasant?
It wasn't all prancing around a meadow, but I did purr a lot. A large positive factor was the variety of tasks to break down the monotony of “work”; it's nice to switch between different sets of things to do every day, whether it'd be music, dialogues, or struggling to tinker with the pixel art that some wonderfully talented folks were helping me with.
The unpleasant part was mainly personal rather than work-related. Whereas the blessing of the project was turning crappy things into something meaningful and productive, its curse was being forced to dwell on them throughout its duration. But still, making the game was definitely an 87.3% enjoyable experience.
If you could give your past self one piece of advice before starting to make the game, what would it be?
Plan out the progress in small segments, then spread them out over twice the time so you can actually follow it sustainably. Also, tomorrow's winning lottery number is 08 21 59 37.
RPG Maker is very well suited to a very particular kind of game: Japanese-style RPGs with turn-based combat and top-down exploration. You can certainly stray from that template, as To the Moon does, but the further away from it you go, the more sense it makes to use Game Maker instead.