RPG Maker MV: Basic Mapping

This article is one chapter of a multi-part Cover Game feature!
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Let’s make a game!

Well, part of one anyway. Over the course of the next three articles, I’ll introduce you to how RPG Maker MV does business: how you create maps, fill them with things to do and, in the final part, how to go beyond the constraints of the basic engine.

Today we’re going to take a look at the most basic skill you will need to get an RPG Maker MV game up and running: mapping. Like any creative tool, if you don’t master this essential first, there’s little point in going further. Learn to walk before you run before you fly, and all that.

The aim for today is to make a small town and the beginning of a dungeon beneath it. Not the most ambitious or sprawling game, sure, but more than enough to give you a look at how to create both maps. In the next article, we’ll add some life to these locations with Events.

If you’re ready, then, let’s get going! If you want to follow along but don’t have a copy of MV, you can download a trial version from the official website.

Note: This article is based on the latest version of RPG Maker MV at the time of writing, which is 1.3.0. If your screens look different, check you are running the latest version.

To get started, fire up RPG Maker MV and choose “New Project…” from the File menu, or just click the New icon on the toolbar, which is the first button. This window will appear.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 14.53.27.png

These are your basic project settings. “Name” is the name of the subfolder your project will be kept in. “Game Title” is the long name your game will be referred to by — this is what will appear on the window title bar and installed icons when you distribute the game, for example, as well as appearing on the title screen. “Location”, meanwhile, is the folder where the subfolder specified in “Name” will be created. So in the example above, my new project will be created in C:\Users\Pete\Documents\Games\MoeGamer.

Make sure the Location is somewhere you can find easily — the default location of just off your My Documents folder is ideal — because when you come to do more advanced bits and pieces such as importing assets, you’ll want to have easy access to your game’s file system.

RPG Maker MV will then spend a moment copying the basic assets — known in previous versions of RPG Maker as the “run-time package” or “RTP” — into your project folder. When it’s done, your screen should look something like this:

Screenshot 2016-08-10 14.59.10.png

RPG Maker has created a basic map for us, put down the Player Start location automatically and given us some basic resources to work with. We’ll stick with these for the moment, but we will make that initial map a bit bigger, because at present it’s rather tiny.

To do this, look over to the panel in the lower-left corner of the screen and right-click the entry that says MAP001. Then choose “Edit…”

Screenshot 2016-08-10 15.00.58.png

That will bring up the properties page for the current map, which looks like this:

Screenshot 2016-08-10 15.02.26.png

There are all sorts of interesting things we can do in here, but let’s look at the settings that have the most immediately obvious effect, which are the General Settings in the top-left panel.

“Name” is the title of your map. This is what it will be referred to as in the editor, as well as what appears in the player’s save game file if they save their game in this location. By contrast, “Display Name” is simply a short string of text that briefly appears in the top-left corner of the game screen when the player enters the map. It doesn’t have to match “Name”, and if you leave it blank, the location display won’t appear at all.

“Tileset” is an extremely important setting because it controls the overall look of the map: the tiles that are used to create it. Currently, it’s set to “Overworld”, which is intended for Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest-style world maps, providing an abstract depiction of travelling long distances. Your other options by default are “Outside”, “Inside” and “Dungeon”, all of which are fairly self-explanatory, though note that there’s a fair amount of crossover between “Inside” and “Dungeon” so you may find yourself using either or both for different rooms in your locations depending on your exact needs.

“Width” and “Height” are expressed as the number of tiles in each direction. The default size of 17 by 13 is equal to the default game window size, meaning that the map won’t scroll at all, and the player character will instead move around the window. Think Zelda 1 as opposed to Final Fantasy.

“Scroll Type” allows you to loop your map in either the X or Y axes, or both. This is useful for labyrinths or world maps that simulate being on a globe. “Enc. Steps” is the average number of steps a player will take before being thrown into a random battle.

“Autoplay BGM” and “Autoplay BGS” allow us to choose a background music (BGM) file or background sound (BGS) to loop in the background while the player is in this location. If the player is in a location with no music or sound or different music or sound from what we choose here, they will change. If the music or sound we choose here is already playing from another map’s settings, they will continue and not start again. If we leave these settings blank, the game will continue to play whatever music or sound was playing when we entered the map; in order to stop background music or sound, you have to choose “None” from the Autoplay BGM or BGS menus or use an Event.

“Specify Battleback” allows us to choose the background for the battle screen in this location. We’ll look at this in more detail when we come to our dungeon.

Since we’re going to make a town first, give it whatever name you like, set the width and height to 25 and 25 (so we’ve got a bit of extra room beyond the screen boundaries) and choose some background music of your liking.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 15.15.41.png

To choose the BGM, first tick “Autoplay BGM”, then click the “…” button to bring up the music picker. From here, you can preview a track by either double-clicking it or pressing the Play button, along with adjusting its volume, pitch (and speed) and panning.

Now we’re cooking. Let’s get mapping, right after we set up our edit screen to be a little more convenient. Let’s first switch the editor into Map Edit mode, then zoom out the screen a little for a more general overview of our complete map. Use the toolbar buttons to do this.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 15.19.45.png

You’ll notice a big load of our map (specifically, the area beyond the original 17 by 13 area from the default map) is filled with a checkerboard pattern. Like in a paint program, this indicates the area is transparent. If you have a parallax background set on your map, it will appear anywhere with the checkerboard markings. If you do not have a parallax background, it will simply appear as empty black void.

Neither of these solutions are entirely right for our needs at the moment, so let’s fill in all that empty space with some grass to give us a basic canvas to work on. To do this, first click a suitable grass tile in the palette on the left, then click the fill tool (paintbrush icon on the toolbar), then click in a checkerboard space. This will fill all the empty space with the grass tiles.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 15.24.07.png

Now we can start putting our town together. Let’s start with some pathways and roads. Switch to the draw tool (the pencil on the toolbar), then choose a suitable road or path texture, then click or click and drag to create your pathways. You can also use the Rectangle and Ellipse tools on the toolbar to quickly create regular shapes if you want, too.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 15.27.38.png

The design of your town is entirely up to you, but in order to make it interesting, try to minimise the amount of regular lines and shapes you have. This doesn’t mean don’t use straight lines at all, but make sure your town isn’t entirely grid-based.

Now let’s add a bit of flavour to the ground before we start building on top of it. Experiment with the tools in the top section of the tile palette and draw some shapes across your map. You’ll notice that these tiles change shape according to how they’re connected to one another; they’re called autotiles and can be quite convenient.Screenshot 2016-08-10 15.33.54.png

Many of the other tiles in the palette have autotile properties, too, but the ones we’re looking at right now are primarily concerned with ground textures.

On the offchance an autotile doesn’t do quite what you want it to do, you can “pick up” an example of what you do want it to do from the map (for example, a corner or edge) by right clicking, then hold down Shift on your keyboard and click to place that variant of the autotile without any of the automatic, clever stuff going on. This is most useful if you’re trying to layer different textures on top of one another and are encountering “seams” where the different textures join.

Next up, let’s make a basic house. Find a wall texture you like and make a suitably house-sized wall to represent the front of the house. When considering how tall to make it, bear in mind that the default RPG Maker characters are approximately one tile in height, so anything over two tiles tall is going to look very large in comparison to the characters. Most of the scenery is designed with two tile-high walls in mind, so assuming two tiles per “floor” of the house you’re constructing is a suitable scale if you’re struggling a bit with the forced perspective.

Once you’ve done that, add a roof atop it. If you want side-view roofs, you can find them in the “C” tab of the tile palette; front-view roofs, meanwhile, are in the “A” tab we’ve been using up until now.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 15.33.54.png

Our house looks like a brick wall at the moment, so let’s add some decorations to the front of it to make it look a bit more… house-like. You’ll find most decorations of this type on the B and C tabs of the tile palette. Some tilesets also have D and E tabs. Think of these like “layers” in something like Photoshop; in most cases, they don’t replace the tile they sit atop, and instead adorn it. You can also stack tiles from non-A tabs on top of each other if you so desire, too.

Add some windows and a doorway; if you’re feeling adventurous, you could even add some climbing vines and other wall decorations if you wish. Note that there are no doors in the tileset; that’s because doors are interactive objects, and consequently are handled through Events rather than map tiles.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 15.49.14.png

Flesh out your town by creating some more houses. If you’re feeling lazy, you can copy your existing house by clicking and dragging with the right button over the entire area of the one you just created, then clicking somewhere else in the map with the Draw tool to paint an exact copy of it.

Most importantly when creating buildings in a town map: don’t block off the routes the player can go! Most of the “wall” tiles are set so that they are completely impassable; some, however, have what’s called a “star” attribute so that you can walk “behind” them, obscuring part of the character sprite but still allowing you to walk in that region. The tiles we’ve used here don’t have that attribute, so every square that house covers is a no-go area for the player.

You may think that this would cause a problem for our player start location, which is now embedded in the wall on the second floor. And you’d be right. So let’s fix that. Switch to Event mode with the button on the toolbar, right-click in an empty space and choose Set Starting Position > Player to fix the issue.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 15.54.52.png

For the finishing touches to our basic town, let’s put a bit of greenery down. You can find some suitable bits and pieces in the “B” tab of the tileset. Note that many of the trees have the “star” attribute we talked about earlier, making it safe to place them immediately adjacent to a pathway; the characters will then walk “behind” the tree without incident.

When decorating your map, consider how you might want to control where your player goes and subtly put in obstacles accordingly: trees, rocks, stumps, fences, gardens — there are lots of ways to keep players out of a particular area without just putting a big wall in their way (or, worse, an invisible wall) so try and strike a good balance between being believable and maintaining control over what the player is and isn’t able to do.

We’ll talk more about using Events to create doors and transitions between maps in the next article, as well as populating our town with NPCs to interact with. For now, let’s make a new map for our dungeon. To do so, right-click in an empty area in the map list panel, then choose “New…”. This will bring up the same map properties window we saw before, only now it’s for a brand new map, not an existing one.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 16.09.08.png

Set up your map as you see fit with a decent size and some suitable music. Choose either the Inside or the Dungeon tileset.

Now, there are two ways to make a dungeon: the hand-crafted way, like we made our town, which is generally the most preferable option; or the lazy man’s way, which I’ll show you now for the sake of completeness.

Once you’ve created your new map, right-click it again and choose Generate Dungeon. This window will appear:

Screenshot 2016-08-10 16.13.48.png

The options here are fairly self-explanatory. Choose whether you want your dungeon to be made up of rooms and passageways, or just passageways. Choose whether you want margins around the outside of the dungeon, and whether you want wider passageways or ones which are only a single tile wide. Then choose the wall and floor textures. After that, click OK and RPG Maker will get to work.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 16.15.31.png

Note that the results may not always be entirely desirable! If something like this happens, your map size might be too small, or you might want to experiment with the options a bit.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 16.17.35.png

If the results you get are along the right lines, but not quite right, you can tell RPG Maker to regenerate the dungeon as many times as you like until you get something you like the look of. Be aware, though, that running Generate Dungeon will completely overwrite the whole map, including any edits you might have made to it, so only ever use it as a starting point.

Also note that while Generate Dungeon does indeed create random dungeons, it is not the same as a procedural generation system found in “roguelikes” and action RPGs like Diablo and Grim Dawn. All it’s doing is generating a static map for you, the developer, based on your parameters; that map will be the same for all players, since it’s not randomly generating it at runtime.

Some members of the RPG Maker community look upon the Generate Dungeon option with a certain degree of scorn, and this is sort of understandable in that it takes a lot of the work out of hand-crafting challenges for the player. However, it can be a valuable starting point if you’re stumped for ideas when it comes to creative and interesting layouts, and it can make some fiendishly challenging labyrinths to conquer, too. Whether or not it’s appropriate for you to use will depend entirely on your project: if you’re making a straightforward dungeon-crawler, then Generate Dungeon may well be a useful tool. If you’re going for a more story-based experience with more believable environments, however, you may want to bite the bullet and make it yourself.

For now, let’s populate our random dungeon with monsters and create a means for the player to go back and forth between it and the town.

Bring up the Map Properties window that we saw before, and turn your attention to the Encounter list on the right. Double click in an empty space and add the “Bat*2” and “Slime*2” encounters to the dungeon.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 16.23.22.png

With the encounter rate at the default of 30, this means that on average, there will be an encounter every 30 steps. Note the “on average” part. This doesn’t mean that the player will get into a fight every 30 steps. Sometimes it may be 50 or more steps; sometimes it may be 5 or less. It will average out to around 30, though. You can raise or lower the encounter rate as you see fit. In the next article, we’ll look at an alternative to random encounters using Events for those who aren’t a fan of the old-school approach.

Now go back to your map, switch to Event Edit mode like we did when we moved the player’s start position, then right-click in an empty space and choose Quick Event Creation > Transfer…

Screenshot 2016-08-10 16.27.31.png

In the window that pops up, click on the “…” icon next to the map name, and select our town map, then click in an empty spot to place a destination for the transfer — this is essentially a “teleport” between two places, either on the same or on different maps.

Add a corresponding transfer down to the dungeon in town so it’s not a one-way trip!

Screenshot 2016-08-10 16.28.48.png

It would probably be polite to give the player some indication that these tiles are where they can enter or exit the dungeon, so plop a stairs up tile in the dungeon and a stairs down tile in town. You can find these in the “B” tab of the tileset.

At this point, we have a functional, if rather simplistic and quite rubbish, game. But it’s a start! From tiny acorns sprout mighty oaks. Let’s give our creation a go and see what’s what. Save your project with the floppy disk icon on the toolbar, then click the Playtest button to give it a shot. You can make the playtest window full screen by hitting F4 when it appears, restart the game with F5, and quit with the Windows standard shortcut Alt-F4.

Default controls are arrow keys to move, Enter to interact, Esc to bring up the menu, Shift to dash. You can also use a gamepad: assuming a standard Xbox 360-style pad, A is interact, Y is menu, B is cancel and X is dash.

Screenshot 2016-08-10 16.35.49.png

While I most certainly wouldn’t call this a finished game, it’s enough to learn the basics of RPG Maker MV mapping and start crafting your world. Once you’re confident with basic mapping like this, you may want to look into a technique called “parallax mapping” for greater flexibility, but this advanced mapping method is rather beyond the scope of what we’re looking at here!

Next time, we’ll populate our rather empty town with NPCs, add some doors so we can go into those houses, and add a boss to the end of our dungeon. In the meantime, experiment with everything RPG Maker MV offers and you’ll doubtless find it to be remarkably intuitive. You’ll be making games before you know it!

More about RPG Maker MV

Find out more about RPG Maker MV and download the trial version on the official website.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, please consider showing your social support with likes, shares and comments, or financial support via my Patreon. Thank you!

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