People are looking for ways to stay sane and entertained during this stay-home season. Some learn a new language, while others improve on their culinary skills.
I decided to channel all my emotions from the unusual circumstances we are living through amidst COVID-19 into fulfilling a lifelong dream - creating my own computer game.
Here's why I created a role-playing game (RPG) about the circuit breaker: Circuit Breaker Run.
Chasing a childhood dream
From the very first game I played in primary school, Sword of Vermilion on the SEGA Mega Drive, to the Pokemon series that followed me through secondary school on my old Gameboy, I have always loved RPGs.
There's just something about these story-driven games that has always captivated me, even if they didn't have the most exciting graphics. And it has been my dream since young to create an RPG of my own.
But without coding skills, my dream could only remain a dream… until I found RPG Maker MV.
The basic software allows people to create their own RPGs without any knowledge of programming. It comes with preloaded music, map tiles, and even a character generator to customise the look of each character.
Sure the options are limited, but it's enough for a beginner to create a simple game.
There were enough tiles in the basic software to create this Singapore-looking neighbourhood.
At $79.90, the software is a tad expensive, but you can download a free 20-day trial. The time limit does serve as motivation to keep working on the game too, so it probably contributed to helping me complete making the game so fast.
Also, there are tons of tutorials to help you get started on this programme.
Creating a humorous and relatable premise
With the programme settled, it was time to begin creating the storyline of my first game.
I was tempted to immediately start working on a massive epic RPG in the likes of Final Fantasy VI, but I figured most people are not going to want to play a long game made by a newbie.
I thus settled for a simple and relatable premise - having to leave the home during the circuit breaker when you don't have a mask. This current-day setting also had the advantage of being relatable to anyone following the news of people getting fined for flouting circuit breaker measures.
I wanted to memorialise this moment in our history where leaving the house without a mask could get you in trouble.
Populating the game with familiar elements
Circuit Breaker Run contains all the things I miss during the circuit breaker. For one, I really miss going out and seeing other parts of Singapore, so I tried to make the map as local-looking as possible.
I put in a row of shophouses, and plenty of HDB blocks around the neighbourhood. I even made sure the colours of the community centre were correct.
I also really missed seeing my friends, so I decided to make all of them characters in the game. This was particularly fun to do.
The character generator allowed me to create fanciful versions of my friends' outfits.
'Programming' the game through trial and error
Once the map and characters were completed, the stage was set for the most technical part of the game creation - 'programming' the events.
When a player interacts with an object or a character, how does the game respond? Do characters give you new items, or unlock doors for you? All these must be programmed into the game.
And with each event I added, I had to play-test the game to ensure I was getting it right. This tedious step was critical as small errors would render the game unplayable and I'll be left scratching my head to figure out what went wrong.
I spent an average of two to three hours every night on this game. The final supermarket level was a nightmare to create, as every single character had a different movement path to take. I took most of the weekend to do up this level.
RPG Maker MV made the 'programming' step easier for beginners by eliminating the code - you can just pick and choose what happens from a menu.
Sharing the game and receiving feedback
Two weeks from the day I started working on Circuit Breaker Run, I finished inputting the final event, and the game was done. The next thing I had to figure was how to share the game with people.
Publishing on a platform like Steam where people can buy my game seemed like a great idea. But then I found it required a deposit of $100 that I would not get back if my game didn't make at least $1,000.
Knowing my first game wasn't going to be in huge demand, I figured it was better to publish it on another platform that allowed people to play it for free.
After all, if creating this game helped me cope with the stresses of staying home for such an extended period of time, maybe playing it might help bring smiles to the faces of other Singaporeans too.
On the morning of May 31, I made the game public online, and shared it on my social media for my friends to give it a try.
I received an encouraging DM from a primary school classmate I've not spoken to in years.
While the number of downloads was not that high (I'm so thankful I didn't put it on Steam), seeing the reactions of friends enjoying my game brought me joy. Some even shared the game on their social media.
Staying home for COVID-19 is challenging, so I hope we can find little joys in each day, be it playing a random game, or taking one small step towards achieving your ambitions. As for me, I'll be searching for the next story I can turn into a game. New Normal Run, anyone?
You can play Circuit Breaker Run here!
PHOTO CREDITS: YOUTH.SG/JUSTIN HUI
Feeling bored at home? Hop on to Cr8studiosg to watch chat shows, stand-up comedy and music performances! Or visit MehGoWhere.SG for more resources or things to do!