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How to Build Interactive RPGs

Role Playing Games (RPGs) are a genre of popular games adored by fans worldwide. Players take on the role of one or more characters, which is known as a party, in order to complete the overall objective of the game, all the while completing smaller quests for rewards to aid them in their journey. RPGs place an emphasis on storytelling, character development, and exploration more so than a player’s physical skills or reactions, which are more valued in first-person shooting (FPS) games.

In order to advance through the game, players need to improve their party by leveling up and gaining experience points, which is the scoring system used to provide the player with important and rewarding feedback. Most RPGs have storylines that are meant to pull the player in and allow them to affect the storyline or be more involved by allowing the player to select dialog responses in-game, known as dialog choices or trees. RPGs also offer unique equipment and customization of skills and sometimes offer character creation systems that allow players to customize their own player characters. Players are enticed to collect valuable and strong items to help them succeed in their journey and provide the player with unique ways to play the game by selecting and changing preferred skills to use, which is known as a skill tree.

There are many sub-genres of RPGs, as they offer different ways for players to immerse themselves in the game worlds. Developers create these different types of RPGs, as they want to create unique experiences for players to enjoy. Continue reading to learn more about why you would want to build RPG games, the different game mechanics of RPGs you can create, and the steps needed to build an interactive RPG with social features.

So you want to build an RPG?

Role-playing games are meant for players to fully immerse themselves in the game. RPGs contain elements of fantastical worlds, characters, and abilities that are akin to reading fantasy novels. Players want to explore expansive worlds, complete quests to earn rewards, and enjoy battling with magical abilities. Developers want players to care about the world and the characters that live in this digital environment.

As mentioned earlier, RPGs are less physically demanding than other genres, enabling gamers of all experience levels to enjoy your game, including beginners. In return, RPGs have to pull in and engage the player. RPGs are also expected to have an interesting story and cast of colorful characters and should contain more content than other genres, generating a game experience that could easily exceed over 100 hours of gameplay. That being said, this multi-hour gameplay experience allows developers to build unique experiences, as there are many different types of RPGs.

Types of RPGs you can easily build

The first role-playing video games appeared in the 1970s on computer systems and were influenced by tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons and Dragons and other strategy board games like chess. As technology improved, developers all around the world were able to craft many different types of RPGs that catered to different enthusiasts of the genre, establishing sub-genres that most RPGs are based on or containing variations of to craft your own RPG experience.

Japanese RPG

While a Japanese RPG (JRPG) is an RPG developed in Japan, this genre also includes RPGs developed in other Asian countries and can be referred to as Eastern RPGs. One of the two broader categories of role-playing games, this sub-genre of RPGs contains distinct traits that come from Japanese, South Korean, Chinese, and other Asian cultures that influence the style of the game. While the games do not strictly have to be set in Japan or other Asian countries, the game’s languages, references, and content appropriate to the target demographic need to be translated and/or changed when producing the game worldwide. Some styles of JRPGs are also influenced by western cultures, such as the dark fantasy Action JRPG Elden Ring. While JRPGs are a unique sub-genre of RPGs, there are different kinds of role-playing games in JRPGs, such as Action, Turn-Based, and Strategy and Tactical RPGs (more on this later).

JRPGs contain many of the best-selling RPG franchises, including Pokémon, the monster collection and battling turn-based JRPG. Pokémon came out on the Game Boy over 25 years ago and is the highest-grossing media franchise in the world. Other popular JRPG franchises include Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Kingdom Hearts, and Persona.

Western RPG

The second of the broader two categories of role-playing games, western role-playing games are RPGs developed in the Americas and Europe. Similar to JRPGs, Western role-playing games are styled and contain cultural references to the western world, and have to be translated and/or changed in other countries due to these differences. Conversely, some Western RPGs are directly influenced by JRPGs, such as the creature-collecting massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Temtem, which is directly influenced by Pokemon’s style of collecting and battling with creatures but improves the gameplay with unique enhancements. Similar to JRPGs, Western RPGs are a unique sub-genre of RPGs, containing many different kinds of role-playing games.

Western role-playing games are the other half of RPGs and include franchises such as The Witcher, The Elder Scrolls, Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, and World of Warcraft.

Action RPG

Action role-playing games (ARPGs) are RPGs that place an emphasis on combat and fast-paced gameplay. Typically the most physically responsive of RPGs, they emphasize real-time combat and place a focus on the player to make quick decisions with skills, weapons, and items to defeat enemies and win battles. While ARPGs such Elden Ring contain the core experience and level-up scoring mechanic, players have to fight through enemies and invading players to progress through the game in real-time combat.

Popular ARPGs include Elden Ring, Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, The Witcher 3, Monster Hunter Rise, Lost Ark, and Mass Effect 3.

Turn Based RPG

Turn-based role-playing games are the oldest and typically most associated sub-genre of RPGs, as most RPGs (and other strategy and card-based games) have a turn-based system in some form. During battles, the player and the opposing enemies take turns when attacking, defending, consuming an item, or performing another action. The turn order is typically decided by character stats such as speed, ambushing the enemy when the enemy unit is facing the other way, or using items and attacks that allow the character to go first.

Game franchises like Pokémon, Final Fantasy, Persona, Wasteland, and the very successful indie game Undertale are fundamental turn-based RPGs.

Strategy and Tactical RPG

Strategy and Tactical role-playing games (TRPGs) are RPGs that combine turn-based RPGs with strategic placement and movement of characters and units. Battles are typically grid-based, which shows you how far a character can move or attack an opposing unit. Players control all ally characters during the battle and units in the game have a turn order, decided upon by a unit’s statistics such as speed or weight (how fast or light the unit is). Players have the option of moving their units to specific locations, attacking other units with weapons or skills if they are in range, or consuming items to heal themselves or allies. During these specific skirmishes, the two units may interact with each, creating a separate instance of a turn-based system, such as how battle flows in the Fire Emblem series. After each unit or battle concludes, units gain experience points and level up, gaining access to new skills, equipment, and advancement in the story.

Examples of strategy and tactical role-playing games include Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Divinity Original Sin 2, and Final Fantasy Tactics.

Massively Multiplayer Online RPG

Massively multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs) are RPGs that are persistently connected online with thousands of concurrent players. Players are able to customize their characters and go through a main storyline quest. They can complete smaller quests and train by themselves, but it is usually more proficient to work with others in party quests, raids, or dungeons. MMORPGs are updated constantly. Players have daily quests to bring them back to the game, events that provide unique rewards, and even seasonal maps and equipment obtainable during specific times of the year. Players are able to chat, trade items with each other, and create communities within the game, called guilds or clans. MMORPGs follow either a subscription model, where players pay a monthly fee to continue playing or a free-to-play model, where the game is free-to-play, but has purchasable cosmetic or items with real currency to assist players in the game to help support servers and the developers enhancing the game.

Examples of MMORPGs include World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and RuneScape.

Steps for building an RPG

Story, Setting, & Characters

Although you’ve learned about the different sub-genres of role-playing games, the first step of building an RPG is to create the story and setting. As you’ve learned and experienced yourself, RPGs without an interesting, unique, or engaging world and cast of characters will not keep players immersed. Similar to how you would turn off a movie you find boring, you need to have a unique storyline that keeps players engaged. Developers need to craft a world that players find interesting and fascinating.

Determine the Sub-Genre

The second step then is to determine the sub-genre of your role-playing game. Do you want to create a stylish turn-based RPG like Persona 5, a fast-paced action RPG like Bayonetta, or a tactical RPG like Divinity Original Sin 2? If you want to create a unique RPG experience, you could combine multiple sub-genres to craft your own game or take a spin on an already established sub-genre to create a unique battle system. The sub-genre of your RPG can also make or break its success. MMORPGs require a complicated infrastructure, maintenance, and payment model, on top of establishing the other core necessities of RPGs. The market of MMORPGs and other RPGs can be competitive, and your game will more than likely get compared with other more established RPGs.

Choose Your Game Engine

The third step is to select the game engine you would like to craft your game. This will be based on your desire to create a 2D or 3D RPG. Most video games use established game engines such as Unity and Unreal Engine for their ability to target multiple platforms, but some companies use custom video game engines (such as the one in Stardew Valley) or commercial-only game engines like Havok. However, it’s recommended to use game engines readily available to developers so you can experiment and determine your best possible choices. Video game engines like Game Maker Studio are designed to craft 2D experiences, target multiple platforms, and are free to use, but have monetization limitations and require developers to use their proprietary language. Other video game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine allow for 2D and 3D development to target multiple platforms and allow for use of modern languages such as C# and C++, but are extremely complicated, require a fairly steep learning curve, and have royalties you must pay to the game engine developers if your game makes a certain amount of money. Learn more about the different game engines you can use in our guide.

Core Features

Although obvious, the fourth step is to build out the game itself. After becoming familiar with the game engine, begin by implementing the core features of your game. Implement the battle system based on the desired sub-genre of RPGs, and design the overall objective of each area in the game. Flesh out your world-building, ensuring from a high level that your game flows in an easy-to-understand and enjoyable path, from the starting tutorial to the end of the game where you defeat the final boss. This is the critical step of your RPG system and one that will certainly need the most time and care.

Details

As you are implementing core features that define your RPG campaign, world design, and battle mechanics, the final step is to implement details. You can add weapons, skills, and items that aid the player through the game. You can add optional side quests to reward the player with equipment and items, add additional backstory to bring your non-playable characters (NPCs) to life, and even implement smaller mini-games which are popular in RPGs, such as how Persona 5 is filled with optional activities that have no impact on the overall story but provide stat boosts and money. This encourages players to spend more time with your game and encourages replayability.

Making your RPGs interactive, social, and engaging

As you are building your role-playing game, you should consider adding online features that enable your users to connect to one another. Although not always necessary for RPGs, implementing online features allows your players to remain connected and encourages replayability, as they can discuss, share, and engage in friendly competition to achieve better results. This is what is known as a Virtual Space.

RPGs like Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Persona 5 implement online features indirectly by providing statistics based on other player actions that were performed during a certain calendar day of the game. This helps determine the best course of action for other players on what to do that day and lets gamers feel like they are not alone. Divinity Original Sin 2 and Elden Ring offer more direct engaging social features, offering cooperative play and even battles against enemy players.

Integrating direct or indirect online features is by no means an easy task. You have to set up an infrastructure to handle these online features, implement them into your game, and maintain these features securely for your players, as well as develop your game. While it is possible to create this infrastructure yourself, this will take time, resources, and upkeep that can be spent elsewhere. This is where PubNub can help.

PubNub is a developer API platform that enables applications to receive real-time updates at a massive, global scale. PubNub serves as the foundation for over 2000 customers in diverse industries, including gaming. Game developers can depend on PubNub’s scalability and reliability to power their online features for games and tools for in-game chat, live scoring updates, and alerts and notifications to bring players back to the game. PubNub is efficient, reliable, and fast enough to power these features in real-time, without affecting the gameplay experience of players.

Panzerdog’s fast-paced shooter Tacticool, built using Unity, uses PubNub to power their in-game chat. Panzerdog can depend on PubNub’s scalability and reliability to support communications for 100,000 plus daily players and 10 million downloads across the world.

Beamable, once a game developer now turned into a full-stack LiveOps platform for live games for Unity, depends on PubNub’s infrastructure to power its chat platform to build highly engaging and interactive games using their platform.

Mayhem lets gaming communities build customized leagues that attract players. They turned to PubNub to power their chat, real-time leaderboards, and push notifications to ensure a smooth and limit-free player experience.

To begin using PubNub to make your RPGs interactive, social, and engaging, you’ll need to first create a PubNub account and import one of PubNub’s many SDKs that integrate seamlessly into your game, including an SDK specifically designed for Unity

  1. Sign in or create an account to create an app on the Admin Portal and get the keys to use in your application. Learn how to do so by following this how-to on creating keys.

  2. Select the SDK that aligns with your game’s development environment.

  3. Follow the SDK’s getting started documentation to configure your keys

Once you have your PubNub keys and installed the desired SDK, you can begin implementing PubNub functionality in your game.

How to add interactive chat to RPGs

PubNub has the following features built-in to its API that you can use to build chat for your role-playing games.

  1. Publish: Send updates whenever player input is updated, such as chat updates, emoji reactions, player kills, match statistics, files, and other complex metadata.

  2. Subscribe: Receive updates from connected players to refresh players' screens with new and important data.

  3. Presence: Update the online status of players and signal changes to friend lists while players are in-game.

  4. Message Persistence: Display any missed information to offline players once they log in.

  5. Objects: Store information about your players in one place without the need of setting up or calling your database.

  6. Access Manager: Restrict access for private conversations, chat rooms, special events, and player-restricted content for your players.

There are two ways to implement chat using these features. You can use one of PubNub’s many SDKs and have the flexibility of designing the UI of the chat yourself or use PubNub Chat Components, which are ready-made building blocks so you can quickly add chat to your game. Learn more about the difference between PubNub SDKs and Chat Components in our how-to guide.

Although not an RPG, you can see how a leaderboard that updates in real time was implemented in a Unity racing game in our interactive demo and tutorial.

How to add game stats and leaderboards to RPGs

Some RPGs have statistics for what players did during a certain day, how long it took players to defeat bosses, and even complete the game. PubNub’s Functions feature is especially useful for supporting real-time updates without affecting games. You can set up the Functions feature to act as a constant, separate running system to update users on a variety of events triggered. You can even translate and censor inappropriate messages, announce the arrival of new players, and notify other players of mentions.

In the same Unity demo and tutorial described earlier, you can see how a leaderboard that updates in real time was implemented in a Unity racing game.

How to add alerts and push notifications to RPGs

Mobile (Android and iOS) RPGs like Genshin Impact, Raid: Shadow Legends, and Diablo Immortal depend on alerts and push notifications to bring gamers back to the game if players are not actively playing. It also alerts players of new events as they are happening and any upcoming events, missed messages from other players, and any other important information.

You can follow a step-by-step tutorial on how to add push notifications to mobile devices.

Getting Started with PubNub to make your RPGs interactive

Role-playing games are meant for players to fully immerse themselves in the game. RPGs contain elements of fantastical worlds, characters, and abilities that are akin to reading fantasy novels and tabletop role-playing games. There are different genres of RPGs, and each one is used to give the player this immersion. RPGs can be further enhanced with online features powered by PubNub such as chat, leaderboard, and push notifications that help boost your RPG to enable social interactions between players, inform them of news and events, and bring players back to the game.

Learn more about how you can enhance RPGs using PubNub with the following resources:

Feel free to reach out to the Developer Relations Team at devrel@pubnub.com for any questions or concerns.