Pixel Game Maker MV Shows Potential Despite Frustrating UI

Chances are, if you’re a gamer then you’ve toyed with the thought of making a game at least once. Most of us never actually go through with it, though. Jumping straight into coding or using something like Unreal Engine seems terribly daunting. That’s why more user-friendly options such as RPG Maker exist in the first place. RPG Maker, in particular, has gone through tons of iterations over the years. Now the developer is taking a stab at a game engine designed for something other than RPGs with Pixel Game Maker MV on Steam Early Access.

The name of this game engine is a bit odd. After all, a “pixel game” is not a genre like “RPG” is. Don’t be fooled – the engine is still restricted to specific game types. Basically, it allows for the creation of 2D platformers and vertically-scrolling shooters in the broadest sense. Technically, if you really wanted to you could use the 2D side-scrolling effect for an adventure title. The top down view also works for a wide variety of things beyond the suggested shooter concept. For example, the top down viewpoint could easily be used for a pinball title. The engine allows for applying physics to objects so this could definitely be made.

Since Pixel Game Maker MV is a much newer creation than the long running RPG Maker series, it’s a lot rougher around the edges right now. Starting up the software reveals absolutely no in-program tutorial. There is a “Tutorial” option in the menu, but it’s greyed out. No, this doesn’t mean you’re completely left out in the cold. The engine does come with a massive text guide that offers decent explanations of many of its features. This is also still a work in progress. Honestly, the best way to get into using the software is to check out some fan-produced tutorial videos on YouTube.

Getting the basics down still leaves folks with a lot of work thanks to the dense, initially overwhelming menus. Make no mistake, even a non-programming focused game engine still needs a ton of options to create viable video games. Every so often you’ll uncover text still in Japanese. Fortunately, these bits of Japanese text should all be cleared out as Pixel Game Maker MV continues through Early Access.

It’s important to note that Pixel Game Maker MV is not an all-in-one game creation suite. You must create pixel art and a soundtrack on your own with some other program such as Aseprite or FL Studio. It does include some sample game content, but it just wouldn’t be any fun to reuse that content for your own game. Expect to make and import sprite sheets, and then get to work turning this object into an “animated” character. The Animations pane takes some work getting used to, but isn’t as scary as it first seems. After that, you set the hitbox for your character and build up a world piece by piece.

There is one aspect of Pixel Game Maker MV which is just a total nightmare. That is setting the actions on objects. How exactly do you make a video game run without programming it all from scratch? Their solution is a series of flowcharts. While this does work, it immediately balloons in complexity if you’re attempting to make a big game. The included demo games could help in showing users how to create good flowcharts, but they don’t. Each one is quite messy (and again, filled with Japanese text). It’s possible to use JavaScript to write in more complex functions as well. However, if you can already program then you likely don’t need to use the engine to begin with.

Pixel Game Maker MV
desperately needs an UI overhaul. The densely-packed menus cause dread rather than allowing players to jump straight into creating fun projects. On the other hand, it’s clear that the toolset is robust enough right now to allow for the creation of a game. Folks that stick with it will be able to make all manner of titles. It’s just too rough around the edges to recommend every aspiring game developer to jump aboard right now.