Don Miguel Interview (December 2008)

Originally written for Gaming World, this interview was conducted with Don Miguel, a Russian man who translated RPG Maker 95 and RPG Maker 2000 and released both digitally.

These days, many people are not sure where Don Miguel resides. Some people believe he is, of sorts, a legend now due to his contribution to the amateur game making community, and due to him being the very reason that sites such as this were even created. As his deeds are well known, but the man himself is seldom seen. Well, I decided to do the RPG Making scene a favour by catching up with the elusive programmer and translator and asking him a series of questions.


Daniel: Don, let me just say that it’s an honour to be interviewing you. Not only do you have a reputation as a legend in the RPG Maker scene, but from my own recollection, you’ve always been a pretty cool guy too so hey, why don’t you tell the folks who you are and what you do? Give them this opportunity to “know” Don Miguel.

Don: I have to greet all the readers. Yo all!
I’m a programmer and translator. I’ve graduated from 2 universities so far. I started working right after the school and haven’t moved from my place yet. It’s very reliable and, well, fine to keep. Since 13, I always had a gamedev hobby. I continue making games for myself and sometimes I’ll sell them. It doesn’t bring in much, so it’s just a hobby.
What do I like doing? Well.. I like visiting friends, like Japanese RPGs, books and anime… I plant cactuses, and I like cats. That’s all I can tell you.

Daniel: You sound like a pretty laid back guy! That’s pretty cool.

Don: My personality is just a mask on the internet, I think. But my real friends find me easy going and such.

Daniel: Anyway.. In retrospect, you’re responsible for a lot of sites existing such as Gaming World, Gaming Ground Zero, RPG RPG Revolution, and so on. Even though someone else would have likely translated RPG Maker 95 and 2000 if you had not, how does it make you feel knowing that you’ve had such a significant impact on the hobbies and leisurely activities of so many people?

Don: I like the feeling of that impact. Some people have become game developers, designers and work in the game development industry. But I also regret that I spent so much time supporting the RPG Maker products Which were nothing more than warez. I made my own maker made in 1995, “Platformer maker”.
And the fun fact is… localization isn’t hard. I finished the RPG Maker 95 translation in two hours and made the RPG Maker 2003 translation in 2 days, I think. So it was easy for anyone with some experience.

Daniel: With experience, yeah. A lot of people who work with the RPG Makers really don’t have that, so people like you really do them a large favour I would say. You say you regret spending so much time on the RPG Maker products.. Was this part of the reason why you decided not to translate RPG Maker 2003? What was the precise reason?

Don: I just waited for a letter from Enterbrain, it was like a nightmare… I mean, I used to put all my free time into the RPG Maker community in place of my own projects. So the letter was a good reason to stop. A few months later, I sold my commercial game. So it all was for good! I won’t name my games though. It’s not on topic with the question.

Daniel:So Enterbrain asking you to stop was your reason for not continuing?

Don: It was the last straw. So yes, it was the reason. I even believed them, helped them to gather some feedback from “future buyers” of the official English RPG Maker 2000, but they postponed the release. It doesn’t matter now.

Daniel: Definitely a good thing for you to do, then. A lot of people don’t know what you’re up to these days, and they seem to think that finding the legendary Don Miguel is a difficult challenge. For these people, why don’t you tell us what you’re currently involved in? Making a game? Programming anything?

Don: I have a bad habit here! I like coding game engines. My latest engine uses LUA (see http://lua.org) as a script language. The engine is very portable and it works on both PC and some ARM based handhelds.
Every year, in July, I teach children how to program at a summer school for young programmers. This school is going to be devoted to some sound effects library coding. It’s my my own workshop.
I have three work in progress game projects, but I have to polish up my engine first before continuing them!

Daniel: Here’s a thinker for you, Don. If you had not translated the RPG Makers, do you think that Enterbrain may have considered releasing them on their own? And if they had, do you think that they would have had as much success as they have had through your translations?

Don: Well, I believe that they would have never released it abroad. I don’t count some Playstation stuff, those are not as serious as the PC RPG Makers.
I know some Japanese people in real life, and they say that domestic market of Japanese RPGs is devoted to “smart people”. Who does the domestic market consist of? You know.
My translations and free advertising brought much attention to their products in many countries. They could have even released it in Russia despite the software piracy.
I don’t know how much they had earned on RPG Makers abroad, but I believe the sum could be less without my “help”. That’s just my opinion. There are many similar (and more professional) products for game making, which became forgotten right before the release of the RPG Makers.

How ironic that back in the nineties I had so much trouble when my commercial games were pirated. I haven’t covered my expenses, but I’ve got some “fame” because my products were wide spread. My next projects were pirated as well…

Daniel: So you rose to fame through piracy? Sounds more like infamy, eh?
Here’s another RPG Maker question for ya. Don’t worry, this whole interview won’t focus on the RPG Makers. This will be the last question focusing solely on this subject.
What are your thoughts on the newer RPG Makers, XP and VX. You may not use them, but I’m sure you’re aware of them? Do you think that they are a step forward, or a step backward? Is Enterbrain giving the amateur game designers the proper tools? I ask this because a lot of people are still using RPG Makers 2000 and 2003 despite these newer engines, and they are reluctant to change. What are your thoughts?

Don: I haven’t used the new makers, but I’ve read about their features and I’ve seen some screen shots. They kept backward project compatibility, that’s good. They added Ruby. That’s good, too. However, I don’t think they (new makers) vary much. So if people want to make games, they could use any tool.
One day users realize that the RPG Makers have their limits. They’re good for starters, good for fun. Being a professional programmer, I still like the idea of RPG Makers. The key is in their simplicity.

Daniel: So you still have a soft spot for the RPG Makers?

Don: That spot is my friends, the friendships that I made through my work with the RPG Makers.

Daniel: That’s pretty nice to hear, but I suppose it was evident since after passing on RPG Maker 2003, you continued at your ezBoard for a bit, followed by staffing at Gaming Ground Zero and then, finally, ending up at Stifu’s forum. You seem to have a close partnership with Stifu, even being featured as a playable character in his Mario Kart hack. How would you describe your relationship with Stifu, another well known figure from RPG Maker’s past?

Don: I didn’t pass on RPG Maker 2003. I just got a letter from Enterbrain and stopped distributing their products. I kept my forum online due to some friends of mine. It was the place to meet. Somehow I parted with GGZ (I never liked to be manipulated and such). It seems that Stifu is a very reliable man. Just look at his site. Stifu is my friend. For me, it’s a honor to have such a friend and be a tiny pixel in his (and his pal’s) project. I like Stifu’s pixel-art talent. Our friendship has grown up from the fight. I hope we’ll finish our cooperative projects and have some projects in the future.

Daniel: Well, I wish you luck! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Don, and again, best of luck to you in your future endeavors.


(2010/05/29)

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RPG Maker: A Look Back

From 1999 until 2009, I enjoyed tinkering with Enterbrain’s RPG Maker products, seeing what I could do and if anyone online thought that anything I made was fun. I could probably still use them even now, but neither the flame or passion are there anymore. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m 24 or that I used the tool kits for so many years that I’ve exhausted myself, but I just find it hard to want to use them anymore.

Despite the fact that I do not actively use RPG Maker products anymore, I still think highly of them and have many fond memories from using the products and talking to others who also did on communities such as Gaming World, a website that used to be the best place to go for articles, games, resources, and tutorials.

I think back to why I first used RPG Maker 95 in 1999, and I’ve concluded that it’s because I wanted to fulfill one basic desire that we all have, the will to create something. As a teenage boy, I had dreams that many other teenage boys had. I, like many others, always wanted to make my own video game. Almost all of us lacked the means to make a game in any efficient manner, so when the RPG Makers were popularized on the internet, I became aware that my dreams could finally be realized.

Like many who started, I decided that the best way to start was by making an RPG with “Final Fantasy” in the title. Fangames were always a large part of the RPG Maker scene, and I was usually smack dab in the center. I still remember my very first game in RPG Maker 95, one that only my brother play tested. It was called Final Fantasy… something. The title escapes me, but I clearly remember the main character being similar to Celes from Final Fantasy IV, and for some bizarre reason the first character to join her was a court jester on a wooden bridge. Why was he there? I don’t know. Did he have a reason for joining? Not really. I was only thirteen or fourteen at the time, so none of that mattered. I was just having fun, after all.

I went on to make quite a few RPGs over time. My first game on RPG Maker 2000, the successor to RPG Maker 95, was called Lost Chapters and in 2001 won the prestigious award of “worst RPG Maker game” at the time. It was truly an awful game, lacking any kind of intro sequence at all. The storyline was hardly coherent, and I tried to fit in an epic adventure into a game that could be beaten in two or three hours. Still just a young teenager, I didn’t know what I was really doing. A female dancer, hungry dragon, and sex changing sorcerer were the primary party members aside from the main character, a demon named Exdeath. Yes, Exdeath. Clearly I was infatuated with Final Fantasy V at the time.

Several Lost Chapters sequels and Breath of Fire/Final Fantasy fangames filled the remaining seven or eight years of my RPG Maker days. I remember always looking forward to publishing my games on Gaming World’s forums to see how they would be received. For the most part, the early ones were met with utter hate while my last few, which are all still incomplete and on my hard drive, were actually met with small amounts of praise. Of course I still had people saying that my latest Final Fantasy game was dull or boring, or that my original game Reminisce wasn’t that fun, but there were people who actually enjoyed playing them and told me that they looked forward to future versions. Just knowing that I entertained even a small crowd of people with games that I attempted to make in an RPG Maker was a cool feeling. It’s not something I’m proud of and I never bring it up, but it does make me feel good. It’s the same as if I wrote a short story or cooked a really good meal and people enjoyed them. It’s the same feeling of fulfillment, and working away on various RPGs that I used to make certainly got me through some very, very dreary days when I used to live back where I grew up.

Overall, I look back on everything and I think that I was just pursuing silly teenaged dreams, but I’m definitely thankful for everything RPG Maker did for me. Because of it, I learned how to take criticism from the public better (ie. receiving comments about aspects of my games that people did not like), and it also taught me better organizational skills. Though I don’t think I’ll ever really work on anything in RPG Maker again, except maybe to kill an hour or two on slow days, I’m grateful for my time with the makers. I still do have a desire to make games (platformers specifically, and I have a really awesome idea in my head that’s NEVER been done) and I would love to try and make something again, but the best days, the RPG Maker days, are behind me now. And you know what? They were damn good days.

Return to May 2010 Articles

Plants vs Zombies (Review)

“PopCap’s latest smash hit is their finest work yet.”

I have long enjoyed PopCap’s modestly priced puzzle games, ever since the first Bejeweled. After Bejeweled 2 and Peggle, I began to believe that PopCap could not be topped in the realm of puzzle games. While this is probably true, I never expected them to expand into another genre and make themselves very, very comfortable. Last year, PopCap released Plants vs Zombies, a tower defense based strategy game that may just be not only the finest tower defense game ever, but also PopCap’s best game to date.

There’s not much of a story to tell. In Plants vs Zombies, you take the role of a suburban home owner in a neighborhood that is being invaded by zombies. The zombies, naturally, want to break into your house and eat your brain. Where this game gets weird is with the introduction of your yard full of plants which you must use to stop the zombies from reaching your house. I don’t believe they ever explain why your garden comes to life, but I suspect it is probably a side effect of the zombies being brought back to life from the dead. Throughout the game, you’ll “bond” with your clinically insane neighbor who gives you tips on how to beat the zombies.

Plants vs Zombies is not a difficult game to learn. Players must plant sunflowers which provide them with sun points. These points work like money. Each plant that you can deploy costs a certain number of points, and when you have enough, you are able to plant one in your yard. There are many different kinds of zombies, ranging from zombies with buckets on their heads, to pogo stick riding zombies, and finally, Michael Jackson look-a-likes who call upon dancer zombies. To combat all of these zombies, you’ll need to use your head and deply the appropriate plants. Pogo stick zombies leap over plants and straight towards your house, but by setting a large walnut down, the pogo zombie will bump into them and fall down. It is not uncommon to see the odd zombie or two appear on a zamboni in later levels, which mow down all plans in whatever row they are making their way down. How do you stop that? Set down a spikeweed and it will pop the zamboni’s tires. Almost every zombie has a weakness like this, while many plants do not work well against particular zombies. Using the right plants at the right times is very important and, in some cases, is the key to sucess. Later levels make the player adjust to having a foggy night yard, a pool in the center rows of the yard, and eventually even fighting off the zombies on your roof. Some levels combine many themes, such as a foggy yard with a pool at night. These levels force the player to think much more than normal and work in the game’s favour.

Graphics, as they are in most PopCap games, are completely two dimensional and very friendly even on aged computers. Even on maximum settings, this game should still be silky smooth on older systems while still looking very nice. It’s worth noting that the plants are drawn very well, with most of them possessing a sort of cute charm. Zombies, despite their silly designs, look fantastic as the shamble towards you. When the stage is full of many different kinds of plants and zombies and the action becomes hectic is when this game truly shines and, for a two dimensional bargain game, looks absolutely fantastic as your plants all fire their own respective projectiles, breaking off of the approaching horde of zombies.

One area which this game truly shines in is the sound department. PopCap did a stellar job with the sound effects for Plants vs Zombies, as I don’t recall ever hearing a single sound that I disliked or found annoying to any degree. Everything sounds pretty good, especially the moans from the zombies, who also occasionally utter “brains” like any respectful zombie would. The music is, more or less, all well above the average benchmark. Though there is a playful, silly nature to most of the music tracks in this game, there is also a sense of dread and urgency layered in each track as the action picks up. It’s great music for a tower defense game. It all just sounds so silly and never takes itself seriously, but still manages to convey a serious threatening tone as the zombies approach. If Tim Burton ever made a tower defense game, this would be the soundtrack.

In terms of replayability, there’s lots to do. After completing the main game, you can replay it again and have your neighbor play a larger role by choosing your plants for you. There are also minigames and survival exercises, as well as a relaxing zen garden. You can also pick up coins throughout the game which you can use to spend in Crazy Dave’s shop to purchase new plants and upgrades. Even after beating the game, I found that there was still several hours worth of content still waiting for me.

Overall, Plants vs Zombies is just plain fantastic. It is currently my favourite PopCap game as well as my favourite tower defense game. The game is a blast to play and the atmosphere is very immersive for a game of this kind. If you are a fan of PopCap or even just tower defense games, you owe it to yourself to give this gem a try. At only $10 on Steam, you really can’t go wrong. Alternatively, you can also pick this game up on your iPod Touch or iPhone, and I can’t think of a better way to spend your time on the go!

Final Score

8.5/10