Tom: For the most part, Mikkoku has been a solo project so please allow me to give a little introduction about myself. My name is Tom Bartels, and at the time of writing this, I am 30 years old and live in the southern parts of the Netherlands. Next to game design, my main interests are games in general, animals, history and psychology.
Growing up with a SNES
For as long as I can remember, I've loved playing video games - RPGs in particular. While a lot of kids my age would spend most of their time playing outside, I would spend mine with the Super Nintendo (or SNES). One of the first real J-RPGs I got my hands on was Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, a puzzle-driven but incredibly easy game released by Squaresoft in Europe in 1993. My brother and I were subscribers to "Club Nintendo" (a Nintendo gaming magazine) and we were lucky enough to win a copy of the game in a prize question. I really enjoyed the game. Around this same time I also got to play Illusion of Time (known as Illusion of Gaia in the US) and Secret of Mana, two other classics.
A passion for RPGs
But the real fun started when I was a little bit older (around 11 years old) and found out about emulators and roms. A friend in school gave me a floppy disc with a SNES emulator, a Final Fantasy II (IV) rom and instructions on how to play. It was an amazing experience. This game was such a huge step forward from Mystic Quest, I almost couldn't believe it! Later on, he had yet another surprise for me: Final Fantasy III (VI), which in my opinion still ranks as the very best game ever. I still remember the moment when he gave me a demonstration of the game: he loaded his own save file with a party of Celes, Sabin, Edgar and Setzer in the WoR, about to rescue Relm in Owzer's Mansion. We didn't have internet yet back then, so unfortunately I had no way of obtaining any roms myself.
When we finally got internet access, one of the first things I did was look for similar games and found games like Final Fantasy V, Seiken Densetsu 3 and Chrono Trigger. Mind you, none of these games ever got a SNES release in Europe, so if it hadn't been for roms I would have never gotten the pleasure of growing up with these classics. After a couple of years, my parents bought a Playstation for the family and my love for J-RPGs soared even higher with games like Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX, Chrono Cross, Legend of Mana, and in particular Suikoden I and II. It was around this time that I became really inspired to make an RPG of my own.
The origins of Mikkoku
Ever since I was a small boy I've had a passion for creating things and coming up with stories. Initially I enjoyed drawing comic strips on paper, but as soon as my parents bought a computer, my focus shifted to digital story telling. One of the PC games I played the most as a teenager was Jazz Jackrabbit 2, a platform game. The aspect of this game that stood out most for me was its level creator. You could even make your own tilesets! Needless to say, this was a great way to ventilate new concepts. I especially enjoyed putting RPG elements in a platform game. One of my first popular levels I made was called "Land of Coins" (also known as "Cracco LoC"). This level was essentially a fetch quest in which the player had to collect a number of hidden coins to lift a curse on a Sealed Castle in order to proceed. Each of these coins had its own element: fire, water, earth, wind, nature, ice and so on. This level formed the very raw basis of what would later become "Mikkoku".
Starting the project
The year was 2003, and I was really excited about creating my own RPG. My previous attempts with RPG Toolkit and RPG Maker 2000 to create a full length game never took off, but this time would be different. I want to create a game that centred around elemental coins, but not in a linear fetch quest like my JJ2 level. Initially, a large number of characters were inspired by my real life friends, but as I got more serious about Mikkoku and most of these friendships started to wane, my Mikkoku characters started to develop in ways divergent from their real life counterparts.
Around 2005/2006, the aim of Mikkoku had changed drastically. I no longer wanted to create a fun RPG about a band of heroes gathering elemental coins. I now wanted to create the perfect blend between Final Fantasy (with unique job classes), Suikoden (with a large cast and an HQ), and the other SNES/PS1 era classics. I started thinking more critically about all aspects of the game, including the dialogue and the story segments. I also decided to give special attention to the politics and histories of all of the countries in the game to make the world feel as lively as possible. What followed was the first worldwide release of Mikkoku in 2007. If people say that they have played Mikkoku before, it is most likely that it is this version they're talking about.
Rebooting the project
My second favourite game genre after RPGs is strategy games, in particular Seven Kingdoms, Age of Empires and Civilization. Until this day, Civilization IV still is my all time favourite PC game. Following the release of Mikkoku "version 1", I decided to make a mod for Civ IV that would take place in the Mikkoku universe. I've had a lot of fun playing this mod with friends.
However, as much fun as modding Civilization IV was, it couldn't hold a candle to the passion of working on Mikkoku. I then came up with a story for a possible sequel to Mikkoku. Since the release of Mikkoku 1 I had left high school and started studying history at the university and I planned on drawing inspiration from whatever I learned to make the game's story and lore as strong as possible. Even though RPG Maker XP had already come out, I decided to continue using RPG Maker 2003 because the game would take place in the same universe as its prequel and would partially use the same maps, enemies, skills, items, and so on.
After having worked on Mikkoku 2 for roughly half a year, I realized that the quality of the game was higher than its prequel; in its core gameplay, in story telling but especially in map design. This was most likely due to the fact that I was now a lot more serious and experienced than when I first started working on Mikkoku. Even though Mikkoku was generally well received where I uploaded it, I came to realize that it still had a lot of flaws and could be a lot better in certain areas. Half way through 2008 I made a bold decision: I cancelled Mikkoku 2, and decided to overhaul Mikkoku completely.
Vision for the future
And this is what I've been doing ever since. I've been taking every single aspect of the game and improving it as much as I can. Of course, the length and scope of the game have drastically increased as well. There are more playable characters, more places to visit, and the story itself is now a whole lot more coherent and richer than it ever was before. Many completely new concepts have been added to Mikkoku as well. In other words, the version of Mikkoku I'm working on now is almost a completely new game from its predecessor in 2007. This year I've also created a brand new site for the game, which will hopefully serve as a good source of information about Mikkoku until the game is actually released.
My dream is that one day I'll be able to step away from RPG Maker 2003 and remake the game from scratch with original art and an original soundtrack, and then distribute it either digitally or on disc/cartridge. For now it's nothing more than a crazy fantasy, but hey, who knows what the future holds?