Parallax Mapping in MZ: Basics and Tips
Avery
by
Avery
on
November 25, 2021
November 23, 2021

Parallax Mapping in MZ: Basics and Tips

Parallax Mapping in MZ: Basics and Tips
by

Avery

on

November 25, 2021

If you spend some time on our boards, you will sooner or later come across the mysterious term parallax mapping and find out, that some people might swear, that parallax mapping is the one true way for a good looking game. While you shouldn't blindly follow advice like that, today we are going to look at parallax mapping.

First of all, you will need a plugin-in to bind your pictures to your map, so they don’t scroll along. I personally used Cyclone Maps by Hudell to ensure everything stays in place, as otherwise the layers move as the player does and that is totally not what you want here.

Back when I started using RPG Maker XP, parallax mapping was something I had never heard of, and the reason is simple: with an unlimited tileset size and three mapping layers, possible opacity in autotiles, fogs and autotiles, there was no need to use this technique.

But VX came, and the engine went for a much more performance optimized way and some other changes.

With one A tile layer and one (later two) B/C/D/E layers - therefore no transparent animated water for example - and restricted sizes for these tilesets, mapping became a much faster task, but with results that were often kind of blocky and sometimes boring.

RPG Maker MZ has four mapping layers, possible transparent autotiles and the only thing which you might lack in comparison to good old XP are unlimited tilesets, so a lot of the necessity for parallaxing to do certain things is gone.. But after all these years, parallax mapping has become a constant tool in many people's arsenals, and an option you can still consider.

So what is parallaxing?

The term might be a bit misleading, as it utilized both parallaxes and pictures.

If you look into your parallax folder, you can see those neat background pictures which you can use to fill out the transparent parts of your map. But… What if that picture is your actual map?

That is generally what parallax mapping stands for: maps that were created in a graphic program like Gimp, Paint.net, Photoshop or any other that supports layers and transparency (and preferably a grid) and then utilized by using them as parallax and picture.

For this tutorial I will refer to the part that is placed below the map as parallax as, well, parallax and for the picture that I will use to ensure our player and events can for example walk behind a tree, the image which is placed on top of our map as overlay.

So why use parallaxing?

If we look at this pretty standard example map I made, we see a lot of reasons why you would want to parallax:

  • Everything is really blocky, especially the path looks a bit unnatural and straight.
  • Due to the blockiness, the trees all stand in non-organic patterns, which looks a bit strange especially when it comes to the more dense parts of the forest. That also applies to all the clutter, everything is very bound to the grid. The well and the bucket are in line and the two firewood piles have quite some distance inbetween
  • There is no color variation in the grass or the trees - remember, every tree recolor would have to be fit into the tileset, and while that is very possible for such a small example, for large maps the tilesets suddenly can feel a little small

But before we even start, let us have a look at the downsides as well:

  • Parallaxing takes a lot longer, is more fiddly and requires skill in a graphic program. You also have to utilize plug-ins to make it work.
  • Good editor mapping is better than bad or maybe even standard parallax mapping. Some well tailored tilesets can often do a similar or even the same result for your map.
  • If you have these tailored tileset for an area, you can make many maps with it after spending that amount once in the graphic program and setting up the passability. For parallaxing you have to place the passibilities later for each map in the engine.
  • By breaking up the grid you can run into trouble when it comes to passability issues.
  • Parallaxes are usually static, water and other animated stuff can be a huge issue. Also you will lose the proper “edge” between terrains that the autotiles have. You really don’t want to hand draw all these around your edges.
  • It is very tempting to fiddle around with the colors, and color balancing is actually very difficult. I have seen several maps that had a very bad color balance partly as a result of being an over-edited parallax map.

So how would I parallax the map we see above?

First I need an image of the proper size, exactly the same as my map. My base is simply a whole layer filled with the grass tile on which I put together what I envision.

For the other ground layers like the path or the road I also filled whole layers and used the layer mask and the gimp acrylic brushes to paint these in.

  • While I don’t care about the grid for stuff like ground variations - patches of dirt, different kinds of grass - I like to “stay in the lines” for things like paths, so the player can actually walk on them and not have to balance on the edge of it.

The house also lines up with the grid, for passability reasons. While you can do variations especially with the roof, I would recommend sticking to a ground plan that works with the player exploring the area passability wise.

Here you can see how my layers looked at an early stage: I copied and pasted some of the stones in the house wall to break up the pattern a little and also added some patches of grass recolors to have a more organic looking ground. Both are not necessary, but both are options you have when using this technique.

Before:

After:

When it comes to windows, parallaxing is something very neat. Where you would need 4 tiles for a proper placement, here you can just push them where you need them, no matter where in the grid you want them to be.

Also, since you already are in a graphic program, it is very handy to make simple edits like these bay windows on the spot. Sure it takes about the same time as making the edit for your editor mapping, but it feels more organic than stopping mapping and switching to editing and then testing on the map and maybe going back to editing…

Here is how the map progressed, with each tree having its own layer for now.

  • All the “ground clutter”, like the grass tufts, are on one layer, as they are kinda just an extension of the ground that can be walked over.
  • Since I was already in a graphic program, it was easy to quickly add some color variation to my trees, and even though I just used the same two default ones, the forest already looks a lot more diverse.
  • The same goes for the ground variations: it was easy to break up the clusters of grass tufts and have different patterns than just the few the tileset would allow.
  • As you can see, I did not add the river yet, that is something for later.
  • Everything that can be reached by the player is placed in a way that the player can either walk around it or it fully blocks the tile without feeling weird.
  • Inside the area the player cannot access anyways, I ignored the grid mostly, as here the player won’t have any passability issues anyways.
  • I kept all the trees and items which might be something the player could walk behind separate.

I can already export that image and use it as parallax on that map. That is something which you should only do if you use the MZ default style or another one that has sharp pixelated edges. If you use for example VX tiles, the trees have a soft corner and when you have them on the overlay and on the parallax, a bit of the tree is covered by the player who is actually standing behind it.

So if a player walks behind a stone that is both on the overlay and the parallax, the edge suddenly becomes more smooth on the part where he is, as his body covers the copy on the ground layer. In game, it will look like the objects slightly shift in shape and outlines, when a character walks behind them.

For MZ’s trees though, this does not make a difference, that is why they may be on both layers.

  • If something is not fully opaque and can be walked behind, it may not show up on your parallax background!

Those parts need to be separated anyway and put onto your overlay.

Here you can see the overlay for my specific map. The player can walk behind the trees which stand solitary and behind the well.

By having a close look at which areas are not accessible anyways you can save a lot of time when making the overlay. It only makes sense to have those for the tiles where your player can actually stand anyways.

If you just use show picture to add the overlay to your map you will have issues with the placement, which means you will have to use a plug-in to utilize it. Cyclone Map and Visustella Core Engine are two of the options, depending on the plug-in the instructions to add it to your map vary.

Now it is time for actual editor mapping, and since you can have your parallax show in the editor, it is a comparingly easy task to do:

I made a simple tileset with X and O, marking the passabilities and added it to an empty slot of the used tileset. I also had the other options ready, but did not need them here. Then I simply mapped them onto my map to mark which areas can be walked on and which not. Simply swap those tiles out with transparent images after that.

Since the water was not included in the overlay or parallax for animation and nice rim reasons, I just mapped it in the editor into the area that I left for it.

To have it fit in even better, I used my water from the tutorial about smart water setups.

Also I added in the bridge here, just as an example that even though you made the map in the graphic program, you can still add bits and pieces by actual editor mapping, you just have to watch out that they don’t interfere with your overlay.

The door is added as an event, and now let us have a look on how the final map is composed.

Parallax Mapping is a strong tool which can elevate your maps to the next level, if used right.

Depending on your parallaxing style, you can also very easily combine editor and parallaxing in the same project without looking off.

Those are just basics, Cyclone for example would also support multiple layers of overlays and you can do a lot with light and shadow, if you want. But for now, I think we are done.

Some last tips:

Parallaxing can help make nature maps look more natural, but you sacrifice for example the borders around autotiles. I would recommend to “normally” map things like cliffs, dungeon walls and water to have the proper passability, animation and curves at the right spots.

Have fun!

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