Arena.Xlsm: The RPG That Makes Excel Cool

arenaxplsm It sounds odd to say that the best RPG I've played so far this year runs entirely on Microsoft Excel, was made by an accountant working for his MBA and whose graphics mainly consist of different coloured cells, but it's completely true. Arena.Xlsm runs using macros on Excel to program movements, damage calculations, random monsters and more, all done seamlessly as you advance through the game. There are all the hallmarks of any good RPG: your character starts off in a dungeon, having to fight through endless beasts in a turn-based system whilst levelling up skills and picking up new gear to aid you on the way. There are regular boss battles, while the arena you fight in constantly changes, adding to the difficulty level - which, at times, can be rather steep. This is a game where you learn as you go along, so don't expect to be victorious on your first attempt. With over 2,000 possible enemies to face, you're also never going to get exactly the same game twice, only increasing the replay factor. Also impressive is the level of immersion in the game, particularly within the story. The background to the story places you in a dystopian world with a cruel ruler simply known as "The Emperor". Letters sent to the player as you progress through the game move it along (whilst giving tips on how to play the game), at a pace that is mostly dictated by how you play. I won't risk spoiling the story, but it's astonishing to realise how emotive an Excel spreadsheet can get. One element that shows how Arena.Xlsm was clearly made by a gamer is that you can, if you so wish, disable the story, allowing you to play through without interruption on repeat attempts; if only some triple-A games offered such a feature. The author in question is Cary Walkin, a Chartered Accountant who describes his work as giving him "a fondness for spreadsheets, finance, and business". With no formal video game training, he used his spare time whilst working for his MBA to create Arena.Xlsm over five months, using knowledge he had gained in his work. The game was released free of charge via his website in March 2013 and has proved to be a huge success, with Cary updating the game with bug and compatibility fixes as it has gone along. He's currently working on Version 1.2, though has admitted this might be delayed slightly as he's currently in the middle of his final exams! Arena.Xlsm's success may be a one-off, but it will be interesting to see whether more people start to branch out in to using Excel as a platform for games. The system is obviously limited; one of the drawbacks of Arena.Xlsm is that it currently only runs on Windows copies of the program and is even not compatible with some of them. Macros are also restricted by the standard rules of Visual Basic games, so it's unlikely that there will ever be any visual masterpieces created from such games. But if you can enjoy a game at this most basic level, and you have a program that can run it, there's certainly no harm in giving Arena.Xlsm a go. Just don't let your boss catch you playing it at work.
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22 year old Journalist/Producer, with far too much to do and spends far too little of his time actually doing any of it. You can find me on Twitter (@KatsJonouchi) or on my YouTube (katsinthebox)

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